"Piglets Sucking At The Teat" — When Barnyards Take The Place Of Green Pastures

I know that many of my readers have for a pastor a man who teaches — and teaches with sneering certainty — that Christians who avail themselves of government-provided social services are accepting help from an occupying enemy force hostile to all that Christ wants in this world. Put it that way, and he does, getting help like that would be a really bad (lazy, stupid, immature) thing to do.

He teaches that government is a necessary evil, one that Christian men accept with chagrin as a chastening from the Lord; the largesse, then, of the government, even as it’s funded by taxpayers just like those in his congregation, is something to be rejected. Not just in the belief that God will provide for his people, but with the certainty that God will never provide for them via government.

And yet, because their pastor isn’t a mean person, not someone whose contempt for government would ever spill over onto his congregants, he graciously softens his description of those who might have benefited, or might, with growing families, benefit, from social services. A label for them is necessary, of course, but he’s not one to pile on to make a point. Not to seem too harsh toward those who might use food stamps, or young moms who benefit from WIC, or couples who hope for available Section 8 housing, or sick congregants who accept Medicaid, he uses the gracious and nurturing language of barnyard stock to describe them — those Christians, not as strong and enlightened as he, who make use of the government’s social safety net when they feel they’re in free-fall.

He calls them “piglets sucking at the teat” of government. “Hogs” would be unkind.

Pastors are supposed to teach, preach, provide care and counsel, and model mature Christian behavior around their congregants — behavior that’s of the same moral quality regardless of its witnesses. Pastoral guidance is a welcome blessing from the Lord, part of the arsenal of counsel adults consider when making life decisions. At its best, proffered by a caring, wise pastor, it ultimately recognizes the priesthood of the believer and eagerly concedes the innate intelligence and sensitive conscience of his congregant.

Other times, pastoral guidance takes the form of a paternalistic, certain decree from the pulpit, delivered with an odd combination of cheerful disdain and frosty rigidity that presumes first that there is a single, right, best answer for everyone and, second, that the pastor knows what it is, probably even before the congregant does. And so the family, especially young ones encouraged to start having kids early and often, has hoisted on it the burden of expectation — big families on one income — and the tyranny of diminished options, namely, no possibility of receiving government help without incurring the sneering disapproval of the pastor and those of his congregants eager to be found in his good graces. A term that seems dripping with irony here, given the paucity of both the good and the gracious in his counsel.

And so, in the spirit of goodness, grace, and Christmas, I offer my readers for whom the above seems familiar a gift. I’d like to offer you what, in reality, you already know but perhaps haven’t fully received as you try to carve out a place in community by emulating those around you, even when you’re choking back tears in doing so.

I’d like to gently remind you that you’re not bad people — you wouldn’t, for example, ever consider snatching a purse and ripping through a stranger’s wallet to help with the kids’ immunizations. You’re not stupid people who would buy a few dozen Irish linen dinner napkins while your kids went hungry. Most of all, you’re not spiritually dead people. You’re entirely able to hear from the Lord your Shepherd all on your own; he won’t bypass you to instruct your pastor on how to pay for little Micah’s ear-tubes surgery. You and your spouse are accountable for the state of your family, and God has not charged you with its care without promising to lead you in the hard stuff of how to do it. And while he undoubtedly is displeased with the course this and every other human government takes, he is equally likely, in his sovereign power, to establish government as a source and storehouse of help for the needy, as he did with Joseph, Pharoah, Egypt and the Israelites. Yes, some government workers are true public servants, Josephs asking the Lord to use them in a culture teeming with uncertainty and inequality. You haven’t been taught that.

God may not have you sign up for food stamps in any given season or semester; God may lead you to use Medicaid for your surgery or sign up for Section 8 as your family grows. But what God won’t do is insult you in your need, nor mock you as you try to alleviate it. And someday, maybe, the difference between the loving graciousness of the Almighty and the mocking presumption of your pastor will penetrate your soul, and you’ll leave for sweet green pastures where no one who calls himself a pastor would dream of dragging his or her congregants through the disrespect and ridicule of the stockyard.

One Response to “"Piglets Sucking At The Teat" — When Barnyards Take The Place Of Green Pastures”

  1. Ashwin says:

    Not one of your best. I recall you liked to think of yourself as writing with “grace and restraint”.

    Not here you don’t.

    What is the matter with you? Where does all this bile come from? There is nothing in Mr. Wilson’s writings that would justify such frothing at the mouth – unless you are more committed to a leftwing ideology than to the Gospel.

    Please pray about it. You may be putting carts before horses and Works before God.

    God bless you.

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