The old preacher said if you want to know about someone’s spirituality, there’s no better measure than how they spend their money.
The preacher wasn’t a money-grubbing televangelist; his comment reflected years wizened by experience as a careful student of human nature. You spend your money on what is most important to you — regardless of what you say is important.
Look at your own checkbook. Enough said.
Another way to recognize this truth is to understand that budgets are moral documents. Years ago, at the urging of a wise consultant, we changed our “Church Budget” to an “Annual Ministry Plan” — because “budgets” just focus solely on the bottom line and calculated exercises in numbers and percentages. But the truth is that all the math is just a tangible reflection of the heart and soul revealing the true mission of the organization (any organization, not just a church).
Bottom line: a budget is a fiscal snapshot of a soul, reflecting commitments and convictions, assumptions and world view.
So our President just released an outline of his first budget, which will be debated and adjusted and hammered out in the grist mill of congressional dysfunction — eventually reflecting us all, “we the people,” but the initial proposal is about as good a snapshot of our leader’s soul as we can expect to get. I do understand that we elected a politician, a secular leader, not a national spiritual director, and I don’t want public officials trying to direct our spiritual lives.
But as a person of faith, I have a vested interest in the morality of the nation that is my home, so the spiritual convictions, or the lack thereof, of any public leader, is a legitimate matter of concern, for secular as well as spiritual reasons.
No one should be surprised at what this budget outline reveals. “Lean and mean” is the expression that comes to mind, and while that’s a pretty good motivational slogan for a football team, the nation, especially people of faith, ought to question whether a budget fashioned as such is really the best way to make us a “more perfect union,” much less a more Christian nation.
Mean: the President’s priorities make true what a friend just reminded me: while conservatives often talk about the virtues of smaller government, actually conservatives and liberals both want big government — they just want it big in different places. The President’s big government would come with a $54 billion expansion of our military, which he says has been “decimated.”
According to the latest figures available, however, we already spend more than the next seven nations combined. When you think about it, it’s not much of a compliment to our fighting forces that we don’t feel safe even though our military is eight times larger than China’s and three times the size of the Russian military. Maybe the fact that we still feel so insecure, with that many guns around, should tell us something. Maybe it is a clear indication that being mean isn’t actually what makes us safe. Which brings us to …
Lean: Fiscal conservatives may hail this “skinny budget” recommendation, but we ought to ask if it’s fiscal conservatism we need or fiscal responsibility. The President’s recommendations may be deemed “conservative,” but are they? And are they really responsible?
I recently bemoaned the fact that we have a Department of Defense (formerly Department of War) but no “Peace Department” — and a conservative friend reminded me that our State Department is our department of peace. So, the President suggests we will feel safer by increasing our budgets for war and decreasing our efforts at peacemaking. There are many other cuts that should be questioned, decisions that cut squarely across the heartland: agriculture, education, environment, the elimination of 19 agencies — reductions that will cost jobs, that may not, in the long run, save any money at all, but in keeping with “lean and mean,” the 29 percent reduction in the State Department is enough to make a case.
This may make for good presidential politics, but people of faith ought to question such “lean and mean” strategies, and Christians ought to think long and hard about what Jesus would say about these priorities.
Please note that in the grandest scheme of things, nothing has significantly changed between this administration and previous ones. Our fearful dependence on military strength to make us feel safe remains (and a $54 billion increase only heightens our fear and our dependence), and our obsession with financial success as the definition of prosperity is also constant (though the irony of a “populist” billionaire for a President should make our idolatry a comic tragedy).
The conventional wisdom has not changed. It’s just that the way this President states his vision makes the contrasts between “empire” and “kingdom” a good bit easier to see.
So, the real criticism shouldn’t be of Donald Trump. As his supporters remind us, we’re getting exactly what we voted for. Instead, the harshest critique should be reserved for people of faith, for the Church of Jesus Christ, which cannot recognize an immoral budget when we see one, or which lacks the courage to stand against such wanton aggrandizement of violence, affluence, and self-centered conceit.