Politicians, who call for cuts in virtually every line of national and state budgets, are politically and economically understandable.

When you’ve got the opportunity to build on the public’s fear as a weapon to achieve your economic and political objectives, why not exploit it?

If you have the chance to scare folks into thinking that anything – and I mean anything – that inhibits or frustrates or interferes with free markets will bring about the collapse of the global economic order, including their own relatively fragile financial security in these times, why not play on that apocalyptic scenario to the hilt?

What qualifies, on those terms, to be attacked?

The new national health care plan that vastly expands the number of Americans covered by insurance surely meets the test.

The new set of rules to regulate financial markets, even though the absence of those safeguards was a major reason for the recent global financial collapse, has to be included.

Certainly any legislation that requires industry to meet higher standards to achieve clean air and water and to move toward a reversal of global warming must be added.

Health care and pension benefits for workers in both the private and public spheres are wonderful targets.

Even education funding qualifies, trumping all the arguments about the need to develop an educated workforce to sustain national competitiveness and raise the standard of living for future generations. The list goes on and on.

Moreover, given a recent Supreme Court ruling, these politicians know they can line their campaign chests by doing the bidding of corporate interests that need evermore elbow room to do whatever they please in markets that, they trust, will return to unregulated conditions, with just a little help from their friends.

So, again, it’s perfectly reasonable – for economic and political reasons – that so many politicians are slashing away at so many budget lines.

I’ve been at a loss, however, trying to understand how these politicians, who claim to be Christians, can religiously justify their putting the axe to those many budget lines, particularly the ones that fund the poor, the weak, the vulnerable and the young.

But I think I’ve figured it out, finally.

They must have been doing some advanced reading in preparation for Ash Wednesday.

Not the parts, to be sure, from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus warns against “practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”

They’ve clearly skipped over that verse from Matthew 6:1. And that probably goes for the following verses about not trumpeting publicly any “almsgiving” or making any big public praying displays.

No, my best guess is that they’ve jumped down to Matthew 6:19 where it reads: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.”

Strangely, it isn’t that they think this applies so much to themselves. There’s some pretty convincing evidence that many of them have an abundance of earthen treasures that, yes, run the risk of being consumed by moth and rust.

Instead, it is that these politicians think they can be God’s “Lenten Helpers” by making sure that most of their constituents don’t even harbor the possibility of storing up those earthen treasures that Jesus warns about.

It’s their way of making certain that their constituents aren’t even tempted to stray from the way of Jesus.

There’s more.

These Christian politicians think they can be God’s Lenten Helpers by keeping the increasing earthen treasures, which are subject to rust and theft and God’s condemnation, to just a few. That is, the very wealthy, who are the very ones benefiting from the budget cuts, along with the tax breaks that were enacted around Christmastime last year.

Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.

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