After the presidential election last November, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet gave an interview to NPR in which he admitted that his journalists simply don’t understand religion.
“We don’t get religion,” Baquet said. “We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives.”
Baquet was correct: Acela corridor political reporters don’t understand religion, especially Christianity. Though he was specifically speaking about New York Times reporters, Baquet’s comments clearly also apply to the Washington Post, which on Friday morning accused a Republican congressman from Texas of claiming that the Bible forbids the unemployed from having food to eat.
The headline from the Washington Post couldn’t have been more clear: “GOP Lawmaker: The Bible says the unemployed ‘shall not eat.” Shocking, right? Judging by the Washington Post’s reporting, either this lawmaker is a real jerk, God is a real jerk for hating people without jobs, or maybe even they’re both jerks.
Here’s what the newspaper wrote about Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.):
One lawmaker is citing a godly reference to justify changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.) recently quoted the New Testament to question the strength of current work requirements.
The biblical passage, 2 Thessalonians 3-10, was a rebuttal to one of the hearing’s expert witnesses, a representative of the Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON. (He referenced Leviticus.) It is also a familiar refrain to anyone who has watched past debates about SNAP.
House Republicans have historically cited the verse — “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” — as justification for cutting some adults’ SNAP benefits. Arrington referenced the verse in a discussion about increasing the work requirements for unemployed adults on the food stamp program. But critics say that advances a pernicious myth about the unemployed who receive SNAP.
There are a few problems, however, with that story from Washington Post reporter Caitlin Dewey: the lawmaker never said that, the Bible never says that, and the Washington Post article never even quotes the Texas Republican as saying that. In fact, the article doesn’t quote Arrington a single time. Not one word. Because democracy dies in darkness, or something.
Not only did Arrington not disagree with the witness who quoted passages from Leviticus requiring the Israelites to leave harvest gleanings in the field for sojourners and the poor, Arrington actually affirmed him and noted that the passage in question is “a great reflection on the character of God and the compassion of God’s heart.” Here’s what Arrington really said:
I did hear, Mr. Protas, your opening remarks where you quoted Leviticus, I believe, and I think that’s a great reflection on the character of God and the compassion of God’s heart and how we ought to reflect that compassion in our lives.
But, there’s also, the scripture tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.'” And then he goes on to say, “We hear that some among you are idle.”
I think that every American, Republican or Democrat, wants to help the neediest among us. And I think it’s a reasonable expectation that we have work requirements. I think that gives more credibility quite frankly, to SNAP. Tell me what is a reasonable and responsible work requirement as part of the SNAP program?
At no point did Arrington ever declare that the Bible requires that the unemployed shall not eat. Not once. At no point did Arrington ever say, “The Bible says the unemployed shall not eat.”
Rather, the Texas congressman noted to the witness at his hearing that in addition to commanding God’s people to leave a share of their harvest for the needy to pick up and eat as they moved through the fields, the Bible tells Christ’s disciples not to allow idleness to make them a burden on their fellow Christians. Paul’s letter to the church in Thessaloniki, after all, was not a directive to government officials in Rome, but an exhortation to his fellow followers of Christ in Greece.
You wouldn’t know any of that if you read the Washington Post’s dishonest mischaracterization of what Arrington said, because the Washington Post refused to tell you what Arrington actually said. Arrington didn’t declare that those without jobs are commanded by God to starve. He affirmed the requirement that God’s people provide for the poor and then noted an additional passage in which Paul tells his own brethren that they should work so as not to provide a poor example of idleness to those whom they were trying to bring to Christ.
Don’t worry, though. Dewey and her editors at the Washington Post, none of whom thought “2 Thessalonians 3-10” was an odd and heterodox way to reference a Bible verse (yes, that somehow made its way through the paper’s editorial process, and no, it hasn’t been corrected yet), want you to know that anonymous exegetical experts agree that the Bible wants people who don’t have jobs to starve.
“The verse in question applies specifically to people who can work or otherwise contribute to society but choose not to, said theologians from several denominations who spoke to The Post,” Dewey asserted.
It’s a shame she and her editors didn’t feel compelled to quote or name a single one of these alleged experts who just happened to agree with the Washington Post’s wildly inaccurate characterization of both the Bible verse at issue and Arrington’s alleged interpretation of it. That’s because this anonymous exegesis is–you guessed it–completely false. The apostle Paul wasn’t drafting a law for the government to pass banning the jobless from having food. He was telling his fellow disciples to avoid idleness and disruption of the church body. He urged them to spend less time laying about and sowing division and more time working on behalf of God.
It gets better, though. In addition to brutally mischaracterizing the Bible and Arrington’s interpretation of it, Dewey and the Washington Post also spent several paragraphs mocking Breitbart for misquoting Pope Francis on the exact same verse and excoriating Breitbart for not understanding that the verse isn’t about starving people who can’t work…right after confidently declaring, in order to support its headline, that a bunch of anonymous theologians agreed that the Bible bans the unemployed from having food:
In 2015, the far-right Breitbart News misquoted Pope Francis in a post that implied the Catholic leader sought to keep food from people who did not work.
The English transcript of the pope’s remarks make it clear that he said no such thing and most Judeo-Christian faith leaders agree that 2 Thessalonians applies narrowly to people who can work but choose not to.
If democracy dies in darkness, then irony and self-awareness die at the Washington Post.