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Conservative & Liberal Christians Spar Over Rick Perry’s Beliefs

Who do you think is responsible for helping "the least of these?"

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was causing controversy and debate even before he entered the 2012 presidential campaign. Prior to announcing his candidacy, Perry participated in "The Response," a Christian prayer event that drew both praise from people of faith and criticism from church and state separatists.

Of course, the dichotomy didn't break down perfectly along these lines. While the event was Christian in nature, some believers joined the opposition, claiming that they were troubled by a breaking down of the barrier between church and state.

Interestingly, though, proponents have accused left-leaning Christian critics of being hypocritical for their opposition to the prayer meeting. In a press release issued earlier this month, the Institute on Religion and Democracy wrote:

In contrast [to their "The Response" critiques], the Religious Left has applauded Sojourners chief Jim Wallis' "Circle of Protection," a Christians-only coalition that met with President Obama to defend welfare programs from Republican budget cutters. Supposedly the prayer summit, according to liberal critics like Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was "exclusive" and theocratic. But the White House summit, despite its specific political and partisan goal, was widely lauded.

Writing her views in The Atlantic on Monday, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (Former Lt. Governor of Maryland who has connections to both ACORN and the Center for American Progress) took a firm stance against "The Response." Townsend, who is a Roman Catholic, goes on to target Perry's Christianity, writing the following:

I see a fundamental inconsistency between Perry’s concerted opposition to government social programs and his promotion of himself as a Christian politician. When asked about the impact of Texas’s low-tax, low-service policies on the poor, he suggested that people who wanted more government services could find them in New York or California.

In essence, the question Townsend raises in the title of the piece sums her purpose up quite well: "Is Rick Perry as Christian as He Thinks He Is?" Clearly, Townsend sees Perry as a hypocrite who isn't reading nor comprehending the scriptures properly.

She goes on to write that Christ teaches Americans to feed those who find themselves hungry and to care for those who fall ill and "not to abandon them." Then, she wonders if Perry has neglected to read the portion of the Bible that commands Christians to care for "the least of these."

Despite sharing some similarities with Townsend in terms of the Bible's clear call to help the less fortunate, Leon H. Wolf's commentary (an attorney and GOP campaign staffer) on Perry couldn't be more divergent. Wolf contends that negative statements coming from the left -- and he explicitly mentions and responds to Townsend's piece -- merely show the left's fears concerning the strength of Perry's candidacy. In responding to Townsend, he writes:

Townsend’s contention that “Christianity is front and center on his platform” is completely unsupported by any evidence other than the fact that Perry led a prayer in which Christ was mentioned...Townsend’s criticism shows that she has no understanding whatsoever of what Christianity requires of the Christian, and her criticism is completely without merit. As you might have guessed, Townsend’s contention is that Perry is not Christian because he is not very socialist.

Wolf, too, believes that Christ does command believers to feed the hungry and help the sick, as he writes that this is "one of the central responsibilities of Christians." But, he goes on to refute her grander claims, writing that individual charity and government charity are very different. In Wolf's eyes, Townsend's contention that Perry's stance on government programs counters Christian teaching is simply absurd. He writes:

It takes a cynical heart completely unfamiliar with the teachings of Christ to suggest that God would be pleased with a no-cost vote for confiscatory taxes on other people to pay for the poor.

Townsend and Wolf represent only two perspectives on Rick Perry, taxation and Biblical principles. But, their writings showcase the deep political divide that has now made its way into faith circles. Furthermore, their views do a decent job representing the talking points each side utilizes in engaging in America's fiscal responsibility debate.

In the end, though there are great differences in terms of application, both sides believe that the Bible calls Christians to assist people in need. While one side advocates that the government fill this role, the other places emphasis on the individual. Who do you think is responsible for helping "the least of these?" Take our poll below:

(h/t Beliefnet)

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