Mayor Ivy Taylor of San Antonio, Texas is one of an increasingly rare species, the conservative Democrat. Though she is a registered Democrat, she is a “devout Baptist whose faith is integral to everything she does.” She describes herself as socially and fiscally conservative. She has come under fire from the left for voting against an LGBT protection ordinance when she was a city councilor. Now she is being unfairly attacked for comments she made explaining poverty in theological terms.
The ordinance expanded the city’s nondiscrimination policy to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. Because of this she was booed off the stage at a vigil for the victims of the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. She also helped stop a streetcar system from being built in downtown San Antonio, to the satisfaction of fiscal conservatives. She is also the first African-American to be elected mayor in San Antonio.
In short, It’s hard to understand why she is a Democrat. Perhaps it was a decision of pure political necessity for her.
In a recent public forum discussion, the mayor was asked by a representative of the Christian Coalitions about the “deepest systemic causes of generational poverty.”
As can be seen in the video, Mayor Taylor initially doesn’t know how to answer such a deep question in a short amount of time, but she then goes on to give a biblical answer to the question:
“Since you’re with the Christian Coalition, I’ll go ahead and put it out there that to me, it’s broken people. People not being in a relationship with their creator and therefore not being in a good relationship with their families and their communities and not being productive members of society.”
Mayor Taylor’s political opponents, as well as atheist activists, have jumped all over the comments as being grievously offensive. The Progressive Secular Humanist blog on Patheos described her comments as “cold and callous, and show nothing but contempt for poor people and atheists.”
The question of whether the comments by the mayor are true or not leads into a deep theological and philosophical discussion, but regardless, it is clear that she was simply speaking from her understanding of Christianity and the way of the world, not out of any malice.
“I am a born again Christian, a believer in Jesus Christ,” she said later on during the forum. “I draw very heavily on that as far as the strength to do this job.”
Mayor Taylor made a Facebook post Monday dealing with the blowback over the video. In the statement, she said the video widely circulated on social media was deceptively edited so as to mislead. She also defended her record and commitment to fighting poverty.
“I also believe in Original Sin,” she wrote, “and that was the context for my comment in the YouTube video clip. We’re all ‘broken,’ from the richest among us to the poorest, until we forge a relationship with our Maker. I could have expressed myself more clearly in explaining my belief at the forum.”
She explained her comment in terms of her belief in Original Sin, the Pauline Doctrine which says that all people are alienated from God by birth due to the sin of Adam, and that only through acceptance of Christ as Savior can a person be brought back into relationship with God. Christians, especially of the American evangelical variety, sometimes explain all of society’s woes in terms of this doctrine.
While one may not agree with her theological or sociological views, to cast this as anything other than an expression of her belief system is absurd. However, the argument can be made that her belief system renders her inadequate for dealing with poverty, and that she is not representing Christian philosophy well.
For one thing, not all Christians focus so heavily on the doctrine of Original Sin, but the preoccupation with the doctrine is a common feature of late 20th century American protestant Christianity. Secondly, poverty in the short term can afflict almost anyone, and even the family of Jesus of Nazareth struggled with poverty at one point.
Unceasing generational poverty is different from falling on hard luck temporarily, however. Generational poverty can be attributed to numerous factors, and moral failings could possibly be among them, but it is complex, (and Taylor admits on the video that it is a complex issue.)
Spirituality can uplift the poor, but it can’t magically fix material problems. Jesus said to his apostles, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
It would probably be best to cut the Mayor some slack on this one and take a look at how she is governing in general. Expecting her to give a flawless answer on the spot to such a deep question as the fundamental cause of poverty is a little much to ask of a humble mayor. If evidence came forward that the mayor is treating the poor unjustly, that would be different. But right now this is just a slanderous and deceptive attack, a callous exploitation of an innocuous statement for political gain.
Atheists may not agree with the mayor, even many Christians would not agree with her, but her statement is not a radical departure from the mainstream of Christian thought in America, like it or not. And it was not a mean-spirited comment, as she believes that it applies to all people, rich and poor.