Toward A Theologically Responsible Economy

I have been wrestling (poorly) on Facebook recently with a variety of folks who disagree with me about a number of political/social/economic issues. As Facebook seems to be a forum where civility is many times suspect, I wanted to stretch my legs a bit around economics here on Political Jesus, where it is safe (yeah right). At least here, we can have more room to build a case or extend an argument. So here is my question: How do we build a theologically sound economic worldview? I am tired of letting the Republicans and Democrats frame the issues here. Jesus talked about economic justice as much as any other single topic. And I think that means we should as well. I am going to set down an idea and try to build from there.

Big Idea #1:

If other countries make it easy for companies to use slave labor, pay less than a living wage, allow inhumane working conditions, allow dangerous or deadly working conditions, or threaten workers, competition, or unions, then outsourcing our country’s jobs there is immoral.

Deuteronomy 24: 15: “Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.”
James 5:4-6: Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.This flows naturally from Jesus’ teaching to treat others how we would want to be treated”

Big Idea #2:

Any system that allows those who are wealthy to use their wealth to influence lawmakers to make laws that benefit them with no discernible benefit to the country as a whole is immoral.

Proverbs 28:20: “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished,”
Hebrews 13:5: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,”
Ezekiel 16:49: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy,”(this passage points out that God expects better from every nation, not just Christians or Israel)

Big Idea #3:

In a land of such abundance as ours, being poor is a moral issue. While we may disagree on what exactly poor means (I welcome that discussion), no one, not even those whose circumstances we may frown upon, should go without basic food, clothing, and shelter. There is no amount or quality of work that justifies the wealthiest among us getting wealthier while there are still those among us who don’t have basic human necessities.

Deuteronomy 15:7 “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.”
Deuteronomy 15:4: “However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you.”
Jeremiah 22:16: “‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.”
Romans 12:20: “On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'”
Matthew 25:45: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Big Idea #4:

Children should always be taken care of. No matter if the parent is bad, evil, lazy, homosexual, Muslim, or illegal. Every child should have access to basic food, clothing, shelter, safety, and as much education as it takes to reasonably expect a job.

Romans 12:20: “On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'”
Psalm 83: Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.”
Jeremiah 22:3: And do no wrong or violence to the immigrant, the fatherless, and the widow.”

Big Idea #5:
God’s values are not only active within the church, and the church, to a great extent, exists to bring God’s truth to the world. As such, while the church is indeed commanded to feed and help the poor, fatherless, and the widow, it does not follow that government should not do so. It seems that if it is God’s will for the poor, fatherless, and the widows to be helped, then God is pleased whenever this happens, through government or church or individual.

Ezekiel 16:49: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”
Jeremiah 5:28: “[The wicked] do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. Shall I not punish these people?” declares the LORD. “On such a nation as this, shall I not avenge myself?”
Luke 16:19-25: (paraphrased) in which a clearly non-Christian rich person ignores the poor Lazurus and is found eternally guilty.

 

I offer up these in a real and genuine attempt to get at something that Christians from all stripes can agree with and work together toward. What big ideas can be added? Which need to be changed? Which are completely wrong?

 

0 thoughts on “Toward A Theologically Responsible Economy

  1. Optimistic Chad Post author

    Unpack that a bit. Specifically what? Are you questioning how governments get involved or whether they should be involved at all?

    Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria

      Yah,

      Your post wasn’t specific enough to where to who should be distributing economic justice. There are Christians who believe that only the private sector/charities should get involved. Other Christians, of course, disagree. Where do you stand?

      Public government programs primarily? Charities? Both? Other?

      Reply
      1. Optimistic Chad Post author

        On one level, it is my feeling that the church is not the source of God’s presence in the world. Wherever God’s justice is practiced, there is the Kingdom of God. So to try and limit the good that we should be doing to the church seems backwards. The church should be the place that models goodness and charity for others. So if others do it, that is the way it should be. So shouldn’t both church and government be doing charity in a more Godly world?

        Reply
        1. Optimistic Chad Post author

          Yes, thank you for helping me think through that. It has come up a number of times lately. I am going to edit the original to include this as a big point.

          Reply
        1. Rod of Alexandria

          Well, that could be an interpretation to fit some’s views, but in Daniel, and in Kings and Ezekiel and in the Prophets, the kings and monarchs from all nations are condemned for being unjust towards the poor and widows. There is a whole litany of passages.

          Reply
          1. Optimistic Chad Post author

            I agree, Rod. Also, most of the verses apply to the government that was being set up. It is a collective “you.” You won’t find a distinction between a person and their government where laws and commands are concerned in the scriptures, at least not in the way we think of distinction. Their religion was intimately tied with economics and politics/society.

  2. Leo Boller

    On “Big Idea #1” (the assigning of moral value to foreign outsourcing), the verses you quote are about paying people as opposed to NOT paying people for the work they did, after the work was done, NOT paying at a certain level, or under certain desirable conditions (see the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Mat 20:1-16), and not particularly (since it is a Biblical concept) to be applied to non-believers, or foreigners, for that matter.

    Where is your moral outrage over the use of unions as a political power to “lobby” for controls over business, and to collectively bargain for irrevocable, higher and higher compensation, that eventually drives businesses to other countries because they can no longer afford to pay the worker at the end of the day?

    Reply
    1. Optimistic Chad Post author

      The topic was pretty broad, so not all the verses applied to everything therein. But specifically, I was referring to how easy it is in some countries to use slave labor or paying far below a decent wage for honest work. The verses about paying wages apply to those. Between those verses and the last about ‘do unto others,’ I felt like it wasn’t a huge stretch.

      While I am certainly not a fan of all union activity, there is certainly some good that can come from some sort of solidarity between workers. In our country, Union leaders have become corrupt themselves, but the practice of certain companies of terrorizing and many times murdering those who attempt to unionize should not be tolerated.

      What are your thoughts?

      Reply
      1. Leo Boller

        I suppose it’s possible that an employer has murdered an employee for attempting to damage his business in some way, but I am more certain that loyal union members will be inspired to violence against “scabs” who are legally hired to work in their stead during a strike. I suppose that the recording of Hoffa’s remarks was faked, somehow? Giving a worker his pay at the end of the day is a far cry from not being able to dismiss a worker, or to choose a worker who will work for less.

        Reply
        1. Optimistic Chad Post author

          Perhaps I misunderstood you. I was talking about the unionizing in foreign countries, not our union system. I can’t speak to what Hoffa said, as I don’t know. I simply know that there have been some very popular American companies that have had the practice of putting hits out on union leaders in other countries and threatening those who attempt to unionize. That of course would be illegal in our country, and therefore to move operations from one country to another where you can bully and intimidate people into working for you for cheap seems very immoral to me.

          Reply
          1. Leo Boller

            Yeah, no question, that is not only immoral, but ought to be a capitol crime. The problem is that the greed of the union requires more and more compensation, and eventually, it becomes impractical to operate a business with domestic labor. Why are not unions immoral, since they seem to be driving companies overseas with their expensive demands?

        2. Rod of Alexandria

          At Leo,

          Yes, Leo, the kings and the nations’ share in the punishment, or guilt as you have it. The king served as the leader, one could say moral leader, over a group of tribes called a country.

          He did not rule alone, he had nobles and aristocrats, etc. who agreed to his reign. Of course, the king was not as an individual responsible for the attitude of all of the peoples, but he did have a responsibility, what ever nation, to take care of the orphan, the widow, and the impoverished. The kings’ sentiments were usually indicative of all of the peoples.

          So yes, just as Israel and its kings were sent into exile, so were Gentile nations and kings punished for oppressing the poor.

          Reply
        3. Optimistic Chad Post author

          Regarding unions, I don’t really care one way or the other about them. But I do think it is not close to the whole story to blame unions alone for outsourcing. Even if all unions went away tomorrow, the companies would not come back. They have been allowed by foreign countries to buy land out from under peasants and farmers for dirt cheap, many times forcing the previous residents to work in factories that were set up on their land. They have been given slaves as labor or taken slaves as labor. They have been given passes by the governments of these countries to operate without any health or labor standards, including the use of young children, with no limit on workdays. Many times workers are forced to live in factories which is then taken out of their pay. The water tables of these villages are allowed to be poisoned with the run-offs of many of these factories. The natural resources are stripped and replaced with whatever the company can benefit from (cash crop-style). Now surely not all of these things are happening in every factory that was outsources, but even if it just boiled down to lower-than-living wages, the companies would still not come back.

          Reply
    2. Rod of Alexandria

      On the topic of unions,

      I have a reputation for being anti-union, mostly anti- public sector union, but to unionize and to negotiate in love and integrity is okay. Just compensation for work done.

      And let’s see your thoughts on CEOs and COOs being overpaid for losing their companies money. Where is your outcry, indeed!?!?

      Reply
  3. Leo Boller

    On Big Idea #2 [Our] system … is immoral.

    You seem to presuppose that riches are only a result of corruption, and not faithfulness, that to possess money is to love it, to be arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, that continuing to possess it is proof of a failure to help the needy. Frankly, I’d rather see poor people get Sam Walton’s help than Mother Teresa’s. We are called to care for the needy, not to call for others to do it. Unless Jesus was wrong, we will always have opportunities to bless others:

    John 12:8 “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

    The verses you quoted describe lazy, greedy people, not people who have worked hard to
    earn what they have. To decry a rich man for being rich, and to demand that he give enough to the poor to stop being rich is to approve of those eager to get rich who are arrogant, unconcerned, and overfed, which is a likely result of the redistribution of wealth, and in-fact, is how the “Sodom” in the verse you quoted was trained be that way. It is also communistic: “To each according to his need, from each according to his ability” Karl Marx, author of the Communist Manifesto.

    Reply
    1. Optimistic Chad Post author

      Leo, that is not what I said. I do not in any way presuppose that riches are solely the result of corruption. I would like your honest opinion on our system, which does allow those who are the most wealthy to influence the laws the most, and most of those laws benefit them directly.

      The quote you used from Jesus is actually Jesus quoting from Deuteronomy, (15:11) and the next part of the verse is “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy, and to the poor, in your land.’

      Again, I never spoke against honest people who make an honest living. It seems (I am not for sure) that you have a pro-rich bias that keeps coming up. Surely, you will at least admit that there are some people who abuse their wealth and that not everyone who is rich got that way on the up-and-up.

      I won’t decry a rich man for being rich, but I will call it immoral for a rich person to influence a law that only serves to increase their wealth while doing nothing for anyone else. If that isn’t immoral by way of greed, then I am not sure that I know what the greed is that the Bible talks about. What are your thoughts?

      Reply
      1. Leo Boller

        Pro-wealthy bias? No more than you are anti-wealthy. Mine is more of an anti-anti-wealthy bias. Greed is part of life. It is instinctive and natural, like lust and hunger. Among other things, we are told not to be greedy. The particular greed that most offends me is covetousness. Covetousness is that special kind of greed that desires to goods of a neighbor because they have it. David didn’t just want a beautiful wife, he wanted his neighbor’s beautiful wife. The desire would never have been there if the neighbor did not have it. Every day, I hear people complain about the wealth of others, and how it needs to be taken away from them (“raise taxes now”), they they are our enemy (Hoffa), and even that they should be killed(Barr). They say it’s “for the greater good” or “for the people”. The fact that the covetous are desiring the wealth of rich people on behalf of others does not diminish the sin. THAT is the thing that I am against.

        If you woke up tomorrow, and there were no wealthy people, who would you call upon to provide economic justice? Worse yet, who in your congregation would have a job?

        Reply
        1. Optimistic Chad Post author

          Fair enough. But no one has advocated taking anything away from the rich. My focus for this discussion is how to we best serve the poor (the orphan, widow, etc..)? Simply taking from one to give to the other won’t really accomplish anything.

          It seems, and if this is not you, I apologize, that whenever I bring this up, I am accused of being a liberal and lumped in with Obama and every other boogy-man leftist that my conservative friends can come up with. I wonder if it is just that they spend so much time arguing with closed-minded liberal folks that they can’t see me for what I am. I am not a liberal, nor conservative. But I want to be an advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. As long as the debate keeps polarizing people, the poor aren’t getting helped except in fits and starts. Does that make sense?

          Reply
          1. Leo Boller

            No. You are right…no, I am! I am so far to the right that everybody looks like a leftist from way over here! That’s okay, as a social, economic and religious conservative, I get lumped in with bigots, racists, fascist, and fundamentalists. Which is worse?

            So, you can decide if this is you: you are advocating taking away from the rich of you propose “redistribution of wealth”, increasing taxes, increasing regulations in any way that makes business more expensive, increasing government spending, increasing domestic trade union political power, limiting a business’s ability to export or import, applying new taxes on imports, applying a general minimum wage, advocating universal health care, or universal anything. Each of these are approaches that cost money, and none of them are regressive. “Progressive” specifically means that most of the expenses involved will be born by people with higher incomes.

            Whatever is done, it should be done gradually, even if it means, for instance, a coal plant staying in business for a few years longer, instead of suddenly dismissing a whole town for their jobs.

            Ultimately, what should be done with the poor, is that they should be turned into tax-payers. Here’s a nice, Biblical concept for you (Luke 14:28): What rich man is going to be anxious to hire a full crew of union workers with all of their expensive benefits, when he is not sure if his tax rates will suddenly cause him to go out of business because too many expensive government programs have to be paid for all-of-a-sudden. Infrastructure is nice, but what good is it if it won’t be paid for.

        2. Rod of Alexandria

          Greed is part of life, and according to the apostle Paul, it is a great sin.

          1st Timothy 6.

          The idea that being greedy is natural is anti-biblical. It is not natural, i.e., according to the will of God in nature, but sinful, against God’s will.

          Reply
  4. Leo Boller

    Big Idea #3 (stamp out poverty)

    Either poverty is relative, or it means some serious combination of naked, hungry, thirsty, and homeless. I agree that there should be a poverty floor below which no one in a country as blessed as ours is should be allowed to fall. If a “poor” person has any of TV, (never mind a late model plasma or LCD), any telephone, satellite dish, cable, illicit drugs or computer, they have chosen whimsy over need, and are among those who “will not go unpunished” as they accept assistance from others. To provide the poor with basic needs, but no real way out of the need, we serve only our own selfish need to do our part, and worsen it by preserving the state of poorness.

    Personally, if I find a destitute person in my congregation, I make efforts to reconcile that personally. I don’t even tell my congregation; One or two brothers may get an invitation. I also carry cash that I routinely set aside so that I can “give alms” on short notice. That is the example that I see set by Jesus, Peter, and Paul. I am still very interested to hear about the time that Jesus called upon the government to serve the needs of the poor. Where is that?

    Reply
    1. Optimistic Chad Post author

      I agree with you completely about the whimsy and those who have luxury items. Part of that is the way we distribute aid. As for providing a way out of the poverty, that is the big question. How? I am an optimist, in that I think all things being equal, most people would want to work at a good job, not be lazy and receive welfare. Of course, just like there are rich folks who are bad apples, there are those among the poor as well. One of the differences is, that when a very very rich person decides to behave badly, it can affect many more lives than that of a “lazy” welfare recipient.

      Regarding Jesus calling upon the government to serve the needs of the poor, you won’t find Jesus addressing the government at all because the government of his time was the problem. They were taxing the poor to death and the rich in Jerusalem were benefiting from it.

      There is however the case of Zacchaeus who, as a Roman tax collector, was doing nothing illegal by bending the rules to his favor, but Jesus clearly felt that this rich, government official was doing something immoral in making laws that benefited himself to the detriment of others.

      Reply
      1. Leo Boller

        I would be in favor of the concept of a “poor house” where anyone could eat a nutritious meal, get clothing as need, wash up, sleep, and get basic medical care, but not cash. It should suck really bad to be there so that people have motivation to move on to something better.

        So, are you saying that our over-sized government is NOT a problem, and that because of that you should do what Jesus didn’t do and never told you to do? Yes, Zacchaues repented, and promised to restore all that he had stolen. The “rich young ruler” didn’t though. Is there any implication that Jesus sicked his tax-collector friends on him?

        Reply
        1. Optimistic Chad Post author

          I think this might be where many of my friends and I talk past each other. Jesus never directed any comments toward the government because the people could not change it. It was a kingdom that was overseen by an empire. Jesus calling on change from them would have been useless, and Jesus surely did not waste words. Now the question is, if we could image Jesus addressing a representative-style government, would his teachings have reflected that? I rather think so. Also, in our representative government, shouldn’t our nation and its laws reflect the values of its people? To the extent that individuals care about the poor, shouldn’t the government do likewise? If we vote to make it so, then it is so. I am advocating that we simply put our faith in activity in all spheres of our influence, not just in our many-times myopic personal lives.

          Reply
  5. Justin Tiemeyer

    I think that these big ideas are all right on, and all but the last are consistent not just with Christianity but with the concepts of liberty and justice, the kind outlined in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. I think that you’re at that important point, however, where you know the ideals perfectly, and the ideals are right, but we’re in a sick world (that’s what Plato’s Republic says, at least), so now we have to figure out how to implement these values practically. I am not smart enough to figure out how to tell the rich people controlling our country to stop influencing government, to stop taking advantage of others, and to start caring about the problems of the poor. Plato said, almost in jest, it would seem to me, that you just need a really good dictator to bring this about, a philosopher king. Maybe Jesus will come back and put his foot down.

    Reply
    1. Optimistic Chad Post author

      You know, I have started to wonder if a democracy is all its cracked up to be… Isn’t there anyone out there thinking of a better system?

      I wonder what a system would look like that didn’t allow for land ownership…
      I wonder what a system would look like if, rather than money, our system financially rewarded those who actually other’s lives measurably better.
      I wonder if we have touted “freedom,” “democracy,” and “capitalism” as ends that have been achieved rather than a means to a decent government? Have people stopped searching for better because they think that our system is the best one there can be?

      Reply
  6. Scott Tedford

    Chad, I believe you are right on target. I also believe you will consistently come under attack by those who have something to lose if society ever decides to “walk the talk” regarding the heart truly taught in the Bible. In other words, as long as there are rich with something to lose, there will be rich thumping the Bible and distorting it’s truth to justify there evil. I respect you for consistently being true to truth, even when under fire.

    Reply
  7. Scott Tedford

    I think that way of life would look more like that lived by some of the natives who occupied the land we now call America. Have you seen Dances With Wolves?

    Reply
  8. Optimistic Chad Post author

    I was thinking this morning about deregulation. I am not generally in favor of it, both anecdotally (the California energy deregulation fiasco of a decade ago) and also that I think deregulation of large businesses makes it too difficult to reign in abuse, pollution, etc. on a large level. But I was thinking about the effect of deregulating small businesses. This would make it easier for the everyday person to start a biz, create jobs, etc. and if their biz succeeds, then after a certain threshold, regulation would kick in. Shouldn’t we make it as easy as possible for the everyday person to start a new business? Thoughts?

    Reply
  9. Optimistic Chad Post author

    Rod, do you have some thoughts about jettisoning income taxes and property taxes in favor of stiffer sales taxes? Would not this have the desired effect of taxing those who could more well afford it without being unfair or making two different standards?

    Reply
      1. Optimistic Chad Post author

        So, if I understand you correctly, with provisions built-in for the poor, a steep sales tax would not necessarily be a bad thing, especially if we got rid of income and property tax?

        Reply
  10. Optimistic Chad Post author

    Another idea: Land ownership. There is simply a limited amount of land, and the corporations and property companies are buying it all up. It is not hard to imagine a time when corporations will own most of the land in America, if they already don’t in some fashion. If there is limited land, we should learn to distribute better. This is where I feel the OT is helpful. The idea that the land belonged to God, and we are renters. Of course, in practice, this meant that no one could own land indefinitely. They “rent” it, with the cost based on how long it was until the Sabbath year, at which point, property rights revert to the original owners, which were evenly distributed amongst all the people.

    What kind of system can you think of that would keep the heart of this system, updated for the year of Our Lord, 2011?

    Reply
  11. Optimistic Chad Post author

    Another big idea? Regardless of market forces, if a person works full time at a job, it is the responsibility of that job to make sure they are paid enough to live. Otherwise, the job is taking advantage of an opportunity to make money on the backs of the poor. There is no system which can stand on morally solid ground which can only be profitable if others are not.

    Reply
      1. Optimistic Chad Post author

        It can be many things, i suppose. It might well be that the churches have an “index” of fair wages, perhaps watchdog groups have another, states another, and the fed another, but regardless, the ideal should be presented and established in common thought that a person working full time at a job should always be able to pay for food, shelter, and basic necessities without having to go into debt.

        Reply
  12. Optimistic Chad Post author

    Another Big idea? The reconsideration of corporations as “people.” This creates a problem, when such people are “people” only when it comes to the benefits of being so, but have limited liability when it is not beneficial. Can a corporation be locked in Jail for murder? Can a corporation be mandated to get counseling for psychopathic behavior? Should corporations be allowed to give unlimited funds to government officials when normal “people” are limited?

    Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria

      I am with you. What’s the alternative? Congress defining a corporation, not the courts. In Germany, the definition of a corporation is in the constitution. Look it up. It’s actually pretty surprising.

      Reply
  13. Optimistic Chad Post author

    Big idea? It seems that 100 years ago, there was an understanding that companies and corporations existed for the common good and to provide people with jobs. Now, that ideal has turned on its head, with corporations existing for no other reason than their own profit. So much so that they can glibly eliminate many thousands of jobs in order to cheapen their costs or to insure more profit is made. I am not advocating that we submit businesses to poor practice, but rather a culture shift needs to happen from the focus on making as much money as possible for shareholders to paying the most amount to workers and employing the most amount of people.

    Reply
      1. Optimistic Chad Post author

        I am not claiming that the government has ever put that down in law. I am claiming that at least as far back as 1909, there have been social groups that believed it. An example is the following excepts from the Federal Council of Churches’ Social Creed:

        We deem it the duty of all Christian people to concern themselves directly with certain practical industrial problems. To us it seems that the churches must stand —

        For the right of workers to some protection against the hardships often resulting from the swift crises of industrial change.

        For the principle of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions.

        For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational disease, injuries and mortality.

        For the abolition of child labor.

        For the suppression of the “sweating system.”

        For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practicable point, and for that degree of leisure for all which is a condition of the highest human life.

        For a release from employment one day in seven.

        For a living wage as a minimum in every industry, and for the highest wage that each industry can afford.

        For the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised.

        For suitable provision for the old age of the workers and for those incapacitated by injury.

        Reply
      2. Optimistic Chad Post author

        Especially the lines regarding reduction of labor to the lowest possible amount, the pay of the highest possible amount, and the distribution of the produced goods to the most amount of people. None of those lends itself to an understanding of corporations and businesses as all about the Benjamins.

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *