Wealth Inequality, Political Power, and the Bible

Monday, Christian Salafia of Homebrewed Theology posted on facebook the above video without comment due to his anger. Is there any reason to be mad at wealth inequality, or income distribution, which some would argue is a different topic altogether? According to the video, 1% of the population of this country owns 40% of the wealth. There is this ideal in economists minds, the video suggests, where there should be an even distribution, or more accurately, where income gaps are smaller than they already are. Income inequality leads to some moral questions for many persons of faith. For some, moral outrage over wealth inequality/income distribution is just another sign of a spoiled citizenry who are $green$ with envy. The problem therefore becomes a privatized one, where individual persons are just acting out of their own personal covetousness against the rich and successful.

agent orange capitalism

What the church of the free market often neglects is that all human economies are tied to political institutions, regardless of our calls to deregulation. Tax breaks for a few multinational corporations is still a government favoring a business. In the United States, political power is ultimately tied to money and status of employment. The private business is ultimately political. Let’s take for example the Constitutional idea that the second Tuesday in November is the day we are to have federal elections. Why? Because November was the Founders’ favorite month? No! It was because of economics, it was the time where the farmers would be the most free to vote after harvest. We live in a post-industrial economy, and our Constitution was and is written for a slave plantation society. Another concrete example of the political and economic working together for the suppression of political voices are federal election laws themselves. For example, in 2010, incumbents raised an average of $9.4 million while their challengers, almost 1/18th of that or $519,000. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue: the wealthy’s access to political power is unrestrained on both sides. Campaign finance reforms as they stand right now, are supposed to limit the influence of money in elections. This is a misguided policy I have come to see. Tax payers in the lowest income brackets are paying for the campaigns of the 1%, handing over more power to the already powerful. Meanwhile those citizens who are qualified to run for office but can’t afford it are excluded because of economics. The implications are obvious: the rich get richer and more powerful, they start more wars to send the poor to fight for them.

It’s blatantly obvious to anyone even marginally read on campaign laws that third parties, the middle and lower classes are at an unfair disadvantage. Apathy for income distribution/wealth inequality (pick your poison) is tacit approval for political oppression.  The 1% may own 40% of the country’s wealth, but they wield 100% of the nation’s political influence, and that should be most disconcerting to us. Scripture warns us time and again not only the dangers of greed, but also what avarice means in the body politic. In the Wisdom literature of Scripture, partiality is looked down upon, especially when it comes to ancient Israel’s judicial system (Proverbs 28:21 & parts of Job for example). Deuteronomy 16 and 17, placing limits on those at the very top of Hebrew society “You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.” (Deuteronomy 16:19 NRSV) In the New Testament, the apostles continue being faithful to YHWH, “God shows no partiality.” (Peter in Acts 10:34, Paul in Romans 2:11) Paul makes sure to remind us of God’s impartiality (fairness) in his instructions to human enslavers and the human beings they enslave (Ephesians 5).

In the end, God cares about the alignment and arrangement of human bodies because the Triune God is Lord and good Creator of all. Human concern for economic inequality and injustice is more consistent with Scripture than religious defenses of capitalism. Any human arrangement, yes system, that continues the devaluing of human life must come under prophetic judgement because God disclosed in the Resurrection that human life is of invalueable worth, that justice for human beings is to be placed above all and any systems.

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0 thoughts on “Wealth Inequality, Political Power, and the Bible

  1. wken

    Rodney, you absolutely nailed this one.

    I have absolutely nothing to add. Excellent post! I wish that more Christians could see that this disparity of power is not a sign of a godly system. Instead, I see a lot of people who are just fine with it.

    Anyway, as I said … great post!

  2. wken

    I know … I’ve seen people who somehow find unrestricted-free-market pure capitalism as a Biblical command, with purely-optional care for the poor.

    I’m not sure what Bible they’re reading, but it sure isn’t mine.

    They seem to be reading a lot into “Do not steal” and not taking nearly the same liberties with the goats/sheep story, among others.

    I think it’s very sad.

  3. Pingback: Income Inequality

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