So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

“Income Inequality” Part Three

            Ok, now let’s deal with the Scripture passages which supposedly support the Leftist position on this issue. Does God care about the plight of the poor and needy? Of course he does. You have to try hard to find a book of the Bible that doesn’t express his concern for “the least of these.” And as a direct result, he fully expects his people to be extremely generous in their giving to those in need. As supreme beneficiaries of his grace, mercy, kindness, patience, and blessings, it should taken as a given that his people will "pay it forward" by passing our temporal blessings on to others in need. But does he care about income inequality per se? Does the goal of “income redistribution” find any support in the Bible? I don’t think so, but today we’re going to look at the passages which supposedly advocate it. I want to be as fair and open-minded as I can.
            First and foremost, there are the commands in the Torah concerning the “Year of Jubilee,” found in Leviticus 25:8-34. Here’s a quick summary of what the Lord told his people. Every 50 years, the Israelites were to celebrate the Year of Jubilee. When this occured. . .

·         All debts were to be forgiven.
·         They were not to sow or reap in their fields, giving the fields a “break.”
·         All slaves (at least Jewish ones) were to be set free.
·         All land is to be returned to its original family ownership.

            It’s the last one that we concern ourselves with today. Basically, if you “bought” land from someone, you didn’t really purchase it: You rented it until the Jubilee. You couldn’t just buy up land and buy up land and buy up land until you owned it all. Under the Law, in the 50th year it all went back to the original family, supposedly the family that first claimed it when Israel came in and took over the land from the Canaanites.
            There actually is a verse that emphasizes this: Centuries later, Isaiah condemned those who “add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.”
            But—and this is an incredibly important but—this in no way advocates a sweeping principle of “we need to redistribute income in order to make life more ‘fair.’” Here are some counterpoints to consider:

·         The “land return program” only applied to land outside walled cities. It didn’t apply at all to houses or real estate within the city. The Leviticus passage is pretty explicit on this point.
·         It only applied to land, not to any other sort of property. It didn’t apply to boats or money or animals (which were a huge measure of income).

            Why didn’t it apply to any type of property besides land? Because land—as opposed to other forms of property—is a “zero sum game.” If you own X amount of land, then by definition that means that someone else has less land that they can own. Each Israelite was ideally supposed to have a heritage/inheritance in the Promised Land that they could pass down to their progeny.  And there was only so much of that to go around.
            Just about any other sort of property: animals, fruit trees, clothing, money, is not a zero-sum game. If I have three fruit trees, those fruit trees do not keep you from planting your own on your own property. If I have an income of X, that doesn’t keep you poor. It doesn’t keep you from advancing yourself.
            Land—by itself—is not income. You can live on it, leave it fallow, or invest in it by planting crops or renting it out. But the land itself has no automatic source of income like animals would. So right off the bat this was not an income redistribution program, nor does it express any interest on God’s part to make life more “fair” or institute “economic justice.”
            Let’s look another book which Leftists love: Amos. He was a prophet sent to the northern kingdom of Israel (as opposed to Judah in the south), and he condemned a lot of practices in ways that at first blush look like a derogation of wealthy people for being wealthy. He certainly doesn’t have anything really good to say about them.
            But what specifically did he condemn them for? Was it because they were wealthy? Let’s take a closer look at their practices:
·         4:1 oppressing the poor, crushing the needy
·         5:11-15 oppressive tax system, corruption in the court system
·         8:5-6 cheating customers, "buying the poor. . .and needy."

            Um, looking at this list, it doesn’t look like any condemnation of the Free Market System or wealthy people. These were wealthy people who were using their money to gain undue influence on government officials in order to oppress those unable to defend themselves.  And they outright cheated their customers, which is just another form of stealing. That is not the Free Market System. That’s “crony capitalism.” The FMS paradigm--people making free exchanges to their mutual benefit--is as close to what we’re seeing in Amos as an aluminum Christmas tree is to a Spruce Pine that you chopped down in the forest. If a businessman gives a bribe to a congressman in order to get a special deal or a tax break for his company, that’s not the FMS!!!
            Here’s what the study note on Isaiah 1:23 from the NET Bible has to say: “The rich oppressors referred to in Isaiah and the other eighth century prophets were not rich capitalists in the modern sense of the word. They were members of the royal military and judicial bureaucracies in Israel and Judah. As these bureaucracies grew, they acquired more and more land and gradually commandeered the economy and legal system. At various administrative levels bribery and graft become commonplace. The common people outside the urban administrative centers were vulnerable to exploitation in such a system, especially those, like widows and orphans, who had lost their family provider through death. Through confiscatory taxation, conscription, excessive interest rates, and other oppressive governmental measures and policies, they were gradually disenfranchised and lost their landed property, and with it, their rights as citizens. The socio-economic equilibrium envisioned in the law of Moses was radically disturbed.”
            And by the way, the only sure-fire way to minimize government corruption is to scale back the power that government has in our daily lives. Nobody tries to bribe me. Why not? Because I have zero power over them. If government didn’t stick its nose in the Free Market as much, if it was smaller and kept to what it’s supposed to do instead of what it’s not, you’d have a lot less corruption and crony capitalism. In a true FMS, the only way that Mr. X gets wealthy is by making voluntary exchanges with other people to everyone’s mutual benefit. If he introduces force, fraud, or theft, then either the law or the FMS will punish him for it.
            I know I keep harping on this, but I think it bears repeating: Just off the top of my head, I can name some very wealthy men in the Bible who were God-fearing and who were commended by the Lord. In no way did he condemn them for their wealth. Never did he tell them that they needed to equalize their income with everyone around them. If I knew that the Lord said about me what he said about Job, I’d be thrilled.
            Again—I’m sorry for repeating myself, but this is a real bugaboo of mine—to the degree that you’re concerned in the slightest about what person A makes versus person B, you’re not thinking God’s thoughts after him. At best, you’re confused and are displaying ignorance about what the Bible teaches. How the Lord’s blessed person A versus how he’s blessed person B (especially if you’re person B) is none of your darn business. If you have a desire to have a better standard of living, then make sure money’s not an idol. If you’ve determined that it’s not and that you have a good attitude towards your wealth, then maybe improve your marketability. What’s not acceptable is for you to be concerned—much less be obsessed—over what some other person is making. For the life of me, I can’t really grasp why this is considered acceptable among Christians who claim to honor God’s word. The most charitable interpretation I can submit is biblical ignorance, so I’ll stick with that. But the more they obsess over “income inequality,” the less charitable I feel. If after reading this you’re still obsessing over what someone else is making, then quite frankly I have to ask how you’re not flouting the Tenth Commandment, if not the Eighth.
            If you feel like I’ve misrepresented or misinterpreted Scripture, then please feel free to correct me in the comments. As long as you’re civil and keep the discussion on what the Bible actually says, I’ll print it and respond accordingly. I don’t claim to have all the answers on stuff like this, but the old saying goes, “I gotta calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.”  

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