What About the Politics of Wealth?
I didn’t address this in my Sunday sermon, and normally do not because my sermon, like Jesus’ parable (Luke 16 "The Dishonest Manager) is addressed to “the disciples.” I think these stewardship principles are vitally important for all Christians, and this is always our main focus when we come to the topic of money. However sometimes Christians ask if the I can provide them with any guidance when it comes to their voting. How do we, as Christians, speak to national and global issues of wealth?
Economics is a complicated science. However there are some basic principles that are not hard to grasp and that are governed by God’s natural laws. The first is “stewardship.” A person who works and produces should have some say in how the fruit of their labor is managed. This is taught in the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.” The second is “responsibility.” Natural law also compels us to believe that those who have much have a responsibility to help those who have less. If ten men are marooned on an island and one man possesses ten weapons and the others none, natural law says that he should share what he has for the benefit of all. If he does not, and they are attacked, all will die. Stewardship and responsibility are two important keys to a society’s management of wealth.
Many are concerned about the distribution of wealth in our country. A very small percentage of people are in possession of much of the wealth. Many perceive this to be a great evil. But is it necessarily evil? We could evaluate according to the principles of stewardship and responsibility. “Did they steal it?” and, “Are they managing it well for the sake of others?” A careful analysis of these questions would be helpful. There is an interesting website that might give us a clue. Forbes.com lists the richest people in America by state. By a ratio of 35 to 15 the richest people in each state all started as people of average wealth and later found great success through their endeavors. Among that list are familiar businesses such as Ebay, Quicken Loans, Menards, Nike, Facebook, Berkshire Hathawy and Microsoft. And, among the fifteen inheritors of wealth, most were only one generation away from those who started as people of average wealth. This tells me that in our country, for the most part, wealth is still earned in just ways. Is it being managed well for the sake of others? That is probably harder to determine, but there has been a long tradition of philanthropy in our country. Nevertheless that leads us to another question of economic policy.
Some would propose that their wealth should be taken from them and managed by the government. This has been tried before in the Soviet Union and China, and I think most would recognize that it failed. Some would propose that their wealth should be taken from them and redistributed directly to the average citizens or directed to public works that benefit everyone. This is being done now since the wealthy pay the bulk of all taxes. But should more be distributed in this way? That is the question that our country has been debating for a long time. I’m not sure that I can find anything in Scripture or natural law that would say more or less of this is either good or evil. Most likely these are decisions that have to be tried and evaluated. Try more taxation of the rich and then evaluate the outcome, or try less.
This brings me to our Christian involvement in governmental economics. What role do we play? What should be our thoughts about these things? First, Christians should always support the principles of stewardship and responsibility. This is the overarching guidance that God gives us. We should live them personally, and we should work for them corporately. Flowing from this are two more. Second, we should be careful not to become jealous of those who are extremely wealthy if they gained their wealth justly. Nor should we advocate taking everything from them as Karl Marx did. We should pray that they would use their wealth wisely. Third, we should be careful not to disregard those who are not well off eonomically. We certainly cannot say, “They failed, that’s their problem” as Ayn Rand advocated. God has called us to more than that. Just as the government tries to ensure that wealth is acquired justly, it also has a role to ensure that wealth is managed well for the sake of the whole society. Whatever leaders we elect, whatever laws we support – these should at least be our guiding principles.
Finally, we have to believe that whether these principles of natural law are followed or not, God is still in control and we always turn to Him to bring justice and peace to this world. While Paul had nothing to say about voting because there was no such thing in his day, he did have something to say about praying. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2.1-2). Not only should we pray for our leaders that they may work for “a peaceful and quiet life…,” We should pray for our fellow citizens that they would seek the same. And finally we should pray for ourselves that we might make wise choices when it comes to our voting. We should seek leaders who will rule as much as possible according to God’s will so that the Gospel can be preached and that people might believe that Jesus is the one mediator who gave Himself as a ransom for all. Amen.