This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wealth Inequality Is a Faith Issue.

            When God liberates the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, God proceeds to give them a law to guide and shape their new community.  Egypt did not have such a law.  In Egypt, Pharaoh was the law.  But God gives the Israelites a written law specifically to prevent a system developing that had institutions like a Pharaoh or slavery.
            God knows that, if humans are left to themselves, what “naturally” emerges is a system in which the strong bully their way to the top, and the weak get shoved to the bottom.  That’s what happened in Egypt, which reduced the Hebrews to a slave class.  (Unrestricted Libertarianism always results with some having more rights than others.)
            That kind of a system is unsustainable, and eventually draws down upon itself some kind of catastrophe.  With Egypt it was a series of ecological disasters we know as the 10 plagues.  When a society is out of balance and out of synch with the laws of the Creator, the creation itself rebels and the balance is reset at great cost.
            To prevent this, God gives the Israelites a set of laws to live by.  These laws have the effect of reducing the rights of the powerful and wealthy, while enhancing the rights of the weak and poor.  They are designed to keep one class from accumulating too much wealth and power.
            Nowhere is this clearer than in the Sabbath and Jubilee laws of Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15.  Basically, all accrued wealth was to revert periodically to the original owners (according to the distribution to tribes and clans during the conquest of Canaan.  That conquest itself, by the way, was at least in part a rebellion against wealth inequality imposed by the corrupt petty rulers of Canaanite cities).  This meant that wealth inequality was contradicted; equality was required to be reestablished every few years.  At that time all debts were to be remitted, and all property restored to an equitable distribution.  If you lost money during that time you got it back; if you made money you gave it up.
            Notice that the Bible has no concern for “personal responsibility,” “rewarding the successful,” or any of the other self-serving rationalizations of wealth inequality.  The philosophy here is that there is to be no wealth inequality among God’s people; equality is periodically restored.  And it is restored without any prejudice or bias in favor of what supposedly supports “economic growth.” 
            Jesus himself agrees with this.  (He is the source and fulfillment of Scripture in any case.)  In his inaugural sermon in Nazareth he quotes the prophet Isaiah, and asserts that proclaiming Jubilee (“the year of the Lord’s favor”) is an important aspect of his work as the Messiah (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-3).  The rest of his ministry features sharp criticism of the wealthy, and deep sympathy for the poor (Luke 1:51-53; 6:20-26; 12:16-21; 16:19-31; 18:18-25; 21:1-4; etc.  And that’s just a sampling from one gospel).
            Wealth inequality always results in disaster because it is against God’s will and plan for a healthy creation.  Disaster is the inevitable and necessary consequence of wealth inequality in a social system.
            That is why it is imperative that we take seriously the wealth inequalities evident in our own economy.  This situation goes against God’s will.  If it persists, the consequences will not be pretty.
            And that’s just our national economy.  The global economy is in dramatically worse shape, with about 5 billion people in grinding poverty while a mere few million have a firm grip on nearly all the wealth.
            Even if it is unintelligible or offensive for some to hear that “global warming is God’s punishment,” it is quite clear that global warming is a result of a comparative handful of humans in the industrialized world making themselves wildly wealthy at the expense of everyone else on the planet, and now at the expense of the planet itself.  Call it the wrath of the Creator, or call it the consequence of imbalance in the creation, the result is the same.       

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