Tuesday, April 24, 2012


"The Bible tells us that socialism and neosocialism never worked."

Every time there's an election in America (and other places), particularly a national election, folks start standing up and waving a Bible around. You might think I'm talking about preachers and right wing social conservatives, but actually the side you're on doesn't particularly signify.
For example, almost every major Democratic Party presidential and congressional candidate will darken the door of a church once or twice every four years to "preach" at a black church. I say "preach" because the sermon isn't really about God or the Bible, but about politics, how bad their opponent is, and how everyone needs to vote for them. And some Republicans do it too, on occasion.

Another example is from the White Horse Inn, where Michael Horton relates this tale:
Jesus told the rich young ruler, “‘Sell all that you own and distribute the money.’ But the young man, ‘who was very rich,’ turned away. Jesus’ comment? ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God’ (Luke 18: 21-25).” “All too true,” Ms. Thistlewaite sighs with all the self-satisfaction of someone who thinks she’s not the rich young ruler. “It’s also easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a bill with the rich paying their fair share of taxes to get through Congress. Not gonna happen.”
That's from Susan Brooks Thistlewait (that name doesn't evoke leftist academic at all) at the Washington Post. And of course, President Obama has been using the Bible a lot to try to support his economic theories and demonize anyone who disagrees.

Naturally it happens a lot on the right as well, as Michael Horton notes from a recent NPR piece where Richard Land (head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) is quoted as saying socialism is condemned in the Bible and that confiscatory tax rates never work.
In both cases there is some tenuous scriptural reference and support given - there are tales in scripture of high tax rates ruining a nation, for example, but the problem is that these references are taken out of context, used in a manner never intended, and substitute what happened for what ought to happen. Horton goes through a few typically misused scriptures to show their problems, so I won't do that here, but I do want to note one thing in particular.

The Bible at no point condemns wealth or extols poverty. It condemns abuse of wealth, it calls love of money or belief in its power to protect and support you instead of God a sin, and it calls wealthy people who won't help those in need lots of names, but at no point is wealth called bad or criticized. In fact, scripture clearly says that wealth is a blessing from God, something given as a gift.
The Bible at no point supports or calls for wealth to be taken away, pooled by a group of bureaucrats, and distributed evenly to everyone. It continuously calls for those with something to help those without, and it brutally condemns the wealthy who do not (especially in the minor prophets), but always on a per person basis. Giving and generosity is to be done individually, voluntarily, and out of a real concern for those in need, not by gunpoint and law through a government body.

The Bible never condemns government redistributing wealth, specifically, either. Its largely silent on how governments should act other than to fear the Lord, obey His law, punish the wicked, and encourage the righteous. That's pretty much it. You can look through the Old Testament civil laws for ideas on how God wanted Israel to structure their government, but those laws aren't normative and are not necessarily applicable to today in any case - Israel was a pretty specific and special setting. Ex slaves without any real form of government or knowledge of how to run one needed special, specific rules, and they were so intertwined with ceremonial religious rules and the theocracy of Israel that one has to be cautious before applying them too directly.

The Bible is absolutely supportive of the concept of private ownership and earning what you own. The Bible condemns people who won't work for their food ("they shall not eat" - 2 Thessalonians 3:10), and clearly opposes sloth. But that's as far as it goes, there are no policy prescriptions, no word about medicare, no rules on how high taxes should go, and scripture clearly teaches people should pay their taxes.

But the Bible is not a textbook on government, nor is it a primer on how to run a nation. What style of government or economic system you have is not of any real interest to the scripture, as long as you don't violate love for your neighbor and God's commands. Yes, I'd argue that its unethical to take what one man has earned and give it to another who has not, but I can't point to any verse that condemns this as sinful, unless you want to call it theft, which gets a bit murky when it comes to taxes.

The Bible is about redemptive history, or how God worked through every single instance of everyone's actions since the fall of man in the Garden to bring His children to salvation through the doing and dying of Jesus Christ. All of the Bible looks forward either to the coming of the messiah or His glorious, triumphant return. Christians are told what to do while they wait for the return of Jesus Christ, and to realize that injustice, poverty, cruelty, war, sin, and hate will all continue until that final day.

We will not, through any government or economic system, bring utopian peace and justice. We will not end poverty, cruelty, or want. We cannot stop sin, not through any law, system, or policy. We are told to fight to end wrong and promote right, but to realize that God alone can make this happen and only through His will and according to his sovereign plan and that we will not see paradise on this earth until kingdom come.

From that you can extrapolate some political principles (like the rejection of socialist utopias - or conservative ones for that matter), but any time a politician lifts up a Bible and says vote for me because of this, start to treat them with deep suspicion. And when a politician picks up a Bible to condemn another person, be very, very skeptical. Because when Jesus says "judge not lest you be judged" He meant for people to not judge based on themselves or their greatness. Clearly, we are to judge people - the Bible says to all over - but only in the light of God's law. We judge someone based on how they are obeying God, not how they compare to us, and if the Bible is clear on one thing, its absolutely, painfully so on this one principle: judge yourself first.

So when a politician starts using the Bible to help their career or sway voters, pray for them. Because they're not hurting you, they're hurting themselves. God will not be mocked.

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