November 27, 2012
By the Rev. Howard Bess
An irony of modern politics is that many conservative Americans view themselves as devout believers in the Bible yet they ascribe to right-wing, dog-eat-dog economic theories that Jesus and other Biblical figures would condemn. The contradiction has pushed Biblical economics out of mainstream debate.
The Bible has an identifiable view of economics. Whether or not we take the point of view seriously is a matter of choice, but for those who give some sort of special authority to the Biblical writings, the viewpoint cannot be ignored. One cannot not say “I believe the Bible” and lightly dismiss the perspective developed by Israelites in an ancient setting.
The Israelite understanding of economics was developed over a period of nearly 1,000 years, from the Israelite escape from Egyptian slavery to the cruel years of slavery in Babylonia. Putting together the story of their development of economic theory is like following the plot as a well-written novel. In its final form it was laid out by a group of Israelite priests in the Sixth Century BCE.
Priests in ancient Israel were taken seriously. They were not hampered by theories of separation of church and state or keeping religion out of economics and politics. When priests spoke about wealth, property and God, no one would dare tell them to keep their noses out of the public square. They WERE the public square.
The summary of their economic theories is imbedded in the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament. The essence of Biblical ethics is at times captured in short phrases. Memorize these short phrases and a person has enough guidance for a Godly life.
Examples are “am I my brother’s keeper?,” love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” A controlling and precise statement about economics is found in Leviticus 25:23 – “Land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.”
When we look at the development of the Israelite nation, it is very clear that they were not a capitalist, consumer-oriented society, whose first order of business was to spend and use material wealth on themselves and to pursue the getting of more so they could spend more lavishly on themselves.
Jesus pegged the Israelite tradition correctly when he said the greatest of all commandments was to love God with heart, mind and soul. All ethical behavior and the handling of all wealth were subservient to the command to love God.
The priests developed not-so-simple rules about how the control of land was to be handed down from generation to generation. The Year of Jubilee was meant to be a once-every-50-years complete redistribution of land among the Israelites. But the redistribution as written in Levitical law was never enacted. I suspect that those who controlled land were a bit reluctant to turn it over to “lazy” folk who had not taken good care of the family farm.
Yet, whether or not the system was ever implemented is not the point. A principle was set. All people were to have access to and use of the resources of the earth. This basic right was to take priority over any person or group to claim private ownership and use of those resources.
One can argue that these standards are from an ancient agrarian economic system that cannot be reasonably applied to modern economics. Essentially, that is the view of leading American politicians, whether President Barack Obama or his Republican rival Mitt Romney. They were both more in line with Ayn Rand than the Bible.
However, as a Christian who takes the Bible seriously, I am suggesting that there are principles from Leviticus 25:23 and other economic references in the Bible that can be applied to modern economic practices.
The first principle has already been mentioned but needs to be restated and is foundational to everything else. The resources for the support of life must be available to and enjoyed by all. To cut off people from basic life needs is immoral. It is an affront to the God who claims ownership of all things.
All possessions are gifts from God, and those gifts are not reserved for a select few. A living wage, clean air to breath, quality health care, and potable water all become demands from the Almighty.
The second principle is related. I make no suggestion that everyone have exactly the same resources at his/her disposal. However, just as the less fortunate in life must have basic needs met, limitations on accumulation must be put in place.
The second principle is that Biblical economics limit the permanent control and ownership of wealth by the few. In a modern economic system, Biblical economics demand that such accumulation and control of wealth be brought to an end through taxation, anti-trust laws or other legislative remedies.
Jesus was quite blunt. You cannot serve God and money. The arrogance of today’s super-rich makes the point. Super-rich people are in big trouble with God.
The third principle raises the question “who is to benefit?” In the Biblical economic system and ethic, the highest concern is focused on right where people live. Economics must serve the smaller of our social units. A social unit may be understood as a family, a clan, a neighborhood or a community. The point of Biblical economics is that the concerns of God will never be found on Wall Street or in the corporate suites of Bank of America.
The Bible does indeed present an economic system with underlying principles. They are pounding at our door.
The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
In a little talked about event on Nov. 1st, 2012, The Congressional Research Service withdrew an economic report that found no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth, a central tenet of conservative economic theory, after Senate Republicans raised concerns about the paper’s findings and wording.
Wait a minute. What?
The world is going to just let this go by? That Reaganomics is false and it doesn't work?' That it's a ponzi scheme?
Are we going to forget that George Bush Sr. called it "voodoo economics" before he joined the ticket with Reagan? Are we going to forget that David Stockman, Reagan's Director of the Office of Management and Budget, said it would never work, and Reagan pushed it through anyway?
Are we going to forget that republicans made this the central theme for their fiscal policy to 30+ years, and they still are?
It should be obvious by now. The George W. Bush Tax Cuts did nothing.
And Romney wanted to do another 20% cut across the broad, on top of leaving the Bush Tax Cuts in place.
What is going on America? What is going on? Why isn't this the central story on every single news outlet? Are we that cut off from reality?
The rich use and abuse a system built on the backs of the poor and middle class but they don't want to pay their fair share. That's sad. That's unacceptable.
Source: Nonpartisan Tax Report Withdrawn After G.O.P. Protest
You don't have to believe it or agree with it. You don't have to agree with us. We believe it. Please feel free to believe what feels right for you. For us, the evidence is too overwhelming. For us, it sickens us how the right took over these obscure Biblical issues and turned them into a litmus test for being a good Christian, and then told us which party we needed to vote for based on these issues. We're not buying it. We never bought it.
Here's some evidence on reproductive choice:
Article: How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life” Movement
Article: The Bible Tells Us When A Fetus Becomes A Living Being
Article: The ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal
Article: Wait. What? God Ordered An Abortion?
Article: Life is a mystery ...
Here's some evidence on Marriage Equality:
Article: Clobbering "Biblical" Gay Bashing
Article: What the Bible Says–and Doesn’t Say–About Homosexuality
Article: When Same-Sex Marriage Was a Christian Rite
Article: Homosexuality is Not a Sin.
Many Christians have been brainwashed, We hope you're not one of them. If you are, expose yourself to information that isn't from inside your circle, like that which is featured in this article. There's no need to be afraid of the truth. Jesus said, "The truth will set you free."
When you're done with the above, listen to this lecture by author, historian and Emmy Award nominee the Rev. Dr. Randall Balmer, distinguished visiting professor at Emory Universitys Candler School of Theology. He reveals groundbreaking research on the real impetus behind the rise of the Religious Right. A must watch. It explains a great deal about how all this came about.
To top off your search for the truth. Watch this video. This man did very extensive research. You will walk away amazed at what you didn't know before. We promise you that.
by Michelle Balzer Hairston
I grew up a Christian in church every Sunday, went to a Christian college, served for 8 years as our church Administrator, responsible for everything except preaching, specializing in marketing and advertising.
Our church started as a great church model, welcoming everyone, no judgment, love, acceptance, “come as you are.” We grew so fast that we were awarded the “fastest growing church in northwest history” and they sent the pastor, I, and others out all over the country to set up new church starts using our model. However, soon the money took over the church and TRADITION TOOK OVER AND CHOKED THE LIFE OUT OF OUR CHURCH AND RUINED IT.
People with “the worst sins” couldn’t sit on the board, and blah, blah, blah, until traditional Bible thumping, hell and brimstone, holier than thou, won and destroyed the love and acceptance that made our church flourish. Instead of going out and reaching the hurt and lost, it all became about who was tithing the most and who was sinning the most.
They were always worried about others’ sin and IT DESTROYED US. A person’s sin needs to be between them and God. Period. I left the church and will never go back because the hypocrisy made me sick. They say people are leaving the church in record droves because of the devil, but the truth is its because of church folk and judgment and harm done by those who think they are holier than the rest of us.
"Down into the never-ending valley of toil and agony, stretching mile after mile, an inferno of mud-soaked bodies, where the treaders' feet churn clay and straw into the mixture for Pharaoh's bricks, and everywhere the lash of watchful taskmasters, ready to sting the backs of the weary. Blades chopping straw... mattocks chopping clay, a ceaseless cycle of unending drudgery. From the mixing feet of treaders to the pouring hands of brick molders, moves the constant stream of mud, the lowly seed of tall cities. Day after day, year after year, century after century, bondage without rest, toil without reward. These are the children of misery, the afflicted, the hopeless, the oppressed." -- The Ten Commandments
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We’re not about Dogma here. We’re just Christians who think the political and Christian right-wing have their priorities wrong.
Charles Toy is the founding member of The Christian Left. We're sure you will enjoy his passion as well as his wit. Guest bloggers featured often.