Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Christian perspective on the economy

On Friday morning in Easton, Maryland, the situation became more confusing than ever regarding St. Andrew's Anglican Church. The foreclosure sale on the courthouse steps was, of course, an auction. A representative of the very bank that is foreclosing bid immediately, and the bid was so high that no one could have offered competition. In short, the bank did not make a penny, and the church may still find a way to retain the location by finding a generous buyer. (The Wall Street Journal had a reporter who spent hours gathering her facts). Otherwise, it can only sit as a white elephant in the historic district where it can never be torn down or altered.

As I thought on this during the day, my mind took me to consideration of the economy, not just in Maryland, not just in the United States, but in the world. The troubles of this time may be seen as a tragedy or as an opportunity. An opportunity for what exactly we cannot know, except that whatever it is for the world, for us it is an opportunity to serve God in a way designed for this exact time. In every decision we must weigh the general will of God revealed in all of scripture, and the specific actions we must take in light of that revelation, in light of known charismatic endowments from the Holy Spirit, and in light of the manifest need of a given time and place.

Also, we must see that the troubles of this time have come because of the sin of recent generations. Because many have tried to make "pieces of the pie" more available for selfish reasons, and even for misguided ideological reasons, the people who would have created wealth far beyond the perceived limitations of the "pie" were slaughtered in the womb, murdered quietly away in darkness as women's bodies were desecrated into Auschwitz ovens rather than protective and nurturing houses of new life. The consequences of this mass murder, sanctioned by the laws of formerly civilized nations, is an economy without the wealth that would have been created for an aging generation. The laws of consequence are passive retribution, the fruit of sins rather than active judgment. The worst thing God ever can do to any people is to let them have their own way.

And, even so, for us this is a time to be lean and athletic in our faith and in our works. This is a time of opportunity, a time that will not come again. We must know the will of God, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God will be preached to every nation. This time of economic distress has its own special needs, and we are the Body of Christ with many charismatic endowments. And, that is an economy of unlimited wealth.


Canon Tallis said...

The comment of a recently elected politician to the effect that the reason that he wanted to raise taxes on the rich was to punish them is indicative of a mindset which is in rebellion against God. The Ten Commandments forbid both stealing and envy and yet they are political program of choice for far too many of the American people. Some may suggest I go to far but if the reason for your vote is to have the government take from another citizen and give to either you or a person of your choice, that is theft. You simply used the government's gun.

How can any of us learn from our mistakes if we are not allowed to suffer the consequences of them? Or if we are allowed to transfer those consequences to others? It seems to me that we desperately need to learn from Holy Scripture to do justly. But can any man call an action just which hurts the innocent for the benefit of the guilty?

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

"The worst thing God ever can do to any people is to let them have their own way."



Anonymous said...

Stanley Hauerwas, of Duke University's School of Theology, has often made the point that when the Church attempts to govern the world (or, as a Reformed theologian put it once, to "capture the robes" of authority), she acquiesces in doing violence to the innocent.

poetreader said...

At the core of the Gospel is the realization that we, all of us, each and every one, citizen and politician, yes even parishioner and clergy, are in rebellion against God. "ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God." There are no exceptions. If that were not true. If it were possible for us to be what we are required to be, there would have been no need of the Cross. But Jesus came to save sinners, like me, like Mr. Bush or Mr. Obama, like Gene Robinson, like so many others we can think of. We all, myself included, want things our own way, and often work bvery hard to "prove" that our way is the way of God, but is it? "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the ways thereof are the ways of destruction." I don't believe I'm authorized by God to thunder out denunciation of anyone, nor to declare anyone to be righteous either. I'm not authorized to tolerate one evil in order to defeat another. With regard to policiians I cannot declare one a saint and one a sinner, nor can I declare that one category of sins trumps another. Any of that is playing God, and I tremble at the presumption that we so often show in seizing His prerogative.

We do our best, with an informed Christian conscience, to make something of a hopelessly flawed and sin-ridden world-system, attempting to assist the spread of the Gospel of grace in this world, and to change hearts (by God's power) that more men might seek holiness. Politicians of all sides will and do blaspheme the name of God.

We heard some very wise words:

when the Church attempts to govern the world (or, as a Reformed theologian put it once, to "capture the robes" of authority), she acquiesces in doing violence to the innocent.

No one can govern without doing harm. In a predominately Christian society it is Christians that have to do the job, but as weak and sinful humans, not as agents of a church. We will err, often grievously, let's not allow it to be God's Church that inflicts the harm that will certainly come.

"The worst thing God ever can do to any people is to let them have their own way."

This is also wise. Remember that God used Pharaoh. God used Nebuchadnezzar, God used Cyrus the Persian. God used Nero and Diocletian. The testimony of Scripture and of Christian history is that it has often been the worst of rulers that God has used for the highest good. And it was of Nero that Peter and Paul wrote in commanding that we honor the King, and that we submit to those whomare over us, and even more starly, that it was to him that God gave the power of the sword.
Yes, this is a representative government, a republic or a democracy, as you will, but that does not release us from being careful that in dishonoring our leaders we may be dishonoring God.

I absoutely loathe the angry one-sided political agenda of most religious "liberals" as much as I loathe their distorted teaching, but I don't see the angry one-sided political pronouncements of "Conservative" Christians as being any more acceptable. We are called to draw people to the Christ, and we are called to treat others as if we were seein Him.

I'm very sorry that a post occasioned by the trials and tribulations of a church suffering from the mess pur economy is in should have led to this sort of political screed, and to the placing of the blame on one set of opinions and efforts, while ignoring the other concerns. Let Father Hart's wise words lead us to see the true scope of the problem and the multitudinous manifestions of greed that have produced this mess.


Canon Tallis said...


I probably have been closer to exercizing considerable political power than anyone on this blog. i Have stood very close to those with great political power and could have been very much closer had I chosen to set aside the commandments. Indeed, to "do good" I have armed men and prepared them for a violent confrontation and also set them out to do violence if necessary. It turned out that I was fortunate and others finding out that we were armed and prepared to resist decided to back down with the result that real good was done was done for the most disfavored. But I knew then and know now that it could have gone the other way.

I have also handled millions in public funds so I know what it is like to have access to huge amounts of money that is not yours and which I would have been able to dip into without any one being the wiser. And in all of our layers of government there are simply thousands with opportunities such as I had. And, strangely, the overwhelming majority are ruthlessly honest.

The military academies have a code of honour which may be very simply stated, "A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate a cadet who does." It is certainly a council of perfection, but the overwhelming majority of cadets would turn in their own room mates rather than allow a shadow to be cast upon the honour of the corps - to say nothing of their own.

Our present economic crisis has been caused by those who believe that they are so special that they have a right to the goods of others and further that it will forward their own political careers to rob one set of citizens for the benefit of those whom they favour. It has nothing to do with liberal or conservative for both have been guilty of it and will again be so. But whoever does it and for whatever stated reason, the root cause is generally envy of what another has while the taking of it must be regarded any of the above purposes must be regarded as simply theft. This may seem a council of perfection as far as governments concern, but fastest way to divide and anger any people is to do them harm for the benefit of others. I my choose to give what I have earned or legitimately acquired for charitable purposes, for the relief of the poor, but to take them without my consent is and remains evil - even and especially if a government does it.

There is no political screed about it. It is a violation of loving your neighbor as yourself and doing unto others what you have them do unto you. It is the first step towards destroying the legitimacy of all government.

I know this is very hard for those of us raised in the twentieth and twenty-first century to understand. Marxism has been the bread and butter of the political class as far back as Lincoln, but time and familiarity never makes evil good.

The first Christians were profound pacifists because they would not accept that military service which involved killing could or would be excused by a God who said: "Thou shall do no murder." I don't know if they were right or not; albeit I have come over time very close to agreeing with them.

Our current economic troubles go back to those who believe that they have a right to take from those who produce and give a small portion to those who can't or won't while rewarding themselves very handsomely indeed. Whether it is Wall Street with its stock brokers and bankers or Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and the Fed forcing backs and other lending agencies to give loans to those whom all knew in advance would never be able to pay them, it ammounts to the same thing. And we all know what our mothers would say - it is not yours and take your hands off it!

I seem to remember a certain king of Israel, Solomon's son.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Canon Tallis,

There are a number of problems with your position, if you wish to claim biblical or self-evident "natural law" support for it.

1. It assumes that the right to ownership of private property, as long as acquired legally and morally, is absolute. But the very fact payment of taxation itself is Scripturally mandated (Romans 13) and that Scripture also teaches that we are stewards with God being the true owner shows that this right is not absolute. Thus it can be overridden in appropriate circumstances. Natural Law does not teach that private property rights are absolute either.

2. Similarly, the principle of "the universal destination of goods" in natural law means that there is a fundamental right of access to the goods of creation for all humans. You did not seem to acknowledge this principle in your argument. Scripture teaches the same: note the corporate nature of the mandates in Genesis 1.28f, 9.1f. This creates a community-wide obligation to respect this right which can override the right to personal property without the sin of theft being committed.

3. That giving to the poor is a voluntary act of charity only (as you appear to suggest) and never an obligation of justice is not taught by Scripture. The Parable of Dives and Lazarus is sufficient to show that the "mere" sin of omission involved in not giving of one's abundance to another in dire need condemns to hell. See also Isaiah 58. Hence there is a moral obligation to redistribute wealth in certain circumstances.

4. The assumption that such redistribution could only ever be a voluntary personal act and not a government mediated and enforced one neglects the fact that the government does have the job of enforcing justice according to natural law, and I have just shown that redistribution can be necessitated by justice. Similarly, the Scripture implies rulers have obligations to the poor and oppressed: e.g., Daniel 4.27.

So, there is nothing unbiblical about progressive taxation or a welfare safety net of some sort. However, I agree that banking regulation encouraging loans on the grounds of political correctness rather than ability to repay are foolish and counterproductive.

welshmann said...

Fr. Kirby:

Given that the king has a scriptural mandate to correct injustice, including economic injustice, the operative word is "injustice". The king must identify the injustice he proposes to correct, and his actions should be reasonably calculated to achieve that end.

In the modern world, the scriptural mandate is used to justify the wholesale restribution of wealth for political purposes, i.e., "Vote for me, and I will take other people's stuff away from them and give it to you, because they are bad and you are good." That does not satisfy the scriptural mandate that the king should correct injustice; it's just envy raised to the level of public policy.

Every scriptural pattern we have of economic justice includes some element of self-help. In the OT, the rich had to leave the corners of their fields for the poor to glean, but the poor still had to glean. The Jubilee year returned land to its original owners, etc., but land had to be worked to be profitable. Likewise the Apostle Paul with his no-work-no-eat teaching is of no help to the modern welfare state with its system of "entitlements".

I don't mean to pose this in opposition to your comment, as though you were advocating something to the contrary. I'll grant the temptation for me is to begrudge the poor, and I admit I must accept scriptural teaching from a man like you who will actually be bound by the words of scripture. What I cannot stand is the PC liberation theologian who cites pet verses in support of his personal liberal/left agenda, when in fact he cares nothing for scripture or justice.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

When the state taxes in order to provide for the needy, it tends to waste a great deal of that money on excessive overhead so that only a very small portion is delivered to the actual poor. Such welfare leaves room for the generosity of people who can bypass all that bureaucracy, and the cost of it.

What shall we make of the fact that the scriptures command (e.g. Lev. 25:35f) God's people to raise collections for the needy, and that receiving such collections to pass them along to the poor of Jerusalem was part of St. Paul's ministry? Can we assume that the state is meeting the need, and that our taxes count as a contribution? The people I see who get such government assistance are simply never really provided for by these systems. I think of Dives, and that he was content to let Lazarus eat leftovers outside his door. This did not, in fact not at all, count as care for one of the least of the Lord's brethren.

Fr_Rob said...

Yours is a very fine post, Fr. Hart. These tough economic times indeed present an opportunity for us to share the Gospel with a possibly more receptive audience, for they show that so many things in life are beyond our control. And this is why we need God and the message of Christianity.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Received via e-mail:

'The first Christians were profound pacifists because they would not accept that military service which involved killing could or would be excused by a God who said: "Thou shall do no murder." I don't know if they were right or not; albeit I have come over time very close to agreeing with them.'

I don't think this is correct. I think early Christians were pacifist mainly because military service and civic office in pagan Rome had a religious dimension. The soldier or civic official was expected to offer incense to the image of the deified emperor, the goddess Roma, or other pagan deities. Officials often were obliged to maintain the temples and otherwise were implicated in pagan worship. While some early Christians might have supported their pacifism with arguments such as that stated above, when the pagan religious implications ended, so did Church pacifism.

poetreader said...

While the Church, as Church, never made a definite stand against going to war, and it is thus not acceptable to condemn anyone for believing that war may be necessary, there has never been a complete dearth of loyal and orthodox Christians holding to a more or less rigid pacifism. The matter was being debated right into the high Middle Ages and beyond, and the "just war" theorizing, though an eminently respectable opinion has never been univerally held.

For myself, I think I accept the theory of just war, but I cannot imagine the requisite conditions as actually existing in the world I inhabit - therefore I am pretty close to being a pacifist myself.

I am distressed that so very often in Christian majority countries the Church appears to be subverted to serving the interests of that country (a thing that appears to have happened as far back as Constantine), which includes military service in any war the government declares to be just; whereas to be a loyal citizen and a true Christian requires one to be always speaking truth to power, even if the cost ends up being severe.


John A. Hollister said...

Fr. Hart wrote: "I think early Christians were pacifist mainly because military service and civic office in pagan Rome had a religious dimension."

This is entirely correct, in all the aspects that he cited in its support. But that situation can be visualized with one simple image: the standards of the Roman legions (after which Napoleon's famous "eagles" were modelled and which, within still-living memory, were also replicated by the totems of the neo-pagan Nazi Party's affiliated organizations).

These standards were considered sacred, in fact had the status of idols of the pagan patrons of the legions. That is why, in a unique concession, those standards were always cased when they were carried through the sacred city of Jerusalem, so as not to affront the monotheistic Jews and their idol-less God.

Recruits swore allegiance on the just as, to this day, European military recruits still swear allegiance upon their armies' "colors".

And the name of those standards, which embodied the spirit of the Roman formations? A standard was a "sacramentum", and we all know where that concept leads. It would have been impossible for a Christian to give himself to the sacrament of the pagan standard and simultaneously to receive the sacrament of Our Lord and Savior.

John A. Hollister+

poetreader said...

That indeed was one of the serious objections to Roman military service. The following is not a dogmatic statement of what I believe to be the case, nor am I really attempting to convince anyone, but it represents a question I find I must often ask, and always with a bit of a troubled mind:

Is the attitude of the Romans toward their standards and their state all that much different from that of a great many Americans (and citizens of other countries, for that matter), including that of many professed Christians. toward their flag and their state? Is "America First" much different from "Deutschland Uber Alles"?

I watch the expressions of patriotism around me, have been watching for many decades, and have read a lot of patriotic writings, and there is something decidedly religious (or it seems to me there is) about what I see. One of the most distressing things to me is attending a Christian concert in which the people sit through song after song in praise of the Lord, and leap to their feet for 'America the Beautiful'.

I find myself questioning whether the attitudes we are expected to have, and especially those under which our men are expected to serve are really any less idolatrous. The question doesn't often get asked, as it is often considered unpatriotic to even ask it. Even in the midst of talk of sin and salvation and of the authority of Caesar, I can't help bu think I hear frequent echoes of "We have no king but Caesar".

This is just one of many questions that lead me to a less than conventional view on matters of war and peace.


Anonymous said...

Ed, I have had some of the same thoughts. I guess this was exemplified by a Fourth of July service in my old Southern Baptist church a few years back,in which the choir sang the Armed Forces medley, while images of war planes dropping bombs appeared on the 'big screen' in the background. It was surreal, to say the least, observing this taking place in a Sunday morning service in Church.

Doubting Thomas