Adventures in Missing the Point – Income Inequality

As world leaders converge on Davos, a small town in the Swiss Alps, for their annual economic summit the news headlines are once again screaming about things like Income Inequality and Environmental Damage.

To be honest I’m not sure what the purpose of the debate is.  We throw around a lot of statistics, CNN pointed out yesterday for instance that the top 85 richest people on earth control a net worth greater the 50% of the world population.  Math doesn’t lie and nobody is really disputing the numbers put to put into some kind of perspective, it means we can fit the people representing the same amount of wealth as nearly 4 billion of their peers on a an average city bus.

But what’s the point of all these numbers?  What are we really debating here?

People will look at it and say, “that’s terrible”, and “we need to force the rich to share”.  But how do we do that without some form of unequal taxation?  To be blunt, how do we do that without becoming communists?

The right, especially the so called “Christian” Right, tend the scream the loudest whenever any government tries to step in and redistribute wealth through taxation.  Now I’m no communist, and I am certainly not pro “big government” but to me when the Christian Right starts to whine about high taxation and cry communism over being asked to share their wealth with the less fortunate it sounds more than a little bit hypocritical to me.

I listen to podcasts on a daily basis from one of America’s leading radio personalities.  I won’t name the program or the personality here but he is well known for coaching millions of people on how to get out of debt so that they can “live and give, like no one else”.  I applaud his mission and have applied much of his teaching to my own.  But the host of the program also happens to be an Evangelical Christian, like me, and yesterday he dedicated an entire hour to the subject of income inequality.  Not once during that entire time did he mentioning anything about what the Bible says about sharing wealth.

Consider a few passages of scripture on the subject;

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. [James 1:27]

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday. [Isaiah 58:6-10]

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. [Act 2:42-45]

You see the point that is missed in this debate on all sides, especially from the point of view of the Christian Right, is that income redistribution is VERY Biblical.  The debate should not be about whether or not we do it the debate should be about how we do it while maintaining everyone’s dignity and respecting people’s human rights.

Dietrich Bonheoffer, another Evangelical Christian, who was murdered by the Nazi’s for his beliefs put it this way.

The hungry man needs bread and the homeless man needs a roof; the disposed need justice and the lonely need fellowship; the undisciplined need order and the slave needs freedom.  To allow the hungry man to remain hungry would be blasphemy against God and one’s neighbour, for what is nearest to God is precisely the need of one’s neighbour. – Dietrich Bonheoffer; Ethics

I do not believe that income inequality is a problem that can be solved by government intervention alone.  It runs deeper than that.  It is a heart issue which began in the Garden of Eden and has extended throughout history to the entire world through the sins of pride, greed and gluttony.  We all carry the potential for these sins in our hearts, both the wealthy and the poor are guilty of them.  I can’t pretend to know anyone’s heart in these matters and I know that many wealthy people give a lot of money to worthy causes.  We need to be careful where we allocate our funds so that they are not wasted and I agree that allowing our money to be taken through taxation is a grossly inefficient way of doing this.

I could go on but to those who will listen I think I’ve already made my point.  But here it is in a nutshell; there is nothing wrong with the world that can’t be fixed, or at least seriously curtailed of the Christians of the world took their Bibles seriously!

To those whose heart is already hardened in this matter I leave you with the worlds of John the apostle and pray that you will find a way to help someone in need today.

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.  [1 John 3:17-18]

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