August 10, 2011: In Julie Clawson’s recent post on feminism she captures the difference between a view of political life based on rights, either endowed or asserted, where the core value is human autonomy and a biblical view within which citizens of the kingdom respond to the imperatives of the gospel in submission and obedience. We do not have rights. We have gifts. Inherent within those gifts are invitations to communal as well as global blessing as well as prohibitions, the violation of which bring on curse and evil throughout life. Take a read of Julie’s excellent post. What do you think?
Spring, 2011: On this page we will continue our discussion of how God means for his people to be Christians in the public square. This is important. Christians need to discuss these things in a respectful, kind and hopeful environment. I hope to provide a space for this important discussion right here. In order to facilitate honest, constructive debate a few helpful ground rules will be as follows. Before you publish a comment ask yourself, is what I have written:
- Accurate as far as I honestly know
- Helpful to the general discussion, providing light rather than heat
The purpose of this space is discussion more than debate. We are not here to score points but to contribute our honest understanding of life as God made it to a larger discussion. Rather than giving citizens of the kingdom of God a new law, King Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to lead the Christian community into all truth in every area of human life. Because we within Western Christianity abrogated responsibility for much of that discussion centuries ago, we now find ourselves split along the lines of the various secular public views: we are libertarian Christians, liberal Christians, socialist Christians, environmentalist Christians, conservative Christians, etc. There is no identifiable Christian Mind on almost all public issues because there is no Christian Mind on a fundamental understanding of reality itself. Apart from “upper story” subjects which are usually relegated to the discipline of theology, Christians have rarely even talked as Christians. I aim to make a contribution to the break-out from the private Christian ghetto which has marked the final third of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st. Let’s break out together, faces toward God, in the name of the King.
Posts on this subject which were published prior to the establishment of this page can be found in the blog archives. New comments which are attached to those posts will be republished with responses on this page in the future. So, feel free to comment on the old posts. I will drag it all to this page when it is relevant to this ongoing discussion. Eventually, all posts and comments on these subjects will start out here.
True, life is not convenient and reality often does not drop neatly into little boxes, so we will find some of what has been called “theology” or “doctrine” on this page and some of what might be called economics and political theory on the home page. Here’s to that! It is a whole-of-life Christian perspective and practice that I am after; we have divided things up for far too long. This page merely offers a separate discussion space; not a separate level of reality.
Here are Scot’s comments, in italic, followed by my interspersed responses, followed by a general and broad statement about the role and function of government, seen from a Christian perspective, by Prof. David Koyzis. Enjoy!
Scot: Trace has written multiple pages in a reply on the central topic of “Does the Bible call on government to use force to tax and redistribute wealth.” Trace tends to rely heavily on interpretation. If an interpretation is to be biblical, there should be ample scripture to support it. Any scholar could “interpret” the bible to make it say whatever he wishes as long as he is not bound by the actual text.
t.j: Scot notes that my understanding depends on interpretation. The first reading assignment of the first week of A Year in the Bible (AYB) is a chapter in Fee and Stuart’s book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth called, “The Need to Interpret.” Scot suggests he is reading the plain meaning while I am interpreting. For an interpretation to be considered at the level of exegesis, it must comport with the general direction of scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption and Response), with what is known about the words themselves, with the textual and historical contexts of the writing and therefore contribute to the overall story of God. It is true “any scholar could ‘interpret’ the bible to make it say whatever he wishes…”
However no one can make a text contribute to another story consistently. I stand firm on my interpretation. It comports with the entire story of a people who were called upon to bless the nations. “Blessing,” among many other things, means ridding the world of the imperial condition in which 5% control 80% of all resources and either marginalize or enslave most of the rest of the people. When Jesus returns from heaven in glory, that economic redistribution will be mandatory. Our job in the meantime is to love the world into voluntarily establishing righteous/just systems of taxation, employment, participation in national and local government, etc. For a short while in the late 18th into the 20th century many Christians understood this. They will again because God’s kingdom is still coming.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus heard the rich young ruler respond that he had not killed nor stolen nor committed adultery nor lied nor failed to honor his father and mother. Jesus, however had left out one of the “neighbor-as-yourself” commandments. He then told the man he need only get rid of all that wealth by giving it to the poor and come to follow him. Covetousness, the law Jesus did not mention, is what leads to great wealth. (Clarence Jordan told a story: he overheard the response when someone called a nearby farmer greedy, “The farmer said, ‘I don’t want all the land in the county, I just want the land next to mine!’”
Jesus warns this young man (whom we are told Jesus had come to love) that he must rid himself of what can only be gained when the system is rigged to favor the few, because those who do not throw off that wealth will find themselves in a mere forty years to be on the wrong side of Mary’s great hymn:
…He has shown strength of his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty… (Luke 1:51-53).
The rich man must either heed the warning of Mary’s son, Jesus or he will face the circumstances warned of by Mary’s son James:
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you (James 5:1-6).
That day came and if the rich young ruler had not willingly believed in Jesus and joined in the perpetual Jubilee of the Christian community, which meant giving his wealth to the poor, then the rich ruler was among the first to die when the Zealot army took over Jerusalem. This is the story and the apocalyptic backdrop to the message of the gospel. Is Scot saying he does not remember this? Or that I did not consistently teach this? Or is Scot saying he never saw this because, perhaps, he did not want to see it? I stand by my understanding of the story of God and of the priorities of God. No people can long call themselves by his name and live like the devil. One of the ways of the devil, we learn throughout the biblical narrative, is the triumph of a few rich over many poor. With all due respect and in all kindness, why does Scot seem to be on the other side from the priorities of the gospel?
Scot: First, Trace seems to contradict himself. He states: “Surely, Scot, you want to think through what you have written, above. Does God really want the government of any society to fail to force people to live “a godly life,” that is, in accordance with God’s law, because to do so goes against their free will? You do not mean that.”
Later Trace states: “Scot, you are repeating, yourself, man, and then I find myself doing the same to answer you again and that is just not productive. Your straw man here is “government is responsible for creating a godly society.” Nowhere do I claim such a thing as that.”
Trace needs to clarify, because he seems to be arguing for, then against, government force to create a godly society. Which one does Trace advocate?
t.j: Scot is correct here. I used similar phrases, quoted from him, to mean two different things and he caught me at it. Well done! In the first instance, I meant, ‘Surely Scot wants laws on the books based on the laws of God, which forbid theft and murder. He wants the state, I assume, to point people away from the misuse of each other, at least in some ways.’ Such laws have no effect on free will, however. People will do what they will do, even if what they do is illegal.
In the second case, Scot had accused me of saying, “government is responsible for creating a godly society.” In fact, nowhere do I say that. We Christians are responsible for building a godly society and one of the means at our disposal is the government of any nation of which we are citizens. In every such place we should use government in ways which are appropriate and which promote relative justice. As Professor Koyzis points out (see his [comments] below) if the government promoted absolute distributive justice, it would have to be totalitarian and thus be unjust in many other ways. So, I did not contradict myself. I was speaking of the minimal godliness of laws against murder, theft and rape. In the second Scot was setting up a straw man which I rejected because the state cannot create a godly society; it can only contribute ameliorating frameworks which may help promote a godly society if the people of its nation will agree to them.
Scot: Another quick factual correction. Trace goes on to state: “The one issue you brought in this time which is germane to that larger point, although the topic is addressed nowhere in scripture, is abortion”
Scripture does address abortion or killing a baby in the womb. Trace has forgotten Exodus 21:22 “But if there is serious injury [to the fetus], you are to take life for life…” Since the baby is killed in an abortion, an abortion would cause the abortion provider to receive a death sentence, were OT law to be followed.
t.j: Scot criticizes me for interpretation of scripture, then he claims his interpretation that a passage is about abortion as fact. I’m just not going to get off on this but let me say this interpretation is a real stretch.
Scot: Trace loves to mush multiple topics and anecdotes together in lengthy verbose posts. Trace even titled his post: Muddying Bible Study with Personal Political Views. Although in fairness, I don’t think Trace meant to say he was purposely clouding the water, so-to-speak. Let me try to provide some clarity for future discussions should Trace wish to continue.
t.j: I will not comment on any of the above because it is unkind. In the future I will simply delete this sort of thing.
Scot: There are 3 areas of Government Taxation to Redistribute Wealth (GTRW) that Trace has ventured into. 1) Is it biblical, or supported by the bible. 2) Is it constitutional. 3) Is it beneficial to society.
This discussion so far, from my perspective, has been centered on topic #1, the biblical nature, or lack thereof, of Government Taxation to Redistribute Wealth (GTRW). Traces point about GTRW affecting the general welfare would fall under topic #3.
So with that in mind I initiated the central point of topic #1; Stating that GTRW is not a biblical concept. It was created in Europe in the late 1800’s. Months ago I challenged Trace to support this belief (GTRW) with scripture, if he were to call it Biblical (endorsed by scripture). Recall that the only Biblical justification Trace has presented for GTRW are several OT Laws – none of which specify government taxation and wealth redistribution. Trace has creatively interpreted those laws (weakly in my opinion) to conclude they justify GTRW. I would be happy to discuss each of those laws.
t.j: Scot, above, attempts to redefine the entire discussion to suit himself and then has created an abbreviation for his straw topic. Government taxation to redistribute wealth has been a thread within a larger discussion of the legal theft which goes on continually in any economic system where the poor get continually poorer and the wealthy ever more-so. Redistribution of income was the solution of a previous U.S. generation within which some Christian ethics were quite influential within the culture. That generation addressed the problem of massive disparity of income in part through a progressive income tax. For several decades a number of forces, including the influence of labor unions as well as progressive taxation had a highly positive impact on the lives of many U.S. citizens, resulting in the longest sustained, boom-bust free period in U.S. history as well as the development of the largest middle class in any nation in history. Since then, the tax structures have been whittled away so that taxation today makes no statistical impact on the relative wealth of the people of the U.S.
All that is not the main issue here although it is an important element of this discussion. For me the question might be best stated, should Christians in any society be disturbed if they see the shrinkage of the commons, the things and spaces which have been owned by everyone together, and a widening in the gap between the rich and the poor such as is going on at an alarming rate in the U.S. today? That is a conversation I have been having and will continue to have. Whether or not the U.S. Constitution encompasses, within the federal purview, room for the alleviation of injustice is a matter I will leave to people who know about such things. God help us if it does not!
Scot repeatedly insists on chapter and verse in his claim there is no biblical endorsement of modern attempts at redistributive justice or notes with pride my failure to produce such Bible verses. And I stated months ago, as did Dick Halverson and Prof. Koyzis, that of course there is no such scriptural endorsement. We were given the Holy Spirit, not a new set of laws.
And we were given the story of Israel in which God called on the people to share: they did not; to care for their land: they did not; to restore those to whom they had done violence: they did not and so God put an end to their witness to the nations in their ancient land. Then the new community formed in the midst of the corrupt city, began their corporate witness by engaging in a spontaneous new-Jubilee, redistribution of wealth, and continued the disciples’ common purse, spreading the practice through all the new communities of faith.
The story of God is the story of Israel who did not share the good things they had, and of the new, spiritual Israel who found creative ways to share from their very founding onward. We, as the direct descendants of those people, by the power of God’s Spirit, were not given new rules to keep – Scot wants to see the new rules – we were told we would be led into the truth by the Spirit of God.
Therefore, moving quickly ahead to the story of God’s people in the U.S., some Christians about four generations back, saw the biblical justice which is implicit in redistributive justice. I believe their insight was wise and part of a movement toward the kind of society which will exist when there is a new heaven and a new earth. Again, no one hungry; again, no homeless; again, no poor in our midst. That was the nation which God pointed toward in Torah. Will Jesus establish a city of God which is inhabited by a few super-rich and many who are desperately poor when he returns to restore creation? Of course not. We are supposed to work toward that restored creation now, not work against it.
Scot: Redistribution through Charity – Tithing
People were expected to give 10% to the Lord annually and an additional 10% once every third year for the poor and to support priests (Levites) who were to maintain the state religion. Notice “tithe” is used rather than “tax”. A tithe is a gift, which is consistent with I Corinthians in the New Testament which states that followers of God should be cheerful givers.
t.j: The tithes were mandatory gifts, just like the gifts given by those churches to the poor in Jerusalem were mandatory once the leadership of their communities agreed to them. Yes, and paying taxes should also be seen as a mandatory gift to God, to be used by the government which God has established. I am incredibly grateful to be able to pay taxes because I can imagine what sort of howling wilderness our then former society would have become without taxes. God still loves a cheerful giver, people who are happy to contribute to the needs of the saints and who are happy to pay their taxes, because they know taxes to be ‘the price of civilization.’ Why does Scot cling to a libertarian-humanist view of taxes and taxation instead of being cheerful?
Scot: Leviticus 27:30 “‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
Jubilee is a business-transaction property law that mandated renting rather than buying. It is similar to contract farming today.
Leviticus 25: 13, 28 “In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.”
But if they do not acquire the means to repay, what was sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and they can then go back to their property.
Under the Jubilee law, a citizen (buyer) couldn’t “buy” a property from another citizen, only “rent” it for the period until the next Jubilee year, when the property would be returned to the original owners family. The “renter” would harvest the crops or fruits (wealth) from the property for the period of years until the next Jubilee year. This provision guaranteed that every generation would have an opportunity to make a living from the land had God’s law been followed.
t.j: Actually, Scot is wrong here. The Jubilee was not a rental agreement. It was a sale at prices which were prorated, based on the number of harvests until the year of correction. The problem came when the buyer, in what should have been the next Jubilee year, did not remember to give the land back for free. The result, as Isaiah pointed out, was one man with ten patrimonies, removing the stone markers which divided them. And the prophet declares,
Woe, you who join house to house
who add field to field,
until there is room for no one but you,
and you are left to live alone
in the midst of the land!
The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
Surely many houses shall be desolate,
large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath,
and a homer of seed shall yield a mere ephah
God told these land-grabbers that although they had the fields he had given to ten families in Joshua’s time, they would only get one hundredth of the wine and grain one would expect from each of them; a tenth back from the total!
Scot: God wanted His people to live free and remain free, not be forced into slavery the Egyptians were when Pharoah [sic] bought all the Egyptians’ property in Genesis.
t.j: Yes, that is right. God wanted his people to be free, to live within the bounds and limits of habitual caring for one another. Genesis 41-47 tells the miserable story of how empires function. The excess food of the good years was brought into Pharaoh’s barns but then it was sold back to the people during the years of the famine. It reminds me of the way Wall Street forced a Republican administration and a Democratically controlled Congress to reimburse it for all its losses, then kept that money, gave it’s people bonuses, and then took tax deductions when they repaid the government loans. We paid the banksters twice! Empires take, they do not buy; the sell; they do not give.
Israel was not to be like that. It was to be a model society where because of generosity, there were no desperate poor and no filthy rich in the land. It was to be a “we” society, not a “me” society. It did not remain free because it failed to help the widows, the orphans and the strangers at the gate; it aped the ways of empire.
Scot: Gleaning, another method of assisting the needy.[sic] of the blessings He provides.
Leviticus 19:9-10 When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
Farmers were instructed to leave crops in the field that would be a source of food for the needy. Note how God also protects aliens (those people from other cultures immigrating into Jewish society). People could then glean, or collect remaining crops, from the field post-harvest.
Several points can be drawn from gleaning. First the farmer did have free will to ignore God’s instruction and harvest every last morsel from his field. There is no mention of Levites or later, king’s agents, enforcing the law. Ruth asked permission to glean according to Ruth 2:7. Second, the law only applied to the edge of the field, which is a small percentage of the total crop. The law did not allow the poor to harvest the center of the field. Thirdly, the law did not give the poor the right to enter the farmers barn and help himself to harvested grain (or baked bread). This would be stealing, a violation of the Ten Commandments. Once harvested the grain belonged to the farmer. This did not prevent the farmer from being generous with his grain as Boaz did with Ruth (Ruth 3:15).
Now do readers see any government force or taxation in effect here? What is on full display is God’s desire for followers to help the needy and to give to the Lord in recognotion [sic]
t.j: We have been over all of this before. As Jim Fisher commented, and Prof. Koyzis agreed, substitute ‘government’ for ‘law’ to see the principal, the desire of God at work. Should we be working for the desire of God in society or should we be making sure the society is unstable and lop-sided because our laws favor the rapacious wealthy few over the increasingly powerless many?
A government which enforced Torah did not exist in the time of Moses, Samuel or David. Like stirrups on saddles and the number zero, it had yet to be invented. The way people got the law enforced was by going to judges or the elders at the gate when they were cheated. But by the time of the post-exilic Isaiah, those judges were like sleepy dogs who did the bidding of the wild animals who tore apart the poor and needy (Isaiah 56:9-12). But what I want to know is, why would we want to have laws now which insure the uber-wealthy remain so? A previous generation, those who founded U.S., were terrified that a wealthy aristocracy would come to exist so they established estate taxes to ensure that no great wealth could be passed along from one generation to another. Greater and greater wealth for a few is not what God wants. That will not be the way of things when the new heavens and new earth are established.
Scot: I also pointed out that the 2 parables (Trace seems to forget that we all know that a parable is a story told by Jesus) in Luke do not mention government or GTRW. Both parables tell followers how to (or not to) use their own wealth and resources in a God-pleasing manner and the potential consequences (eternal damnation) of not doing so. These parables are a clarion call for Christians to help their neighbors in need through charity with their own resources. There is wealth redistribution here, just not the forced, taxed kind.
t.j: Scot interpreted the parables like any libertarian would. I am not surprised. I already answered these points in the previous posts. A failed point which has been previously answered does not get better with repetition.
The only progress which we can make here is with the assumption that the only form of redistribution of wealth which God desires is charity. Jubilee was not charity, neither was the second harvest. The first was a blend of a bankruptcy law with continual land reform; the second, a temporary band-aid akin to our food-stamp system which took from those who were well-to-do and gave it to those with nothing. It was better than our food stamps, though, because people had to actually get out and work for the food in someone else’s field. To be given something for which one has not sweated is rarely a good idea. Every person has God-given pride of accomplishment. Everyone wants to contribute to their own success, which is why programs like Habitat for Humanity have been so successful: sweat-equity is always a part of the equation.
However, charity is not the answer. God did not call for alms-giving; that was the Pharisees’ compromise. God wanted the restoration of broken families, not just enough help to keep people alive but still perpetually poor. We have all seen what kind of unhealthy dependencies welfare programs produce in the tiny percentage of people who utilize those programs today in the U.S. Yet all the nice charity in the world has never and will never turn things around for those who have lost almost everything, a number which grows every day in the U.S. and is more than terrible the world over. Government must be the help of last resort, as ours was in the auto loan program which saved millions of jobs two years ago. Most of the money we lent to the auto-makers has been repaid; it is being paid back with interest. How would charity have helped in that situation? It could not have helped, of course.
Scot: Trace sets up a straw man of his own with this comment: “In fact, a lot of ‘everyday life’ has nothing to do with the gospel. Scot’s reader is only a Christian sometimes, like when doing ‘church’ things. His work-life and his political and economic views are outside of the gospel of Jesus.”
t.j: I disagree. If in the everyday life of Scot’s reader there is no relationship between government and the gospel, then I have set up no straw man. It is well and good that Scot understands that every Christian owes God his or her allegiance in every area of life. But what good will that do if some areas of life, like government, have nothing to do with God? Scot has yet to explain how he sees government as a good creature of God which, like everything else in creation, is in need of redemption. In A Year in the Bible, we begin in the second of fifty-two lessons discussing how God created institutions like marriage (explicitly) and every other relationship (implicitly): family, business, school, government, friendship, church, etc. These are all invisible creations, societal creatures, made by God. Since everything in creation fell with the rebellion of humankind, and since everything in creation has been held down in futility, awaiting redemption, every thing in creation, including all institutions, must be redeemed. All creation is be being redeemed. Since Scot does not see the roles which communal associations play in the history of redemption, he can only see what individuals do. Scot wrote several comments back that he sees the nation Israel becoming the institutional church of Jesus, a point on which Dick Halverson accurately called him out as choosing the worst of all possible views. He does not see government as a creature of God in need redemption, thus he does not understand the role of government in God’s redemption. So, no straw man.
Scot: Trace seems to purposely forget that I have stated the bible applies to the lives of individual followers of God – all aspects of their lives. The difference is Trace wants government to force people to live as he interprets the Bible (only with respect to GTRW though), while I believe it is up to the individual to live according to God’s Will.
t.j: Again, people are not at base, individuals. We only speak that way when we are lazy as a part of our culture’s post-Enlightenment “heritage.” People are the individual members of created things but almost no one is ever outside of the communities and associations of which they are each continually a part. Further, The Word of God cannot be applied! One cannot apply the stream of a fire hose as it pins one to the wall.
In his individualism, Scot misses the role his community plays in his understanding of scripture. In this he is by no means alone. The larger Christian community, at every time, needs to decide together what the scriptures mean. This is a dynamic thing which moves slowly toward the truth. This is what happens when the Spirit moves among the people over time.
A classic and recent example of what I mean: First, a very few people will, let say, begin to question whether slavery is really as good a thing as everybody assumes. But it probably is: after all, chapter and verse, St. Paul says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters.” Then, a few more people will start asking questions and the issue never goes away until, perhaps a generation later, whole new communities come together with the common conviction that for centuries we had all been reading the Bible wrong on this issue. Yet those new-light communities are still very small and most people still think such groups are really quite nuts. But they get to work to change things, anyway.
Sometimes, as in the case of the slavery issue in England, it takes decades of struggle in the courts and in Parliament before first, the slave trade is banned and then, slavery itself is declared by the peoples’ representatives in Parliament, to be illegal, at which point many people had their right to hold others as property denied.
In the U.S., it was an even longer and more violent struggle, but eventually even the biblically conservative U.S. changed and eventually, every nation on earth declared illegal what every Bible reader only a hundred, fifty years before had thought was just a part of normal everyday life. And, of course, at the end, some people still could not see it and stubbornly refused to see it until their dying day. Some of them had lost a lot of money and their “freedom” to own other people, a right they had assumed was theirs for their whole lives, until one day it was just taken away by what they believed was an arbitrary and repressive government (even though the government was actually the servant of God, doing his holy will as a part of the story of God)!
Today no one believes slavery is not evil, St. Paul’s remarks, not withstanding. The story has changed because the Word of God in scripture came together with the Word of God in creation itself with the Word of God in the hearts of some faithful people until the united Word of God was shouting! And so, what the community of faith knew for sure changed as the communal understanding of the story of God changed, moving toward the coming of the kingdom.
What we say we believe as so-called individuals is intimately connected to this slow process of the change of the mind of communities of faith. Nearly no so-called individual believes something contrary to his or her community. On the occasion that someone does believe something his or her community rejects, he or she tends to keep it quiet, until or unless they become moved by the Spirit to speak out about it: very lonely prophets.
However, in our day, many Christian communities are silent on many, many issues. In those dark and silent spaces, members of communities naturally experience themselves as tacitly free to hold any view they like. Yet, Christ is the Lord of all things and his people will eventually be led into the light of the truth in every dark and smelly corner of life. There are no neutral areas and there are no private matters. Jesus will call out his people to bear witness to his truth in every matter under the sun eventually: nothing is neutral and nothing will be private.
The discussion I am trying to have here is over how, as Christians, we will eventually, I believe, communally understand the sort of circumstances which result in wage-slavery, in a large underclass of so-called citizens, so beaten and broken by the mere task of providing food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their families while working multiple jobs that do not pay living wages or having no jobs at all, that they have no time or energy left to do all the other good things which humans should do, like care for their children and participate in their government.
Right now, there is no communal certainty on an issue like this and so people like Scot assume it is not relevant to the gospel as they understand the gospel. To go back to the origin of this lengthy conversation, they see no biblical imperative to turn “Thou shalt not steal” around to say, “So love others together that everyone has enough to live fully, not barely!” They do not see the role government must play and that this work can never be done by churches and voluntary associations alone; that the government, with its singular ability to collect money, and to set legal boundaries, like living wage laws, has a small but vital role in getting down-and-out people who want to contribute to society back on their feet. I believe I will not see that large Christian consensus form in my lifetime; I am just too old, but form it will, because in the end, the kingdom of God is coming and every thing will be redeemed, even government, politics, economics and work.
Scot: May God bless each of us with better understanding of scripture through these discussions.
t.j: Scot and I agree. We want to read the scriptures, to hear the Word and to not only stand under the message but also within the still unfolding story of God and the redemption of all creation, within which we each are playing a vital part.
(Scot had six other comments on the “Muddying Bible Study with Personal Political Views” post. None of them will be posted here as none of them advance this conversation much at all. They are either irrelevant, for instance, a Libertarian view of U.S. Constitutional powers, which is entirely beside the point of this discussion as I have defined it [it’s my blog!] and a number of swipes at things I said which are disheartening because they show me Scot does not understand what I wrote in the first place or in the second place or much of the content of A Year in the Bible. Well, to be perfectly fair, it is nearly impossible to really understand someone with whom you disagree; I do understand that much even if it makes me sad.)
Comments Back to Post Professor David Koyzis’ remarks:
Trace, I think I do have a good word, but I’ll let you judge whether I’ve been successful in communicating it. If I’ve not, please let me know.
As part of its divine mandate to do public justice, government, as I see it, has certain positive responsibilities to advance the common good in the following ways, which I have taken from chapter 6 of my Political Visions and Illusions:
1. Government is obligated to care for what is common to all citizens of the state. For example, it must enact laws that protect the physical environment: that regulate and, if possible, prohibit the pollution of air, water and soil. It must also tend that property, including productive property, held in trust for the entire public. National, provincial/state and municipal parks, public corporations, and historical monuments would all appropriately fall into this category. Even something less tangible, such as public safety, is a “common good” enjoyed, not principally by individuals, but by the community as a whole. Because there is a general tendency for individuals to neglect common property, it is necessary that some person or agency be assigned responsibility for its care. Because of its normative calling to do justice and to play a public integrating role within the political community, the government is almost certainly in the best position to assume this caring responsibility.
2. Government has a minimal responsibility to play a redistributive role within the body politic, recognizing that the market does not always treat every participant fairly. Once again, if government were to try to level out all economic differences, it could do so only at the cost of becoming totalitarian and interfering in minute areas of human life where it does not normatively belong. Justice does not require absolute equality. Nor should government put itself in the position of becoming the principal source of economic well-being for all its citizens. Yet government does bear some responsibility to ensure that citizens and communities have sufficient resources to fulfill their respective callings. It should do so in ways that are appropriate and specific to government, e.g., by establishing and maintaining a supportive legal framework. Government may also be called upon to provide services that the private sector could not profitably provide on its own. Postal and rail passenger services are examples of these. Or short of owning postal and rail systems outright, government may instead redistribute resources to private providers. But it must do so in a way that is fair and equitable, i.e., that is consistent with its calling to do justice.
3. Government has a role to play in protecting the economically disadvantaged. The most obvious way of doing this is by vigilantly ensuring that the legal system, including the criminal and civil law courts, is not corrupted by those with greater wealth. It must guarantee access to the legal system to those who might not otherwise be able to afford such access using their own meagre [sic: he’s a Canadian] resources. However, even beyond this it may be appropriate for government to play a more direct role in alleviating poverty, provided it does not overextend itself by acting beyond its normative competence. Government does indeed bear some responsibility in addressing poverty, but it does not bear sole responsibility. Government may properly share responsibility with a wide variety of private social service agencies undertaking to alleviate poverty in ways appropriate to their own local communities. And of course such responsibility is also shared with the poor themselves.
None of these duties is intrinsically socialist, even though there may be socialists — or liberals and conservatives for that matter — who will advocate some version of the above approaches.