Obama’s Biblical Budget

In politics and personal life, we often experience the tension between abundance and scarcity and community and individuality.  In his April 13 speech, President Barack Obama clearly aligned himself with an abundant and community-oriented approach to our current national debt crisis.   Budgets are moral statements; they reflect our personal and communal priorities and values.  President Obama’s speech was guided by moral principles, reminiscent of the Hebraic prophets and first-century Christians. President Obama clearly aligned himself with the vulnerable and elderly in contrast to those who believe reducing taxes is the ultimate moral ought. In times of crisis, there is a tendency to circle the wagons, separate ourselves from others, and focus on “me and mine.” This has been the approach of fiscal conservatives and the Tea Party Movement.  While tough decisions and sacrifices need to be made, President Obama signaled that the American values of community and care for the vulnerable will be essential to any debt reduction policy.

President Obama’s vision of America follows the spirit of the Hebraic prophets, who proclaimed that a famine of hearing the word of God is a result of our failure to hear the cries of the poor.  While the prophets did not focus explicitly on tax policy, it is clear that the prophetic tradition placed greater burdens on the wealthy then the impoverished.  The wealthy must be honest, justice-seeking, and civilly responsible, even if it isn’t always in their immediate financial interest.

The biblical tradition proclaims that we are connected with one another and that character is measured by our care for the vulnerable. Further, biblical ethics embraces individual behavior, but the ultimate emphasis of the prophetic tradition and the economic ethics of the early church is our care for one another.  Whether in the prophetic writings, the epistles of Paul and James, and the teachings of Jesus, scripture sees our care for the vulnerable, both young and old, as the heart of congregational, community, and, dare we say, governmental policy.

Nothing could be further from biblical ethics than the rugged individualism of Ayn Rand, the intellectual inspiration of many of today’s fiscal conservatives.  The “least of these” don’t deserve our consideration, either personally and politically, Rand and her followers assert.

From this perspective, tax policies should reward the wealthy with lower taxes and punish the poor with continued poverty and meager healthcare, while burdening the middle class with higher tax rates than their wealthier brothers and sisters.  Rather than seeing the existence of poverty as a moral blight on society and a reflection of our turning away from God’s vision of Shalom for all creation, such public policies imply a moral inferiority among the working poor, unemployed persons, and financially-strapped senior citizens.

No doubt, President Obama’s plan will be riddled with imperfections.  The President needs to stand more forthrightly with the poor and vulnerable, and frankly increase support for the “least of these.”  But, his vision is on the right track from both a moral and biblical perspective.  Sadly, fiscal conservatives can think of no better moral argument for their position than “it’s my money.”  Stewardship surely pertains to governmental tax policy, budget allocations, and debt reduction.  We need to spend wisely and effectively. But, biblical stewardship reminds us that our money is ultimately not our own; and that how we use it is a moral issue.  Biblical stewardship challenges us to see our well-being as relational, not individualistic, and asks each person to place a high priority on the well-being of her or his community.

We need a vision and a hope; scarcity and individualistic thinking will destroy our communities and nation, increase the gap between the wealthy and the poor and middle class, and stifle the innovation and creativity that has made the United States great.   President Obama presented a compelling ethical vision that should guide our attempts to lower the deficit and pay down the national debt.  We must be more fiscally responsible, but we cannot sacrifice the soul of the nation to reduce the deficit.  Obama rightly balances debt reduction with an ongoing commitment to the least of these, and this should be applauded by people of faith.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, healing companion, retreat leader and lecturer, and author of nineteen books including his most recent, Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed (May 2011). He blogs at Living A Holy Adventure and writes a regular column at Patheos here.

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).

  • http://randex.org/ Mark Wickens

    “Nothing could be further from biblical ethics than the rugged individualism of Ayn Rand, the intellectual inspiration of many of today’s fiscal conservatives.”

    Right.

    “The ‘least of these’ don’t deserve our consideration, either personally and politically, Rand and her followers assert.”

    Rand’s ethics allow for voluntary charity to deserving recipients. So only if by “least” you mean the undeserving (lazy, immoral, criminal, ungrateful, etc.) is this correct.

  • http://randex.org/ Mark Wickens

    “From this perspective, tax policies should reward the wealthy with lower taxes and punish the poor with continued poverty and meager healthcare, while burdening the middle class with higher tax rates than their wealthier brothers and sisters.”

    No, from this perspective, the poor, the middle class, the wealthy, everyone, should be treated equally; i.e., pay the same _amount_ of tax, ideally $0. Progressive taxation unjustly _punishes_ the wealthy.

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  • http://www.chris-sanchez.com/ Chris__Sanchez

    Dr. Epperly,
    I have read and reread your article searching for something with which I can agree. After consideration, I have found a few things! First, Mr. Obama certainly did make a speech April 13th. I agree that Mr. Obama’s plan is riddled with imperfections. I also agree that we must spend wisely and effectively. Finally we also agree that collectively we bear the burden of helping the poor. That is where our agreement ends.

    One can certainly assert that someone is standing on so-called moral principles. Like so much else in America today, the morals you mention lack absolutes and are open to the various interpretations of those who claim them. Biblical principles, on the other hand, leave nothing to interpretation. Something is either biblical or it is not. No amount of saying otherwise, regardless of the amount of education the person espousing it can change that. God’s word says what it says!

    You claim that Mr. Obama follows Hebraic principles yet your assertion lacks any specific reference to Scripture in support of that claim. Mr. Obama did not so much align himself with the poor as he sought to demonize those who have found a measure of success in their lives. Mr. Obama’s mistake is in assuming that the more successful among us are somehow less moral because of their success. Clearly you agree with Mr. Obama. In a society where the top 5% of wage earners bear nearly 60% of the tax burden and the top 1% bear nearly 20 of the tax burden, it is stunning to know that there are those who believe this disparity is not enough. Dr. Epperly, a nurse and a police officer after a few years in their chosen careers combined earn over $100K per year. Ask them if they are wealthy!

    I fail to see how such a progressive tax policy benefits the wealthy at the expense of the poor. The goal of such policies is not to care for the poor. Rather it is for the sole purpose of wealth redistribution plain and simple. Jesus said give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s (Mark 12:13-17; Matt. 22:18-21; Luke 20:20-26). If the tithe is what God asks of us (10%), why is Caesar entitled to half?

    There is nothing inherently wrong with individualism. It is individuals who aspire to achieve and their success in doing so benefits everyone in our society in the process. There are certainly those who would abuse their station in life but to confiscate from those who have earned what they have through the power of government to “spread the wealth” (President Obama 10/14/2008) is not a biblical principle unless one uses the most liberal of hermeneutics. It comes as no surprise this is something with which you are quite comfortable.

    We must be more fiscally responsible to be sure yet we must also acknowledge that the available resources are finite. The discussion must include sacrifices by all and it must also acknowledge that the soul of the nation was mortgaged years ago and our foreign bankers want their money back. Those from whom we borrow are not our brothers and expect interest on the money we have borrowed! Mr. Obama’s solution is to borrow even more money. If this is progressive stewardship, I will join with so many others in our great nation and vote to take the nation in a different direction that includes fiscal responsibility and a reduction of the role of government in the lives of the American people. Fortunately, I find myself with an abundance of company!

  • http://www.wctube.com/ wctube

    One can certainly assert that someone is standing on so-called moral principles. Like so much else in America today, the morals you mention lack absolutes and are open to the various interpretations of those who claim them. Biblical principles, on the other hand, leave nothing to interpretation. Something is either biblical or it is not. No amount of saying otherwise, regardless of the amount of education the person espousing it can change that. God’s word says what it says!

  • http://www.bestfinance-blog.com DEBRA28RAMIREZ

    I would like to propose not to wait until you get enough amount of cash to buy goods! You can get the loan or secured loan and feel fine


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