Scripture sets a very high bar for public morality as well as for private behavior. Although we can easily rationalize why alternatives might be more sensible, Republicans cannot argue that our laws should seek to apply Scripture to the bedroom, but that Biblical commands have no relevancy for the boardroom.
The Bible has a lot to say about economic policy and the responsibility of government leaders to care for the vulnerable. The Bible leaves no room for trickle-down economics. Jesus and the Prophets do not say, “Help the widow and orphan by supporting businesses in an effort to prop up the stagnant economy”! The Bible’s call is for direct action, and it is a call placed on both society and government.
The first chapter of the Book of Isaiah begins with the prophet cataloguing the decline of the city of Jerusalem into injustice, where its former greatness is besmirched by its obsession with materialism and wealth. The Biblical prophets are speaking against the government “rulers” and the nation as a whole. The prophets are not calling for individual piety and charity but for systemic societal/governmental reform. And they specifically challenge government leaders to remember that they are called to help the powerless and those in greatest need, not those with the most power and money.
Isaiah clearly states what God expects of government leaders: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan [note: he does not say, “cut federal funding for state child services”], plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).
Jeremiah says the same to the king: “Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. 16He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. 17“But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion” (Jeremiah 22:15-17).
Taken together with Micah 6:8, this forms the core of the prophetic message: To know God as a nation means to take care of the poor and ensure that justice is done on behalf of the needy: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Imagine how different the last four years would have been if Republicans tried for even a short time to follow these words of Isaiah: “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10and 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. 11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs” (Isaiah 58: 9-11).
Nehemiah (who rebuilt Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile) enforces social justice through the power of the state, and reminds the rich that when they create policies that take wealth from their workers they are stealing from God’s children: “Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery…we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.” 6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I told the [nobles and government officials], “You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. 9 So I continued, “What you are doing is not right…let the exacting of usury stop! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them—the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.” (Nehemiah 5:1-13).
From the New Testament: “Mercy triumphs over judgment! What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead“(James 2: 14-17).
Read Part 1: A Guide to Scripture, Politics, & the Budget–Part 1