Is it a sin?

Ronald Sider had lunch with Robert Putnam, American sociologist, and Putnam asked him an important question:

Is our economic inequality a sin? What do you think and why?

Putnam is appalled at the radical lack of equality of opportunity in the U.S. today, and he wanted to know if evangelical preachers would dare to say what his pastor said when he was a teenager. Putnam told me that back then, in the midst of Martin Luther King’s great campaign against segregation, his devout Methodist pastor dared to preach that “racism is a sin.”

Professor Putnam asked me, as an evangelical, whether evangelical pastors today would be ready to declare today’s great economic inequality of opportunity a sin. That’s a great question…..

So how should we evaluate the extreme inequality in income, wealth and power in the U.S. today?

  • American economic inequality today is greater than at any time since 1928 — just before the Great Depression.
  • In 2004, the richest .1 percent had more income than the poorest 120 million. If you divided the total U.S. income among 1,000 people, the richest person (one person!) would have as much income as the poorest 387!
  • Between 1993 and 2007, more than half of all the increase in income in the U.S. went to the richest 1 percent. Between 2002 and 2007, 66 percent of all increased income went to the richest 1 percent. And in 2009-2010, 93 percent of all the increased income in the U.S. went to the richest 1 percent.
  • The richest 1 percent of Americans own more than the bottom 90 percent.
  • Over the last three decades, the average annual income of the richest 1 percent has jumped by $700,000 while the average Joe has actually lost ground.
  • The poorest 20 percent had less income in 2009 than they did in 1979.
  • More than 46 million Americans are in poverty.

Today there is much greater inequality and less equality of opportunity in the U.S. than in “aristocratic” Europe….

It is time for evangelical preachers to label today’s gross inequality what it is: SIN. If we believe what the Bible says about God’s concern for the poor; if we believe what the Bible says about justice; then we must denounce the gross inequality of opportunity and income in our country today as blatantly sinful.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Andrew

    Not a sin in and of itself but a product of sinfulness without a doubt.

  • MikeW

    Perhaps the semantics is a little confused. I take the question to mean, Are our economic practices sinful?

  • MikeW

    LOL Perhaps the semantics ARE a little confused

  • Phil Miller

    I’d say yes that in many respects our economic system is sinful because everyone that operates in it is sinful to varying degrees. As far as the growing gulf between the rich and the poor, I think there’s larger structural things in the economy. I don’t think it can all be boiled down to that it’s just the rich getting rich off the backs of the poor. It comes down to what the economy values and the opportunities that are available to people.

    It used to be that there were two vocational paths to general economic success in the US. One of those was the skilled market where people generally paid because of what they knew – doctors, lawyers, architects, etc. The other one was the manual labor route – factory workers and production being a large part of that. The jobs in factories didn’t take more than a high school diploma, and they paid well. Now, though, even jobs in factories are requiring more and more in the way of education and skill, and factories generally require less manpower to produce what they’re making. So we have this gap. It’s hard to see any easy answers to fixing it at the present.

  • RobS

    Another culture war battle for evangelical preachers to fight? Sorry, I’m cynical that it’ll be making a big difference. One challenge is that wealth & income is so relative. The person making $60k feels poor next to the man making $100k who feels poor next to the guy making $400k. So we have this perception that it’s never “me” that is rich — always someone else. The log and speck challenge exists.

    Jesus & the Bible don’t condemn wealth — they do challenge money being a replacement for loving God above all else first. Boaz was a very industrious working guy — he hired workers to bring in his harvest and likely had a good business model to work hard and learned how to prosper. I hate to demonize those people that are hard workers and do take risks & actions and gain by it. Jesus challenged the rich young ruler about his love for money as well. Lydia was a successful businesswoman. The Proverbs 31 woman is buying fields and planting vineyards. So I don’t see a pattern of condemnation in the Bible, and we should not create one either.

    That said, a battle for the hearts of those that truly call themselves Christians is fair. Preachers should be able to challenge their Christian members to levels of Biblical giving and try to make differences in their community and around the world. Administering aid to those truly in need at a local level is so much more effective to reach those in true need.

  • Nathan

    Yes. IMO, All human endeavor of ordering life outside of God’s rule is inescapably sinful in the “participatory” sense. It all stands under judgement and will be swept away under the rule of God…and that rule will not be a confirmation of capitalism and western democracy (or any other human system).

    We should proclaim it as a matter of faithful presence, but i have no confidence that the church in North America will ever repent of their deep compromise with our economics, our nationalism and our sinful promotion of the military as a legitimate sphere of Christian way of living.

  • rob

    “Today there is much greater inequality and less equality of opportunity in the U.S. than in “aristocratic” Europe….” This is not correct.

    Also, the statistics vascilate between “rich”, “poor”, “income”, and “ownership”. Which are all vastly different labels. Being rich and having high income don’t have to go together. Having high income also doesn’t mean your rich.

    Basic economics would also show that just because someone is rich, it doesn’t mean someone else has to be poor. In other words, it’s not a zero sum game. Wealth is created, it’s not passed around, so if the economy is a pie there’s not just a set number of slices and size of the pie. I wouldn’t spend so much time worrying about what the top 1% the country are doing, but what the 47% of folks that don’t pay federal income tax are doing incorrectly and how to fix it. Focusing on how rich someone else is doesn’t help you in anyway.

    This is going off on a tangent but there has certainly been a cultural shift in the US. There was a time where a father would be walking down the street with his son and they’d see the guy that owns the bank in town driving down the road and the father would say “see him, that’s mr. thompson, you should look up to him he’s very successful”…but these days it’s more like “why does he need such a nice car, he doesn’t need to drive a mercedes, let’s throw a rock at it!’. It’s really sad that success is sort of demonized now.

  • brad

    Seems to me that we evangelicals have a couple of problems on this issue. First, we think of sin first and foremost in personal terms, often to the exclusion of communal and cosmic terms. So, when someone says that wealth disparity is a sin, we hear “it’s your fault” rather than “this system does not reflect the way of God (can we admit that we benefit from it?).” Second, I think it’s hard to know what repentance looks like. The statistics Sider states are overwhelming and stress-inducing for the contrite soul. In this respect, my pastoral opinion is that the matter of war (complex as it is) is simpler to speak to than the matter of wealth inequality. To war, the clear call is to pull out of Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. And we know when we’ve achieved that goal. But, it’s hard to imagine what it would look like to put an end to the inequality of wealth. Surely, people will have different opinions of what real progress would look like. Moreover, and as importantly, followers of Jesus clearly have radically different opinions as to what good solutions are.

  • Adam

    This video came out a couple weeks ago that does a good job of describing the situation.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTj9AcwkaKM

    While there is no direct command in the bible that wealth is a sin, there are direct commands that say to take care of the poor. We are doing a pitiful job at fulfilling that command and that is definitely a sin. I don’t see it as too much of a stretch to say that wealthy people are neglecting that command more than others.

    Here’s an article that gives proximity as the reason the wealthy are less generous.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/04/why-the-rich-dont-give/309254/

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber, Jr

    For the sake of argument, Yes, it’s sin. Now what? The solution is not to demonize those on the left or the right but to offer real opportunity for people to work, produce, save and prosper. Do that. Don’t give away what is not earned, but give real opportunity to earn what people don’t have.

  • Joe Canner

    rob #7: “[worry about]…what the 47% of folks that don’t pay federal income tax are doing incorrectly and how to fix it”

    30% of this group are households with over $50,000 in income, so clearly they aren’t doing *anything* incorrectly (perhaps just the opposite). If there’s anything to be fixed with this group it’s in the higher income portions where they are somehow avoiding all federal income tax.

    The remaining 70% have incomes that are too low for tax or who benefit from various specific tax breaks (elderly, EIC, itemized deductions, education or child credits, etc.). It’s not clear what most of these have done “incorrectly”, aside from getting old or not having the opportunity to qualify for a better paying job. Most of these are (or were, in the case of retirees) making an attempt to be productive members of society.

    All that said, I tend to agree with you about focusing on the poor; I’m quibbling with your invocation of the “47%” canard and your use of the word “incorrectly”. On the other hand, many of the practical solutions that can be implemented to help pull people out of poverty (e.g., education grants, credits, etc.) need to be paid for somehow. That the rich should pay for them is not a function of jealousy; it is simple math.

  • Tim A

    Probably Jesus was just making suggestions when he said the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…
    then preached the sermon on the plain —
    (Blessed are you poor your’s is the kingdom of God.
    Woe to you who are rich, you’ve had your fun….)
    then the parable of the barn builder
    then the story of the rich man in hell and poor Lazarus in the arms of Abraham
    then the story of the rich man who went away sorrowful because he had great possessions

    told all those stories in Luke about rich and poor with the rich looking bad every time and the poor looking blessed every time, and the rich sure seemingly in deep spiritual trouble at a minimum in each story and pretty much every story i can see in Luke til we get to Zaccheaus, who doesn’t exactly play the rich guy’s part according to central casting…

    but probably Jesus was just making suggestions…

  • Andrew

    Rob, I’m afraid the data`is very clear on inequality and mobility both being greater in most of western Europe than in the US. Also, most people don’t even understand the 47% statistic. Have you never received any federal tax refund? If you ever have, you were part of the 47%. That 47% is comprised primarily of younger people with lower incomes and high debt starting out, older people on fixed income, and the working poor. So for many, it’s a matter of age; your tax obligations follow a standard slope as most obtain their peak earnings at mid-life and thus pay more taxes when they able to.
    This has also correlated with an erosion of the middle class. Conservatives speak about the past like we still have a 1960s economic environment. But as Phil said, globalization and technology advancements has eroded what used to be steady, well paying work for working class and lower-middle class families who could work in factories and afford a mortgage and their kid’s schooling. Now the factories are gone and the same families become Wal-Mart greeters with no health insurance.

    And while income has stagnated for most Americans, it has skyrocketed for the upper class. Back in the 50s and 60s a typical CEO would make about 40 times what his average worker made. Now it’s 200 times more. That wouldn’t change some attitudes about wealth? People don’t demonize rich people but they demonize a system that is rigged in their favor.

  • Dean

    Yes. It is social sin and the church is implicit in it.

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    I am as concerned about inequality as anyone, but I feel like what’s sometimes missed in the discussion is that what is happening is much worse than that some people have way more than everyone else. But the problem is much worse than that. What is really appalling is that because wages at the bottom have stagnated, we now have large numbers of people who are being forced to work for wages which don’t cover their basic needs like housing, food and transportation. That is unconcionable and I don’t think many people really understand what that means. Contrary to stereotypes a lot of people have, our poor aren’t enjoying relatively luxurious lives. We’re talking about families who can’t keep utilities on. Who send kids out to get water from a hose because theirs is off. People who can’t see because they don’t have money for glasses. People who are leaving 8 year olds to babysit siblings so they can work. People who sometimes call off work right before payday because they don’t have a few bucks for gas/bus. People who eat one meal a day so the kids can eat. People who are drive for months on grinding brakes. That’s the context for this discussion.

    The wealth of this nation is created by all of us. There is no good reason to allow the people at the very top to take such a disproportionate amount of what we all produce. It’s not as if there isn’t enough to go around. So, I would say that inequality is caused by sin as it is undoubtably sinful to demand that people labor for less than what it costs for them to live. It’s a soft form of slavery, imo.

  • Robin

    I think it is odd that we are asking if income inequality WITHIN THE RICHEST NATION ON EARTH is a sin, and not asking if America’s median income being orders of magnitude greater than other nations is a sin.

    I mean, even when you consider inequality within this country the poor still have, generally, access to clean water, access to basical medical care, and access to food. Compare the life of the 50,000,000 or so poorest Americans to the average person in the poorest 3 billion people on the planet and it is clear that interntational inequality is a much bigger problem and US inequality.

    As to whether it is a sin in the bigger picture. I think the bible clearly identifies a few things as sin (1) hoarding money (2) no caring for the poor and (3) unjustly tilting the playing field (false weights and measures).

    So as to whether inequality is a sin I think it depends on the level of those three things that are occurring…but it is the presence of those three things and NOT the presence of inequality itself that is the sin.

    If Johnny down the road has less money that me because he is an alcoholic and gambler that is one tihng, but if he has less money because I used personal connections to take his house through eminent domain, or I sold him a lemon that broke down, or if noone in our community has ever tried to provide assistance or empowerment, then it is an entirely different issue.

    Lastly, we need to consider the effects of migration on inequality. One reason for our statistical inequality is that we have imported millions of low-skill, low-education workers, and until they get assimilated and their kids get educated and move up into the middle class the numbers won’t look any better. From 1920 – 1960 we had a much more closed economy, high tariffs, etc. and the statistics in an open economy like we have now can’t help but be different.

  • http://JesusCreed KenS

    Asking if wealth inequality is a sin seems to make many of us uncomfortable. Don’t the prophets speak to this subject?

  • BradK

    Robin hit the nail on the head. While the original article notes that “The richest 1 percent of Americans own more than the bottom 90 percent,” the poorest Americans are wealthier than 80-90% of the world’s population. The three signs of sinfulness regarding wealth that she lists are a good starting point for a discussion as well.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    Robin I think you are right that the discussion has to include world wide inequality as well as the inequality of the US.

    As a positive, world wide inequality (depending on how you look at it) is actually decreasing (or at least most of the very poor are less poor now than they were 50 or 100 years ago.

    On the other hand inequality within the US is increasing. If you compare individuals world wide, then inequality is also increasing. If you compare countries then inequality is decreasing.

    At least part of the problem is that there is a much less focus on shared responsibility, which I think is a sign of structural sin.

  • http://alexhuggett.me Alex

    It seems to me – if a corporation aims to keep wages down so that shareholders can maximise profit then, yes, I’d say this falls into some of the categories of sins the prophets talked about just before the nation went into exile. And if they’re doing that because they’re required to by law, your whole system is corrupt.

  • Marshall

    The present extreme income inequality is certainly a socially disruptive force; I would say that it may not be a problem in itself, but the self-reinforcing trend for those that have to get more and more of what becomes available is Demonic (in at least the sense of an inhuman runaway process). The sin is in not being aware of one’s particular privilege, and not caring about/for others.

    But the real problem is that everyday interactions have been reduced to exclusively monetary exchange, to the neglect of communitarian relationships. If you can’t PAY, too bad for you. Where’s the love in that?

  • Jim

    I don’t understand the question. “Is our economic inequality a sin?” Seems to me economic inequality is a fact. Short of some planned form of economic distribution there will always be economic inequality. However, planned forms of economic distribution have done more than any other economic solutions to create inequality.

    How “unequal” is too “unequal”? Who gets to say and on what basis?

    As to inequities in opportunity…certainly each person should have an equal opportunity to succeed but then there are so many variables in that. e.g. network effects on economic success. Some are born into social networks that afford more opportunities to them than to those who are born into other social networks. How would one even begin to alter social networks so that they are equitable?

    As to Putnam’s question about whether pastors would stand up and call income inequality a sin…well, I suppose they would if they were pastors who believe that the State is the arm of God to bring about God’s peaceable kingdom.

    It seems to me that, insofar as ‘economic equality’ is a sin, then it falls to pastors to call it out as a failure of generosity on the part of the saints. I would have no problem with that…However, to suggest that the State steal from Peter to pay Paul under the rubric of compassion is a stretch.

    If A takes from B to give to C, A is not compassionate, B is not charitable and C is not necessarily better off.

  • http://gracerhythmsunforced.blogspot.com/ josenmiami

    I have to say that it does seem to me to be a rather serious sin. However, it seems impossible to reframe the left-right discussions among Christians toward a more productive direction. The Red scare seems to have left a deep scar on the American pysche that makes any discussion of the public good impossible. The whole thing just leaves me feeling tired and rather discouraged.

  • Chris Jones

    The unjust distribution of wealth should wake the church up to her call to live prophetic lives in this present evil age.

  • Robin

    I want to further highlight Adam’s point…one reason that worldwide inequality is declining is that American inequality is increasing.

    If a factory in America closes and relocates in India, wages in America go down and inequality goes up BUT more Indians are hired and go from living on $1 a day to having a stable income. Some of the factors that are causing increasing American inequality, especially Nafta and Gatt are creating massive quality of life gains in the third world.

    This is not a simple story of capitalistic greed. It is that, but it isn’t just that.

  • Doug Allen

    Yes, extreme income inequality is a sin and furthermore, justification for this inequality is a sin. The Church was complicit with the politics that resulted in systemic inequality. Much of the church still is. I wonder if Calvinist teachings and orthodox teachings of grace don’t support the greed and selfishness that prevails?

  • Robin

    Something that has been bothering about where this discussion is hanging is what when we say economic inequality is a sin I don’t think you can just leave it hanging out there like that. People sin. So who, primarily, would you hang the sin of economic inequality on.

    The key factors driving economic inequality growth in America are manufacturing companies (1) fleeing to non-union parts of the country or (2) fleeing overseas. As I mentioned above these create lower average wages in places like Detroit, but vastly improve life in places like South Carolina or India. You could even argue that on average moves like these improve more peoples lives than they harm.

    You could also blame the demand for low cost consumer goods that tends to drive local businesses under or depress retail wages. If a Wal-Mart replaces 50 mom and pop stores they are probably earning lower wages with fewer benefits than the people they replaced…but then again they are also improving the lives of their consumers. You don’t even have to attack Wal-Mart…Amazon provides a greater selection at better prices than my local bookstore. I buy more books because of Amazon. Am I sinning because I use Amazon? Are the owners of Amazon sinning because they offer a quality product at a bargain price that has the nasty side effect of closing independent bookstores, lowering average wages, and increasing income inequality.

    I don’t think it is enough to say “economic inequality is sinful” without identifying the specific sins or sinners. Is the guy in South Carolina who agrees to take a non-union job sinning, or the guy in India who takes a low-wage manufacturing job to provide for his family? Should we castigate the factory owner who moves from Michigan and kills union jobs, or should we applaud him for lifting entire Indian villages above the subsistence level? Should we blame ourselves, since we all own Vanguard Mutual Funds which invest in the companies that create a profit (which also happen to be the ones that are moving the factories)?

  • scotmcknight

    Robin,
    Here’s the deeper question: is the growing and growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor contrary to God’s will or in accordance with God’s will?

    One of the other.

  • Jarodimus

    My question is; who exactly is the judge of who is rich and who is poor? There is a fine line between greed and contentment, just as there is a fine line between envy and contentment. Where does the Bible teach that we all must be on the same page financially? Simple. It doesn’t. Jesus taught that we will always have the poor among us; it is how we view and treat those poor that is most important: helping them in their need so they have the shelter, food, and the clothing they need, and yes, even granting them grace for things that aren’t necessities. Where is the teaching of Christ that directs us to promote income equality? I missed that one. I am not rich by any stretch, in fact, my family is very low middle-class… perhaps even poor. It is a sin when I fail to concern myself with tithing to God’s church because I pretend to be worried about finances, when earlier that week I bought something I really didn’t need. That’s the heart of the matter; and therein lies the crux of the issue. I don’t NEED to make 100k a year; I should be 100% content when my family has what they need, but I am guilty of discontent and yes, even envy at times. We fool ourselves when we think that it’s only the uber-rich who are the sinners, when we are just as guilty when we pay $80-100 a month on a mobile phone because we want convenience. I can’t afford a flashy smartphone. I have a tracphone that is only used for emergencies. My family has survived for several years this way, because I don’t NEED to be 100% available all the time. If we could afford it, I would get a cell phone plan. I don’t see it as a need, it is a luxury. Who are we to judge the heart of another when we are just as guilty? I don’t think Jesus came to level the financial playing field, and I don’t think the church should be seeking to involve itself politically towards that end. The church should be leading the charge against poverty; but I don’t think getting someone else to do it for us (ie: the government, for example) is the answer.

  • Tim A

    Thanks Scot for refocusing (#28)
    The question was not about rrole of government (a good follow up question for another day perhaps)
    Not even about who is most to blame or if blame is even the issue.

    The question was and is about — is great inequality of wealth a sin — for Christians meaning what does Jesus say about it.

    The other questions are relevant but first things first.
    What does Jesus actually say?

    All the gospels make it clear that great wealth equals great spiritual danger (at a minimum).
    In Luke economic equality is most clearly a meta-theme. With Zach in 19 as the turning point — illustrating the way of conversion, transformation, even salvation — for the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost…

    it is difficult to keep the focus but thanks for this posting

  • Robin

    Scot,

    If you are going to make it that simple and require an answer then I think you must say that it *might* be in accordance with his will. He clearly has no problem with inequality, in an of itself…

    Think about the Israelites moving from the Desert to the promised land. They had a perfectly equal distribution. Everyone got their daily needs met, and nothing more, but when he gave them the promised land he intentionally gave some tribes and even some families better parcels than others. There was no attempt to keep everyone on an absolutely level playing field.

    Back to my bigger issue. If we are going to say it is sinful I think it is helpful to point out which specific activities are sinful (shopping at discount stores, working for less than union wages, owning mutual funds which invest if companies that offshore, etc.)

  • Janet

    Thank you for refocusing the discussion…as Christians it is our responsibility to manage our funds as God directs us. I believe it is an incredible miscarriage of individual responsibility, and indeed sin, if an individual makes a comfortable income and turns a blind eye toward those in need. I see this happening all around me. Children whose parents have a lot of money and don’t even know what the term “food stamps” means and those who sit in school without the family income to afford a winter jacket. This attitude that our poor aren’t all that bad off , have adequate health care , etc. is something I have heard very wealthy people say. Is it an excuse so that those who are wealthy don’t feel guilty about not doing more to help those in need?

  • Janet

    @Robin: What is sinful is having a lot and not giving to those in need. Do you think the incredible disparity between those who make millions of dollars for throwing a ball around a playing field better than another guy is justifiable while we allow children to be hungry in this country? Do you not think it is sinful to allow such inequities to exist over basic needs? I frankly could care less what mutual funds you invest in. Only do your investing as God directs you. That may sound harsh and I don’t mean to be unkind. But let’s get real here. It’s easy to sit around and do this arm chair analysis of whether it’s God’s will to allow economic disparity until you really get out there and see it happening around you.

  • Randy Walberg

    @Robin: the things you suggest at the end of your post are attempting to shift blame for the situation on those who in many cases simply have no choice.
    We need to reframe the discussion to inequalities of Power and Opportunity. The people who (may or may not be) poor simply have less ability to decide where to shop or work. It’s simplistic to say “work for union wages” or buy ethical products when the opportunity is not there because those in positions of power (in most cases the wealthy) make are in charge of making the rules which don’t really apply to themselves. There’s the sin.

  • Josh T.

    Whether any particular activity that leads to the level of income inequality in our country is in and of it “sinful” is beside the point in my opinion. The point, as I see it, is that the increasing inequality is evidence that the system is broken, or at the very least unhealthy. Maybe the word “sinful” is too personal a word to apply to a broken system. I think “evil” might actually be more biblically appropriate, though it almost seems campy to use that word (I personally believe that the broken human systems of the world are included in the “powers” that Jesus triumphed over).

    Yes, I do believe that there are sinful practices involved (at the top and bottom), ignorance, blindness to the truth, and acquiescence are factors, as well. But regardless of the cause of the predicament, I think it is worth acknowledging the problems and humbly looking at solutions, for the good of our fellow humans.

  • Andrew

    Robin, here is the sin in what you described. The profits and incomes of the CEOs of those companies moving jobs to India or wherever are SKYROCKETING. Wal-Mart’s profits are insane. Are they really improving lives by replacing good jobs with low-paying, low benefit trite, so that we the consumer get a few dollar’s savings buying cheaply-made garbage? It’s this constant drive that “we must have robust growth every quarter” that pushes this mentality that renders human lives expendable and profit margins the be-all end-all of existence that has helped place us where we are now and creates the race-to-the-bottom. I believe in a market economy but an unregulated market is by its nature a morally indifferent creature.

  • Howard Walker

    When people harping on this give all their worldly possessions to the poor and live as one of them then I will take their protestations seriously. We live in a different world than first century Palestine. The poor in the United States are much wealthier than the poor in other countries. This line of argumentation would have us all be without.

    The best way for me to help other’s physical needs is for me to make money while allowing others to do the same and then work through the church (using the fruits of my labors) to help those who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to work for their basic needs…

    Am I off base here?

  • Andrew

    Why does expressing concern about poverty require people to become hermits? Who is advocating eradicating any distinctions between rich and poor? Saying we can do better does not equate to having pie in the sky ideas about everyone having the same thing. Talking about income inequality doesn’t equate to advocating communism (nor is advocating to eliminate tax breaks that favor the wealthy for that matter)

    And saying “the poor in the United States are much wealthier than the poor in other countries” is to me a cop-out line. Saying “well there is always someone worse off” doesn’t address the problem. And I’ve known children who grew up in housing projects and conditions in the U.S. that would be considered “poor” anywhere.

  • Josh

    I agree, Andrew. This talk of the U.S. poor being “wealthy” relative to this or that is a cop-out that maintains the status quo of a broken system. As someone with children and who has been fighting an uphill battle in the job market, I can tell you that having a low income and having to depend on others/tax dollars to support my family is not in any way shape or form a luxury. My kids are not currently in any danger of going hungry, but this is no walk in the park. We’re facing the possibility that when I finish school, my wife and I will both be forced to juggle very low wage job schedules for an extended period of time, since school with no experience is practically useless in the current job market. The job market is only one aspect of the broken system, but in most of the aspects, there seems to be a huge power imbalance. The people who have the money and power hold all the cards; they are the ones that vote themselves raises, layoff faceless lists of workers en masse to maintain record profits, etc. This isn’t just about income inequality. There is no real practical balance of power between rich and poor or between employer and employee; those with power make the decisions that can make or break one’s opportunities and livelihood. And while there may not be any practical way to change the power imbalance, at the very least we can recognize that bad things happen and opportunities get lost; people in bad circumstances should not automatically be swept under the rug and labeled a moocher class. Randy #34 has it right about choice–if you don’t have the funds or the power, your options are limited, and those options are typically handed down to you by someone who does have money and power.

  • Tom F.

    Economic inequality is painful. But it can be a spur to succeed; or it can reinforce feelings of helplessness for those who feel no ability to succeed. The injustice is how much opportunity difference there is now between the richest and the poorest. No one is even contesting that, although some here seem to say “it’s impossible to do anything about”.

    Israel was to have a Jubilee that redistributed lands. Now, just because you got free land didn’t mean outcomes were equal; everyone would have to work to till the land even after it was given to them. Perhaps some would misuse it; others would prosper.

    What is the analogy to land in the modern world? Education and job training. The wealth of the top whatever should not be taken and given to the poor, rather, akin to the Jubilee, that wealth should be spent on education and job training so that people have a chance. We need to stop making excuses about how that will be so hard and why this or that won’t work. These arguments sound self-serving because they are.

    Not primarily redistribution (although we should continue to help with basic needs as a country): economic justice through truly equal opportunity.

  • Robin

    Tom,

    I like your point about jubilee, and correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t jubilee more about debt forgiveness than redistribution. If I recall correctly it basically kept you from selling your allottment permanently, which is the same as saying everyone’s portion of the promised land (and their persons if they wanted to sell themselves into slavery) couldn’t be sold permanently but only leased for up to 50 years.

    I think this gets to a good point, when you combine it with the rest of scripture, about the dangers of debt, forgiveness, and servitude.

    When I was trying to think about actors in the system or actions that I would consider absolutely evil I kept coming up with people in finance…people who give high interest credit cards, people who created credit default swaps, salesmen who knowingly sell faulty land, homes, or cars. Even a billionaire CEO like Steve Jobs makes money because he contributes something positive to society…these people make money ONLY IF the defraud others. (I would probably add Casinos and a couple other “sin” industries to the evil list as well).

  • T

    Robin,

    I think Tom has a good point. I think of Jubilee not only as debt forgiveness but also God giving the land anew to the families of Israel every 50 years. The land was total grace to them. It was also the bedrock of the means of production. Education is as good of a modern equivalent as I have thought of as we’ll.

  • Robin

    T,

    I don’t know if this thread is still going, but I think the jubilee issue is a good one. I have always assumed that if you knew jubilee was coming up in 5 years you would just discount the purchase price since you knew you were really only renting it for 5 years. Either way I think it is one of the more substantive issues discussed in the comments, and I will think about it the next time the issue comes up.

  • T

    Robin,

    Ditto. I don’t know if/when I ever mentioned it here, but I was a full blown disciple of Milton Friedman as I pursued and finished my major in economics, focusing on monetary policy. But then I read the Books of Moses and focused on the economic policies . . . and . . . it all went “boom.” Hard for me to see libertarianism as the bees knees after that, not that I still don’t appreciate and agree with a lot of it, especially the idea that one can’t repeal the market. The jubilee, of course, doesn’t stand alone in the law as economic policy, but it is so comprehensive and genius; it’s a marvel of policy, both in form and goal.

    That experience of reading the law and analyzing the economic policies (both goal and means) really affected me, and the jubilee was the piece de resistance.

  • Phil Miller

    This is somewhat related to what I mentioned before about the need for a low-skilled labor force disappearing. This American Life did a show this past weekend about the number of people receiving SSI Disability payments in the US and how it has skyrocketed in the last 30 years. Essentially, there are many people who simply have no viable way to participate in the labor force, and this seems to be the way many of them are scraping by.

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/490/trends-with-benefits

  • http://pauljpark.wordpress.com Paul P

    As people have commented, the semantics aren’t very clear here which isn’t helpful, but I would ask the questions. If it is that economic inequality is sin, are we striving for economic equality? Does that mean we are to adopt a communistic mentality, not necessarily in the methodology but at least in the end goal? At what point (level of economic disparity) of remedying economic inequality are people no longer sinning? These are all questions that needs to be address if one is to declare economic inequality a sin.

  • Mike S

    There’s numerous fallacies here: these stats are compared to groups not individuals. In other words the lowest decile will always be the lowest decile. These sorts of stats frequently omit the movement of individuals from one decile to another. There has actually been more mobility from the lower class to upper classes as an individual ages. While there has also been a lot of turnover from the top. Another fallacy is that it is based on income, not wealth. They are two different things. High income does not equate to large amounts of wealth. Based on this stat there is a lot volatility as noted above in the upper tier. Very few “rich” people stay that way.When it comes to economic systems we need to be careful. The article also states less disparity of riches in Europe than the US. That is bc they have more socialist policies. If you look at actual giving in time and donations the US consistently gives the most. This leads to economic systems. Equality is defined two ways in Econ: Equality in the process or equality in the results of it. Capitalism takes the former approach while socialism and its offspring take the latter. Consistently in the 20th century we have seen nations abandoning govt control bc it caused even greater inequalities. Long story short, no it is not a sin based on the evidence provided. Sorry for the typos, typing from an iPhone.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X