As I watched the coverage of the Pope’s first speeches and appearances yesterday, I was struck by the fact that his core message of economic justice – a message that urges society to strive for greater economic equality and empower the poor – and his secondary message of environmental justice are messages that likely fly right over the head of mainstream evangelicalism.
In fact, it’s a direct confrontation to the corporate-capitalist economy that evangelicals have by and large embraced as somehow biblical. This is the economy that says a “free market” means everyone can be successful – while the gap between rich and poor only grows wider. This is the economy that sees big budget churches and wealthy celebrity pastors as American Christian ideals – while the working poor in the pews are never empowered. This is the economy that denies the existence of any kind of economic or racial oppression, with a dire lack of education, opportunity, and resources – while marginalized people only go further into that oppressed pit.
But just a cursory reading of both Old and New Testaments gives us a much different vision – a vision of a God who, in fact, is in the business of rattling this kind of unequal, oppressive economy. Maybe rattling is to gentle a word – more like overturning. The kingdom of God overturns all economic inequality, declaring a year of Jubilee in which debts are forgiven, fortunes are restored, the oppressive rich are brought low, and the captives go free. Take this passage from the lectionary today (which echoes Is. 61 & Lu. 4):
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
Let’s keep listening and learning as Pope Francis shares this vision of economic equality as the kingdom way – and let’s begin to champion that vision ourselves.
Praise the Lord!