Left, Right & Christ: A Book Excerpt

Thieves come in different forms. They can be particular people or they can gather in a mob, in which case we call their theft "pillage." Mobs can be crude, such as when they rampage, or they can be sophisticated. A sophisticated mob, when it wants to pillage a propertied minority, knows that rather than fight the government, it can use the government. After all, the government's power to secure property is also the power to take it away. When a mob uses government to pillage its more propertied neighbors, we call it progressive taxation, or redistribution of wealth. Sometimes we call it fairness. But it is theft all the same.

I wish I could say that the Republican Party embraces all these principles fully, consistently, and with deep conviction and understanding. Alas, that is too much to expect in a fallen world. None of us is perfectly true to the principles we profess. Why should we expect greater fidelity from a political party?

Human frailty always creates a gap between ideals and institutions, between principles and practice.34 A party, like the country as a whole, is sometimes closer and sometimes farther from its ideals. But small government and a free economy for the liberty, prosperity, and ultimately happiness of the people are the principles the Republican Party upholds. Despite the shortcomings and departures of the two Bush administrations, despite McCain-Feingold,35 No Child Left Behind,36 prescription drug entitlements,37 and a binge of government pork-barrel spending under Republican watch, the GOP is still in principle the party of Reagan. For that reason, a faithful political warrior can call the party back to these principles. But whereas in the Republican Party someone appealing to these principles is a reformer, among Democrats, he's a revolutionary.

Business is not the devil and neither is money. Business is just people providing goods or services for money, and money is just paper--or metal. In and of themselves, money and business have neither positive nor negative value. They just are. There are plenty of business people mentioned in scripture. Consider the Proverbs 31 woman. An entrepreneur, "She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchants with sashes." Consider Lydia of Thyatira, a dealer in purple cloth, who the writer of Acts lists by name (Acts 16:14). Consider four of the twelve disciples: Peter, Andrew, James, and John who were likely owners of a fishing cooperative in Galilee.38 Consider the parable where Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a merchant who sells everything to buy one pearl. Jesus used the language of profit to help his hearers understand the immense value of the Kingdom of God.

Business and money are important and socially valuable, but they bring up two important questions: 1) How does human depravity fuel our chosen economic system—the system of expansionary free-market capitalism? and 2) How do the outcomes of that system square with God and God's purposes on earth? To begin to answer these questions, we will start with God and the latter question and work our way to the first.

Luke opens the book of Acts by immediately setting the political scene: "In the days of King Herod of Judea". The eldest son of Herod the Great, King Herod of Judea (also known as Archelaus) took after his father. He was a repressive leader who carried on his father's love for massive building projects that exploited Israel's large lower class. Herod used his people to build structures that reinforced the power and status of the occupying empire. Archelaus ruled until 6 AD when Judea became a Roman province. Judea, at that time, is under repressive rule and people are being exploited for the sake of the expansion of empire. It is into this context Jesus is born.

Approximately thirty years later, Herod Antipas is the prefect of Rome when Jesus stands in his hometown synagogue. He is handed the scroll. He unrolls it, finds Isaiah 61 and reads:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because He has anointed me
To bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Jesus rolls up the scroll, sits down and says, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." In other words, you know how Isaiah said one day someone would proclaim these things. Well, I just did! It's on. The year of the Lord's favor is on!

The Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-55) was the centerpiece of an economic system instituted by God as the Israelites entered the Promised Land. In this system every seven years the Israelites were commanded to observe the Sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:1-7, Deuteronomy 15:1-18). During this year, all debts were forgiven, slaves were set free and the land was given rest from all sowing and reaping. In this theocratic agrarian society, Sabbatical year was a major regulatory act that imposed a yearlong cycle of rest for workers and the land in addition to the weekly Sabbath, which God instituted through the Ten Commandments. The Sabbatical year also affected merchants' bottom lines. Labor is a critical cost of production. That cost is a key factor in the ability of business to make a profit. Thus, we must understand, the command to free their slaves every seven years would have a profound effect on the ability of businesses to expand profits to the point of empire.

11/16/2011 5:00:00 AM
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