Michael O. Emerson wrote an article about redistribution on the Urban Faith website and Ed Gilbreath put up a post asking for comments on the merits of redistribution. From the responses, and the anecdotal rejections I often hear about redistribution, it seems that many equate our current system of American capitalism with a Biblical precedent.
Emerson and those like myself who see vast inequities and how we distribute money suggest that everyone should make a flat rate. I am in Graduate school and plan to pursue a Ph.D., and I expect to make more than some of my friends who decided not to go to high school, but not several times as much. I don’t deserve 100,000 if my friend who is a garbage man, with his family of four is only making 25,000. Why should I be able to purchase luxuries – even if modest – when my fellow citizen can barley make all of his payments, transfers healthcare from family member to family member (I had to do that growing up, it is stressful not being able to go to the dentist or doctor and praying no one gets hurt or sick), etc. The issue isn’t that people are paid differently it is that the scale is so inexplicably wide.
Personally, I don’t understand how one can claim that our system is sufficient when most of those who make minimum wage can’t even make enough to stay out of poverty. I also don’t understand how the dramatic economic disparity in the US (more than any other industrialized country) can be looked upon so flippantly. In order to support that view one must be willing to say that all of those in or close to the federal poverty level (which is a several thousand dollars lower than what it should be) are lazy, irresponsible, and undeserving.
The Faith and Redistribution
Theologically the Bible gives a good argument for redistribution (sabbatical year, year of jubilee, tithing, gleaning etc.) and says a lot about lopsided systems (Ezekiel, Isaiah, Hosea and the other prophets). The Bible doesn’t speak so much about us being charitable, but about us being just. If we are in a system that is unjust – which I believe we are – we don’t fix that by have unbalanced pay scales and then allowing those that can afford it to simple give their money away. What God commands is that we have a government and society which is justice focused and beyond mere charity. *
There is also a role for a joint effort of Government and Church in redistribution and further in areas of social justice. Let me establish a fictitious example to prove this point. If in 1810 White Baptist churches in America said that American slavery was unbiblical and Baptist Christians decided to free all their slaves that would have been a significant and proper response. But, if White Baptist Christians really believed that Blacks were as important and truly equal to Whites they would additionally pursue creating a government that treated Blacks as humans and afforded them their civil rights. The White Baptist church shouldn’t wait for the government. The Church should influence – by example and legislation – the government to be just. I think the same can be said was far redistribution goes. Christians (especially evangelical) have no problem advocating abstinence or a pro-life position in the public square, why can’t we advocate for a financially just society?
There are also certain financial benefits that come from redistribution. Although we often think of economics as linear, in reality they are dynamic and complex. We all are socially and financially connected. Let me give two quick examples.
Poor communities often have higher crime rates. More money is put into enforcement of those areas and even if the money is not put in there, police officers are taken away from other responsibilities to be in the neighborhood. If the neighborhood has more financial stability it would probably have less crime and then the police could spend additional time policing other areas of the city and being more effective in the entire city. Additionally, criminals from these neighborhoods go to jail and prison, are put though the legal system, and never make it out to put money back into the economy. Imagine even half of the criminals that are in jail making money, spending money and being POSITIVE, influences in the world.
Poor communities have low high school graduation rates. This leads to young adults who don’t contribute as much as they could to the economy and are overall not working at their highest potential (this doesn’t mean every student needs to go to college to have a good life, I think that is a great American misperception).
Redistribution may be a departure from the norm, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. We need to further examine which ways our economy represents Christianity and which ways it represents Americanism. We are wrapped up in a system and systems can be as unjust and unbiblical as individuals. When system becomes unjust we must work both on the system and the individual so that God might be glorified.