Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Thankful Poor
The Thankful Poor, Henry Ossawa Tanner

Health and Wealth Root Cause
I Will not Hear The Other Side
Government Theft Politics
Will a Man Rob God? God and the Poor
Red Beret

Health and Wealth

  • “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”
  • (3 John 1:2).

A popular modern teaching asserts that any lapse by believers into ill health or poverty follows from a lack of faith. But the Bible does not report that saints have always dwelt on Easy Street:

"Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth." (Hebrews 11:36-38).

This teaching, popular with many TV personalities, is in part a one-sided, overly categorical development of promises which are contained within holy writ, rather than complete heretic invention. Jesus did, and does today, heal the sick; but some prayers for healing are answered otherwise. Paul suffered from a "thorn in the flesh," evidently an eye ailment. He prayed for release, but was told,

"Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).

From whence came the teaching in the first place? As seen, part of it arises from an unbalanced look at scripture. Some of it came from Joseph Smith's 'Lectures on Faith.' And some came in part from 'New Thought,' as exemplified for instance in the 'Unity' teaching of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, who experienced healing from Christian Science. Mary Baker Eddy taught that disease was an illusion, that will disappear once seen through: "The dream that matter and error are something must yield to reason and revelation. Then mortals will behold the nothingness of sickness and sin, and sin and sickness will disappear from consciousness." (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, with Keys to the Scriptures, Chapter XI, Kindle location 4406).

The New Age 
The New Age

Wherever it came from, this popular teaching has led to unfortunate social consequences. Radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh make their way in the world by inculcating contempt for the poor. One would expect this viewpoint to be shunned like poison by Christians, whose Master told them,

“Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said:
'Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled...
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger.'” (Luke 6:20-24).

Instead this way of thinking is quite popular with the 'Christian Right.' The unbiblical teaching that the poor are, not only lacking in this world's goods, but also lacking in faith, has helped clear the way for this inversion of the Lord's teaching.

John Wesley
Sermon on
Bishop T. D. Jakes 
Bishop T. D. Jakes

Root Cause

The root cause of poverty is shown in the Bible as multi-faceted, which tracks with the observed phenomenon. Some people are poor because of personal failings. One Biblical diagnosis is sloth:

"Go to the ant, you sluggard!
Consider her ways and be wise,
Which, having no captain,
Overseer or ruler,
Provides her supplies in the summer,
And gathers her food in the harvest.
How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man." (Proverbs 6:6-11).
"Laziness casts one into a deep sleep,
And an idle person will suffer hunger." (Proverbs 19:15).
"Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread." (Proverbs 20:13).
"I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man." (Proverbs 24:30-34)

We all know people who are allergic to work. The Book of Proverbs is prone to whack the ball back into your court. One can understand why Star Parker says, "Well, I came to believe what I believe by reading a proverb a day. I was believing the lies of the left for a very long time." (Star Parker, quoted in 'I'm Black, I'm Supposed to Be a Democrat;' Bill Walton, November 1, 2019.) Another Biblical diagnosis is substance abuse:

"Do not mix with winebibbers,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags." (Proverbs 23:20-21).

Inspection of the line at a downtown soup kitchen will confirm this diagnosis. So far the radio talk show hosts are on the Bible bus. On a more esoteric level, the failure of some communities to embrace Christian virtues and live by the Golden Rule seems to have a real, though difficult to trace, connection with their depressed living standard:

  • “As part of a large research project in Chicago, Professor Sampson walked through different neighborhoods this summer, dropping stamped, addressed envelopes to see how many people would pick up an apparently lost letter and mail it, a sign that looking out for others is part of the community’s culture.

    “In some neighborhoods, like Grand Boulevard, where the notorious Robert Taylor public housing projects once stood, almost no envelopes were mailed; in others researchers received more than half of the letters back. Income levels did not necessarily explain the difference, Professor Sampson said, but rather the community’s cultural norms, the levels of moral cynicism and disorder.”
  • ('Culture of Poverty' Makes a Comeback, by Patricia Cohen, October 17, 2010,

The radio talk show hosts reason, 'Since it's their own fault, we don't owe them anything.' But God does not reason like that. For the same reason that one really should mail the stamped letter, responsible members of the community should also clean up the mess left by others' misbehavior, and children whose parents are drunks or druggies should live as decently as the community can arrange.

Moreover the Bible offers another diagnosis of poverty, which finds no place in some people's world view, namely oppression:

“Hear this, you who swallow up the needy,
And make the poor of the land fail,
Saying: 'When will the New Moon be past,
That we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
That we may trade wheat?
Making the ephah small and the shekel large,
Falsifying the scales by deceit,
That we may buy the poor for silver,
And the needy for a pair of sandals—
Even sell the bad wheat?'
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
'Surely I will never forget any of their works.
Shall the land not tremble for this,
And everyone mourn who dwells in it?'” (Amos 8:4-8).

These oppressors are not condemned for going after the poor with a pick-axe, but for market-driven behavior judged unjust by Biblical standards. This sort of oppression insults God, "He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy." (Proverbs 14:31). The Bible standard for justice in the economic realm is set by the law of Moses, a law code which offers extraordinary support, even transferred material resources, for people on the low end of the economic scale. This last diagnosis meets with a blank stare from the 'Religious Right.' While 'blaming the victim' reflects reality to a point, and the Bible concurs with this diagnosis to a point, God will not allow us to stop there. The talk show hosts' resolution of the problem: to blame the victim, then stop there,— is in no way Biblical.

I Will Not Hear

It is not the prayers of all that God promises to hear, but the prayers of those who are faithful to Him:

“When you spread out your hands,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:15)

God specifically commanded His people not to set their hearts on the things that the Gentiles seek:

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” (Matthew 6:31-32).

Some people insist that if God's children defy Him and set their hearts on the things that the Gentiles seek, God will hear their prayers. But we have fallen into a vicious circle. If God's children defy Him, He will not hear their prayers. You have His word on it.

How many free persons did Moses' law enslave? Few, and those few thieves without means to make restitution. (Incidentally, depriving convicted criminals of their liberty does not violate the thirteenth amendment to the U. S. Constitution.) How many enslaved persons did Moses liberate, every seventh year and then comprehensively at the fiftieth year? Thousands upon thousands, had these provisions ever been fully implemented:

Jacques Joseph Tissot, Spirit of Infirmity

The Other Side

  • IS CHRIST OUR EXAMPLE? He never said a word in favor of education. He never even hinted at the existence of any science. He never uttered a word in favor of industry, economy or of any effort to better our condition in this world. He was the enemy of the successful, of the wealthy. Dives was sent to hell, not because he was bad, but because he was rich. Lazarus went to heaven, not because he was good, but because he was poor.”
  • (Colonel Robert Ingersoll, About the Holy Bible, IX).

Things haven't changed: "The analogy of humans to lilies, for instance, suggests -- along with many other injunctions -- that things like thrift, innovation, family life, and so forth are a sheer waste of time." (Christopher Hitchens, 'god is not Great, p. 118).

"In particular, it is absurd to hope to banish envy of other people's possessions or fortunes, if only because the spirit of envy can lead to emulation and ambition and have positive consequences. It seems improbable that the American fundamentalists, who desire to see the Ten Commandments emblazoned in every schoolroom and courtroom...are so hostile to the spirit of capitalism." (Christopher Hitchens, 'god is not Great,' referring to the 10th commandment, p. 100).

Martin Luther, the reader will recall, said that we are 'beggars all.' Colonel Ingersoll was consistent in his disdain for beggars. Not only did he think poorly of those who eat unearned bread in this life, but also of those who attain heaven unearned, relying on "the goodness of another," i.e. the substitute, the scape-goat, Jesus. He condemns those who gain heaven unearned, though none gain those shores on any other basis. Colonel Ingersoll said of the man who "lives to his ideal":

"He asks for nothing he does not earn. He does not wish to be happy in heaven if he must receive happiness as alms. He does not rely on the goodness of another. He is not anxious to become a winged pauper." (Robert Ingersoll, The Best of Robert Ingersoll, pp. 94-95).

Heaven will be populated by none but winged paupers! These atheists are consistent in their attitudes, while many Christians are not. If we despise beggars, while yet we are 'beggars all,' we despise ourselves and complain of the gift of our salvation.

Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll 
Agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll

Government Sponsored Theft

The case which the Religious Right makes against governmental assistance to the poor centers around the idea that the Bible forbids the government to assist the poor, though undeniably enjoining such assistance upon private individuals:

"Anyone who has actually studied and taken the 'precepts of Jesus' to heart knows that Jesus taught us to be personally charitable. This is fitting with Christ's testimony that his was not a political kingdom, but a spiritual one (John 18:36). He came to conquer not earthly thrones, but the human heart.

"Yet false teachers like Obama seek to confuse that point. They tell us that obedience to Christ comes in the form of high taxes on the wealthy to fund social programs for the poor. Even if these programs weren't as miserably ineffective as they are, look at what they foster: envy, greed, bitterness, and resentment. Not exactly the motivations of love and altruism that Jesus said were to be at the heart of our goodwill.

"In truth, there is not one recorded instance of Christ advocating government confiscation and redistribution of wealth in the name of charity.

"Jesus did say, "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'" (Matthew 25:40).

"Jesus did not say, "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you forcibly took from the masses through taxation in the name of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"

"Jesus did say: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21).

"Jesus did not say: "If you want to be perfect, go, get elected to high office and then use the law to confiscate the property of those who have, and give to those you deem more worthy of it. Then claim you are following me."

"You get the point. Barack Obama's social gospel of government-sponsored theft is a flat contradiction to what Jesus taught. "
(Peter Heck, 'O,' he of little faith, onenewsnow, October 11, 2010).

But this view overlooks the fact that the Bible contains an entire law-code which does mandate "government-sponsored theft," i.e. mandatory redistributions of wealth from those who have it to those who don't. These ordinances were not optional:

  • “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God.”
  • (Leviticus 23:22, 19:9-10).

  • "When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow."
  • (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).

  • "At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the LORD’S release."

  • (Deuteronomy 15:1-2).

  • "At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.
  • (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

  •  "If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.

  • (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).

  •  "And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates.
  • (Deuteronomy 16:14).

  • "When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled; Then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all thy commandments which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them:..."
  • (Deuteronomy 26:12-13).

  • "And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase."
  • (Leviticus 25:35-37).

  • "The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land. If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold. . .But if he be not able to restore it to him, then that which is sold shall remain in the hand of him that hath bought it until the year of jubile: and in the jubile it shall go out, and he shall return unto his possession."
  • (Leviticus 25:23-28).

It seems unlikely that Jesus intended to criminalize observance of the Mosaic law, though of course a theocracy is only a theocracy when God founds it, not when man does. All of the condemnations the prophets thundered against Israel fall within this context: you are oppressing the poor when you don't do those things which are enjoined by the law of Moses:

"The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. . .  Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord GOD." (Ezekiel 22:29-31).

"Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: For the LORD will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them." (Proverbs 22:22-23).

We are prone to read passages like these with the assumption that 'robbing the poor' means what we would count as 'robbing the poor,' which would have to be pretty dire because we allow things Moses does not allow, such as foreclosure resulting in permanent alienation of ownership. We do not keep ownership of real property open in spite of failure; we do not clear the decks every fifty years and go back to Square One, as Moses does. God's people were not to join field to field: "Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field, till there is no place where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!" (Isaiah 5:8). It is because the nation of Israel failed to do these things, which we do not in any way expect the wealthy to do, that the prophets accuse their neighbors of 'robbing the poor.'

Study of Israel's history suggests that observance of these very generous social welfare provisions was spotty at best:

"It dictated the Mosaic institutions of the seventh year of release and the Jubilee year for the restoration of fields and houses, to prevent the tyranny of wealth from becoming a permanent source of oppression. Wile these were scarcely ever put into practice, they remained as a protest and an appeal." (Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology, p. 488).

The Book of Jubilees, written prior to the gospel era, lists the Jubilee amongst Moses' enactments which were not being observed correctly, in the estimation of the author: "And they will forget all My law and all My commandments and all My judgments, and will go astray as to new moons, and sabbaths, and festivals, and jubilees, and ordinances." (Book of Jubilees, Chapter 1, 14-15, translated by R. H. Charles). By the time we get to Rabbinic Judaism, these provisions become a dead letter. Many of Hillel's 'liberal' innovations were imaginative end-runs around the social justice legislation of Moses. Nevertheless the letter stands; this was God's law, to be obeyed, not evaded.

While the civil provisions of the Mosaic law are not directly binding upon Christians, it must be assumed God has not changed His political perspective in the interim. And yet the civil society of medieval Europe was built up in total disregard of these usages. Feudalism allotted land ownership to the few, not to the many: "Hordes of barbarians overran this quarter of the Globe; their leaders and nobles divided the land and the inhabitants among them." (Johann Gottfried von Herder, Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man, Kindle location 5197). Ownership of the land did not fall to the farmer, as it did under the Mosaic system, but to the hangers-on and dependents of the robber baron who last stormed the place. Hygelac gives Beowulf a sword and lands,

"In Beowulf's keeping he placed it and gave him
Seven of thousands, manor and lorship.
Common to both was land 'mong the people,
Estate and inherited rights and possessions,
To the second one specially spacious dominions,
To the one who was better." (Beowulf, modern translation)

He gives "inherited rights," but did he inherit them, by right? Don't be silly. They stole it fair and square and dispossessed the rightful owners. Throughout the medieval period, this blatant contradiction went unexamined.



It is surprising but true that many Christians nowadays borrow their thinking about wealth and poverty not from the Bible, but from popular right-wing authors like the atheist Ayn Rand:

Atheist Ayn Rand 
Atheist Ayn Rand

For reasons unknown, many Christians today will choose an atheist in a flash over any theist when it comes to matters political or economic. They prefer Ayn Rand to the theist John Maynard Keynes, who devised a way to tamp down the business cycle. Capitalist economies have always been plagued by a boom-and-bust cycle. Wherever such economies are planted, whether in Europe or Singapore, the progress of their production shows as a straight line upward only in the most charitable soft focus. In detail it is a roller-coaster ride. The downturns are hard, killing people's dreams of a decent retirement, wiping out savings and destroying businesses. There seems to be something ingrained in human psychology that entices people to predict that 'current trends will continue:' if gold prices are going up, for example, people assume they will continue to rise on a straight line and invest accordingly. But nothing ever rises on a straight line; things revert to the mean, and the real chart will always look more like a sine wave than a straight line. By predicting according to the 'straight line' paradigm, people will always overbuild and overproduce in the boom, and undershoot, hiding their money in the mattress, during the down years. Just as a flock of birds in flight display complex, balletic patterns produced by the simple rule that each bird strives to maintain a constant distance from its neighbors, so the business cycle could be produced by economic actors stubbornly predicting that present straight-line trends will continue.

On the upside it's unquenchable optimism:

"Many will remember the fall season of 2008 as the beginning of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of 1929. . .In a BBC interview a year later, Alan Greenspan, former head of the US Federal Reserve, indicated that the average person doesn't believe it will happen again. He said, 'That is the unquenchable capability of human beings when confronted with long periods of prosperity to presume that it will continue.'" (quoted in Our Daily Bread, 2011, September 20).

This 'straight-line' assumption is also seen on the downside, with equal disregard for empirical experience. The cycle is a constant, though basing predictions upon it is also problematic given that the timing of the inflection points is unknown.

Keynes suggested setting up a counter-cycle, where government spending acts as a counter-weight to the private economy's gyrations. In good times the government was to run a surplus, in bad times operate at a deficit. This tamps down and smooths out the private economy's unwelcome oscillations, as well as providing much-needed relief and employment through public works during the depressions. (Classical Keynesianism ran into a brick wall in the 1970's, when we Americans found it possible to combine inflation with economic stagnation, two things which are not supposed to go together in the classical theory, so Keynesians today have a 'neo' prefixed to the basic paradigm.) This pragmatic, workable idea is hated by ideologues of the Ayn Rand persuasion. Why? What is wrong with what works?

Pagan Governments

It is sometimes asserted by these conservative political commentators, for what reason I am not completely sure, that no pagan government in antiquity ever provided welfare to the poor. This simply isn't so; isn't it a common-place that the Roman government anesthetized the poor with 'bread and circuses'?: ". . .knowing as he did that the Roman People are held fast by two things above all, the corn-dole and the shows. . ." (M. Cornelius Fronto, Correspondence, Volume II, Loeb edition, p. 217). Many of these states did provide an upkeep for those unable to provide for themselves:

"The Council also examines infirm paupers; for there is a law which provides that persons possessing less than three minas, who are so crippled as to be unable to do any work, are, after examination by the Council, to receive two obols a day from the state for their support. A treasurer is appointed by lot to attend to them." (Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution, Chapter 49).

This was not uncommon or distinctive,

"The Rhodians, although their form of government is not democratic, are attentive to the welfare of the people, and endeavor to maintain the multitude of poor. The people receive allowances of corn, and the rich support the needy, according to an ancient usage. There are also public offices in the state, the object of which is to procure and distribute provisions, so that the poor may obtain subsistence, and the city not suffer for want of persons to serve her, especially in manning her fleets." (Strabo, Geography, Book XIV, Chapter II, Section 5, Volume III, p. 30).

Since Moses' God-inspired polity did without controversy mandate communal support for the disadvantaged, I'm not sure why the practice of pagan governments interests these commentators, but if they think it is important, they ought to get it right. Another mystery is the oft-repeated claim that Karl Marx invented the concept of the progressive income tax, calling for this unheard-of innovation in the Communist Manifesto. It would be exhausting the enumerate the governments, ancient and modern, which resorted to this measure, including the Confederate States of America: "In April they [the Confederate government] followed the Union example and enacted a comprehensive tax law that included a progressive income tax. . ." (James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 615).

The idea that relative equality is a desirable state of society is not a new idea; it does not date from the French Revolution. This preference is expressed, for example, by Philo Judaeus, an Alexandrian Jewish author of the first century:

"And this is what Homer appears to me to imply figuratively in the Iliad, at the beginning of the thirteenth book, by the following lines, --
"The Mysian close-fighting bands,
And dwellers on the Scythian lands, Content to seek their humble fare From milk of cow and milk of mare,
The justest of mankind." [Iliad xiii. 5]
"As if great anxiety concerning the means of subsistence and the acquisition of money engendered injustice by reason of the inequality which it produced, while the contrary disposition and pursuit produced justice by reason of its equality, according to which it is that the wealth of nature is defined, and is superior to that which exists only in vain opinion." (Philo Judaeus, On the Contemplative Life, Chapter II).

Since there is so much material in the Bible favorable to the poor, one would think those who want to uphold their cause could not be held back from looting this treasure-trove. What could be better than leaving the right-wingers to argue with Jesus? The 'red letters,' even! Unfortunately nothing good happens when Democratic politicians quote the Bible. Some may recall from the lovely old hymn that God is the "Help of the helpless" (Abide With Me). Others beg to differ; reportedly Joan of Arc said, "Aide toy, Dieu te aidera:" "Help yourself and God will help you." Certain Democratic hacks think the Bible says 'God helps those who help themselves:'

Whom Does God Help? 
God Helps Those
William Jennings Bryan Home

Will a Man Rob God?

Many churches teach that the Old Testament tithe is still binding on Christians today. Is the requirement for church members to contribute ten percent of their income to the church Biblical?

Robbing God

During the 1970's this country experienced double-digit inflation. As the currency lost value, lower-income tax-payers were relentlessly pushed into higher brackets intended originally for wealthy people. This was a lazy legislator's dream: yearly tax increases without ever having to vote a tax increase, always an unpopular measure. Belatedly, legislators woke up to an angry public demanding relief, and reduced the tax rates, or rather brought them back down to where they were before inflation had kicked everyone into a higher bracket. Even poor people, never intended as a target of the income tax, had to pay. One Solon of the day remarked, the best anti-poverty program the government can devise is to cease taxing people into poverty! In a similar vein, the best thing churches concerned about helping the poor can do is to cease demanding 10% of their income, a demand the Bible nowhere makes.


God and the Poor

It is certain, from the Bible, that God specially loves the poor. But why does He prefer them to the rich?

Small and Big

Different theories have been evolved to account for God's choices, which may seem unaccountable by human reckoning. One group, the Calvinists, are prone to argue that God chooses the poor preferentially simply because this group is unworthy and unlikely, thus displaying His arbitrary sovereignty. He cannot possibly be choosing the poor, because they are unattractive, rather he chooses these people because they are precisely the people He, and we, would never choose! Others argue that this choice, which God makes with a fair degree of consistency according to the Bible, can only be explained by human psychology, showing that it is not really God's choice at all, rather the poor choose God, maybe figuring that they have little to lose:

"Of course, if Jesus were a Calvinist, He never would have suggested that it was harder for rich persons to be saved by God's irresistible grace than poor persons. Their wills would be changed immediately and invincibly upon hearing God's effectual call. It would be no harder for a rich person to be saved by God's monergistic and irresistible calling than it would be for any other sinner. But the real Jesus was suggesting that their salvation was tied in some measure to their response and commitment to His calling." (Whosoever Will, David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke, p. 121).

Notice how hard it is for both parties to the debate to fathom that it really is God's choice! They see nothing appealing in weakness and failure. Why does God?

Face Mask

Red Beret

While some people try to make Jesus into a disciple of Ayn Rand, other place a red beret upon His head and consider Him as a "peasant revolutionary." This reconstituting of the 'historical Jesus' in the direction of Che Guevara is accomplished by the usual means, that is by subtracting what does not work for them, leaving only what features they like. The law of Moses however forbids accumulation of land by the collective just as stringently as it applies to Roman proprietors of latifundia. The Bible fact that the land belongs to God does not mean it belongs to the government or to the commune.

There is an alternative universe, believed to be real by aficionados of the contemporary 'Jesus' publishing industry, in which the world of the first century Roman empire was a static, inert, timeless 'agrarian' society, just like imperial China. Was it really this way? Did the ancient Roman world suffer under a 'caste' system like one finds in contemporary India? Consider Agathocles, who aimed early in life at the dream of being a pottery-maker: "Since he was poor he taught Agathocles the trade of pottery while he was still a boy." (Siculus, Diodorus. Library of History, Book XIX, 2.7. Complete Works of Diodorus Siculus (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 32) (Kindle Location 22270).) The democracy in Syracuse elevated him to power; he promised land redistribution and forgiveness of debt, both of them Jubilee themes, both of them very popular in the world of ancient democracy: "On the other hand, many of those who were poor and involved in debt welcomed the revolution, for Agathocles promised in the Assembly both to abolish debts and to distribute land to the poor." (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book XIX, 9.5). From very humble circumstances, he rose to the heights of that society. The people who lived in that world were not aware they lived in a world where one's destiny was determined by the circumstances of one's birth; rather, they used to talk about the "fickleness of fortune:"

"And it was with good reason that these emotions were shared by all who then beheld the reversals in Eumenes’ fortunes; for who, taking thought of the inconstancies of human life, would not be astonished at the alternating ebb and flow of fortune?. . .For human life, as if some god were at the helm, moves in a cycle through good and evil alternately for all time. It is not strange, then, that some one unforeseen event has taken place, but rather that all that happens is not unexpected. This is also a good reason for admitting the claim of history, for in the inconstancy and irregularity of events history furnishes a corrective for both the arrogance of the fortunate and the despair of the destitute."

(Siculus, Diodorus. Library of History. Book XVIII, 59.4-6. Complete Works of Diodorus Siculus (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 32) (Kindle Locations 21903-21909).)

Now, it turns out, that plundering the possessions of the rich led to lasting prosperity in those days no more than it did when the twentieth century Bolsheviks took the same line. And just as the people burdened down by the tyranny of Josef Stalin wondered what they had found so oppressive in the genial old Tsar, the Sicilians realized they had been more free when they were oppressed than after their liberation, and that in fact all the revolution had accomplished was to bring in a new elite, a nomenclatura, even more rapacious and avaricious than the old aristocracy. In Rome, Catiline plotted to effect a Bolshevik style coup; it was Cicero's moment of glory when he unravelled the conspiracy and squelched the plot. All his life he suspected there was one unindicted co-conspirator who got away: Julius Caesar. If you trust the offerings on 'history' put out by the Harper Collins publishing house, you wouldn't know that the founder of the Roman imperial system, the first Caesar, was somewhat of a pinko. Wasn't he the Chinese emperor who wanted to make sure the peasants stayed in their place? It's a shame when impressionable young people can't see through this type of material:

John Dominic Crossan

The framework for Crossan's revision of Jesus' preaching is the do-it-yourself approach. For God's Kingdom to come does not require the skies to split open; rather, if everyone acted according to Kingdom ethics, the Kingdom would in substance already be here. What hinders the Kingdom is not any immovable mountain or state of nature, it is just the way people behave. Certainly there is some truth to this: while some ills will take a Divine hand to heal, other wounds are self-inflicted. It cannot be expected that everyone will adopt Kingdom ethics all at the same time: there will be freeloaders, and there are ever the wicked oppressors trying to gain an advantage. So the first adopters might be asked to go beyond reciprocity onto self-sacrifice, to make up for the non-compliant. So, according to Crossan, Jesus and His fellow 'peasants' thought that, as far as concerns the Kingdom coming, we can do it ourselves. (His 'Jesus,' of course, is no more than human solely, and an "illiterate peasant" at that.)

What is Crossan's end game, his stopping-point when the 'Peasant Revolt' is deemed to have succeeded? He is unfortunately fuzzy on this point, leaving it to speakers quoted to mouth the ideal. I cannot think why he would not rather have offered clarity, other than to maintain deniability. The reader can only surmise it is communism, communal ownership of the land, because no other desideratum is presented to counter his pleading communist Sicilian woman. He seems to consider the modern European Union and the United States as little better than ancient Rome when it comes to oppression and imperialism. The perplexed reader may object at this point, if devotees of Ayn Rand and communists can both insist Jesus was on their team, His social teaching must have been very obscure and poorly defined. Oddly enough, it's not.

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