Do We Care Enough?

Biblical faith demands something that goes well beyond what America—or any other society today—offers: equality of opportunity up to the point that every person or family has the productive resources necessary to earn their own way and be dignified participants in their community. But meeting that goal may not preclude major differences in income and wealth between rich and poor.

Does that mean that biblical people should be indifferent to great extremes between rich and poor? Not at all. Precisely because of what scripture tells us about sin and power, biblical people must always oppose great extremes of power. In a fallen world, powerful people will almost always take advantage of weak neighbors. And money, especially in a market economy, is power. Therefore, great extremes of poverty and wealth threaten justice and democracy.

The biblical understanding of human nature warns us about the potential for evil afforded by sharp differences in power among individuals and groups in society. John Calvin described a "rough equality" in the Mosaic Law. In commenting on the canceling of debts in the sabbatical year, he wrote:

In as much as God had given them the use of the franchise, the best way to preserve their liberty was by maintaining a condition of rough equality, lest a few persons of immense wealth oppress the general body. Since, therefore, the rich if they had been permitted constantly to increase their wealth, would have tyrannized over the rest, God put a restraint on immoderate power by means of this law (The Harmony of the Last Four Books of Moses).

A Christian political philosophy and economic theory accordingly must be based on realism about sinful human nature. Because great imbalances of power almost inevitably lead to injustice, Christians must oppose great extremes of wealth and poverty.

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