Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Has it not been told you from the foundations of the earth? You shall have a song and gladness of heart.
Or something like that.
I have been talking to a friend lately about the nature of achievement. We have been talking about money and art and what it means to care for oneself and the concept that human beings deserve to be happy. Or, more accurately, deserve to get what they want. Being happy and getting what you want are not always the same thing. Of course, you knew that already.
This past Sunday, Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the blog Red State wrote a post titled “The Perversion of the Words of Our Lord Jesus Christ by the Sinner Barack H. Obama."
First, I hope that Erickson remembers that in the Christian tradition calling someone a “sinner” is a theological statement of fact, not a pejorative. Labeling another Christian as a sinner in a bold and brash headline is, I am sure, very gratifying, but it hardly sets one up for an argument based in the teachings of Jesus who came not for the healthy but the sick or Paul who labeled himself the “chief of sinners.”
So, let me get this out of the way. I, Timothy M. King, am a sinner too.
When Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney released his federal tax returns for the past two years, he disclosed that he and his wife, Ann, gave about 10 percent of their income to their church, a well-known religious practice called tithing.
In that way, the Romneys are typical Mormons, members of a church that is exceptionally serious about the Old Testament mandate to give away one-tenth of one's income.
But compared to other religious Americans, the Romneys and other Mormons are fairly atypical when it comes to passing the plate. Across the rest of the religious landscape, tithing is often preached but rarely realized.
Research into church donations shows a wide range of giving, with Mormons among the most generous relative to income, followed by conservative Christians, mainline Protestants and Catholics last.
Over the past 34 years, Americans' generosity to all churches has been in steady decline, in good times and in bad, said Sylvia Ronsvalle, whose Illinois-based Empty Tomb Inc. tracks donations to Protestant churches.
Ronsvalle's research shows that since 1968, contributions have slowly slumped from 3.11 percent of income to 2.38 percent, despite gains in prosperity.
In her view, churches have failed "to call people to invest in a much larger vision." She believes that explains why giving to missions, distant anti-poverty programs or faraway ministries has sunk faster than giving for the needs of local congregations.
I believe that there is a basic human dignity inherent in work. In fact, the Bible even makes special provisions to provide jobs for those who otherwise wouldn’t have one. But, when it comes to the messy legislative process, no one can claim God’s special favor on a particular bill. It is, however, appropriate to discuss what kind of moral principles legislation should try to promote.
In St. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he writes, “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat." Paul goes on to warn about those who are idle and the negative effect they can have on a community. It was essential that every person work for their own well-being and for the health of the entire community.
Hard work was praised by early Christians, but so was ensuring that every person was provided for. Acts 2 says “All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.”
These passages could be pitted against one another. One side argues for strict capitalist principles in which the lazy starve. The other models a communal society that shares and redistributes private property. But understood properly, they actually work together.
Alone, we do not have the power of Christ to forgive sins. But as the church, the body of Christ on earth, we do. I believe there is a seed of our faith that has been planted by the dissident occupiers, towards the forgiveness of debt that was Christ's deep desire for us, so much so that he told us to repeat it in our daily prayer. It's this way that we, by our holy treatment of our community's economic relations, water the seed of faith, until it grows into a sheltering oak, the Kingdom of God.
If our structures, our societies, do not allow us to practice Jubilee, or forgive debt as Jesus teaches, we need to work to change that. Christians must clamor for debt forgiveness. We need to be the voice, as Jesus was, proclaiming Jubilee.
But I don't believe that we are helpless. I believe that we live in an age of peaceful, nonviolent protest where we can carry the witness of Christ's radically forgiving love into the streets.