biblical justice

Caring for the Poor is Government's Biblical Role

Jim Wallis
JIm Wallis

There is hardly a more controversial political battle in America today than that around the role of government. The ideological sides have lined up, and the arguments rage about the size of government: how big, how small should it be? Some famously have said government should be shrunk so small that it "could be drowned in a bathtub."

But I want to suggest that what size the government should be is the wrong question. A more useful discussion would be about the purposes of government and whether ours is fulfilling them. So let's look at what the Bible says.

The words of Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans are perhaps the most extensive teaching in the New Testament about the role and purposes of government. Paul says those purposes are twofold: to restrain evil by punishing evildoers and to serve peace and orderly conduct by rewarding good behavior. Civil authority is designed to be "God's servant for your good" (13:4). Today we might say "the common good" is to be the focus and goal of government.

So the purpose of government, according to Paul, is to protect and promote. Protect from the evil and promote the good, and we are even instructed to pay taxes for those purposes. So to disparage government per se  to see government as the central problem in society — is simply not a biblical position.

Raise Your Voice: Crucial Votes on Foreign Aid in Senate Begin Wednesday

A Ugandan woman undergoes an HIV test in a program funded by PEPFAR. Image via W
A Ugandan woman undergoes an HIV test in a program funded by PEPFAR. Image via Wylio.

This week, the Senate will vote on H.R. 2354, an appropriation bill that will determine the amount of funds we allocate for poverty-related development assistance. There are a number of amendments proposed that will severely cut this aid, which currently helps millions of the world's poorest and most vulnerable. The bottom 1 percent, if you will. 


Liberty Has Been Ransacked: MOBILIZE!

Human Circles of Protection
Human Circles of Protection

It’s time for people of faith to get up off the couch, out of the pews, and MOBILIZE!

THIS WEDNESDAY Sojourners and other groups in support of the Circle of Protection will coordinate Human Circles of Protection, a national effort by people faith to show congress and the world that Jesus followers want an America where our credo is bond: liberty and justice for all!

What is 'Biblical Politics'?

Sojourners has always tried to understand and advocate for “biblical politics.” But what does that mean now, especially as we approach another major election?

I was talking the other day to a Christian leader who has given his life to working with the poor. His approach is very grassroots—he lives in a poor, virtually all-minority community and provides basic services for low-income people. He said, “If you work with and for the poor, you inevitably run into injustice.”

In other words, poverty isn’t caused by accident. There are unjust systems and structures that create and perpetuate poverty and human suffering. And service alone is never enough; working to change both the attitudes and institutional arrangements that cause poverty is required.

To change injustice, you must confront politics. British abolitionist William Wilberforce, for example, didn’t only call upon English Christians to release slaves; he wanted to end the slave trade, and that required a long political campaign. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t content to only ask U.S. Christians not to personally practice discrimination against black people; he understood that the nation needed a civil rights law and a voting rights act. Both took leadership from the White House and votes in Congress. All these changes took politics to accomplish.

Another friend of mine recently told me that she had watched the powerful movie about Wilberforce, Amazing Grace, five times this year and was deeply inspired. I was too when I first watched the story of the Wesleyan convert who made ending slavery the mission of his life. But I’ve always thought that the movie focused too much on the man and not enough on the movement that swept the United Kingdom and made the political victory possible.

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