The Gospel and Economic Justice

The topic of the gospel and economics is so large that we've had to split it into three subtopics. The first is what the gospel, Jesus, and the bible have to say about it. That is covered right here. You can find the other topics addressed at economic and tax inequality.

The Lost Coin

For all its imperfections, the Occupy Wall Street movement successfully focused much attention on economic inequality in the United States. As a result, the relevance of the gospel to economic justice became a hot topic. Politically conservative Christians generally don't see much, if any, relevance; while politically liberal Christians think the gospel has much to say about the increasing economic inequality we see around us. So, who's right?

If you've spent some time on this site, you won't be surprised to learn that we think the liberals are right.

There are hundreds of scripture passages that talk about economic justice; about lifting up the poor and oppressed; about reining in the excesses of the rich. In fact, there probably is nothing God talks about more in the bible than this topic. God spoke through virtually all of the prophets of the Old Testament about selfishness and economic inequality. For instance, the prophet Amos said:

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Amos 5:24

The book of Amos is about a society similar to our own in which the profits produced by the work of the people were going, not back to the people who created them, but rather to the rich landowners. Amos called for economic justice and righteousness. One of the few verses in the bible repeated verbatim is this one:

I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.

Psalm 140:12 and Proverbs 13:23

Later in Proverbs we read:

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

Proverbs 29:7

When Jesus began his public ministry, he said:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Luke 4:18-19 (quoting from Isaiah 61)

Later, in the Beatitudes (Luke 6), Jesus said:

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God....
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.

Luke 6:20; 24

Here's some more passages relevant to economic justice from the gospels:

A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered.

"No one is good--except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother."

"All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Luke 18:18-23

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'

"Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'

"'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'

"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

Luke 16:19-31

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:39

We should not overlook Jesus' warning in Matthew 25:

Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.

Many Christians say they believe in promoting "family values." They have valid concerns about marriage rates and fatherless households. To them, I'd say there is no better way to promote stable two parent families than help men find good jobs.

For the past 40 years, as income disparity has increased, working class jobs have declined and along with them, so have marriage rates especially among working class men. The reason is that men who are not steadily employed are simply not as "marriageable" as men with good jobs. This is just common sense. So, if you believe in family values, you really have to believe in reversing the widening gap between the "have's" and the "have-nots."

As with any political question, when it comes to economics, Christians must honestly ask themselves which view best reflects Christian (i.e. gospel) values: individual wealth creation (selfishness) or promotion of the common good (sharing)?

No matter how you look at it, if we really believe the gospel, then we will believe in the things Jesus believed in. We will live Jesus' values. Yes, even in our politics. Those values are all about loving God; loving (and treating) one's neighbor (and enemy) as ourselves; sharing what we have with others; and generally promoting a better, more just, righteous, and unselfish world -- for all of God's children.

I suppose maybe that sounds liberal or even like something a Democrat or "Occupy Wall Streeter" would say. If so, then so be it.

You can read more about the Gospel and Economic Justice debate at Occupy Wall Street Shares Jesus Values and How Big is the Gospel?

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