Normally, I don’t like to do political commentary here. It’s not my area of interest or study. I usually use my creative time to write music and my scholarly time to study aesthetics, and in particular religious aesthetics. However, I’ve been drawn back in because of some of the banter lately. Here is a brief documentation of ideas from the Bible on government responsibility to the poor. It is not meant to be remotely exhaustive since that's what so much of the book is about. I’ll even use the translation favored by “evangelicals”. Apply them as you like.
1. Government intervention in private property for the sake of the poor.
Exodus 23 :11 “but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.”
2. The vision for Israel included forgiveness of debts and the ideal of no poverty.
Deuteronomy 15:1-5 “ At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the LORD’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.”
3. That you shouldn’t try to give the poor the shaft.
Deuteronomy 24:15 “Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.”
4. On Wall Street greed.
Job 20:19-22 “For he has oppressed the poor and left them destitute; he has seized houses he did not build. Surely he will have no respite from his craving; he cannot save himself by his treasure. Nothing is left for him to devour; his prosperity will not endure. In the midst of his plenty, distress will overtake him; the full force of misery will come upon him.”
5. King David – a political leader – gives his thoughts on loaning to the poor
Psalm 15 asks, “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?” Answer in v. 5 the one “who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
6. That the prophets spoke out against political leaders for oppressing the poor.
Isaiah 3:14-15 “The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?”
7. Jeremiah’s comment to the King on what political leaders should be doing.
15Does it make you a king
to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
He did what was right and just,
so all went well with him.
16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
declares the LORD.
8. The real sin of Sodom according to Ezekiel chapter 16
“49 Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
9. Amos on the government oppressing the poor.
Chapter 5 “11 You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.”
These are just a few examples from the Hebrew Scriptures. In a country where 400 people make as much money as the bottom 150 million, we have political leaders that are defending a system that keeps that in place. It is no wonder that CitiBank (not known to be a leftest organization) believes that we are no longer a democracy but, instead, a plutonomy. I’m also over the argument posed by some of my friends that it is the government’s role to stay out of the charity business. I could accept that argument if the government wasn’t so actively participating in creating the disparity. I don’t even mind that people defend the system. I just have a problem with them doing it and somehow claiming that they are being religious thereby. The whole of our tradition says otherwise.