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May 7. 2002: This dialogue grows out
of the following article by Peter Wehner, which appeared a few years ago on the
Washington Post's op-ed page. As a caveate, InfoFax shares this not to promote any
particular religious belief, but rather the role faith plays in overcoming social
and economic injustice, or lack thereof. This might be the most provocative peice
"WOE TO YOU WHO ARE RICH"
Assume that you had never read the New Testament and were given a quiz with the
following question: "During His ministry, Christ spoke out most often about
(a) the evils of sexuality, (b) the merits of democracy, (c) family-friendly tax
cuts or (d) the danger of riches." It turns out that Christ said nothing about
the first three and a lot about the last one. But you would never know it based
on the rhetoric of many modern-day Christians--particularly politically active ones.
Christ was quite pointed when he talked about riches. Christ issued this warning
to His 12 disciples: "Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received
your comfort." When a rich young man came to Jesus and asked what thing he
must do to receive eternal life, Jesus told him that he must sell his possessions
and give to the poor. But the young man was unwilling to part with his great wealth.
Christ then declared: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the
needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
When Jesus delivered His most famous mountainside sermon, He warned that we ought
not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth. "No one can serve two masters,"
He said. "You cannot serve both God and Mammon." In the parable of the
sower, Jesus said the seed that fell among thorns stood for those who hear God's
word but are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures. Saint Paul tells us
that people who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap that plunges men
into "ruin and destruction." All of which led G.K. Chesterton to write:
"There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with
a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar
danger of moral wreck."
Now tie this in to politics. Many Christians explain their involvement in politics
as a way to advance Biblical principles in the public arena. Well and good. But
there is reason to wonder whether politically active Christians are bending Scripture
to conform to their political predispositions. The New Testament says much more
about the dangers riches pose to one's soul than it does about many well-publicized
issues about which many Christians feel so strongly. Yet you would never know this
by the agenda advanced by America's most prominent and politically active Christian
organizations, magazines and radio talk shows. My point is not that their concerns
are without basis; some of them (but not all) are. Rather, the debate is radically
and wrongly skewed in favor of some issues and not others, and it's unwise for Christians
to keep averting our gaze from warnings that Christ placed in bright neon lights.
What's going on here? Justifying our acquisitiveness is undoubtedly part of it.
Plus, most of us tend to read the Bible through a lens tinted by personal experience,
acquaintances, ideology and the times in which we live.
Regardless of the cause, this appears to be a case of selective moral concern. Why
else do those who insist that Biblical Christianity ought to be a guide to our political
involvement become (relatively) silent on an issue of such obvious concern to Christ--and
one that has political as well as personal implications? In our headlong pursuit
to acquire wealth and worldly pleasures, Christians have become virtually indistinguishable
from the rest of the world. We have bought into non-Christian precepts. Note the
irony: Christians seeking and encouraging others to seek that which our Lord repeatedly
Make the Scriptural case warning about riches to a group of Christians (of any political
persuasion) and see how long it takes them to say, "Yes, but..." My guess
is that the rest of the remarks will focus almost entirely on the "but"
clause. The justification employed is Saint Paul's observation that the love of
money, and not money itself, is the root of all kinds of evil. The problem is that
we Christians living in the late 20th century America have built a convenient firewall
between the subject ("love") and the modifier ("of money").
But if money and riches have so little hold on us, then why do we work so hard to
accumulate more of both? And why are we so reluctant to part with each? Christ knew
the insidiously strong pull that riches exert on our heart and affections. He was
much less a defender of riches than we are precisely because of His intimate concern
for our spiritual well-being.
I understand why it is tempting to avoid this debate. The demands Christ places
on our lives are far more radical than most of us--certainly I--want to admit. We
resist lifestyle changes that would push us out of our "comfort zone";
we want Christ to be an appendage to our relatively prosperous lives. In this, as
in so many areas, we ignore the real cost of discipleship. So we opt for cheap grace,
and easy targets, instead.
There are still important issues that need to be clarified: what constitutes riches;
how much is "too much"; the meaning of being good stewards and responsible
providers; and the merits of capitalism as a means of lifting people out of poverty.
But if we are uncertain about the particulars, we have been offered explicit guidance
on the principle. What is troubling today is how easily we dismiss that principle--both
in our private lives and in our political pursuits.