Monday, February 26, 2007

God of the oppressed and the oppressor

Why do people act as if God has an agenda of salvation for the poor/oppressed and damnation for the rich/oppressor? (Especially odd in folks who would never suffer anything that clear-cut in terms of non-economic/political morality.) Ecclesiastes 4:1 seems to lament that both oppressed and oppressor need a comforter (paraclete?). Moreover, it was a fundamental tenet of the Mosaic law that you don't give impartial favor to anybody - poor or rich!

Jesus ate with poor outcasts (prostitutes, etc.) and rich ones (e.g., Zaccheus). And let's not forget that he supped with Pharisees - the righteous orthodox - on a regular basis. Now that's the table-fellowshipping Jesus we need for today!

9 comments:

The Miner said...

Chris,

You're right that God is for both oppressed and oppressor, but not indifferently. Meaning God isn't equally for both or indifferent as to which category you belong in. God is FIRST for the oppressed and by being for the oppressed God is also for the oppressor because liberation is fundamentally good for all.

You seem to have taken too lightly key texts like the Sermon on the Mount or nearly all of Jesus' parables about the Kingdom. Also, Deuteronomy is chock full of provisions especially to protect the poor from the predations of the wealthy. In fact, the whole Mosaic law seems designed to compensate and contradict the normal mode of economic oppression that has existed in every society. Full debt remission every 7 years! If actually adhered to there would never be an upper-class.

You talk about table-fellowship. Yes Jesus ate with the rich, but count up the number of times he was with them and promptly conflicted with them over justice issues! Luke 14 is a great example. Jesus was not exactly a polite dinner guest. Also, he characterizes it precisely as part of his mission to be among sinners - including the wealthy. You mustn't take it that by dining with them that he is approving of them or that the basic dynamic of oppression isn't going to be overthrown.

Also, ask yourself who is talking whenever they are prepared to be defensive of the well to do? As educated people in a wealthy nation, part of the wealthiest per capita denomination, we probably should feel convicted by this extraordinarily well attested theme in scripture(so well attested there isn't a single catholic theologian living and very few protestant theologians living who would contradict it). Preaching anything else is dangerously close to prosperity gospel which isn't a gospel at all.

Alex said...

From a statement published by the Evangelical Church in Germany:
"The option for the poor is based on central biblical traditions strongly connecting it with a commitment to ‘law and justice’. That God is especially close to the poor is repeatedly substantiated by the defining experience of Israel, the exodus from Egypt. It is not just the Decalogue that is explicitly introduced with this experience (Exodus 20:2). So are numerous social rights: "If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God.” (Lev 25:35-38) The social criticism of the prophets shows the close connection between questions about society and questions about God. All attempts to free the cult from commitment to the poor meet with sharp criticism: "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; (…) Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Is 58:6-8). In the New Testament, Jesus’ appearance is seen as the fulfilment of the Old Testament promise to the poor (Lk 4:18-21). In the parable of the Last Judgement the hungry, the thirsty, strangers, the unclothed, the sick, and prisoners are immediately identified with Christ (Mt 25:31-46). When John the Baptist asks whether Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus answers: "Blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them” (Mt 11:5). Paul interprets Jesus’ death on the cross as a sign that God "chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not (…)” (1 Cor 1:27f.). Through the centuries, the close connection between questions about society and questions about God has led the church to show special dedication to the poor."
http://www.ekd.de/english/just_participation_5.html

Chris said...

Miner,

Thanks for popping by.

Perhaps I could have been clearer by nuancing my statements with "unmitigated regard" for the rich and the poor. God of course cares about what we do with whatever gifts we have. After all, Jesus taught that those who comfort the poor and afflicted will be rewarded and those who are callous to their plight will be punished (Matt 25). Of course, such a critique only works if one believes in an afterlife of conscious existence...

Of course, Peter would also declare that God is no respecter of persons when it comes to their birth situation - and that would include being born wealthy. Similarly, in the body of Christ (i.e., the Church), there is no distinction between rich and poor as far as God regards them all equally as his own. The only thing the Father sees when looking upon filthy sinners (whether rich or poor) is the dazzling righteousness of the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Anything less is a denial of the efficiency of Christ's sacrifice and a headlong rush into salvation by human effort.

That doesn't mean that we're off the hook. Paul encourages the wealthy Corinthian Christians to give to their poor brethren in Jerusalem. The same sort of generosity is praised among the church at Phillipi.

But there's no basis for the guilt-driven harangues of most of the (well-educated, upper middle-class) mainline denominational leaders against people who simply have wealth. It's not a sin to be filthy, stinking rich. It's a sin to turn money into a God - whether you have a little or a lot of it.

SocietyVs said...

I raise some issue with this type of idea - since I think God is concerned for the poor - whereas Capitalism thrives on it.

Now I am not saying God's love changes for either side - God loves them both (equally obviously) - but at some point the rich have to look out for the oppressed as brothers/sisters in Christ - to not do so is some what lacking in love for your neighbor. I think is someone is 'stinking rich' and has to watch his brothers and sisters anywhere struggle then I almost have to ask 'are you being a faithful steward with your cash system'? I mean it is only money after all? It shouldn't be too hard to part with if like you say 'it's not your god'? I think the investment of that money into human life is so much more than buying a bigger car or house - what do you think? I am way off on this?

Chris said...

Society,

It's only possible to love your brother in Christ if they are actually Christians, isn't it? So what am I to do with people that are oppressed Muslims, animists, atheists, etc?

"Only money" is a misnomer. Money is a reflection of effort spent over time. Time is what our lives are made of - it's one of the few things we can do NOTHING about. Thus money is, in some way, a unit that measures our very lives. It's not something to be cavalier about. And I doubt that you are as cavalier about your own money as you appear to be with rich people's money.

But the larger point is this: Wealth-haters skew justice out of envy. And that is wrong. Poor-haters skew justice out of contempt. And that is wrong.

The gospel demands that we base our judgments in TRUTH as best we can.

sftsexperience said...

If only it were true that money represented effort over time, that would be wonderful. I'm sure Malawian subsistence farmers will be glad to know that they'll be rich soon...

Oh no, wait, they won't. Statistically, the poor work longer hours than the wealthy, and yet they remain poor. The idea that wealth comes solely from effort is absurd. The evidence against it is just so ubiquitious. Or should I believe that the 2/3s world is just, what, lazy?

It is a sin to be rich when you live in an unjust economic system that creates a permanent underclass - and you and I live in just that system.

And it isn't upper-class white liberals that engage in these harangues. Liberation theologies arose out of the struggle of the poor and people of color in the first world. Upper class liberal whites are slowly catching on decades later.

Chris said...

When did I say that money was the sole production of effort? Or that effort should only be equated with physical labor?

I have a friend who is a physician. I watched him work his ass off in high school to get into MIT. Then he worked as a biological research assistant for two years so he could earn money and make contacts for medical school. After med school, he worked 60-75 hour weeks as an intern, then 80-90 as chief ophthalmology resident.

He's about to finish his residency and go into a practice where he may only spend 10-20 mins with a patient, yet charge them $80-100 dollars for his time. You'd have to be myopic to think that it was his time in the consultation room that earned him that money. Rather, it was the time and effort invested in becoming an excellent physician that allows him to charge those fees.

I'm not saying the poor are lazy, sfts. I come from a poor, blue collar background. My dad finished 8th grade and my mom had a hospital license for X-ray tech. I'm the first man to graduate high school in my family, the only one to graduate college, and the only one to have the opportunity to pursue post-graduate work. I worked 40 hour weeks and took 21 hours per semester because my school didn't charge for anything over 12 hours.

I guess I just resent trust-fund liberals coming along and telling me that I'm a product of white male privilege when they don't know jack about me - and ususally know even less about how real-world economics function. America doesn't stifle economic growth in other countries (it encourages it). It is the corruption of governments and officials that keep the honest and hard-working poor from having their daily bread. My aim is not to create some de jure utopia based on my limited understanding of geopolitical and economic concerns. Rather, my task is to preach the gospel which alone is able to deal with that heart-corruption leading to such injustice.

Aric Clark said...

Chris,

You say, "there's no basis for the guilt-driven harangues of most of the (well-educated, upper middle-class) mainline denominational leaders against people who simply have wealth. It's not a sin to be filthy, stinking rich."

You completely ignored most of the scriptural support I gave in my first comment. There is not only a basis for critique of wealth it is all over the Bible. Read the Sermon on the Mount. Read Jesus' parables about the Kingdom. Read Deuteronomy. Read the prophets. How can you not see very clearly what the church does, that God is with the poor and oppressed?

The "harangues" as you call them are not guilt-driven, they are justice-driven. It is unjust that any person have millions of dollars while others starve and die. It is unjust that any person have multiple homes while others have no place to live. God does not accept that injustice. Read James - if your brother or sister is in need of something you have and you do not give it to them you are a liar when you say you love. Need around the world is so great (even if you restrict it only to Christians, which I would consider morally bankrupt) that there can be no justification for us to be keeping our goods to ourselves.

It is NOT about charity. It is about JUSTICE.

You say, "Money is a reflection of effort spent over time." Now in a later comment you deny that you meant this to mean "only", but the fact is that it is NEVER just a reflection of effort over time. The evidence you gave was anecdotal. The statistical evidence is far more compelling. You can't contradict the 2/3 world living in poverty that has nothing to do with them not putting in the effort. It seems that at best you can claim that 30% of the time effort = reward.

Once again you were ably responded to, this time by sftsexperience, and you completely ignored his point that the critique of wealth coming from Liberation theology comes out of poor minorities, NOT from "trust fund liberals" as you derisively call them. That this critique is being picked up belatedly by people in the first world is something to praise god for, but it is not about guilt, not about attacking you or other white men or Americans. Again, it is about justice.

That, finally, is the real problem with your position. You talk about the gospel addressing "heart-corruption" that leads to injustice. This is the hypocrisy of the pharisees. Jesus called the pious well-to-do hypocrites and sinners with the most vitriolic language in the gospels. You cannot be sanctified in your heart before you live your life in a manner that is consistent with justice. When you've sold all your possessions, given the money to the poor and are following the footsteps of Jesus, then you're preaching the gospel.

Chris said...

Aric,

Thanks for popping by! Could you forward me your tax statements showing that you have sold everything and given it to the poor so that I can acknowledge you as a preacher of the gospel?

The problem with that incident with the rich young ruler is that his entire problem was his inability to keep the first commandment: his money was his God. That's what Jesus was proving to him and to us - this man couldn't turn over the money not because of greed but because of idolatry.

Another form of idolatry is humanism - one that states that God exists to "do me good." This is the kind of religion that is practiced by the Levite who was in service to Micah instead of serving in the Tabernacle (see Judges 17-18). It's a faith that elevates humans and makes the highest goal of religion the happiness of man instead of the holiness of God.

God demanded justice for the poor and for the rich - but he did not command equality. God demanded charity for the poor and restoration in jubilee, yet wealth was a covenant blessing (see Deuteronomy).

Frankly, when I know what Justice demands of my sins, I'm glad that God chooses mercy over justice.

CLL