In the election of 1976, Jimmy Carter carried the majority of the evangelical vote. Who would have guessed then that he would be the last Democratic presidential candidate to do so? My interest in politics awakened just as Ronald Reagan put together coalition of pro-business Republicans and blue-collar Democrats to sweep Carter out of office in 1980. I have fond memories of representing him in my junior high school mock debate and election (which my friend representing Carter won, as Carter did my home county).
Since that time, the two major parties have moved poles apart on certain social issues like abortion and gay rights, solidifying the majority share of the evangelical vote captured by the GOP. I know many people who were raised Democrat, and may still be registered Democrat, but haven't voted for a Democrat in a federal election for a long time because of those issues.
However, many evangelicals (particularly in the South) have also adopted a view of economic policy much different than that of their grandparents, favoring lower taxes, less government spending on poverty programs, and fewer federal regulations on business. Perhaps this reflects the greater prosperity of my generation. After all, it is understandable why those who lived in the grinding poverty of the Depression favored federal assistance, and why those who now work very hard to enjoy the good life of middle class prosperity would be less inclined to support taxes and social programs.
BUT - and here is where I would love some friendly discussion - is it possible that those who have shifted to the GOP because of biblical concerns about social issues unwittingly assumed that the GOP's policies on economic matters must also be more biblical? Does a commitment to the authority of Scripture demand a commitment to conservative economic policy?
I don't think so.
Here is a quick summary of what I think the Bible says about economics:
- The Bible teaches that all of the created order is a gift of God to be enjoyed with thanksgiving (Gen. 1:31; 1 Tim. 4:4).
- Humanity has been given the task to be stewards of what God has created (Gen. 1:26). Work is a good and necessary responsibility as stewards (Gen. 2:15; Eccles. 2:24; 2 Thess. 3:10-11).
- Both Old and New Testaments prohibit stealing, implicitly teaching that God favors the right to personal property (Ex. 20:15; Rom. 13:9-10; Eph. 4:28). This right is not absolute in view of points 1 and 2.
- When God established Israel as a nation, He gave Israel's tribes a portion of land to live on as a gift and inheritance (Deut. 15:4). They were to share what they had with the poor and the sojourner, allowing gleaning of their land (Lev. 23:22), and collecting a tithe every three years to be distributed in towns and villages to the needy (Deut. 26:11-13). In cases of poverty which forced a family to sell property and/or go into indentured servitude, a family member who could do so was to redeem the person or property (Lev. 25:23-55). If there was no redeemer, every 50 years all debts were wiped clean, and property returned to the original family (Lev. 25:8-12). And if money was loaned, no interest was to be charged (Ex. 22:25).
- God emphatically ordered those who were in positions of authority (judges, kings) to do justice for the poor and powerless (Ex. 23:6; Deut. 24:14; Ps. 72:2-4) and a million other passages).
- In the NT, since Christianity is not a theocracy like ancient Israel, there is no explicit set of instructions given for what we call civil law.
- In addition to reiterating personal property rights and stewardship, the NT does teach that Christians should be hard workers, willing to share with fellow Christians and non-Christians (Eph. 4:28; Gal. 6:10; James 2:14-16; 1 John 3:16-17).
- The one time in history God ordained government policies regarding economics (Israel under the Law of Moses), He took many steps to insure there was not going to be multi-generational poverty in the land (no interest on loans, tithes and gleaning for the poor; Jubilee debt forgiveness).
- In the New Testament, assistance to the poor was common, though done within a context of grace rather than coercion (notice especially Acts 5:4).
- Both testaments warn about the corrupting nature of wealth, and about the oppression and exploitation of the poor (James 5:1-6; 1 Tim. 6:10-17).
- Based on this analysis, it is hard for me to argue that the Bible demands a view of economic policy that is either liberal or conservative.
- I do think that the Leviathan of government always poses a potential threat to Christianity, because worldly powers are always seeking to supplant God as the focus of love, loyalty, and obedience. Leviathan does this by creating and sustaining a dependency class. But Mammon is another power that challenges God for supremacy, so I don't think this point favors one side or the other of the political spectrum.
- I also think the admiration I have heard many Christians express for Ayn Rand is seriously misguided, considering she was a virulent opponent of Christianity because of its emphasis on mercy and altruism.
- I think that that great danger of all ideology is that it substitutes good intentions for reality.
Well, there you have my take on whether there is a Christian economic policy. What is your take? I'd love to have a great discussion!