About Me

My photo
Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

Popular Posts

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Isaiah and Economic Justice 10: Failing as Public Servants

Isaiah 10:1-4

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,
    who write oppressive statutes,
to turn aside the needy from justice
    and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil,
    and that you may make the orphans your prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
    in the calamity that will come from far away?
To whom will you flee for help,
    and where will you leave your wealth,
so as not to crouch among the prisoners
    or fall among the slain?
For all this his anger has not turned away;
    his hand is stretched out still.
In the last few postings, I've written about chapters which don't give much specific mention of the economy.  They speak more broadly of unrighteousness and injustice, of unfaithfulness and sin.  Therefore, I had to keep pointing back to earlier chapters in which the specific sinfulness of the leaders, the wealthy, the elite, even the priests and prophets, focused on foreclosures, usury, unfair wages, violence, and such.  Some of you may have begun to doubt that I was accurately portraying the message by overemphasizing the economy.  Just in time, we turn to chapter ten.

One of the important features of economic oppression is the cooperation of public officials.  Sometimes, they just look the other way and don't enforce the laws that would protect the weak and honest.  Often, they write laws which fail at equity.  One of the favorite tricks of lobbyists and lawmakers is to advocate reforming the law, only to use the pretense of reform as a way to give benefits to the economically powerful.  A regulatory board may be established to oversee chemical companies, but then the chemical company executives and their lobbyists get appointed to the board.  Farm bills may promise to help the family farmer, but almost all of the financial benefits goes to large industrial factory farms.  The new Medicare prescription drug benefit included a provision that the government would not regulate the price of the drugs, a huge benefit to the pharmaceutical companies.

Isaiah charges head on into this very problem occurring in his day.  He calls the laws themselves "iniquitous decrees."  He says the rulers are writing "oppressive statutes."  What is the result?  They are robbing the poor, turning aside justice, despoiling widows, and preying on orphans.  The laws are stacked against the vulnerable.  For this reason, the rulers will face judgment.  They will have to run from their palaces and offices to hide among the prisoners and the dead, hoping no one recognizes them.  God will not hold back the invaders.  How the mighty have fallen!

They will have to leave their plunder behind.  Someone else will claim it.  Even if they try to hide it, they will not have it to use.  An unjustly structured economy is abhorrent to God.

Throughout the long history of the church, even back to the apostolic era, the issue of just and unjust laws has been a critical matter for Christian ethics.  Whether it be Peter before the Sanhedrin, Tertullian, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, or many others, it was clear that Christians must not obey unjust laws.  In fact, they must disobey them.  At times in the modern age, it seems that a new hermeneutic of divine right of regimes has replaced the discernment process concerning just and unjust laws.  In the U.S., which has always had a self-image as God's Country, the commitment of church people to always obey the civil laws has been powerful.  The confusion between Christian ethics and the ethics of American culture have been so intertwined that most people cannot name the difference.

It was a critic of the church, Henry David Thoreau, who revived the tradition of resisting unjust laws during the Mexican War, when he argued for civil disobedience because the war tax was supporting an unjust war.  Martin Luther King, Jr., and others revived the discernment process of identifying just and unjust laws, and he advocated with Thoreau, the Bible, and the Christian theological tradition the duty  to disobey unjust laws.

When unjust economic structures oppress the poor and impoverish the vulnerable, Christians have a duty to rise up and seek to change those structures.  The laws which support those structures must be repealed, revised, and reformed.  Working outside the system and with the system are both legitimate paths by which the church seeks to establish a Jubilee economics under the guidance of God.

No comments:

Baptist Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf
Christian Peace Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf