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In the United States, specifically on the Right, many Republican / Tea-Party, Evangelical Christians have very little problem in ascribing a moral motive for a tight fiscal policy which restricts "wealth redistribution." On the left, evangelicals such as Jim Wallis (Sojourners), have promoted the opposite ("What would Jesus Cut?").

While I understand the kernels of the arguments on either side (on the Right, it is unfair to redistribute wealth; on the Left, there is an extension of the "Blessed are the Poor" theology), I'd like to understand how it is that any fiscal policy is supposed to have the imprimatur of a "Biblical" theology.

Specifically, does anyone have a reference for the first religious argument on whether the United States government's budget should be larger or smaller? Is this a product of the "Culture Wars" of the 80s, or does religious justification for fiscal policy predate this?

In other words, who is responsible for injecting Jesus into discussions of taxation and other fiscal matters? And, once we've established who conflated the two, what was the biblical rationale for doing so?

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If you could answer this, I think you could answer this. –  Peter Turner Oct 31 '12 at 18:23

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

As a fellow Screwtape letters reader, you'd know what C.S. Lewis says about using Jesus to support this or that economic theory; and that it's not a good thing.

But, that doesn't mean that the Church herself should be absent from the discussion of economic theories, as one of the important, but not critical, functions of Christian Churches is to provide for the needs of the poor.

Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect their temporal and earthly interests. Her desire is that the poor, for example, should rise above poverty and wretchedness, and better their condition in life; and for this she makes a strong endeavor. By the fact that she calls men to virtue and forms them to its practice she promotes this in no slight degree. Christian morality, when adequately and completely practiced, leads of itself to temporal prosperity, for it merits the blessing of that God who is the source of all blessings; it powerfully restrains the greed of possession and the thirst for pleasure-twin plagues, which too often make a man who is void of self-restraint miserable in the midst of abundance; it makes men supply for the lack of means through economy, teaching them to be content with frugal living, and further, keeping them out of the reach of those vices which devour not small incomes merely, but large fortunes, and dissipate many a goodly inheritance. - Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum #28

The Catholic Church's teaching on subsidiarity, especially through Rerum Novarum did a lot to influence G.K Chesterton's and Hilaire Belloc's thought on their economic theory of Distributism, which can be simplified as every family being able to get three acres and a cow to live off of (not everyone being given three acres and a cow though). These economic theories grew up right along side with outright socialism and were just as much a reaction to capitalism, but were not adopted by governments (mainly, I think, because they give too much political and economic power to families).

E. F. Schumacher, the economist and author of "Small is Beautiful" attributed his conversion to the truth he found in the social encyclicals of the Popes. So, prior to the Culture Wars, the social teaching of the Catholic Church was being developed and that social teaching couldn't really be untied from economics because everything big is tied to economics.

The other side of Catholic Social teaching, solidarity, which is required to ensure that the poorest and most unconnected are not bereft of their acreage was exemplified by Pope John Paul II and Lech Wałęsa's example in Poland during the 70's and 80's. So, the reaction to communism, as well as the seemingly communist theories, both exist and complement each other within the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

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Sorry for completely missing the biblical-basis part, but I still think this is the answer. Because what is apparent is that the popes and other Catholics lay and religious were "doing economics" a long time ago –  Peter Turner Oct 31 '12 at 20:10

Since Peter answered your first question, I'll attempt to answer your second question.

And, once we've established who conflated the two, what was the biblical rationale for doing so?

Jesus spoke of doing good to others.

Matthew 25:35-40 - ...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

All Bible quotes in this post come from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

Paul spoke of doing good to others.

Hebrews 13:16 - Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Philippians 2:4 - Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

There's no question that Jesus and Paul wanted us to help others.

The contemporary question is whether Jesus and Paul wanted individuals and groups (churches) to help others, or have the government help others. Generally, United States conservatives favor individual assistance, while United States liberals favor government assistance.

The scripture is not clear on this question. What we do have is Jesus' words:

Matthew 22:17-21 - Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’

This scripture has been interpreted to support both individual assistance and government assistance. Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer from the Bible.

And that's why the individual assistance and government assistance debate continues and will continue.

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This is a great answer, too - apologies that I had to choose between the two. Mostly I picked Peter's because it brought in a perspective I hadn't considered - but please believe me when I say, I could have picked either one very easily... –  Affable Geek Nov 1 '12 at 21:08

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