The Financial Seminary
A Potentially Re-uniting Holiday Meditation:
Did Judgment On The GOP Begin In The Conservative Houses Of The Lord?
By Gary Moore
"[The Christmas season] can be the time in which we learn to read the Gospel, to get to know Jesus not only as the child in the manger, but as the one in whom we recognize that God made man. It is in the Gospel that Christians find inspiration for their daily lives and their involvement in worldly affairs--be it in the Houses of Parliament or the stock exchange. Christians should not shun the world; they should engage with it. But their involvement in politics and economics should transcend every form of ideology.”
Pope Benedict XVI
The Financial Times
December 20, 2012
The holiday season is always good for soul-searching, particularly when followed by resolutions for self-improvement. So in the more humble and charitable spirit of the season , this theologically conservative Christian will attempt some soul-searching on behalf of politically conservative Christianity, and particularly its leaders. As a former board advisor to Jack Kemp, who both co-authored Reaganomics for less government and compassionate conservatism for more opportunities for the disadvantaged, I’ll encourage the GOP to resolve to more serious reflection on his second core belief.
Unlike many of my conservative friends, I was not surprised by the results of the elections. In fact, I was so concerned the GOP had lost its moral bearings by feeling morally superior to President Obama simply due to social issues that my last book was entitled Look Up America! It encouraged less partisanship and greater transcendence. Published during the summer of 2012, it sought balance by acknowledging the ever-present sins of progressives. Yet as true religion is about taking the log from our own eye while politicized religion resembles its secular twin in taking specs from the eyes of others, the book’s primary focus was the economic sins of the GOP.
By transcendence, I mean a faith capable of seeing the sins on our own side of the aisle and that every economic challenge is not the end of the world. Such transcendent faith sees that we’ve all fallen short. It also sees that most sins, including political sins, have roots in that old love of money. In today’s political environment, the GOP largely defends the money of its supporters from those who would like to see it more spread around. A few of the more sophisticated economic observers have seen that is dividing our house, even if it grew most apparent after the GOP’s defeat. Unfortunately, my experiences are that religious leaders are as sophisticated about economics as Wall Street leaders are about theology. Few religious leaders still seem to see the division is nearing biblical proportions, or at least pre-Civil War and pre-Great Depression proportions.
10% of Americans now control nearly as much wealth as the other 90%. The silence of conservative religious leaders on that deeply moral issue has been deafening however. Moses may have divided the Promised Land according to the needs of various tribes but most supposed “Bible-believing” ministers would consider that too “socialist” or even Marxist to preach. That failure of moral leadership has been largely responsible for America becoming an oligarchy, or a nation whose political system has increasingly served the economic interests of the mega-wealthy, Wall Street, corporate America, Vegas casino operators, defense contractors, and so on. Yet after the election, The Christian Century reported US Catholic bishops gave up on producing an economic pastoral letter as the bishops continue to remain bogged down in social issues, many of which are only obliquely referred to in the Bible and church tradition. Of course, Catholics who focused primarily on social issues usually voted for Romney. They joined with evangelicals of similarly limited worldview to form the most reliable voting bloc of the GOP.
Even Billy and/or Franklin Graham totally ignored economic issues when their ministry ran last-minute newspaper ads asking voters to support the candidate that most embraced conservative social values, by which it obviously meant Romney. Even that most respected ministry seemed to forget that Jesus said he came to bring good news to the poor, rather than bad news to those of differing sexual orientations. The irony is I’ve long quoted Rev. Graham as saying most moral issues fall in line when one gets money right. That’s a central biblical teaching capsulized by Jesus’ discourse with the rich young ruler. He too thought he was morally superior despite being unwilling to share some wealth. More recently, The Economist magazine has drawn connections between inequality and social pathologies, such as unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions. Most entertainment companies continue to attack sexual mores, while most advertisers sell most every product with sex. Unfortunately, the heat of partisan politics obscures the light surrounding such moral truths about the root of such pathologies. That is likely a major reason Jesus ignored the perspectives of zealots and avoided worldly forms of politics. We may have learned that lesson; but human memories are notoriously short when not reinforced each week or so with eternal truths.
The Wall Street Journal was a most loyal supporter of the economic Romney during the campaign. After the election, it betrayed him as the “Reductionist Romney” and said: “Mr. Romney lost a winnable election because he ran on a business biography that the other side destroyed and because he failed to sell a larger vision of economic opportunity.” In other words, many voters remembered humankind cannot live by bread alone, the root of all evil is not homosexuality, and the Bible says it is the rich, not same sex couples, who will have difficulty squeezing through that old eye of the needle. Political parties, like individuals, churches and nations, dismiss those realities at their own peril.
The Economist magazine preached the supposedly more “socialist” view of Northern Europe when it said: “Mr. Romney faces two main charges. First, he allowed the Republicans to be seen as a party of the rich. Second, he seemed to scorn social mobility. Exhibit A for both charges was the moment when Mr. Romney was secretly filmed at a dinner with donors asserting that 47% of Americans are Democratic voters “no matter what” because they are dependent on government largesse, pay no federal income tax, and are thus deaf to arguments about low taxes or personal responsibility.” The holiday season should remind all of us that Jesus was not of “the 1%” or “the 10%” and paid no taxes in the conventional sense. He nevertheless exercised the greatest possible personal and social responsibility, particularly toward “the least of these.”
No, Jesus did not do so through the state. Yet unlike today’s libertarian wing of the GOP, Jesus no more aspired to over-throw Caesar and his taxes than he tried to do away with the Law of Moses and its mandatory tithe to the storehouse, which was for the poor. Jesus simply asked his disciples to transcend the Mosaic Code through love. And that Code had plenty to say to the less than loving about the rich person’s mandatory responsibility for the poor. Even conservative theologians have calculated the many provisions Moses made for the poor far exceed those provided by Washington today. The Wall Street Journal has documented that despite politicized perceptions, Americans receive less than one-third of the percentage of their after-tax incomes from government than do the citizens of the truly socialist nations of Europe.
The Economist article was hopeful the next generation of GOP politicians are now talking about economic justice. Perhaps they will indeed lead our nation, including its religious leaders, toward the Promised Land of social and economic virtues. I’ll admit to being less hopeful. My Lutheran faith, whose leaders failed to understand Hitler, suggests appropriate skepticism towards politicians assuming moral leadership. Even God chose the political outcast Moses to speak to power. Yet before the election, Glenn Beck, the former right-wing Fox News commentator who now sees himself as a conservative religious leader, advocated the profoundly atheistic and materialistic philosophies of Ayn Rand, who taught CEO-type “wealth creators” will save “the 99%.” Beck even told conservative Christians they should stop going to churches that preach economic justice. Yet such teachings are central to our faith. They’ve long reminded humanity that only God can create and own wealth. We humans can temporarily steward wealth; we can never create it or own it permanently.
Yet many conservative religious leaders seemed as skeptical of economic justice as Beck. After the election, a senior editor of Christianity Today, which was founded by Rev. Graham, noted modern religious music never reflects the very serious moral concerns about the rich as expressed in the Magnificat that Mary sang upon learning she bore the Son of Truth. The editor did not note that Christianity Today itself has virtually never addressed economic issues like inequality.
Then on Christmas Eve, I did a regular interview with a dear Christian friend who speaks for small business on his nationally syndicated radio show. I’d noticed a right-ward drift in his thinking during recent years. Somewhat similar to the GOP, he now argues our governments, major corporations and even our churches have lost their moral bearings, even as he claims America is “exceptional.” There is obviously a dash of that double-mindedness so common to America in that worldview. So despite Mary’s Magnificat fore-telling the Christmas spirit that prompted Dickens to pen The Christmas Carol about Scrooge and Tiny Tim, I only mentioned Mary’s song very briefly late in the interview. The interview still ended with my friend assuring listeners that nothing positive would result from “demonizing the rich,” which this investment counselor certainly didn’t do, out of self-interest if not grace. Yet he was absolutely correct of course. As I explained, God loves the rich and Mother Teresa assured us that we humans have no right to judge one another. Yet neither can we judge the poor. And neither do we have the right to edit Mary’s deep concern and caution for the rich from the Christmas story, our music and our sermons.
If this election should have proved one thing to the GOP it is that our rich young ruler of a nation still cannot serve both God and Mammon. So let’s hope that all political leaders, as well as all religious leaders, resolve this New Year’s Eve to love virtue more and judge people less. That should keep things in moral balance for our grandchildren and help re-unite America’s house divided.
Gary Moore has a degree in political science, has thirty years of Wall Street experience, has authored six books on the morality of political-economy, and has founded The Financial Seminary (www.financialseminary.org.) He lives in Sarasota, Florida.