The Financial Seminary
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“Although responsibility for the accident plainly lies with BP, a slick of recrimination now laps around the White House too…Such is the fate of those who occupy the Oval Office. As Gene Healy, author of a recent book called “The Cult of the Presidency” notes: ‘Over and over again we begin by looking to the president as the solution to all our problems, and we end up believing he’s the source of all our problems.’”
The Economist, June 5, 2010
My son and I recently celebrated his graduation from college by putting the top down on my beloved sports car and taking a road trip. It was truly special as he studied international finance and is joining the family investment business/ministry. Suffice it to say he made far better grades than his old man so I’m rather proud of him and look forward to working with him.
We meandered up I-75 from Florida to Kentucky to see my mother. That meant we spent some time in Georgia. I’ve long loved the natural beauty of Georgia. Atlanta is so nice Sherry and I spent our wedding night there. Yet the state has long seemed quasi-religious and home to billboard theology that I’d find amusing if it wasn’t so confusing. So I’ve often wondered if America will ever be “of one mind” until Georgia, and the Bible-belt in general, is.
For years, there was a billboard considerably south of Atlanta that apologized for the state’s peanut farmers’ sending Jimmy Carter to the White House. I never knew why they were so angry. But that obviously didn’t matter to them. They just wanted the world to know they were angry at the president. About the time that disappeared, there was a board erected just south of Atlanta that claimed “Jesus was a vegetarian.” That not only suggested those Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A cows are wrong suggesting we should eat more chicken but the scriptures are wrong in stating Jesus asked for some fish to eat after his resurrection, thereby establishing the physical nature of the event. But why let biblical Truth get in the way of our cause?
And of course, signifying the even more highly politicized times in which we live, a new one just one just below Atlanta now claims “God is not a socialist.” A line below said it was purchased by some group, ostensibly Christian, angry about President Obama’s economic policies. In a way, it is correct of course. No political label created by mankind can express the nature of God’s economic plan, which even suggests we may one day “buy without money.” But non-believers might finally grasp that reality about our faith had the billboard added the words, “Nor a capitalist,” as C.S. Lewis so pointedly reminded us in Mere Christianity.
And the south being the south, another board north of Atlanta asks Americans to “wake up” as 911 could have been prevented by profiling, or having our homeland security and police take extra precautions when people who do not look of Anglo-Saxon descent board our transportation facilities, drive through white neighborhoods and so on. To me, that would be an American nightmare rather than the American dream.
These billboards suggest Georgians are typically American in wanting government out of our lives…as long as it also fulfills our every wish and protects us from every misfortune, however remote. Most media is the same. Only that morning, we awoke to some fellow on CNN railing about President Obama deserving to be impeached as he hadn’t done anything about the BP oil spill. Acknowledging the president often seemed as confused as Tony Hayward, it didn’t seem to matter that the best minds in the oil industry didn’t know what to do or that they didn’t have to also worry about Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, budget deficits and so on. Our leaders are now damned if they do; damned if they don’t, even if the electorate has no idea what it wants.
That dualistic American mind really hit home when I got to Kentucky. Mom’s Sunday morning paper was full of conversation about Senate-candidate Rand Paul. Seems Rand attended Baylor University, a supposedly Baptist school, and attends a Christian church but has gotten himself in some hot water by espousing the political and economic views of Ayn Rand, a woman who wanted to be remembered as the “greatest enemy of religion” ever. In one of his first press conferences, he suggested the Civil Rights movement was misguided as government cannot interfere with private businesses even when they are discriminating, a distinctly Randian philosophy, and that President Obama had been “un-American” for utilizing the famous bully pulpit and even criticizing BP’s creation and response to the disaster.
Yes, the president may have been “Un-American.” Ayn Rand was quite correct that America has long been torn between its Judeo-Christian morality and its desire to serve Mammon, hence its double-minded world-view. Even southern religious leaders who have long criticized governmental interference in the economy have also suggested we invest exclusively in government bonds as they’re the most dependable protection of our wealth. But having government interfere in “private” business is not “unChristian,” a nuance the candidate and Christian voters of Kentucky should work out between now and Election Day.
Frankly, I’m not optimistic either will. I’ve discussed Ayn Rand at length with one of my oldest and dearest Christian friends who has been heavily involved in Kentucky politics. But he told me he could never vote for a Democrat under any circumstance. I even asked if he’d vote for Billy Graham, who’s long been a Democrat, if he ran. My friend apparently wouldn’t. Clearly, our faith has taken a back seat to partisan politics for many. Anger, which by definition is lack of reason, keeps us from understanding the serious nature of that.
So it seems timely for this life-long Republican to brush up on some biblical concepts of political-economy. They will undoubtedly challenge those who still believe GOP stands for God’s Own Party. Of course, I could list an equal number of challenges for “progressives” who actually believe God is a socialist of the Marxist variety. But criticizing others is politics; taking the log out of our own eye is morality. So rather than cite carefully selected passages, like 1 Samuel 8:18, that concretize what we conservatives and libertarians already believe and convince us God is on our side, let’s look at a few that might help us better understand the perspectives of our fellow Americans and perhaps discern whether we’re still on God’s side.
As you read these concepts, you might remember that Moses was not only a prophet but an original law-giver. His concepts were not quaint suggestions but laws subject to up to capital punishment. The West’s separation of church and state often encourages us to see him as one or the other but he was both. David and Solomon also knew a thing or two about law. Then remember that Jesus said not one of Moses’ laws would be changed for all eternity and anyone who even attempted to change them would be in a heap of trouble with Him. That is why Ayn Rand had to get rid of Judeo-Christianity before she could get rid of government. Yes, spiritually, it’s true we Christians no longer live under the Law but under love, which fulfills all the laws. All government really does is control behavior and redistribute wealth so if we behave ourselves and live in charity with our neighbors we might save a lot of overhead. But that ideal has hardly been achieved in America. We may go to church but we live in a functionally post-Christian nation, where anger toward neighbor rather than love seems our organizing principle. Edmund Burke said a sick society must think about politics as a sick man must think about his stomach; but our double-mindedness suggests our illness is mental. So laws are about all we have. Here are a few that I believe might civilize our political-economy if more of us conservative, and particularly libertarian, Christians simply knew about them and understood them:
First and foremost, there is no such thing as an absolute guarantee of “private” property in the Bible. All wealth belongs to its Creator and that Owner was quite free to interfere in its management, regardless of what Ayn Rand and her disciples think. And that Owner made it eternal law that the truly needy have a limited access to that wealth so they can live day by day (Dt 23:24, Lv 19:9). After that, the commandment about stealing was applicable. But Jesus and his disciples, who were not property owners, were not stealing while availing themselves of that graceful law when challenged about working on the Sabbath. This concept was beautifully captured in Les Miserables.
Second, even the recently published and conservative New Stewardship Bible from Zondervan observes: “God told Moses that the promised land was to be distributed according to the relative size and needs of the various tribes: ‘To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one’ (Nu 26:54). In this way, socioeconomic equity was ingrained in the very DNA of Israel’s agrarian economy.” Today, America’s wealth is even more concentrated than its income, which is at 1929 levels itself.
Third, while the New Stewardship Bible softens this teaching as we conservatives often do, that Owner made it a capital offense for stewards to habitually refuse to steward wealth in a socially responsible fashion (Ex 21:28, Dt 22:8). Small wonder those who want government off our backs, out of our wallets and out of our bedrooms, such as pro-abortionists, casino operators, cigarette manufacturers, pornographers, polluters and discriminators of many types are often strong supporters of think tanks and politicians who preach Ayn Rand’s notion about the management of wealth being an absolutely private matter. It was precisely that notion that encouraged Rand’s disciple Alan Greenspan to deregulate the sub-prime lending industry.
Third, the Owner was far more environmentally extreme than even Al Gore. God actually told Moses to shut down private enterprise each seventh year. That not only restored the air, water and land but assured abundance for the poor and wildlife (Ex 23:10-11). Fourth, the Creator was so politically tone-deaf the citizenry of Israel was commanded to treat foreigners living in the land with respect and grace as the Israelites had once been foreigners in Egypt (Ex 23:9). That concept could be quite civilizing, assuming we remember there are few Native Americans among the electorate today. Fifth, as the BP disaster indicates, all the governmental action, and even charitable giving, in the world can’t undo the damage we do when we ignore these laws of stewarding the Owner’s wealth, as Jesus tried to tell us (Mt 23:23-24).
Finally, God once asked Jonah, “What right do you have to be angry?” simply because things aren’t going the way you’d like (Jon 4:4). The cultures of Washington and Hollywood reward the Ann Coulter’s and Michael Moore’s of our world. They entertain us by imitating children moving to the extremes of the see-saw in order to create as wild and bumpy ride as possible. But the Gospel famously says “blessed are the peacemakers.” The “moderation in all things” should turn us into those kids who used to stand in the middle of the see-saw barely moving. That’s my way of saying I know this class may be difficult for some to swallow but I still hope you love rather than shoot this messenger. The political-economy our grandchildren will inherit desperately needs for us to lovingly talk Truth to one another rather than angrily yell politics past one another.
Gary Moore is an investment counselor affiliated with NPC Of America, member FINRA/SIPC. The views expressed are his alone.
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