Written by Peter Owens; Media by Kelsey Kuethe.
I was recently in West Virginia at a winter resort, meeting a bunch of other twenty-somethings who were, like myself, working in higher education. We were there to study the influences of religion, particularly Christianity, on the academy in America since the first European settlers planted their little clogged feet on the East Coast in the early 17th century.
I sat in a large common room, facing a crackling fireplace and sipping Earl Grey, as my instructor read to us from the mission
statements of universities and colleges with varying degrees of commitment to the American political climate.
“We affirm and teach the Scripture’s commitment to the teachings of Christ: caring for the poor and needy, loving our enemies, affirming the personhood of all people” – alright, this was sounding good – “private property, and the ideals of a free market economy.”
My hackles immediately went up as I attempted to think of any way that someone could assert that the Bible made any kind of value judgment on private property or free market economics, let alone a commitment. My attempts at corroborating these claims with evidence of my own finding quickly dissolved into embittered hatred for the idea that someone could hijack Scripture to support their misguided and bourgeois political agenda.
Anyone who has spent even a moderate amount of time with me is probably at least somewhat aware of my quasi-Marxist view of history and my socialist sympathies. I don’t typically hide them very well (largely in part because I struggle mightily with the sin of Pride), and I go to great lengths to connect my values to my commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ: caring for the poor and needy, loving my enemies, affirming the personhood of all people, the forswearing of my “right” to private property, and the ideals of a life lived in radical giving without expectation of recompense.
And I set out to write the greatest op-ed ever composed, full of witty criticisms of Keynesian economic theory, anecdotal evidence confirming the existence of the widening income gap, and irrefutable proof of the paradigm of status symbols placed upon the proletariat by their fascist overlords.
That mission was doomed to fail pretty much from the start, not just because hundreds of far brighter minds than mine from all colors of the political spectrum have failed to perfectly construct a foolproof economic and social system, but also due to the fact that to do so would be to bend Scripture to my political agenda as egregiously as those I wished to condemn.
So here, instead, is the article that should be written, and that we should continue to disseminate in lieu of our constant ideological bickering: the Bible affirms all kinds of truths. Christ tells us to give generously to those who ask without expectation of repayment (Matthew 5:42); Scripture also compels us to be the kind of people who are worthy of any payment we might receive (1 Timothy 5:18). It confirms that everything we have been given belongs not to us, but to our Heavenly Father (James 1:17); it also assumes that we have something we call our own in order that we might be wise and calculating with it (Luke 19:11 et al).
Political theories come and go: Marxism is barely a hundred and fifty years old; Keynesianism is named after a guy who died just after World War II. The planet is a lot older than any strategy we could concoct to assemble a thriving and competitive market, and yet God’s truths have endured since the beginning. Let us, then, not be the kind of people who decry this-that-or-the-other political alignment as un-Christian and in direct defiance of the will of somebody’s almighty, but rather those who live boldly in this tension: striving continually for that which we have and yet still being willing to part with it as if it wasn’t ours anyway.