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Column: Scriptures Silent On Economics

This story was written by Paul Bowers, The Daily Gamecock


Socialism, some have said, is knocking at the door of the United States. True? Perhaps. Frightening? Sure.

As is often the case with looming specters of change, we have seen the intersection of faith and politics take the spotlight. Here in the South, it would seem that socialism is an atheist doctrine while capitalism is Christian.

Elsewhere, much the opposite is deemed true. In a Washington Post column published Friday, theologian Anthony Stevens-Arroyo argued, "Socialism is not a dirty word to Catholics."

What, after all, does the leading religion in America have to say about the way governments function and the way economies are structured? Very little, actually.

One Biblical passage that many pundits are fond of quoting -- and which Stevens-Arroyo references in his column -- is in the second chapter of Acts, where Luke writes, "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."

Clearly, some would say, this is a Christian call to socialism. But these same people tend to gloss over Acts 4:32, which reads, "All the believers were one in heart and mind."

The first-century church may very well have been socialist -- even communist. But difficulty arises when we try to extrapolate from a small, like-minded community to a large, ideologically diverse nation.

This system obviously worked well for the early Christians, and similar communities exist even today in the United States. But to make the jump from congregation to Congress requires a willing ignorance of the difference between a church and a country.

The opposite view -- that socialism is anti-Christian and the free market is Biblically supported -- is not without precedent, either.

Throughout the Old Testament books of the Law, property rights are crucial. Moses delivered hundreds of commandments concerning inheritance and the ownership of land and livestock. One of the well-known Ten, after all, is "You shall not steal."

So if a government is to rule morally, shouldn't the preservation of property rights be central to its functioning? Certainly it's an important concern, but on the other hand, we see God commanding Israel in Deuteronomy 15 to take care of its poor and to cancel all debts every seven years. Looking back from the perspective of eternity, I imagine we will regard personal property with utter flippancy.

What, then, should Christians in America do with the politico-economic machinery we have inherited?

If we are to follow the example of Christ, the formula is simple: Obey the just laws, pay your taxes to Caesar and labor to serve others.

Both socialism and capitalism miss the mark on that third point. In socialism, the responsibility of servanthood is relegated to the state, whereas in capitalism we are taught to serve ourselves.

Christians should of course seek to put and keep morally justified administrations in power.

But if this world is to be improved, I guarantee it will not be at the hands of any government. The answer to the world's struggles is, and has always been, personal action.

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