Who would Jesus tax?

BY CHRIS GIOVINAZZO

THESE DAYS, IF SOMEONE tells you they are a devout Christian, it seems quite likely that they are also Republican. But here I am, a Democrat and a Christian. That’s right – liberal, and Christian, at the same time. Crazy stuff, huh? This week I’ll try to explain how I can hold such seemingly contradictory world views. In particular, let’s take a look at what Jesus had to say about money and wealth accumulation.

1) Jesus loved poor people. I start with a pretty strong argument I think: Jesus loved poor people. Luke 6:20: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” We’ve all heard this stuff before. Jesus had a soft spot for the poor, plain and simple. His love for humanity, as far as I can tell, extended even to the unemployed, not just the so-called “working poor.” He actually loved all poor people, even those whose poverty was partly their own fault.

2) But, Jesus loved rich people even more. Even though Jesus loved poor people, he loved rich people even more. Why? Because accumulation of wealth is the engine of our economy, and because a rising tide lifts all boats. In fact, Jesus was the world’s first trickle-down economist. He knew, just like Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson and other modern-day Christian leaders, that helping the rich helps everybody. That’s why whenever Jesus said something nice about the poor, he was quick to follow with some even loftier praise for the rich.

Given all the good things Jesus said about getting and staying rich, it’s no surprise that the Christian Right loves President Bush’s tax cuts. The Christian Right understands that our old, immoral taxes – for example our taxes on really rich dead people – destroyed the incentive to get rich in the first place. That was bad because rich people are so incredibly good. As Jesus made clear, the rich are the most moral and blessed people of all.

3) Actually, I’m just kidding on Number 2. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bible, that stuff under #2 is really just me being facetious. In fact the New Testament has some pretty nasty stuff to say about rich people.

“Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten…You have lived on the earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” Talk about class warfare! That’s from James 5:1-6.

Or how about 1 Timothy 6:9-10: “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” Apparently giving people incentives to get rich wasn’t a top priority for Jesus.

Here’s one more you might have heard: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus says that in three of the four gospels. Ever thought about what his point might be?

4) Jesus even told the rich to redistribute their wealth. Yes, I’m not kidding. Jesus didn’t just say bad things about the rich. He gave the rich instructions – not to try to get richer, but to give their money away! In Luke 18:18, a rich man who was also very religious asked Jesus how he might achieve eternal life. The rich man followed all the commandments, but Jesus nonetheless told him, “there is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

That’s right. Distribute your money to the poor. Or how about James 2:17: “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Or to paraphrase, “yo rich people, God’s not satisfied just with you working hard and getting rich. You have to do something good with your money as well.”

Hey Christian Right: Please Explain Yourselves.

So now I pose a question to conservative Christian Republicans. How in the world can you support the Republican policies on taxes? I just don’t get it.

I’m really not kidding here. Seriously, any of you conservative Christian Republicans: please write a letter to the Record. Or just send me an e-mail. It’s a constant mystery for me. How can the Christian Right campaign against welfare, the capital gains tax, the estate tax, progressive income taxes, all that stuff? Aren’t your positions just flatly contrary to the Bible?

Before you write your reply, I’ll give you a headstart by mentioning the only two answers I can think of.

Possible answer number one: “Chris has distorted Jesus’s message. The New Testament doesn’t really say that.” If you plan to make this argument, here’s a preview of my answer: baloney.

Possible answer number two: “Our government should not make policy based on the Bible.” Guess what? I actually agree with that. I just can’t wait to see the Christian Right put it in writing.

Chris Giovinazzo’s column appears bi-weekly.

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