On Taxation, The Role Of The Government, And The Poor

The problem we are seeing in our nation right now is that the rich have stopped creating jobs and are accumulating the money for themselves. That may be their capitalistic right, but that does not mean that it is a good right. As Spider-Man's maxim states, "With great power does come great responsibility." But what happens when those who have great power just shirk their responsibility and selfishly indulge in pleasures? We wouldn't be having this conversation if those with great power (not the politicians, but the wealthy who have the money) were creating jobs and sharing the wealth with those who have also worked hard for them to have that wealth.

A recent article at Business Insider illustrated this point: Sorry, Folks, Rich People Actually Don't 'Create The Jobs'
This argument [the idea that the rich create jobs] ignores the fact that taxes on entrepreneurs and investors are already historically low, even after this year's modest increases. And it ignores the assertions of many investors and entrepreneurs (like me) that they would work just as hard to build companies even if taxes were higher....So, if nothing else, it's time we stopped perpetuating the fiction that "rich people create the jobs." Rich people don't create the jobs. Our economy creates jobs. We're all in this together. And until we understand that, our economy is going to go nowhere.
When money is hoarded and not put back into the the economy, the working class suffers. In an ideal situation, the rich would just be creating jobs that pay well with good benefits. In the end, creating more wealth for themselves. What do we do when they are not? Do we really want a system where only entrepreneurs make money? History is littered with stories of the rich abusing labor for their own prosperity. Sending shooters into strikes. People dying on the job from dangerous work conditions. Destroying the environment for a profit. Who protects the laborers? Who protects the environment?

Every system would work well with good people; no system will work well with bad people. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, the church must always strive to bring redemption to all people -- including changing the wealthy into loving benefactors rather than greedy hoarders -- and continue to help and speak up for the poor and powerless.

Along with our responsibility as redeemed people, Christians should never call taxation stealing. When we speak up politically, we must be careful that we are speaking up for the issues of Jesus and not just the political paradigms that we find appealing. I know that calling taxes "stealing" is a popular phrase right now in some circles, but it is unbecoming of Christians to use it.

Jesus addressed this issue:
Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:17-21 ESV).
He was telling them that it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. He could have called taxes stealing if that is what He wanted to do. Instead, He told the people to pay their taxes since it was Caesar's image on the money to begin with.

If we want to dismiss the teaching of Jesus as witty rhetoric, we are then given Paul's clarification on the point:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God......Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:1, 5-7 ESV).
Now, we have other passages in Scripture that show acts of civil disobedience and reveal to us that we are called to disobey the State when it is working against the will of God; however, no matter how much our political sentiments may want us to argue otherwise, taxes are not stealing. Christians need to not use that rhetoric. Even in the time of Jesus, the State would use money for immoral practices, yet both Paul and Jesus taught people to pay their taxes.

I sympathize with the argument that is made saying that the rich should not be forced to give up their wealth if they do not want to. But I also sympathize with the plight of the poor, working class. And when push comes to shove, I will side with the idea that the State should empower the poor while the Church should always do likewise. In this, a healthy State and a healthy Church should always find common ground.

Capitalism is often used as an excuse that justifies away helping the poor. The logic is that the poor have been provided with a system where they can help themselves. I don't think God cares about our excuses, even the best ones that we can come up with; He cares about the poor. I don't care what economic system/governmental system a nation has; it is our responsibility as followers of Jesus to speak up for the powerless and help them as much as we possibly can.

In the end, I just want the poor to be helped. I would love for someone to provide a solid case on how having less government in the area of worker's rights would actually help the working class. I envision an actualized libertarian reality sending us back to worker oppression and the wealthy accumulating even more wealth. The power of the powerless to switch jobs and act in a collective way that would benefit them just doesn't seem to be the reality that history records. But whatever works in providing real, tangible help to the poor, I am all for. I believe Jesus is too. Principles should never be used as an excuse to not help the poor; that's just legalism in disguise.


A good comment on Facebook was written to me in regards to this.

What is this article getting at? It was an argument in semantics. It doesn't really change anything. Does it matter if seeds plant trees or if technically its the nutrients in the soil that allows the trees to grow, or if its the birds that plant the tree, or if its God who is in charge of everything. The point is: boiling the seeds is not going to help. And metaphors break down.

Anyways. Regan, if I understand the banking system correctly, when "rich people" put their money in banks, the money goes out to other people. That's where the interest comes from. The bank is paying the individual to put his or her money in the bank so that the bank can then lend the money out to other people. Its not like the money is in a hole in the ground somewhere. It IS in the economy. That's why its earning interest.

Also, Mr. Tapinsh, coercion is defined by wikipedia as "the practice of forcing another party to act in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of intimidation or threats or some other form of pressure or force." You said that you don't understand how taxes can be considered "coercion." I don't understand how it could be any clearer. If you don't pay your taxes, you go to jail. Seems pretty cut and dried. The free market, on the other hand, by DEFINITION is based on voluntary exchange. Target is not going to put a gun to your head and force you to buy their products. The government, on the other hand, can and does. (As we've seen with the individual mandate).

As far as Jesus' command to "render onto Caesar," Jesus also told us to that we should "resist not the evil one" and that if anyone wants to steal our coat we should also give them our shirt. I don't think Jesus is saying that stealing people's coats is the divine right of kleptomaniacs. His focus is on what our attitude should be towards those who steal from us. Clearly we are to be doers of good, who focus on things eternal instead of things of this world. People who let others take advantage of them to advance the Gospel. But that does not mean that we should condone theft, either when individuals do it, or when coercive associates (such as governments or mafias) do it. Stealing is wrong, and we as Christian's who are able to vote, should never vote to take money from our neighbors by force. This is the opposite of what Jesus commanded of us.

Regan, you don't seem to have very much confidence in the free market. From what I have seen, it is a remarkable engine for prosperity in which the most vulnerable enjoy the most protection, because everything relies on voluntary actions. This is contrary to what most people believe about it. In my opinion, they are mistaken. But the case for the free market is too long to make here. My Dad has made some recommendations for reading already. I'll just add a couple by citing the Mises Institute at mises.org and learnliberty.org. Mises has some great works by the foremost free market scholars and learnliberty has some excellent and easily understandable short videos. Check them out.

My reply:

I wasn't addressing the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the State to collect taxes (your dad and Aleks may have moved into that discussion), although indirectly that may be an issue in the conversation. I tried to keep the conversation focused on the teachings of Paul and Jesus, but that train would not be kept on the track.

I was addressing Christians calling taxation stealing. Your dad brought up the "legitimate" discussion by hinting that if we could declare taxes illegitimate, we could get out of paying them. When we are trying to wiggle out of something that both Jesus and Paul told us to do, that shows our attitude isn't in the place that the Bible says it should be in regards to taxes. And a lot of Christians in our communities are taking a completely antibiblical approach.It's like we have learned to separate our political life from our spiritual life.

As Jeremiah said, "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" Jeremiah 29:7 (ESV). We are to seek the welfare of the State we live in. Again, I see Christians too often attack our President and actually seem to celebrate in the possible demise of America. They love the idea and ideals of the America in their mind, but they disdain the actual America that surrounds us. This, again, is a antibiblical approach to the issue.

The problem seems to be that we place too much of our identity in our relationship with our State. We think shrinking the State or growing the State is the solution. But the State will be the State. We are just foreigners in a foreign land. Sojourners. Exiles. and Priests. We pray and help our land to prosper, but we can never do that at the expense of the poor.

I agree about the money point, but that wasn't the points I was getting at in the article (I'll get to the point in a second). However, I do wonder about the current non-local banking system. Local banks take the money they have deposited and put it back in their economy. However, I had a conversation with a local banker the other day about how keeping interest rates artificially low is causing people to pull out their money. They are probably putting it in stocks. If they put it in gold, it is definitely not helping the economy.

The idea this article addresses is the myth that if you cut taxes on the wealthy, they will create more jobs. That myth has had its fun in America since Reagan, but it is a lie. What we do once we realize that it is a lie is probably beyond my realm of teaching. I just teach that we shouldn't call taxes stealing. We should seek the welfare of the State we live in. We should love the poor and powerless, and not stop the World (including the State) when they want to do the same.

And as for my faith in the free market, I am tainted by history and experience. I love the libertarian ideas; however, I don't think they are the answer to every problem. And I say that as a person who has given money twice to two Presidential candidates who would be considered Libertarian leaning. I am fond of libertarian ideas. That isn't just lip service.

I have also been to Liberia where they barely have a government. Oppression is all around. The poor and powerless have to take the jobs that barely pays enough to feed their families, if even that, because they have no other option. And it's not just an anomaly. It feels like I'm walking through America before the government protected worker's rights. This is the common experience of humanity when the poor are not protected by those who have the power to protect them.

Someone shared this with me right before writing that. I think it is a perfect example of what our free market produces around the world.

Marcus Bleasdale's Shocking Photos Reveal the Ugly Truth Behind Smartphone Manufacturing

As one of the commenters said, "How can we, the buyers of unethically-made products, change this? Where do we start when nearly everything is made at expense to someone. Is this because of intentional ignorance on the part of production demagogues? Why is no one ever accountable for these atrocities? Is life just that unfair?"

That is what I'm concerned about to.

As long as we have more laborers than we have jobs needed, a libertarian system will always benefit the employer over the employee, at a dangerous level. That is the honest state of a free market when supply is larger than demand. That is where my confidence in the free market wains because technology has brought us to a place where we can produce the goods we need without all of the workforce being active at forty hour/week jobs. Or we can just move the work overseas where we then oppress people to make our goods, but at least we can't see that happening. The free market, as it currently is, tries to make goods as cheaply as possibly. I don't know how we move into a market where the expectation is that goods should be made as ethically as possible, but if we can do that freely, I am all in favor of it. If it can't be done freely, I will stand up for the poor being oppressed.

Wrestling Out Loud With Health Care Policy

The world says, "We want to create a system where everyone can have access to health care."

The Church screams, "No, don't do that."

Some will nuance that proclamation by arguing that health care is not the responsibility of the State. Others just don't want to pay more in taxes. A few will take a more theological stance where they argue that this is the responsibility of the Church, not the State.

Who is being the loving one here? Is this the voice of Jesus we are echoing?

We say the Church could do it better.

Why aren't we already doing it better?

We are called to sacrifice and love the least of these. Jesus told us that loving the sick is akin to loving Him. If we were taking care of the sick the way we should, the world wouldn't have this problem to deal with. Yet we aren't. And they do.

We say it isn't the responsibility of the State to provide health care.

Do you think God would rather have a person's health care not taken care of or provided through the State?

I wish this wasn't an issue. I wish the Church was taking care of the sick. I wish our light was shining through our love for the uninsured, but it's not. The harsh truth is that we aren't taking care of the sick. Oh, we have pockets of generous doctors and organizations, but they aren't enough to meet the massive health care shortfall.

Is it better that the sick don't receive help or that the State helps them out?

It's not like the Church is forcing the world to be loving here. We often stray into trying to force the world to live by our morals, when that is not our calling. Yet here, the world is trying to live by a moral we proclaim that we hold, yet we are trying to tell them not to do it. Somethings seems out of whack.

Do we really value loving the sick?

When the world says that it wants to love their strangers and neighbors, is it the right place for the people who claim to follow a loving God to stand against them while the strangers and neighbors are sick and uncared for?


A few relevant articles.

The Obamacare 'scandal' you haven't heard about by John Blake at CNN
Should Bible Belt pastors say anything publicly about the millions of poor people in their communities stranded by the coverage gap? Is it anti-Christian for state leaders to turn down help for the people Jesus called “the least of these"? Or should pastors say nothing publicly about such issues because they are strictly political?

When these questions were sent to many of the most popular pastors in the Bible Belt, they hit a wall of silence. Virtually no prominent pastor wanted to talk about the uninsured poor in their midst.
 A Comment on No Comment by Scot McKnight
Blake’s mistake here is the logical leap from Christian compassion for the poor into support of ACA. He suggests the pastors’ “no comment” means a lack of Christian action. In other words, those who don’t oppose those states’ decision don’t care about the poor.  It does not follow that care for the poor must include support of ACA. There are other ways to care for the poor.
But what bothered me was not Blake’s logic, for it could be argued that the logic may be a bit weak but the overall direction of his observations entirely justified, and I agree.
No, it is the silences, those “no comment” observations, that concern me. From John Blake’s piece: “Virtually no prominent pastor wanted to talk about the uninsured poor in their midst.”

Sacrificial Parenting

I often hear a sentiment expressed by parents: "I don't help because my kids didn't sign up to go without. It's okay for me to sacrifice, but not my kids."

If we hold to that sentiment and don't help others because we don't want our kids to go without, then we are teaching our kids that the most important thing in life is not sacrificing or going without. Instead of teaching our children to serve others, we are teaching them to only serve others when it is convenient.

When we become Christians, we are dying to ourselves. That is what is represented in baptism. We are declaring Jesus to be our King, choosing to live for Him. If we are to live for Him, then we are to sacrifice ourselves like He modeled for us. This will enable others to see Him and make Him their king. Christianity shouldn't be about what can I get. About us being saved. About us being blessed. That is the lie of the consumer-minded American church. Following Jesus is about following Jesus as King of our lives. Dying to ourselves and living for Him.

And yet, we won't sacrifice some money because we want to use it on our children because we don't want them to go without some little toy that they want. By living this way, we teach our children, no matter what words we may use to make ourselves more comfortable in our disobedience to God, that the most important thing in life is to be comfortable rather than follow Jesus.

A few years back, there was a father standing with his two daughters on the platform at a New York Subway station. The train was coming in. Next to the family, a man starting having a seizure and fell off the platform right in front of the oncoming train. There wasn't enough time to get him out of the way, so the father jumped off the platform, grabbed the guy, positioned him between the tracks, and laid on top of him as the train flew over them, barely providing enough clearance for them to survive. That father was a true hero.

To leave his daughters on the subway platform to save a seizing man's life. That's what the gospel is about. To risk your life for another, at the risk of living your children parentless.

If we're honest with ourselves, we struggle with that level of sacrifice. Especially those of us who have kids. Should I endanger myself to follow Jesus if I have children? If following Jesus is sacrificial, if following Jesus is dangerous, do we really want our kids to follow Jesus?

The answer to both questions is a resounding "yes."

If I was given the choice between my children's teeth rotting out of their head or following Jesus, I would want them to follow Jesus with rotten teeth.

If I was given the choice between my children not knowing how to read and write or following Jesus, I would choose for them to follow Jesus while being uneducated.

All too often, I hear parents say that they aren't going to train their kids to follow Jesus. They say that decision has to be their child's decision. When people tell me this, it just tells me that they don't really believe. Because they don't let their child decide if they are going to brush their teeth or learn math and reading. They believe those are good things for their children, so they teach those things to their children.

It's also true that the children who we try to raise up in the Lord may choose to reject following Jesus some day. Just like God doesn't eliminate our free will, we can't eliminate their free will. They will always have the choice to follow Jesus or not follow Jesus. Just like they can choose to reject brushing their teeth, reading, or writing at some point in the future. But just because they can choose to reject these important things doesn't mean that we don't think it is important enough to teach these things to them today.

Thankfully, it's not an either/or. We can teach our children to brush their teeth and follow Jesus. We can teach our children reading, writing, and arithmetic and how to follow Jesus. They actually go well together.

But the best tool to teach our children to follow Jesus is us modeling what it looks like to follow Jesus. Stepping out in faith. Living dangerously when Jesus calls. We must follow Jesus if we want those around us to follow Jesus. The reason our communities aren't being reached for Jesus isn't because we haven't figured out the right program to reach them; it's because those of us who go to church on Sundays aren't surrendered to Jesus and living for Him. We don't model His sacrifice by becoming a living sacrifice for others.

We think we need to save ourselves for our kids, but we must really model the self-sacrifice of Jesus to them in order for them to be saved. Because in our attempts to save ourselves, we might just lose our children's souls.

Away From An Easy Gospel

You will be lied to. You will be told that you can follow Jesus without any sacrifice. You'll hear that those you are sacrificing for aren't really worth it. You'll feel that you're wasting your time, that sacrifice is a little too extreme. You could be spending your time on something you enjoy. You will be told that you're wasting your money giving it to God. Imagine how many more things you could enjoy if you would keep that 10%, or even more, for yourself and spend it on things that you want around the house, trips, and whatever else your heart desires. You will hear lies.

And we like the lies. They help us justify our human desire to not sacrifice.

Jesus didn't come riding on a horse, a tactical missile, or a drone and take over the world. He came in love, suffering, eventually bearing a cross that He was nailed to. This separates Jesus from all the other false saviors of this world. They redeem by violence, power, and authority. While Jesus redeemed by love.

Here are a few verses to emphasize that.
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2 .ESV).

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:7-11 ESV).

He was willing to sacrifice for everyone, not just those who are worthy.
Are we willing to sacrifice for everyone - our enemies, the poor?

Paul taught,"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV).

We are called to follow Jesus' example. He gave Himself up for us. We must be willing to imitate Him and give ourselves up for others. But we have our own personal Gardens of Gethsemane where we often don't concede, "Not my will but your will be done." Instead, we try to take the easy road. We would much rather teach and instruct rather than sacrifice.

It's easy to tell the person considering an abortion, don't have one. It's harder to say, "I will adopt."

It's easy to tell the kid not doing their homework, "Get your homework done." It's harder to say, "I will help."

It's easy to tell someone poorly clothed and lacking in food, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled." It's harder to give them the things that they need.

Our problems aren't anything new. The early church was struggling with similar issues too. Hence the instruction of James.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18 ESV).

I had a preacher friend who preached on adoption. And as pastors sometimes get, he got a scathing letter about his sermon. The gist of the letter was that adoption is a great cause but that it really shouldn't be a concern of the church. The salvation of people's souls, not adoption, is the focus of the church. Loving actions like adoption should be in the realm of organizations outside the church while the church teaches salvation in Jesus.

You know the problem with that email is that it is so close to being right. Satan won't come into our churches, ask us to chop up pigs, cover ourselves in blood, and dance around singing songs to a pagan idol. He will just take us one step away from the truth. That's damaging enough.

You may be thinking that my preacher friend is wrong and the email writer is right-on because that email at its essence expresses the American gospel from the last fifty years. A gospel that is concerned about the truth over love, getting people saved rather than living redeemed lives. A gospel that surgically removed loving actions to the community and the world into outside organizations from the heart of the church. It expresses the gospel that ushered in the decline of America. It expresses the gospel that created a powerless church. For it's like this was the gospel.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you just told me the truth of the gospel so that I would believe, I was thirsty and you just told me the truth of the gospel so that I would believe, I was a stranger and you just told me the truth of the gospel so that I would believe,  I was naked and you just told me the truth of the gospel so that I would believe, I was sick and you just told me the truth of the gospel so that I would believe, I was in prison and you just told me the truth of the gospel so that I would believe.’ 
No! No! No!

The gospel has been spoiled if we think that is what the gospel is. Jesus modeled sacrifice to us. And we must live sacrifically for others.

This is the actual teachings of Jesus:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV).
We can't separate our spiritual life and the telling of the gospel from helping others. Likewise, we can't separate helping others from telling them the gospel. For our help is part of the gospel message. It's not the gospel without our sacrifice. The reason our communities aren't being reached for Jesus isn't because we haven't figured out the right program to reach them; it's because those of us who go to church on Sundays aren't surrendered to Jesus and living for Him. We don't model His sacrifice by becoming a living sacrifice for others.

We want to follow Jesus without any self-sacrifice. We want an easy gospel. But Jesus modeled self-sacrifice. And if we have given our life to following Jesus, to walk as He walks, then we will model that same self-sacrifice. We will give of ourselves so that others may know God. Just like Jesus gave of Himself so that you may know and be right with God.

Words are cheap. Sacrifice is what is needed to walk as Jesus walked. Sacrifice is what is needed to change this world for Jesus. 

We Have Lost Our Prophetic Voice

We have lost our prophetic voice.

Sometimes, we run too far away from the world, finding ourselves in a place where the sins and injustices that should be surrounding us can no longer glare at us. We round the corner away from their presence and use the tactic we have been trained to use since childhood - out of sight, out of mind. In this sense, we feel that we are good Christians who have separated ourselves from the world. We sit around working - if we're not just talking - on being a perfect church. When in reality, we are just hiding our light in the midst of the wilderness. A light that doesn't penetrate the darkness is not a useful light at all.

We have lost our prophetic voice.

Another approach that I observe Christians take is to cloister our spiritual lives up in religiosity. This allows us to keep our spiritual lives separate from our secular lives. We still do the religious things, but we have bought into the American concept of separation of church and state so much that we believe our religious views are to be confined to our private life while our secular views are to be confined to the public arena. Bible study, prayer, church and God's will are all elements that should remain private. While our views on government, economics, and politics should not be shaped by those private elements. This view leads to a compartmentalized faith that is powerless to transform lives. If your private views don't influence your public views, then you really don't believe your private views. They are just fanciful ideas and concepts that you are using to help you feel good about yourself and sleep well at night.

We have lost our prophetic voice.

Maybe my recent post on the decrimalization of drugs is the wrong stance for a Christian to take. I was writing about our sin in the treatment of addicts, not the possible or probable sin of those addicted. I'm still not writing about that sin, so please don't misconstrue what I am saying. Maybe my view that those who claim to follow Jesus shouldn't be complicit in supporting a system that imprisons addicts is misguided. I don't think it is, or I wouldn't have written it. But maybe it is. I do concede that. The point is that something is wrong. Without acknowledging that and discerning what we, as Christians, do to help cause that problem and discovering what we can do to help solve the problem, we become accomplices in an unjust system.

We have lost our prophetic voice.

But the thing that struck me in writing it and the conversation that surrounded it was that we, especially pastors, are terrified to point out an injustice in our society. We fear offending the supporters of the injustice, especially those in our pews who can get us fired or may leave because we upset them.

I received a message from a good Christian friend who is a pastor. He pointed out that he agreed with me, but that he didn't say anything on my post expressing his view or even like the comment he specifically wanted to like for fear that he would lose his job. I had the same hesitancy in writing the article. I'm actually putting it in our local paper, and the fear I have in doing that is nearly enough to call them up and ask them not to publish it. I don't think the church that I have the honor of serving at as a pastor would fire me over something like this because I believe that we are consciously and deliberately trying to discover and help with social injustices in our society, but the potential to have this message blow up is always there.

We have lost our prophetic voice.

Now, I want to clarify that our society can continue down the path it wants. But my dear brothers and sisters in Jesus shouldn't complicity support the injustices of the society around us. At a minimum, we shouldn't be supporters and promoters of the injustices in our society. If there are no prophetic voices pulling us back from the precipices, then we will just fall over. It seems to be society's natural inclination to just keep running, like Wile E. Coyote, long after the ground it is running on has disappeared. We are the salt of the earth. But if we've lost our saltiness, then what?

I have a young one learning to talk. It may just be me, but she seems to have more going on in that brain of hers than she can properly communicate. Sometimes she blurts incoherencies. Other times she will say a sentence as clear as the day. She is learning to talk.

We must learn once again to be prophets.

Toward Jesus' Drug Policy

Last week, I expressed among a group of solid Christians that I am in favor of decriminalizing all drugs. They didn't like the idea. They actually kind of looked at me like I had the plague and followed that up by expressing sentiments that I am out of my mind. So I came home and thought it through. This is what came of it.

The topic of decriminalizing drugs came up because of the recent votes in certain states to tax and/or decriminalize marijuana. Colorado voted to tax marijuana at 25%. Michigan voted to decriminalize possession. The group I was talking with didn't even want to decriminalize marijuana. I just jumped over that line and talked about decriminalizing all drugs.

I want to clarify something before progressing further. We can decriminalize all drugs, and I won't start using them. I am not making this point because I have an itch to do a certain drug. I am making this point because Jesus teaches us to love the least of these, and drug addicts should be considered in that list. We need to figure out how to help them instead of focusing on how to punish them.

Criminalizing drugs only hurts drug users without really benefiting society. Are we really loving addicts by calling them criminals? Instead of deterring them from drug use through imprisoning them, a loving society would try to give them the help they need. I want to be a loving society.

In a purely selfish way, criminalizing drugs like we do costs us dearly. We have to pay for the large prison system, the government bureaucracy that regulates these drugs, the legal system that oversees the laws, and the extra law enforcement officers who handle the crime of drug possession/use combined with the increased crime caused by the illegal distribution of these drugs. In 2010, the federal government spent $15 billion dollars on the war on drugs. If we add in the expenditures of state and local government, the amount spent on the war on drugs reached approximately $40 billion. This year, it is estimated that over 1.6 million Americans will be arrested for drugs. 16.8% of state prisoners were in prison for drug-related charges. 48% of federal prisoners were in prison for drug related charges. 25% of people on probation, 33% on parole, were drug-related crimes. Now, if this was working to create a better society and a system where fewer lives were destroyed by drugs, then I would be all for it. Spend the money. Imprison drug users. Save lives.

But what if our current approach isn't creating a better society? What if our current system causes more, rather than less, lives to be destroyed?

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. Now, instead of imprisoning people, the State offers to get them help. And if they refuse help, that's their right. They will not be punished for having or using drugs and refusing help. We can just look at Portugal to see what would happen if drugs were decriminalized. Does it change our preconceived notions? What would happen if instead of using imprisonment as a deterrent we actually offered people help? According to a Cato Institute study, hard drug use went down in Portugal. Despite our instincts possibly telling us otherwise, the facts show that decriminalizing drugs caused hard drug use to go down.

Here's another disturbing fact. America has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners. Something is wrong.

I just wonder if it really helps anyone to criminalize drug use and throw so many people in jail. Are the streets safer or more dangerous with an illegal drug market of any sort? Are people's lives improved by throwing them in jail for possessing/using a drug? Remember that decriminalizing drugs still means that drug users would be thrown into jail for violent conduct, theft, or any other law they may break while using or trying to obtain a drug.

I recognize that lives have been destroyed by drug use. That is not something to be taken lightly. But that is what I want to improve. I want less lives to be destroyed by drug use. When I talk about decriminalizing drugs, I am actually talking about creating a system where less drugs are used and less lives are destroyed. Those lives that have been destroyed that we want to cite as reasons drug use should be illegal are lives that were destroyed in our current system where drug use is illegal. I'm proposing a different system in the hope of getting better results. Less lives destroyed, not more.

What would happen if we actually let the love of Jesus influence our views? Not just on issues like the drug problems but on all the issues we face in this world. What if we actually let our views be defined by asking the question, "What is loving?" Would we live our lives differently? Would we stand up for different political agendas? Would we actually be used by God to help create a more just and loving society?


From The End of Sacrifice by John Howard Yoder:

"Deterrence, if it did work, would be immoral. The fundamental moral axiom of Western civilization, as stated in nonsectarian language, is that I should deal with each person--her or his rights, values, needs--as an end to herself or himself, not as a means to some other end. To inflict pain or death on one person for the sake of the interests of other persons, interests, which it is claimed that threat will protect, is to sin against that basic rule. Even more, of course, is this the case when the penalty is disproportionate" (87-88).


A few places that highlight the problem.

These 32 People Are Spending Their Lives In Prison For Nonviolent Crimes

A Living Death

And a followup that I wrote due to some complaints.
We Have Lost Our Prophetic Voice

Where Were You God?

We often find ourselves living lives distant from God. And when things go bad, we ask, "Where were you God?" Maybe you can relate to that sentiment and feeling of disconnectedness. You may have stepped out on faith and everything seemed to have crumbled. You may have done something you felt you were called to do and didn't see any fruit from your labor.

The Old Testament prophet Elijah sure could relate. He was serving God. The miraculous story of God proving Himself on the mountain top had just happened. He had raised a boy from the dead. He had predicted a drought and predicted the coming rain. And then Jezebel wanted to kill him.

If I was Elijah, I probably would have thought that the great signs and miracles would bring people to the Lord. You may feel that way in your personal life. "God, I gave up such and such for you. Yet I'm still struggling. Where are you? I spend time trying to draw close to you. Where are you?"

Here was Elijah, hiding in a cave, scared for His life, all because He had served the Lord.

He gives a good self-pity prayer. You've probably been there before. In your own cave. In your own despair. In your own pride and self-pity.

He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10 ESV).

He's saying in modern terms, "God I did what you wanted. I am following you. I am the only and best Christian. And now they want to kill me. For serving you, they want to kill me."

"And the word of the Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.' And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper." (1 Kings 19:11-12 ESV).

God was in the whisper. Despite exhibiting himself in the fire when God proved Himself on the mountaintop just a little bit before this, He wasn't in the fire again. God cannot be put in a box. God's not what you expect. Previously, He was in the fire. But not this time. This time He was in the whisper. 

We expect the fruits from our labor, like Elijah expected the fruits from His labor. But God responds with the message, "I am in the whisper. Do the things that I want you to do. Be faithful. But if the fruit isn't what you wanted, do not be discouraged. Do not be dismayed. Are you faithful? Then that is all that matters. Remain faithful. Be still and listen. I am in the whisper. But remember, the whisper also doesn't contain me. We miss out on God because of our preconceived notions on how serving Him is supposed to be and how seeing Him is supposed to look. 

So often, we miss out on seeing God because of our preconceived notions on how serving Him is supposed to be and how seeing Him is supposed to look like. We can't shape our Lord. Our Lord must shape us. God always moves in unexpected ways. And if we aren't listening to Him - if we aren't living in Him - we will miss him.

Lawson Stone, a professor at Asbury, said in a lecture the other week. "For good or ill, however risky and troubling it may seem, God has entrusted the maintenance of justice and the protection of the helpless to human communities and their leaders, to you and me. I am my brother’s keeper. Where is God in abuse and violence? How is he present to those who suffer? Here's the unwelcome news: He's in us, expecting us to be the bearers of his presence. When we ask God 'Where were you?' He replies, 'Where were you?' God calls upon us to create the kind of community where power does not mutilate, but fosters thriving."

Jesus now comes to our world through His Spirit and through the church. Through people like you and me who live in relationship with each other and Jesus.

We pray, "God, feed the hungry of the world."

And the Spirit answers back, "Go, feed the hungry."

We pray, "God, house the homeless."

And the Spirit answers back, "Go, house the homeless."

When we pray "God, please." It is usually echoed with a "Go, be."

And then you are his reflection.  A reflection who feeds a hungry. A reflection who gives school supplies to those in need. A reflection who brings a pizza as a thank you. A reflection who houses the homeless.

So when we ask, "Where were you God?"

He answers, "I was in the friend you were ignoring. I was the person you were fighting with and alienated. I was the helpless person you refused to help. I was all around you, yet you failed to see me. "

Where is God? He is everywhere.

But because of our lack of being in touch with the Spirit and our preconceived notions, we don't see Him. We say, "God must come like this and He must look like that."

There  is no book. There is no building. There is no belief. There is no box that can contain God.

Let us help unleash God in this world.