Reviews | The Culture War More Christians Should Be Waging

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Similar sounding language is found among Christian leaders throughout history – Lactantius, Augustine and Martin Luther. Healing the social order, according to these leaders, required the wealthy to change their motives in light of Christ, to use their wealth not for private interests but for the public good. One after another, a chorus of voices condemned usury—the lending of money at interest—except in very narrow circumstances. At the very least, it makes you wonder what Augustine or Basile would say about student loan reform, credit card interest rates or calls for a minimum wage hike.

We can consider these statements of Church history as mere idealism, the products of a naïve age in which the dynamics and benefits of capitalism were not yet discovered. But we find similar ideas repeated in modern times.

Reformation-era figures like English Bishop John Hooper denounced the wealthy in his diocese as “ravers and eaters of the poor” and said that “these men, unless they repent , cannot be saved”. Hooper certainly believed in the need for private charity, but not to the exclusion of systemic economic change. In a letter to the Secretary of State under King Edward VI, Hooper asked for ‘reparation’ so that the wealth of ‘every county’ would not be ‘taken into the hands of a few men’ and the wealthy not allowed to buy “when things will be”. good cheap, resell then expensive. He was asking for what would now be called economic regulation.

Jonathan Edwards, famous for his chilling sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (and, thanks to Lin Manuel Miranda, for being Aaron Burr’s grandfather), issued hellfire warnings and brimstone to the winners of capitalism – those who “would buy as cheap and sell as dear as they can” – as much as to those who commit sexual immorality. Those who denounce “greed” find a surprising ally in this Puritan preacher A recent biographer of Edwards said he believed the “calamitous fluctuations in prices” could be traced to “a greedy spirit” in those who “would favor their private interests over the great loss and damage of public society “. Edwards went so far as to preach after a widespread crop failure that because his community did not redistribute its wealth to meet the needs of the poor, God, as judgment on the rich, redistributed poverty through famine.

The 19th-century Anglican bishop, Brooke Foss Westcott, also insisted that Christianity deals “not only with personal character”, but “also with state, classes, social conditions”. He instructed his priests to monitor working conditions in their parish districts, to seek economic justice. Christian leaders continued to advocate economic reforms in the 20th century, but the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy divided Protestant churches in America. Evangelicals, fundamentalists and others with more theologically conservative religious beliefs have increasingly remained silent on economic justice. There are important exceptions to this. Catholic social teaching – and leaders like Dorothy Day – championed the labor movement. Black church traditions have also held together beliefs that conservatives and white progressives have separated. Even among white Western evangelicals, voices like John Stott, Ron Sider and Jim Wallis have called on their movement to address economic disparity.

Likewise, the global church, which grew exponentially in the 20th century, continued to advocate for economic justice. David Gitari, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya from 1997 to 2002, identified as evangelical and conservative on social issues. But he criticized American evangelicals for their tendency “to focus more on spiritual matters and ignore sociopolitical issues that also affect the whole individual.” Yet because of divisions among white Christians, advocating for economic justice and addressing income inequality is often seen as the preserve of a small subculture of religious progressivism instead of what it is: a major concern of traditional Christian orthodoxy that echoes through time.


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