Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Spreading the Wealth"?

This year's Presidential election (which has lasted the better part of two years and is, blessedly, almost over) has had its fare share of sound-bytes and applause lines from all sides. Most of these are distortions of facts, half truths, and outright lies. As a Christian who strives to know the truth it bugs me whenever any candidate resorts to these tactics, even though my candidate for whom I voted has used them to great effect.

One of these sound-bytes that has emerged as a theme in the last few weeks has been the phrase "spread the wealth". The phrase was used in Barak Obama's now infamous exchange with "Joe the Plumber" regarding Sen. Obama's tax proposals. The Republican establishment, particularly Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin, have picked up on this phrase and used it as evidence that Sen. Obama is a socialist. (According to the Socialist Party USA, Sen. Obama is not a socialist, but that is beside the point)

There's nothing wrong with being against socialism. Redistribution of wealth through tax policies is a complex and controversial issue that deserves a fairer treatment that can be given here. The bald hypocrisy of this sound-byte lies not in the opposition to socialism as a political and economic philosophy, but in the fact that this line has become a favorite of the Religious Right.

James Dobson, leader of Focus on the Family, recently published a letter entitled "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America", in which he uses the "spread the wealth" line (the bulk of the letter is devoted to hate speech against persons of non-heterosexual orientations). 

Mr. Dobson is a hypocrite for using this line of attack. He opposes "spreading the wealth", and yet he frequently argues for returning to "biblical values", particularly advocating that the church return to the ecclesiological model laid out in Acts 2. But Acts 2 describes the earliest Christians sharing their wealth with one another. In fact, there are many people who describe Acts 2 as the basis for what they call "Christian Socialism"!

In Acts 2:44-45, the author describes how the Jerusalem Church shared their wealth from the beginning: 

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

If Mr. Dobson is, as he frequently claims, committed to a "biblical model" and an "Acts 2 Church", then why does he use the phrase "spread the wealth" as a negative attack against a presidential candidate?

The answer is simple. He uses certain Bible verses as a means to an end to support his conservative philosophy. His loyalty is to these conservative principles, and particularly to the Republican Party, first and foremost. Christianity is a means to an end for him, not the end unto itself.

James Dobson is grammatically correct when he calls himself a "Conservative Christian". "Conservative" is the adjective, dictating how the noun "Christian" behaves. 

He is lying, however, when he claims that he is a biblical literalist, because if he truly was, he would not be so opposed to "spreading the wealth".


Jonathan Bartlett said...

Just as a counterpoint -

Christian communities voluntarily spread the wealth in Jesus' name. Both the voluntarism of it, as well as the "in Jesus name" portion of it, are irrevocably bound within the Acts 2 model.

Socialism, on the other hand, removes _both_ voluntarism and the "in Jesus name" portion. When welfare allows itself to be corrected by the Bible, and also address the spiritual causes behind poverty, then it might be comparable with Acts 2. Until those are met, there is really nothing comparable there.

And, in fact, Obama is a socialist. Obama was part of the "New Party", which is a radical socialist party for people who were also affiliated with the democratic party (while there is a "socialist party", having that the requirement of socialism is just as incorrect as saying that one has to belong to the "constitution party" if one claims to be a constitutionalist).

You also might be interested in the first two installments of my Christianity and and Conservatism series (part 1, part 2).

Carl said...

Matt, I will have to respectfully disagree with you concerning Dr. Dobson in regards to "spreading the wealth." The "spreading the wealth" as shown in Scripture is a voluntary sharing and that is something I support. On the other hand, I oppose the governmental mandate of "spreading the wealth" which is involuntary and is merely socialism. I do not believe governmental socialism is Scriptural nor do I agree with your characterization of Dr. Dobson as being against sharing. I have seen absolutely nothing from Dr. Dobson to show him against helping others less fortunate (e.g. - compassionate, Biblical sharing). He is, on the other hand, against the government FORCING its citizens to "share the wealth" (e.g. - socialism). As I am. It is not up to the government to tell me how and to whom I am to "share the wealth." This should be my choice.

We will have to agree to disagree on this point.