Dec  2017 05
Who is blessed?

One of the key learnings I recall from a seminary church administration course is that every church budget is a theological and moral document. Money is never neutral. It is not good or bad per se, but it is not neutral. The way a church raises and spends money demonstrates the people’s moral and theological commitments.

Last year, I heard David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, make the same statements about state budgets, minus the theological part. A state budget is a moral document, expressing a people’s sense of its shared commitments, of who and what we think is important, and who and what we fear. How we tax, for what we tax, who and what we choose not to tax—all these actions express a practical morality, a morality evident in practice.

Well, a federal budget is a moral document, too, and the questions about the moral universe expressed and created by tax policies apply.

The tax bill now being finalized in conference between the House and the Senate shocks my moral sensibilities.

And, since I believe in a God who was revealed to Moses, through the prophets, and most clearly (for Christians) in Jesus of Nazareth, and this God is a God defined by love, justice, and compassion, I could not help comparing the tax bill—and the evident commitments of many of our elected leaders, most of whom also claim allegiance to Jesus Christ—to a critical Christian text: the beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5.

Matthew’s Jesus turned the values of the Roman Empire inside out and upside down, as did Paul, as did most of the writers in the New Testament. The values of Empire are not the values of the kingdom of God, a phrase better translated as “the Empire of God.”

The Lord’s Prayer, for example, includes the petition asking God to replace the Empire of This World with the Empire of Heaven.

The following is my attempt to take the world and wording of the Beatitudes as a template, and overlay the template on the moral direction this tax bill takes the nation. I wonder what our national commitments are, who is most blessed, and who is most cursed by this bill.

The following is a little raw because the juxtaposition of the Beatitudes with the moral world of the tax bill is jarring. I know there will be other opinions and interpretations, both of the bill and of Matthew.

  • Blessed are the one percent and their allies, for they have taken over the Empire and claim the nation can’t afford the poor, and they are not sure about the middle class.
  • Blessed are those who have the Congressional health insurance plan while the masses struggle in strangled insurance marketplaces, for only they will be comforted and not mourn when illness afflicts.
  • Blessed are the strong, for they will always take whatever they can from the meek.
  • Blessed are they who impoverish and shrink public spaces, public conversations, public arguments, and social safety nets, for their private interests and coffers will be filled to overflowing.
  • Blessed are they whose take an eye for an eye, who prefer to build new prisons rather than fund and support schools, who retaliate against critics with every counter-accusation they can manufacture, for showing compassion is for the weak, the naïve, and for irresponsible enablers.
  • Blessed are the purely cynical rather than the pure in heart, for they shall see this dog-eat-dog world for what it is.
  • Blessed are those who demonize and seek to silence or erase their opponents, for when they utterly defeat their enemies, they shall be hailed as peacemakers and nation-builders.
  • Blessed are you when you are persecuted by fake news for refusing to bake cakes for sinners or for giving churches the right to endorse candidates, for you will inherit the kingdom of heaven where you can finally overcome the founders’ mistake and establish this land as the Righteous Christian Republic.
  • Blessed are you when you are persecuted for denying climate change, challenging science, dismantling “government” schools, incarcerating the poor, barring Muslims, sending Dreamers to a “home” that is not theirs, and for de-funding women’s health services and news sources with stories that last more than 30 seconds. Rejoice and be glad, for your temporary rewards will be great, and an undereducated, under-informed, over-entertained, distracted, blindered, screen-obsessed, nostalgic, de-moralized, intellectually-thin public will be no obstacle to all your ambitions.

 

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips President
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