As through this world I've wandered,Instead of ranting, I want to share the words of Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodist Church. Those of you who know me, know I am sometimes in sharp disagreement with the Church. But in this article, I think Winkler accurately describes (factually and theologically) how what is happening now is nothing less than "Picking the Pockets of the Poor" and calls the Church to get on the right side.
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six gun;
Others with a fountain pen.
Between1947 and 1979 the income of the poorest 20% of people in the United States grew by 116%. The lowest income growth during those 32 years took place among the richest 5%. Their income grew by 86%. In other words, the poor gained a little on the rich.
Just 400 people have as much wealth as half of the population.
This changed dramatically from 1979-2008. During those 30 years, the poor saw their income shrink by 4% while the rich gained 73%, far more than the rest of the population.
The richest 1% in the United States owns 33.8% of the wealth. Just 400 people have as much wealth as half of the population.
The Central Intelligence Agency points out that income distribution in the United States is more unequal than it is in Guyana, Nicaragua and Venezuela. I find this interesting. When I was in college the maldistribution of wealth in Latin America was frequently cited as an example of the failure of that part of the world.
What has happened?
So, what has happened? Have the poor simply become lazy and stopped working? Of course not. It’s rare any longer to run into a couple in which one spouse stays at home. People work more and longer hours than before for less money. The rich are hoarding the wealth and income. God frowns on this.
Interestingly, to question the growing gap between the rich and the poor is often denounced as an attempt to provoke class warfare. I suppose if I were rich and didn’t want people to raise questions I might try to shut them up by suggesting they were simply envious. After all, who wants to have questions of justice raised?
The minimum wage has been largely stagnant over the past several decades. A superstar pay structure has emerged in the business world. A sense of entitlement exists among the rich. Those who have not succeeded financially are scorned.
I’ve never understood how Christians could prefer the rich over the poor, but many do. You don’t have to read very far into the Bible to learn that God sides with the poor and the oppressed. By the third chapter of Exodus, God is telling Moses: “The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
As an African history major in college, I studied the struggles for freedom from the colonial rulers throughout the continent. My heroes included African liberation leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Samora Machel, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere. Many African leaders were training in Methodist mission schools! We did a better job of teaching freedom and justice in Africa than we did in the United States.
The budget deficit
On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where the United Methodist Building is located, the news is all about the fight over the government’s budget and the huge deficit connected to it. No one is talking about having the rich carry their share of the burden or reducing the vast sums of money spent on war, weapons and spies.
Instead, a new plan has been unveiled by House Finance Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). His plan is to cut health care and food for the poor, as well as education, job training, low-income housing, and Social Security, to name but a few of the punishments designed for those on the bottom. The rich would get more tax cuts. Rep. Ryan would further skew the distribution of wealth and power in favor of the rich.
God sides with the poor, not because they are more virtuous than the rich, but because that is God’s way of healing the pain in the human family. If your preacher is not talking about what is happening in the world around us, it is either because that preacher sides with the rich or is too scared to exercise his or her prophetic responsibility. It’s time for the community of faith to be heard.