Mint and Rue

Are we focusing on financial freedom at the expense of the poor?

“Coin Stack 1” image by Stephen Train licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 2.0”
“Coin Stack 1” image by Stephen Train licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 2.0”

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every [kind of] garden herb, and [yet] disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” (Luke 11:42)

When some Christians talk about biblical principles in government, they tend to mean something very specific: small government, pro-life, anti-gay marriage, low taxes, government that respects the Christian heritage of the United States and a national law based upon the Bible are the main tenets. Freedom and liberty are considered by many in the American Christian community to be the backbone of the United States. Indeed, these are vital to any free society, but are they as vital to the church? Surely it was “for freedom that Christ set us free” (Galatians 5:1) and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17), but does this mean that in the hierarchy of Christian virtues, freedom should be at the top? To ask it more simply, did Christ die just to give us freedom and, if He did, what did He intend that freedom to produce in us?

It is always far too easy to see the pockmarks on the face of the American church. The media surely does not support the church, nor do politicians on either side of the aisle. For every conservative expounding on the purpose of prayer in schools, there is another arrested for propositioning an undercover police officer for sex. For every liberal who calls on Christians to be charitable with their wealth, there is another attempting to scrub the Ten Commandments from our nation’s monuments. Believers, though, must ask what Christ’s heart is when it comes to freedom, because the loudest voices in the American church today champion the cause of freedom but are forgetting other virtues, some of which may be far more important.

Here is a seemingly odd example: Bitcoin. For those who don’t know, Bitcoin is a type of virtual currency that is quite popular at the moment for many reasons. Some see it as the future of global commerce, others see it as another sign of the apocalypse (Revelation 13:16-18), and still others enjoy the endless story lines it provides during boring news cycles. However, there is a movement within certain Christian circles that loves Bitcoin because it allows Americans to cast off the shackles of the Federal Reserve and have a more pure form of capitalism. To this point in our planet’s history, capitalism is the economic theory with the most freedom except for maybe all out financial anarchy. So, if Christ desires us to be free, surely He’d want our economy to be free and so anything that seeks to bind or manipulate our economy with say, the printing of paper money to cover over the mistakes of multinational banks in 2007, must not be godly. And yet…

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)

A personal story

It might be that the idea that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing has somehow poisoned a Christ-centered view of freedom, so that instead of equating freedom with being in a right relationship with God, we see it as the chance to own a home/car/business.

I live in Los Angeles and am a media relations professional who works with reporters, pitching them stories and talking about ideas. As a result, I take a number of appointments in downtown L.A. Downtown Los Angeles has quite possibly the worst slum in the United States, literally named Skid Row. This area encompasses several square blocks in the city, and is “home” to thousands of homeless people, many of them minorities and specifically African Americans. Driving through this part of Los Angeles, a very affluent city, I can hardly believe I am in America. I am saddened that the enthusiasm for Bitcoin and ending the Federal Reserve is not at least equaled by an enthusiasm around Skid Row and for ending a detestable level of poverty. The American-Christian pursuit of freedom has not included a pursuit for the freedom of others living in financial oppression.

And so here is a problem: What does freedom mean and what is more important than freedom? Paul writes if you can “gain your freedom, do so” (1 Corinthians 7:21), but the first portion of that verse reads “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you,” meaning quite possibly that the man who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament didn’t equate a perfect Christian life with freedom, at least not the type of freedom we enjoy.

It might be, though, that freedom has been corrupted by the desire for wealth — that the idea that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing has somehow poisoned a Christ-centered view of freedom, so that instead of equating freedom with being in a right relationship with God, we see it as the chance to own a home/car/business.

Setting others free

Has the Church failed? Have American Christians completely turned their backs on the poor? Surely not, as the Lord reminded Elijah that even under the rule of Ahab and Jezebel there were thousands who had not bowed their knee to wickedness (1 Kings 19:18).

Popular Christian culture seems to reveal that the church as a whole is interested in freeing itself and the nation from political bonds and the bonds of the Federal Reserve; not the bonds of poverty.

America’s history is filled with a movement towards freedom. The United States was founded as a nation where only white male citizens could own land, and that is no longer the case. There were once laws on the books in many states that would have forbidden a white man like myself marrying a Mexican woman like my wife. That is also no longer the case. However, the shame of the church is that it was not always at the forefront of these battles for freedom.

To achieve the goal of freedom from poverty, the nation’s believers may have to adjust their perspective. The Protestant work ethic ingrains in many the idea that each American must be responsible for his or her own well-being. However, there are powerful verses overlooked by those who focus too much on capitalism. In Acts 2:45: “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” In Leviticus 25:10: “The fiftieth year is sacred, it is a time of freedom and of celebration when everyone will receive back their original property, and slaves will return home to their families.” It’s possible that the prevailing American concept of freedom for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may not be in line with the purpose for which Christ has set the world free.

The change in perspective will mean that young Christian business owners must turn their attention from creating technology that streamlines commerce to creating a solution and a heart cry for the poor in our nation. And so, freedom. It is for freedom that Christ set us free, but to what end? Were we given freedom so that we can be innovative at business and passionate about politics? Or were we given freedom so that we can play a part in setting others free?