The Speck In Our Brother’s Eye
Money creates problems for many people. Too much of it and we may disown God, too little of it and we may dishonor his name:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God
It also creates lots of confusion. We need look no further than our political divisions to see the problem.
For instance, progressives and conservatives have different explanations for the cause of poverty and thus offer different solutions.
American progressivism, born out of a commitment to “dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics” (1912 Progressive Party Platform), desired a political party more responsive to the people it governed. Many of the reforms they proposed in 1912 are now part of American life: prohibition of child labor, minimum wages, one day’s rest in seven, eight-hour work days, compensation for occupational injury, organized labor and social security.
Progressives tend to blame poverty primarily on a corrupt system of power. Correcting the resulting oppression of the poor by the rich, behavior condemned throughout the Bible, becomes the focal point for progressive policy and purpose. They emphasize the sins of the oppressors but may, in the process, ignore the sins of the oppressed when devising solutions to poverty. The resulting government policy seeks to change the system and change the environment of the oppressed but leave the individual unchanged.
Conservatives tend to blame poverty on the poor. Lack of personal responsibility and a victim mentality prevent the poor from advancing in an economic system in which anyone can become rich. Conservatives can also use the Bible to support their idea that each person is responsible for the economic well-being of his or her family. Individual responsibility and providing freedom to choose become the focal points for conservative policy and purpose. They emphasize the sins of the poor, but may in the process ignore the sins of those in control of an economic system that favors some people over others. The resulting government policy seeks to leave unchanged a system they consider good and force individuals, via consequences, to become active agents in changing their economic environment.
So, why can’t progressives and conservatives come to agreement if both are championing causes supported by biblical principles? Why must their points of emphasis be mutually exclusive?
War of the Worldviews
Consider the connection between poverty and increased crime rates.
That poverty and crime go together is difficult to refute. Even people who would argue against this idea prove they really believe it when they won’t go to a poor area for fear of being a victim of crime. Progressives conclude that if poverty were abolished the crime rate would be reduced dramatically. For the progressive, environmental factors play a more prominent role than does human nature in determining whether an individual will commit a crime. This reasoning is consistent with a naturalistic worldview that believes people are basically good and can solve their problems apart from God.
We also know that most poor people are law-abiding. Conservatives therefore conclude that poverty does not play the prominent role in an individual’s decision to commit a crime.
Progressivism seeks to create a utopia for all in which humanity will no longer steal. Place unredeemed humanity back into this man-made Garden of Eden and all will be well.
Conservatism, oddly enough, also places too much faith in humanity. Give people the freedoms afforded in the Constitution and they will achieve their highest ends. Conservatism, having enjoyed freedom and prosperity, forgets God, relying instead on a man-made system called capitalism to determine a person’s wealth or lack thereof.
Not only do progressives and conservatives share an undeserved faith in humanity; they share a propensity to focus on the sins of other people. In doing so, progressives overlook individual evil when formulating policy and conservatives overlook systemic evil.
Why We Can’t Get Along
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
Christians believe Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoner, to give sight to the blind, and to release the oppressed. Jesus saves.
Progressives believe with equal fervor that with their insight they can construct government that will provide the needs of humanity. Government saves.
Conservatives believe freedom to operate within an economic system designed to maximize self-interest will provide the needs of humanity, one person at a time. Capitalism saves.
Perhaps the reason we can’t get along is not so much the differences between progressives and conservatives but the similarities.
Maybe we can’t get along because neither side can see its own sin clearly enough to be able to show their brother his sin.
We won’t get along until someone takes the plank out of his own eye. Who will be the adult in the room and go first?
Enjoyed the article Dale. I see what you mean by both systems placing too much faith in humanity, but which system allows people to express their faith in God more, in such a way that they can ascend from poverty?
Steve, I think the key is for Christians to recognize they must operate within the system they are born into without succumbing to its worldview. We can obey God in any system, but the cost to do so will be different. Pure socialism is especially wicked because individuals have very little of their own to steward. It seems to me that Christians should not place the burden of helping the poor entirely on other people. In the case of progressivism the burden is on government, for conservatism the burden is on the markets.
To answer your question more fully would require a huge amount of space! But I can say this – in any system in our fallen world we run the risk of failing to love our neighbor as ourselves. By relying on government or the markets to help the poor, it is easy to pass by on the other side of the road instead of being a Good Samaritan.
There are huge worldview issues with both progressivism and capitalism. In my opinion, which one works best is not the main concern for believers. Even the sorcery of pharaoh’s magicians “worked”!