Jesus for Revolutionaries: A Blog About Race, Social Justice, and Christianity

Thursday, November 15, 2012

God's Equal Protection Clause (Part II): "Trickle Up" Justice

Last week we talked about how more than 2,000 verses of Scripture speak of God’s love and concern for the poor.  Drawing a parallel to the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, I argued that this large body of Scripture forms the basis of  “God’s Equal Protection Clause (EPC).”   I proposed that God’s EPC might be summed up in this way:
All persons born in the world are made in My image, and subject to the jurisdiction of Heaven… No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of immigrants and the poor who are made in My image; nor shall any state deprive them of life, liberty, or property, without consideration of My rigorous ethical standards; nor shall they deny any immigrant or poor person the equal protection of the laws.  Those who violate My Equal Protection Clause will be subject to divine judgment. 

Our goal in the next several weeks is to explore some of the key scriptural texts which make up the biblical EPC. 
As expressed by my reiteration of the Equal Protection Clause, Scripture teaches that oppression of immigrants and the poor is offensive to God.  At the same time, the Bible is also clear that such injustice is the defining reality of a humanity which has chosen to turn its back on God.   As King Solomon states in the famous book of Ecclesiastes (5:8-11):

8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 

9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. 

          10 Whoever loves money never has money enough;
           whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
           This too is meaningless. 

          11 As goods increase,
          so do those who consume them.
          And what benefit are they to the owner
          except to feast his eyes on them?

In a broken and sinful world, we all fail to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.  As a consequence, we also fail to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Because we fail to love our neighbors as God intended, human greed and selfishness rule, and the poor are often oppressed and mistreated.  Thankfully, the Bible is also very clear that God loves the poor and defends their cause. 
As we’ve previously discussed, more than 2,000 verses of Scripture speak about God’s love and concern for the poor, immigrants, and the dispossessed of society.  This topic is the second most common topic in the “Old Testament” second only to that of idolatry.  (This is because every time people in the Old Testament fell into the worship of anyone or anything other than God, they began to oppress immigrants and the poor.)
In the “New Testament,” the topic of the poor and money is found in 1 out of every 10 verses of the “Gospels” (the first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—which are basically biographies of Jesus).   In Luke, it’s actually 1 in 7 verses.  Jesus speaks much more about his love and concern for the poor and the devastating consequences of greed than he ever does about heaven and hell (and he does talk about those topics, too). 
In fact, the Bible is written from the perspective of an oppressed people group.  The Old Testament was written by former slaves (the Israelites) who came to know God by being delivered from slavery and oppression in Egypt.  The New Testament was written by “triple minorities” who experienced an intersectionality of three layers of oppression. Not only did they inherit the history of deliverance from slavery in Egypt, they were oppressed and colonized by the Romans and persecuted by the religious leaders of their own ethnicity.  An accurate understanding of the Bible must take this important historical context into account. 
Here is just a small sampling of what the Bible has to say about God’s love and concern for justice and the poor (it would take many volumes to present and interpret the thousands of verses from the Bible which speak of God’s love and concern for immigrants and the poor):
In Isaiah 1:17, the prophet Isaiah declares emphatically, “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow”(Isaiah 1:17).  Later on in the book of Isaiah, the Lord Himself says, “Is not this the kind of fast I have chosen:  to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”  Isaiah 58:6-7.  In words similar to those of Isaiah, the prophet Amos cries, “But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  Amos 5:24
I love Psalm 140:12 which states unequivocally that God fights for the oppressed and upholds their “causa” (cause):
“I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor
   and upholds the cause of the needy.”

In proclamation of his public ministry, Christ declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18. As Rich Stearns, President of World Vision says about this passage:

“In the first century, the allusion to prisoners and the oppressed would have certainly meant those living under the occupation of Rome but also, in a broader sense, anyone who had been the victim of injustice, whether political, social, or economic. The proclamation of “the year of the Lord’s favor” was a clear reference to the Old Testament year of Jubilee, when slaves were set free, debts were forgiven, and all land was returned to its original owners.  The year of Jubilee was God’s way of protecting against the rich getting too rich and the poor getting too poor.”  (Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel, 22)

Can you see where I’m heading?  This doesn’t sound like blame the poor for being poor, or the political mantra of “trickle down” economics and “equal opportunity not equal economic results.  It sounds a lot like “trickle up” justice. 
          This is also not some radical communist saying this, either.  It is the Bible and the president of one of the most important evangelical Christian organizations on planet earth. 

In Solidarity,

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