Christians for Cuts
The march against ‘Government cuts’ attracted quite a few Christian groups – all peaceful, of course. In prophetic fulfilment of John 17:21, Protestants, Catholics, Evangelicals and those who have recently joined the Ordinariate are united as ‘Christians Against Cuts’ – a sort of coalition liberation theology. One group planned to enter a branch of Barclays bank and offer biscuits to staff and customers while praying, reading the Bible and singing hymns as a witness against ‘the injustices of the banking system’.
These believers profess to be ‘inspired by Jesus' example of protesting against the moneychangers and traders in the Jerusalem Temple, who were exploiting the poor’. They find it unacceptable ‘that rich grow richer while the poorest and most vulnerable are faced with unprecedented welfare cuts as a result’.
Another group is the Student Christian Movement who also appear to be inspired by Jesus and his ‘standing alongside the poor and marginalised of his day’. And so they are called ‘to resist injustice in the here and now’. They carried banners reading ‘Where is good news for the poor?’ and ‘Invest in education, not war’. One of their spokesmen also appealed to Jesus and the moneychangers, saying: “Two thousand years ago, Jesus protested against those who exploited the poor in the Jerusalem Temple. Now Christian students will not stand by when ministers are devastating education and public services while putting aside billions for renewing nuclear weapons."
One student, ‘passionate about faith and justice’, explained: "Communities will have their lives destroyed by the cuts. Opening higher education to a free market system will ruin it and bar millions of people. As a Christian, it's my duty to stand up."
Well, it is also His Grace’s duty to stand up for he, too, is passionate about faith and justice. He also takes his third exhortation very seriously: he disagrees with these Christians on much, but we are obliged to live in the love of Christ.
After Ed(ward) Miliband decided to invoke Nelson Mandela, Emmeline Pankhurst and Martin Luther King to his righteous cause against the Coalition's cuts, it is perhaps understandable that some might appropriate God to their crusade. But it is wholly inappropriate. When Jesus spoke about the good news for the poor, he wasn’t talking about doctors, teachers, nurses or civil servants, and neither was he talking about those who subsist on benefits. If any of these ‘Christians Against Cuts’ bothered to examine what the Lord said about the poor, they would find it rather more nuanced than their myopically anti-Tory view.
The peasants (eg Lk 6:20) who possessed little material wealth were not called ‘poor’ (‘ptochos’) if they possessed what was sufficient (ie subsistence) - they were termed ‘penes’. Jesus was concerned with the literal, physical needs of men (ie not just the spiritual [cf Acts 10:38]). When Luke was addressing the ‘poor’, he meant those who had no money – the oppressed, miserable, dependent, humiliated - and this is translated by ‘ptochos’, indicating ‘poverty-stricken…to cower down or hide oneself for fear’ - the need to beg. The ‘penes’ has to work, but the ‘ptochos’ has to beg. Those addressed by Jesus are the destitute beggars, not ‘penes’ or the general peasant audience of few possessions. This is an important distinction in the modern political discourse and for a society where the threshold of poverty is defined by the non-possession of a television, a DVD player or Nike trainers.
Jesus spoke more about money than he did about heaven and any other subject. Both the Old and New Testaments teach that God is the owner of all (Gen 14:19, 22; Mt 5:45; Acts 17:28), and that we are stewards or trustees and wholly accountable for everything (Lk 16:1-13). The key word in the dealing of believers with Mammon is ‘faithfulness’: a steward must be faithful (1Cor 4:1f). Money is not in itself evil, but the love of it is (1Tim 6:7ff). The first disciple to fall was over money, which he never lived to spend (Jn 12:4ff; 13:7-29); the first sin in the Church concerned the giving of money to the Lord (Acts 5:1-10); and the judgement of God upon the world finance system is symbolised by 666, which bestows the power to buy and sell (Rev 13:16-18).
God instituted a financial order which includes tithes (Lev 27:30-33; Mt 5:20) and offerings (Rom 12:8; 1 Cor 13:3). It is noteworthy that tithing was before the Law; it was not of the Law. Offerings were to be abundantly and joyfully from the heart (2Cor 8f). There is nothing little about taxation and nothing about state welfare, with which ‘Christians Against Cuts’ appear to be concerned. But there is an awful lot about blessings and cursings on the use and abuse of money. If one withholds what belongs to the Lord, one can expect to pay the consequences: a curse does not come without a cause (Prov 26:2). The extent to which the nation is in financial difficulty now is in direct proportion to the extent the last Labour government unrighteously administered the nations’ wealth. How much did they put in they invest for the future? How much did they put in the ‘storehouse’ (Mal 3:8-10)? What is the national debt? How much have they purloined unjustly from the people? Is this theft? If so, thieves cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor 6:10). And ignorance is no excuse: whole nations can be cursed when there is no righteous financial order.
No democratic government wants to raise taxes or impose cuts in public services, not least because both hurt the demos and impede the government’s quest to be returned to office at a general election. But in a righteous financial order, debts are repaid and the books are balanced. If they are not, the consequent curse is simply left for future generations. It is baffling that ‘Christians Against Cuts’ would prefer to sustain a situation in which £120million is paid every day in interest than spent on hospitals, schools, welfare... or on justice for the poor. ‘Christians for Cuts’ – of which His Grace is but one – understand that the pursuit of fiscal righteousness is undoubtedly painful, but that's because it demands discipline and we are simply not used to living within our means. And they also understand that these cuts are not deep and by no means fatal: the policy is that public spending will shrink very modestly as a proportion of GDP. This will still permit the state sector to grow but the private sector will grow faster. Since the former is funded by the latter, this makes perfect sense.
The task of the believer in this is to render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to minister from the abundance of our hearts to the ‘ptochos’ – the destitute beggar.
It is not to anticipate the tune of the Christian Socialists and ‘march for the alternative’, especially where there is none.