[image: Spring Flowers, 2014, JA Van Devender]
1 Chronicles 29:12 (NKJV)
12 Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all.
My hosting web site has been on the blink again so I have not been able to post any blog entries, but a couple of days ago journalist Charles M. Blow published THIS opinion piece in the New York Times.
Mr. Blow presents a couple of interesting statistics there (note bene - he presents only a portion of the total Pew Survey so the problem of selectivity as well as the problem of question phrasing has to be taken into account) that does highlight the radical difference existing between the liberal left (under the heading of Democrats) and the conservative right (Republicans) in this country regarding the general "sources" of poverty.
In these statistics conservatives (Republicans?) by a large percentage margin are more prone to link domestic "poverty" in individual cases to bad choices or moral framework (unwillingness to work) than independents and Democrats. Conversely independents and Democrats, by almost identical margins, attribute the cause of "poverty" to structural issues outside the control of the individual and the presence or lack of "advantages" in pursuing wealth.
Statistics are numbers... that's it. I do not dispute these numbers, I have not done anything other than a cursory check on this particular Pew Research study, but this I know: the statistics do not validate either position. The general framework and perceptions of either side may be completely right in contrast to the other or they may overlap in accuracy or whatever. The statistics themselves cannot be used to validate either side.
First: Either side could be right or wrong based on the prevailing context. I do not believe, as a conservative, that massive unemployment and poverty in the 1930's was primarily because people didn't want to work. That does not mean that the same statement can be made about the present economic divisions. About the only thing that I would acknowledge as being consistent between the two eras, 1930's and now, is wrong-headed government economic policies that are ultimately stifling economic progress. That being said, I do not see a "moral" equivalence at the working level at all.
Second: I think it is foolish to believe that the two perspectives represent an "either/or" situation. In other words, the economic disparity (which is a better use of terms in my estimation since the usual category of "poverty" in the US differs rather markedly from "poverty" in New Delhi or Zimbabwe) is rooted somewhat in institutional circumstances. I do not believe any conservative would deny that wealth enables a parent to pay for prestigious schools that are viewed as giving their child a "step up" in comparison to other students who cannot do so.
BUT .... isn't that one of the incentives to gain wealth???? So as to give your child a certain advantage they otherwise would not possess?
So, a distinction has to be made in the analysis of "advantages" which contribute to economic disparity. There are some "advantages" / "disadvantages" (such as race) which ought not to be so construed at all. It is entirely legitimate to rail against such moral injustices. That doesn't mean it is de facto justified to rail against a rich kid having opportunities that a poor kid may not possess. There are different level of challenges and some are greater than others, but in a large perspective, recognizing exceptions exist, over a finite period of time, individual talent, work ethic and pure providence (opportunity) tend to mitigate those earlier advantages.
I got my under-graduate degree in Physics at the University of Southern Miss. That is not up there with MIT, Rennselaer Polytechnic or any of those other "big" names. Seven years after graduation I attended the Naval Post-Graduate school at Monterrey and some of my classmates came from schools of that caliber. I was initially apprehensive but discovered fairly soon that we were all basically at the same level... what distinguished our ultimate standing at graduation was not our prior educational history but our individual native talents and the work we did (I did not finish first in my class by the way).
After 7 years of Naval service we were all basically more shaped by our recent experiences than by our prior education. Exactly the same can be said about people in the work force. Early advantages may get you in the door but sooner or later (in the broadest sense) those advantages are not what keep you there.
So it is foolish to draw too sharp a distinction between these two views. There are elements of truth in both. It is the height of folly for a Democrat to think, that all else being equal, people will automatically choose hard work and delayed gratification (frugality) over slothfulness and instant acquistion of worldly goods. There are more reasons for credit card abuse than simply the absolute need to put a few groceries in the fridge so that the starving children will have something to eat.
So... as Christians... I think that we need to look at income disparity in this country from a more Biblical perspective rather than a knee-jerk, bumper sticker mentality. I think that we need to remember that economic disparity is a result of God's sovereign ordering of history and that it is an indicator, a measure if you will, of His purposes at a given time. Income disparity should not be taken lightly by Republicans and it should not be idolized by Democrats. Income disparity cannot ultimately be handled only in the macro sense such that the ill effects of it are viewed as being subject to massive controls that produce positive trends. Neither should the injustices that are in fact present in the culture be skipped over by just assuming that every person struggling to make a buck is a useless neer-do-well.
Sooner or later, we have to see that God's purposes in giving or with-holding wealth is both corporate and individual and we need to approach the problem at both levels.
All that being said, it is my opinion that the government is the least equipped body to address the issue. It should address itself to the punishment of true moral offenders but the fundamental positive actions should be taken by those who possess the means to do so. My favorite example is the Guiness family in Ireland and the positive role they played in addressing income disparity, gin addiction, slum living and spiritual malaise in Dublin.
If and when wealth ever becomes viewed properly, as providing the means by which true help and wise measures can be instituted at both the individual and macro level, by the person who has pursued wealth with that intent in mind, then we can have some hope that the present circumstances will change. And it would not be a difference between Republicans and Democrats but of common ground between the two.