But just as Christians have pet peeves, we also have our pet sins. One of those pet sins is, rather coincidentally, objectifying others. Whereas my group has somehow managed not to buy into the overt acceptance and overlooking of the pleasure/sex pantheon of our culture, a different, perhaps more insidious form of idolatrous objectification has crept its way into our lives. Prosperity. Perhaps Jesus should have warned us a bit more about wealth and prosperity. Maybe he should have called it out directly or told some harsh stories about it. Maybe he should have given us some foreshadowing and foundation for the problem of prosperity in the Old Testament. Maybe he should have exiled Israel for their actions stemming from prosperous indulgence at the expense of justice towards others. Maybe if Ezekiel or some other prophet would have told us that the sin of Sodom was being guilty of idolizing prosperity - maybe that would have been enough for us not to make greed a pet sin and prosperity an idol. And perhaps if Paul had excoriated the greedy more than just a few times in the epistles, or if James, the brother of Jesus would have condemned opulence and unjust labor practices, everything would all be so clear to us now. But alas!
"It says that it's a sin. It's a damnable evil, and could exclude a person from God's kingdom (I Cor. 6:9-10). It's so bad that God destroyed an entire city that was engaged in it (Gen. 19 [Ezk. 16:49-50]), and Jesus says that those who practice it are liable to face judgment rather than salvation when he returns (Matt. 25). And those who think they can continue to practice it and still think they are genuine followers of Christ are deceiving both themselves and others. Still, our culture has accepted it as a virtue instead of a vice. Even our Christian culture is letting it slip into our churches unnoticed. We sometimes applaud it and place people in leadership who are too weak to preach against it. Many churches, if they are not actively endorsing it, try to remain neutral. But neutrality is nothing more than endorsement covered in sheep's clothing. I'm not talking about homosexuality. I'm talking about the misuse of wealth - the sin that's condemned in more than two thousand passages in God's inspired Word. When overfed and overpaid straight Christians condemn gay people while they neglect the poor, stockpile wealth, and indulge in luxurious living, they stand on the wrong side of Jesus' debates with the Pharisees."
When we return from Romania to the States, we are always asked how good it feels to be "home." The assumptions are, of course, that the United States is home and that we are happy to be there. Certainly there are reasons for which I'm always happy to be Stateside. But I also hate it. Part of the issue is that after being so transient, the definition and feel of home changes quite a bit, and you're more in tune with the reality that "this is not our [true] home." But really, the reason I hate coming Stateside is because it makes me feel dirty. I eat junk, and I eat a lot of it. We eat out a lot. I waste more time on trivial entertainment. I find myself buying unnecessary items, especially from Amazon, with great frequency. The United States doesn't make me dirty, but rather, being Stateside amidst familiarity, prosperity, and a culture geared towards convenience brings out the idols I have fostered in my own heart for the majority of my life. Prosperity is not corrupt, but it is the food upon which the corrupt gorge themselves. And I am such a glutton.
But that's ok. The vices of gluttony and greed mask themselves as virtues in my culture. In our minds, being over-fed is really just being well-fed, and being overindulged is just being Sabbath-minded. Don't we have the right to enjoy the fruits of our labors, and don't we have the mandate to relax? Doesn't prosperity merely indicate that one has worked hard and therefore deserves all they have? Isn't prosperity an indicator of God's favor (and likewise, poverty an indicator of God's judgment and disdain at some sin or a poor work ethic?). It is astonishing how easily I can spiritualize my sins and the sins of the group in order to not only avoid seeing my sin, but to reframe and rename sin as something else altogether.
Catalina and I were talking about this issue just last night. We discussed how our religious group has such a strong desire to legislate morality. We love the idea of legislating things - abortion, marriage, prostitution, pornography, drugs, and any other pet peeves we have. But what's interesting is that when it comes to legislating morality in regard to our pet sins, the mere suggestion becomes outrageous to us. A law demanding that workers be paid fair and living wages (which the impersonal market forces may not appropriately do)? It's unconstitutional! Taxing based on wealth to ensure that the lowest rung of society can be cared for? It's unjust to take money from those who've earned it! A law providing healthcare for all? Health and wellbeing (a.k.a. life) isn't a right! Please note here that I am not at all arguing that the government should legislate all these things, or that if the government did, it would do it well. I am merely noting that we have double standards in regard to what we want legislated, with the legislation impacting our pet sins being off-limits even to discussion. In fact, in many circles, merely questioning the gods and idols of our community is enough to have our membership questioned. "Are you advocating socialism? Then you may not be a true Christian." Forget that many minority brothers and sisters vote against our idols, as well as many brothers and sisters across the world. We white, American Evangelicals are different, and apparently have the power to see what the broader Christian community (if they truly are Christians...) cannot. Not only do we not see our sin - we make acceptance of it requisite to maintain membership among us.
When I was in college, I dialogued with my first charismatic Christian. I thought his views were interesting (and a little crazy), but he was sincere and thoughtful. So, I dove into the issue head first, doing what I always do, playing the devil's advocate. As I thought through cessationism (the miraculous has ceased) vs. continuationism (the miraculous continue), coming up with the best defense of the "miraculous gifts" as I could, one observation struck me as a bit odd and all too convenient for my default cessationist position. When you look at any of the lists of gifts in the New Testament, none of those gifts are demarcated as "miraculous" gifts. The so-called miraculous gifts are thrown into the mix with all the other ones. It's interesting that all of the gifts deemed "miraculous" (and implying that their counterparts don't require the miraculous impartation by the Holy Spirit) are all very objective, while the "non-miraculous" gifts are subjective. If I prophesy, it had better come to pass. If I speak in tongues, there had better be someone else who can interpret. If I claim to have the gift of healing, it's clear whether or not I healed someone. Such gifts have high stakes for their wielder, as they are verifiable. However, who is going to confront someone today who claims to have the gift of hospitality? How many people do they have to host or how lavish must their events be to be considered good hosts and hostesses? How bad does a person who claims to have the gift of teaching have to be to call him or her out on not having that gift and being a fraud? Whether cessationism is true or not, I can't say for sure. But I do know that the tendency of the human heart wishes for the miraculous gifts to be no more. We all claim we want to see the power of God and we fantasize about the miracles that Israel and the Apostles must have seen. But honestly, the miraculous would require a whole lot of faith. Our world would be turned upside down and the stakes of our lives would be much higher if we believed the miraculous gifts were for today, because we'd then have to explain why we weren't seeing and exhibiting them more (or at all). It's easier to live unexpectant lives and settle into a life of simplicity which we run ourselves than it is to have to rely on God to show up.
I think the same sort of thing happens with our pet peeves and pet sins. If you notice, our pet peeves are usually pretty black and white. Don't abort. Don't do illegal drugs. Don't have premarital sex. The lines are clearly delineated in each of these actions. It's simple and easy to see. However, our pet sins tend to be more complex and subjective. How much wealth would make me greedy? That's hard to say. And just like much of my group (the non-charismatic bunch, anyway) hides behind our subjective gifts which nobody can really critique, so we hide behind our subjective sins and claim that since nobody knows our hearts, such actions cannot be judged or legislated. All in all, it's a pretty convenient strategy, whether that strategy is subconscious or willful.
But then there is the common retort, "You can't legislate generosity!" Obviously, consistent legislation would not be a fix for greed, nor would it make giving a generous endeavor. Very few people pay their taxes out of the goodness of their hearts. But it is foolish to act as if such legislation couldn't be a moral good, as it relies on the same principles as other legislation we proclaim as good. When a murder, theft, or rape case is solved, the murdering, thieving, exploitative heart is not fixed - yet we value the judicial system. Why? Because it seeks justice for the victims. Legislation (as the OT shows us so clearly) is not primarily about changing hearts. It can't do that, nor do we expect it to do that in any other area. So why bring up the heart when it comes to generosity and legislation? Furthermore, as we recognize with certain legislation (e.g. illicit drugs, the sex industry, etc), one of the purposes of legislation is often to curb the growth and ease of rampant evil and to prevent people from falling into sin as easily. While we can't make people be sober or maintain marital fidelity, we can make the pitfalls which would derail them much harder to fall into by making certain actions illegal (e.g. prostitution, pornography, drugs, alcohol, etc), while simultaneously minimizing the amount of injustice which occurs towards others as a result of these vices (e.g. families destroyed, gang/drug violence, community violence, STDs, etc).
Saying that taking money from the wealthier to help the impoverished is bad because you can't legislate generosity is like saying that abortion shouldn't be legislated because you can't legislate love for your child. There's an equivocation on legislation analogies which occurs when it comes to money. We recognize with all other legislation that the motive is rarely, if ever, the focus of the law. With abortion, conservative Christians recognize that legislation is about protecting the human baby. While we desire for the mother to love her child and keep it, that's not what legislation is primarily sought for. Likewise, that must be the perspective we have if we're going to discuss legislation in regard to poverty. The issue isn't in fixing the motives of the greedy, though we would wish for that to occur. Our goal ought to be to address injustice and lift up the oppressed. Now maybe you're an economist who thinks that financially benefiting the oppressed isn't the best way to elevate them. That's fine and it would be a good discussion to have. But by and large, that's not what I hear as the primary (or even secondary) argument against more socialistic measures in the U.S. It's always 1) you can't legislate generosity, and 2) taking from those who've earned it (the deserving) is theft, and giving to those who haven't earned it (the undeserving/unworthy) is wasteful.
The point of all this isn't to demand that we add another item to our list of condemnations or desired legislation. Rather, the point is that our hearts are wicked and deceitful, and quite often we will find that they produce within us a moral inconsistency. Our hearts fashion convenient presuppositions and standards which we then take as gospel truth, when in fact, those very things obscure the full gospel from us. How is it possible to believe that the government ought to step in to abolish gay marriage or legal prostitution - two acts which are decided by consenting adults and pose no direct threat to another? "Because," the argument goes,"those acts are degrading to society, the family, and morality in the United States - all for which we will be judged by God." If those things are harmful, and if we are calling for legislation against those things, then someone please explain to me why it is not imperative that we legislate against one of the issues the Bible talks most about, exiles Israel for (in large part), brings judgment upon the most nefarious city in the Bible, and draws the ire of Jesus, the Prophets, Paul, James, and John? How do we claim to save our society by legislating marriage while perpetuating and refusing to legislate one of the most harmful injustices to society and the family - poverty and extreme wealth disparity? We take money from people all the time in taxation, recognizing that social/collective goods warrant such taxation (e.g. schools, government services, military, highways and infrastructure, etc). If you're not for legislating morals, taxation, and the imposition of government in our lives - I'm all in with you. But if you're going to advocate legislation, let's take a fresh look at what moral consistency would mean. That begins by searching our own hearts and recognizing that our pet peeves shouldn't be our biggest moral fear and concern, but rather the sins which lie creeping at our door - our pet sins.