Christianity and Wealth, or An Unoccupied Conscience Begets an Occupied Street

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Whoever oppresses a poor man insults [lit. blasphemes, taunts, defies] his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him. – Proverbs 14:31 (ESV with my own clarification added)

What is extremely interesting about the above passage is that in the King James Bible, the order of the last part is reversed: “…but he that honoureth Him [God] hath mercy upon the poor.” The same thing happens if we turn to the Septuagint translation (verse 32 instead of 31); “He who oppresses the poor provokes his Maker, but he who honors Him [God] has mercy upon a poor man.”

What are we to make of the discrepancy between the ESV and the KJV? Do we prefer the idea that God is honored when we aid the poor, or that if we honor God we will naturally aid in the poor? The truth is, both translations are not only correct, but in harmony with each other. Later in the Bible we read that we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength” as the greatest commandment. But then Jesus says, “And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-38, emphasis added). In other words, if we honor and love God then we will honor and love our neighbors, and in honoring and loving our neighbors we will inevitably be honoring and loving God. We cannot act in isolation on the two commandments; to perform one is to perform the other.

Thus, if we truly love and honor God then we will aid the poor and in aiding the poor we will be loving God and honoring God. One could say that the KJV translation points to a disposition that we should have towards God, one that loves Him and honors Him as a condition of our soul (the greatest commandment). The ESV then would take this disposition and put it into action (the second greatest commandment). From this perspective if we are to help the poor we must love God, but in helping the poor our love for God will also grow.

Among Christians, then, we are without an excuse when it comes to corporate greed. If we follow Christ and make millions, while we are not called to give up everything, we are called to aid the poor and not to oppress them. This transcends the “Occupy Wall Street” protests, which are seemingly more and more occupied by disenchanted students who want bigger TVs and don’t care one bit about true social justice. For Christian business owners, they must make sure they are engaging in ethical business practices, from how they treat their own employees to how they are supplied.

Consider you’re a Christian and the owner (or a powerful executive) of a chocolate company. Would you make up excuses for your company purchasing chocolate from farms that use child slaves? Or would you find an ethical source of chocolate, even if it meant cutting into your own income to do so? Or would you take it a step further to shed light on the fact that numerous farms around the world that allow us to cheaply satisfy a sweet tooth comes at an ethical cost of using slave labor? Would you cut even more into your millions of dollars in bonuses to help end the plight of the poor? Or would you argue that, “This is simply how business must be conducted” and move about your day, convincing yourself that the ends (using your vast sums of wealth for your church) justify the means (child slaves in brutish conditions)?

How does a Christian CEO display his love of God if he knowingly uses slave labor (or mistreated workers) to gain his product cheaply? Greed, simply put, has no place in any business where a Christian makes high-level decisions. While salaries must sometimes be cut, workers laid off, and overhead reduced, there are ways to accomplish all of this without selling one’s soul. As a Christian, one is simply without an excuse when it comes to oppressing the poor.

But what about non-Christians? When I bring the above issues up to conservative Christians, I’m often met with, “Yes, but that’s a Christian mandate, not one to companies. We shouldn’t expect corporations to act like Christians because it’s a secular world.” Mind you, this argument often comes from those who would seek to see abortion ended, homosexual marriages forbidden, and the Ten Commandments on every single government building in existence. In short, it creates a contradictory and conflicted message. Why is it okay to speak out against abortion or homosexual marriage on religious grounds, but we must adopt a secular attitude towards aiding the poor (the opposite is true for progressive Christians). While I’m not asking for Christians to take up the hammer and sickle (because Communism, according to the late Francis Schaeffer, is simply a Christian heresy) nor am I asking for a theocracy, I am asking them to take up their cross and follow Christ, which includes helping the poor and oppressed.

This means that Christians ought to seek out legislation that helps the oppressed, such as those trapped in slavery. We should support legislation that punishes corporations that use or willfully ignore where their products come from (such as Hershey’s Chocolate or Godiva). We shouldn’t do this because we’re Democrats or Republicans, or because we’re Conservatives or Liberals, but because we’re Christians. If we wish to honor God then we will seek to end the oppression of the poor. That’s not politics, it’s Scripture.