Does the Bible Demand Political Redistribution of Wealth?

According to a ThinkProgress article, Pope Francis says the bible demands redistribution of wealth.

The article rPope_Francis_2013eports that “Pope Francis called for ‘the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits’ on Friday.”

Francis used the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10) who pledged to give half of everything he owned to the poor and make restitution to those he cheated after an encounter with Jesus.

“Zacchaeus made a radical decision of sharing and justice, because his conscience had been awakened by the gaze of Jesus,” Francis said. “This same spirit should be at the beginning and end of all political and economic activity.”

Using a man’s voluntary action after an encounter with Jesus to advocate for a coercive political system takes quite a leap in logic.

Zacchaeus chose to redistribute wealth based on a moral conviction stemming from an encounter with Christ. In a sense, the Pope is correct: biblical teaching does demand redistribution of wealth. Zacchaeus demonstrates how an encounter with Jesus changes the moral compass. That inner change demands outward action. But the entire process is voluntary. Jesus never forces Zacchaeus to have him in his home. And he doesn’t demand the tax collector give up half of his possessions. Zacchaeus has a change of heart and acts accordingly.

But when we turn this teaching into a demand for political action, the entire nature of the story changes. In the world of ThinkProgress, we find Zacchaeus walking along the street minding his own business. Suddenly, agents of the state walk up, grab him by the shoulder and insist that he give up half of his possessions for the poor. He protests (because he’s never experienced any moral awakening compelling him to help the needy) and they threaten to have him arrested. He continues in his refusal to turn over his wealth, so the agents of the state kidnap him and drag him off to a cage. When he resists their efforts to lock him up by force, they kill him.

Christians on the right side of the political spectrum nodding in agreement should also pause in caution. They make the exact same logical jump when they demand that the state enforce their view of marriage, sexuality and other moral causes.

Ironically, very little difference fundamentally exists between the Christian political left and the Christian political right. Both want to use violence and force to shape society to fit their moral worldview. They only differ in the objects they believe worthy of coercion.

The Pope absolutely should continue teaching the moral imperatives of giving and treating people justly. But he should refrain from advocating force and violence to accomplish these ends. Christ was about changing hearts. Hearts don’t change at gunpoint.

 

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