taking the words of Jesus seriously

CNN recently reported that Donald Trump made $434 million in 2018.

How is that so many working-class evangelicals are so willing to look past income inequality? Are evangelicals only Bible literalists when it comes to homosexuality but not when it comes to money? Only seven passages mention homosexuality. Why do they get so much adrenaline while so many biblical rants about the rich get ignored?

Working evangelical followers of a homeless revolutionary Messiah whose message was always for the poor and often against the rich have somehow become the biggest voting block for a new American aristocracy. Do evangelicals see who is really winning in this economy?

Under Donald Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, taxes on capital gains and dividends — key sources of income for the wealthy — were reduced. Private equity managers paid a 20 percent maximum tax rate, nearly half that of other working Americans. Corporate tax rates were slashed from 35% to 21% while 75% of Americans paid the same or more in taxes in 2018.

Worse still, under Trump’s 2017 tax law, the number of corporations paying NO federal tax doubled in 2018. That means you, me, and the average working American bore America’s tax burden while mega companies like Amazon, Delta, Chevron, IBM, General Motors, Molson Coors, Eli Lilly and 53 other corporate giants paid nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Surely even the most die-hard Trump supporter is not okay with this.

I understand why politicians do nothing about The Great Corporate Tax Heist now underway. Since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling determined that, minus paying taxes, corporations are in every other way identical to natural persons, politicians can receive unlimited financial support from corporations. The naked willingness of politicians to serve corporate interests makes sense.

What I don’t understand is how evangelical Christians are so easily turned against the common good. Why should working people bear the burden of a tax structure that exacts payment from their wages with ruthless efficiency but gives insanely rich corporations the legal means to pay nothing? Why do those who don’t own stocks, who don’t have decent jobs, who drive on crumbling roads, whose public schools are neglected, and whose public infrastructure is approaching Third World standards — why don’t they fight back?

Maybe because Americans have been taught to believe that the only alternative to rapacious free market capitalism is the failed socialism of the USSR, Cuba, and Venezuela. Maybe too many Americans believe that to organize our health system to serve all Americans the way we do water, gas, electricity, and other utilities would lead to the seizure of private property and state control of the means of production. Common-sense appeals for universal health care, investment in public education, and a tax policy that expects the rich to pay their fair share for the public good equals Soviet gulags.

A recent conversation I had over dinner with a retired energy executive made shockingly clear the truth about what’s really happening to Trump voters:

Me: How do you feel about the U.S. economy?

Retired oil man: Great! It’s roaring. Trump has unleashed the animal spirit of capitalism back into the economy.

Me, stunned: Uh, wow. How?

He: Cutting taxes. Removing regulations. Freeing capital from government restraint.

Me again: Seems the benefits are going to the wealthy and powerful. What about wage earners from, say, rural Southern Ohio where I’m from?

He, with brutal honesty: It’s not for them.

Me, practically choking: But they voted for him! Are you saying the economy is not for the people who voted for Trump?

He: Yes. It’s not for them. They’re a lost generation.

Painful but true. Despite the positive employment figures frequently cited by the president, this economy is not for everyone. It’s not for the many Americans who hold “negative wealth” and have debt exceeding the value of their assets. It’s not for 40% of Americans who can’t cover a $400 emergency expense. And with white median wealth 41 times greater than median Black wealth, the economy isn’t for Black folks either.

This economy is for the richest 5% of Americans who own two-thirds of America’s wealth. It’s for the richest 1% who own more than half of all the stocks. It’s for the mega corporations that don’t have to pay taxes. This economy is for Donald Trump who made $434 million dollars last year.

America is undergoing a massive redistribution of wealth upwards to the top of the income ladder, and white working-class evangelicals are helping make it happen by continuing to support Donald Trump. Not since the days just prior to the Great Depression have concentrations of wealth among the mega rich been so extreme.

How are evangelicals who take the Bible seriously so easily gaslighted by scare tactics about socialism? Marx’s famous slogan, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” sounds a lot like the Exodus ethic that “the one who gathered much did not have too much and the one who gathered little did not have too little” (Exodus 16:18), doesn’t it? The economic policy of the Law of Moses was not “the invisible hand” of the free market but the Year of Jubilee, the forgiveness of debts and the redistribution of property every 50 years (Leviticus 25). Not even Bernie Sanders is calling for the end of private property like the first Christian community did, holding everything in common and giving to anyone who had need (Acts 2:44,45).

Just because socialism stole from the Bible doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t take biblical economic justice seriously.

The Bible is full of scathing critiques of economic arrangements that favor the rich at the expense of the poor. The economy is an issue that should lead conservative and progressive evangelicals to common ground. The Great Corporate Tax Heist affects us all.

Instead of parroting talking points that defend an economic system designed to keep them out, working-class white evangelicals should join progressives in seeking economic justice and social equality. Those denied a living wage, adequate schools, and decent healthcare are all in the same boat. We read the same Bible, we hear the same warning,

“Listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted and moths have eaten your clothes. …You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” – James 5:1-5

About The Author


Don previously served as the executive director of RLC and has worked in leadership at World Vision, World Relief, and Mars Hill Bible Church. He co-wrote "Jesus Wants to Save Christians" with Rob Bell.

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