Adam Smith Church | Opinion

How different can a thing be before it is no longer that thing and becomes something else? How much yellow does it take for red to turn orange? How much blue before it’s purple?

Money changed the church. Deeply. An organization that was once dominated by women, slaves and the poor has become the mainstream – counting even the rich and powerful among our flock. And since most Americans identify as Christians, popular Christian beliefs about money have shaped American beliefs and vice versa.

The Hebrew God had a financial plan. You probably never learned it in Sunday school. We were too busy memorizing the books of the Bible. But the Jewish God thought a lot about money. Like Bernie Sanders, the Bible can’t seem to stop talking about it.

Every seven years, all debts were canceled. Noodles on it. Initially, you couldn’t charge anyone interest on a loan, but even if you did, the slate was wiped off every seven years. One day you owed the MosesCard creditor $ 20,000; the next day you owed nothing. Nothing. Nada. You can read all about it in the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 15. In Tennessee, where they attend church, you can charge people an annual interest rate of over 400% on a payday loan.

But the real blockbuster has happened every 50 years. Jubilee. Not only were the debts canceled. All land has been returned to its original owners. So if Uncle Hezekiah lost the family farm casting lots, you would get them back in Jubilee. In an agrarian society like ancient Israel, it was like getting your slot machine back. The book of Leviticus, chapter 25, explains it. Even during slack years, there were strict limits on how deep you could harvest your fields. God wanted to make sure that there was always enough food for the poor, because – as the Good Book says – “He who lends to the poor lends to the Lord”.

The New Testament is no less surprising in its teachings on money. We have heard the stories of the rich young ruler, Zacheus, Lazarus and the rich man so many times they don’t even put a hole in our capitalist skulls, but what you might not realize is is that the early church was a bunch of communists. I don’t mean to say that they were atheistic devotees of Lenin and Marx. It would take a few millennia before these troublemakers arrived. I mean the early church actually had everything in common. No one claimed anything like his. Just read the first five chapters of the Acts of the Apostles if you don’t believe me. And here’s the scary part. When a couple withheld part of the proceeds from the sale of their land for their personal use, God struck them to death.

Now I am not a communist. Far from there. Or a socialist for that matter. But I’m a Christian, and so are most of you. So shouldn’t we at least try to approach what the God of the Bible wants?

As with payday loans. Should we really allow lenders to defraud low income borrowers for triple digit interest?

To our credit, we have done something good for the poor in education. Free and universal public education has been a fantastic way to give every child a boost. Not just those with the money. But, you should be as concerned as I am about the growing number of families who are bailing out common schools across the country and putting their children in private schools, often mere apartheid academies. I don’t care if the private schools are “Christian” or not. We have a responsibility to all children. Especially those who don’t have the money to attend a private school.

The same could be said about health care. Do you think for a minute that the God who forbade charging interest on loans, demanded debt forgiveness every seven years, and killed a couple who put their own financial needs before those of their congregation would refuse treatment? medical to anyone? Yet Tennessee residents – who attend church en masse – have refused to extend Medicaid to working-class people who cannot afford private insurance. And here’s the really shameful part. We don’t even have to pay for it. The federal government will foot 90% of the bill.

How is this, even remotely, consistent with our tradition of faith?

Gandhi asked, “How is it that you Christians are so different from your Christ? Although asked as a question, it sounds more like an indictment. But instead of reacting defensively, as I often do, maybe we should consider his point of view.

Buzz Thomas is a retired American Baptist Church minister, lawyer, school principal and longtime Blount County resident and regular columnist for the Daily Times.

Jerry B. Hatch