How intriguing that a pastor’s statement on politics would become a source of political controversy. This is what has happened with Senator Barack Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright, whose statements have been discussed in detail, to the point that Obama had to repudiate them. Little public attention is ever given to what the clergy say from the pulpit on economics. The common trope among sermons today is to blame the rich for the existence of the poor, and to call for government policy to redistribute wealth.
Business people sit in church and listen to these sermons with unease, knowing that something isn’t quite right about what they are hearing but not knowing precisely what. They know that their wealth is rather fragile, and it can only be protected through innovation and human service in the commercial sector. They wouldn’t have any wealth at all but for a great deal of sacrifice, and in the course of their business career, they never exploited the poor. They absorb that sense of guilt that is imposed by these sermons and wonder about how to deal with it. Some succumb and eventually support left-liberal political agendas that run contrary to free enterprise.
What’s missing in these sermons is a vital understanding of economics. It is not the case that in a free economy the property of the rich comes from exploiting the poor. How does that affect the biblical injunction to serve the poor? It means that the best way might not be to call on government to become a weapon of expropriation. The moral teachings concerning the poor impose a moral obligation on us, and those who enjoy the greatest material blessings are especially urged to use their resources to care for the least of these. Keep in mind that there is a difference between effective charity and symbolic political posturing that responds to propaganda but does not actually meet real needs.
What American clergy say in the pulpit does indeed have great influence over the shape of American culture. The next step is to see the need for a proper formation of those who speak in the name of the Gospel. There is a need for them to receive some degree of economic education.
In supporting the Acton Institute, you make a contribution toward this end.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President