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Sound Economics and Evangelicals

R&L: You are a pastor and also speak weekly to hundreds of thousands of people on national television. In your opinion, why is it important for Christians to be grounded in sound economic thinking?

Kennedy: Unsound economic thinking can lead to disastrous results and suffering for hundreds of millions of people. Consider the catastrophic impact on the vast number of people who had to live under the false economic thinking that produced communism.

Our own society contains many examples of the effects of unsound economics. We have given up the free enterprise economy envisioned by the founders of this nation and have followed many socialist principles.

We are just beginning to see the consequences of increased government spending. The presidentially appointed Grace Commission lists our current national debt at $3 trillion, and says it will grow to $14 trillion by the end of the decade unless something is done.

Government is extraordinarily inefficient, creating problems rather than solving them. It has been estimated that the government spends twice as much in creating jobs as does the private sector. For example, Stanford University received a $15 million government grant to create jobs. For the $15 million, they created thirty-nine jobs–an average of $324 thousand per job. The private sector produces jobs for $20 thousand. Obviously, the more money taken from Americans in taxes to pour into these government projects, the less money remains in the private sector and the fewer jobs there are. Another example of unsound economic principles is the creation of the welfare state. Many women have learned that they get more money from the government if they are not married, resulting in a devastation of the family. Current American economic policies are hurting people–putting people out of work and destroying families.

R&L: Three interesting things appear to be taking place at once: the demise of the centrally planned economies of central Europe; the shrinking numbers within the mainline/liberal churches; and a new appreciation for free markets on the part of the Catholic Church. Do these events provide a basis for a greater ecumenical exchange and cooperation between evangelicals and Catholics?

Kennedy: I believe that they do provide such a basis. We all need to cooperate on those issues that face our nation as a whole, and be willing to put aside for the moment those theological issues which may still divide us. Unsound economical thinking, whether in the former communist states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union or in the United States, has hurt both evangelicals and Catholics alike.

I believe there are many specific things conservative Protestants and conservative Catholics can do to influence economic policies and thought. Seminars, articles such as this one in various publications, an economic council headed by free-market thinking Catholics and evangelicals, and perhaps an exchange of students and professors between Catholic and evangelical universities are all possibilities.

R&L: Most people tend to think that the evangelical wing of American Protestantism you represent is fairly conservative. Has a left-wing political and economic ideology taken control of any segments of American evangelicalism?

Kennedy: There is a small left-wing political and economic philosophy within evangelicalism represented, for instance, by Sojourner magazine.

R&L: What are some of your disagreements with the work of such religious leftists as Jim Wallis of the Sojourners movement?

Kennedy: Wallis and the Sojourners, it seems to me, hold to a combination of left-wing socialist and monastic concepts of economics. They claim that the Bible teaches socialism. It is this mind set that is the liberal mind in politics today. And for those in the Sojourners movement, it is that same mindset with a thin veneer of Christianity smeared over it. They have been saying for years that we must abandon our free enterprise system and we must adopt socialism because the Bible says so.

What does the Bible say? The eighth commandment of the Decalogue states, “Thou shall not steal.” For two thousand years theologians have been saying that this is a guarantee of private property. God knows that we need that property to exercise our stewardship. John Wesley once said, “Make as much as you can; save as much as you can; give as much as you can.” If we would do all three of these, we would find that our society would flourish.

The Tenth Commandment is, “Thou shall not covet.” You should not covet anything that is your neighbor’s. It belongs to him. You are not to steal it, nor even to covet it. Again, a guarantee of private property.

But the Sojourners zero in on Acts 4 and 5, and claim that when the early church pooled their resources they were practicing socialism. A closer look at this scripture shows that this was not socialism, but actually antithetical to socialism. Acts 5 gives an account of Barnabas selling a piece of property and bringing the money to the Apostles. Ananias and his wife Saphira decided to emulate Barnabas, at least in part. They sold property and kept some of the money for themselves, while lying to the disciples about how much they had been paid.“But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in your own power?’ ” There you have an apostolic confirmation of the right of private property. Not only the means of production, but also the results of that production were in Ananias’ and Saphira’s power, not in the power or hands of the state or the church. This passage is a blast against the doctrines of socialism.

You will also notice that the people in the early church gave voluntarily. The apostles never told them to do this, nor was it recorded in any other situation. But out of the joy and enthusiasm of the Spirit of God filling their hearts, they wanted to give.

I have no objection whatsoever to any group of people anywhere in the world wanting to get together and voluntarily practice some sort of communal living. It is the coercive aspect that is so devastating. When coercion was removed from the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe, their socialist governments completely fell apart.

R&L: To what extent do you rely on Scripture in terms of deciding policy issues?

Kennedy: I believe that whatever Scripture teaches on any sphere of human life or activity must be included in our consideration of those issues. For example, the commandment forbidding theft obviously teaches the right of private property and is in complete contradiction to socialist concepts as expressed, for example, by the French socialist Proudhon who said, “Property is theft.” The necessity of labor is clear with such statements as “Let him who will not work not eat.” The Bible also teaches that the church and the family should care for the poor rather than the state. All these and many other scriptural teachings must be included in our economic theory. Otherwise, in the end, it will turn out to be unsound and create unnecessary hardship for many.

R&L: Since Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell made their bids for the presidency, there has been a decrease in media attention to the“new right” or “religious right.” Is this because the movement is spent, or has it just lost its appeal as a media curiosity?

Kennedy: Pat Robertson obviously did make a run for the American presidency, but to my knowledge, Jerry Falwell never did. In fact, he stated repeatedly that he was not interested in running for office. There was a joke going around at the time that Falwell said he was not interested in the presidency, but he might accept an appointment as King of North America!

But seriously, I do not believe the movement is spent; in fact, it continues to grow in America. It does not, however have a single outspoken leader to be the lightning rod for our secular (and mostly leftist) media. President Bush’s people have acknowledged candidly that it was the evangelical Christian vote that put him in office in 1988.

The 1992 Republican Party platform speaks for itself. It is clear that President Bush and the RNC understand that they cannot win this election without the support of principled evangelical, Catholic, and conservative voters.

R&L: Evangelicals appear to be rising as a political force both nationally and internationally. Many draw an analogy between this emergence and that of Islamic fundamentalism. What are the differences? What dangers lie ahead for a politically potent evangelicalism?

Kennedy: The analogy between the evangelical and Islamic fundamentalists is spurious. It tells us less about evangelicals than it does about the anti-Christian bias of the media who will use any means to discredit Christianity. The only similarity would be that they are both committed to the scriptures of their respective religions. At that point the analogy ends. Islamic fundamentalism has produced totalitarianism and tyranny wherever it has taken control, while evangelical Christianity (which is essentially the religion of the Pilgrims and Puritans) produced the United States, which provided the greatest freedom for the greatest number of people ever seen on this planet. In their significant aspects, rather than being similar, they are diametrically opposite.

As evangelical Christians increase both in numbers and political involvement, the sources of secularism which have, for the most part, hijacked the major institutions of our country (i.e., the government, the judiciary, the educational system, and the media) will increasingly target them as “the enemy.” Someone recently said that with the demise of communism as “the enemy,” as far as secularists are concerned, Christians are likely to take their place in the very nation that Christians brought into existence.