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Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What Our Presidential Candidates Seem To Be Missing

On the one hand we have Republican candidates who not only claim that the only job of government is to protect its citizens and businesses from threats, they maintain that they will do a better job at that than the current President has. On the other hand we have Democratic candidates who are promising to restore the middle class back to its former financial moorings. And with all of that, Jeremiah's warning to King Shallum (a.k.a., Jehoahaz) of Judah goes unheeded. His warning can be found in Jeremiah 22:11-17 (click here for the text).

In this part of the Bible, Jeremiah is writing to the King of Judah who both replaced and was the son of Josiah. Josiah was a king whom the Lord favored greatly because Josiah brought God's people back to His law. But Shallum had decided not to follow in his father's footsteps. Thus, Jeremiah spoke for the Lord in order to rebuke and warn Shallum about his sins. What is interesting here are the specific warnings given by Jeremiah. For these warnings could legitimately be given to our own nation and its leaders as well.

Verses 13-14 tell us that it isn't the buildings themselves that make rulers great, it is how they are built. And according to Jeremiah, what King Shallum was doing was exploiting the workers who were building his palace. As for us, we could easily point to our early history of stealing land from Native Americans and enslaving Blacks both before and after the Civil War. The enslavement of Blacks after the war came about through the use of prison labor and the Southern governments' penchant for incarcerating Blacks.

But it isn't as if our nation no longer relies on exploited labor. For many of the goods we collect or consume are produced by slave or sweatshop or trafficked labor. Here, we are likely to think of these exploited workers as being from other nations only; but such is not the case. We also rely on American workers who receive poverty wages. Some such workers are homeless. So what we have is Jeremiah describing a then current situation in Judah that exists today in America. 

Next, King Shallum is reprimanded for measuring his greatness by his buildings--his reign didn't actually last long at all--and then he is compared with his father. But Josiah possessed all of the kingly splendor that Shallum did and then some. The 'then some' of Josiah consisted of his desires and efforts to do justice and protect the vulnerable. Protecting the vulnerable, according to Jeremiah, is described as 'what it means to know' God. But Shallum had his heart set on riches and 'dishonest gain.' Here we should remember what Paul wrote in I Timothy 6: 6-10 (click here for the text).  Paul tells us to be content with the basics of life because the love of money leads to destructive desires. And we should note here, as a friend and fellow activist has reminded me, that the Rich are not the only ones who are vulnerable to the trapping of longing for riches.

Finally we should compare Josiah's character with what we see and hear in our presidential candidates. As we listen to this year's presidential candidates from the 2 major political parties, perhaps only one of them sometimes expresses concern over justice. Certainly all of them tell us that they have the will and the ability to defend our nation. But in directing our nation's foreign policies and the use of our Armed Forces, no one includes issues of justice. The same goes for our trade policies. Rather, they only talk about defending America's citizens and interests in order to protect and preserve its  power and prestige. There is no expressed concern for whether our policies visit injustice on others. It is only when discussing the domestic economic situation that even one of our presidential candidates brings up issues of justice and that concerns the results of our policies, not the morality of the policies themselves. And this is despite the fact that one of our nation's major political parties has Evangelicals as core constituents. 

Our problem is that no one is talking about the injustice being visited on the poor here and the vulnerable from other nations. How to fix the economic injustice involves more than just providing charity and programs to help those who have fallen through the cracks. It also includes changing society's structures, especially our economic one, that increase the number of exploited people. This is a point often made by Martin Luther King Jr.  Not one of the candidates from the 2 major political parties is talking about changing from Capitalism. We should note that Sanders is not as much a Socialist as he is a FDR Capitalist. Likewise, not one of them is talking about changing from relying on war and militarism. Some may call for fewer interventions than others, but none are calling for America and its allies to submit themselves to international law.

The 2016 Presidential campaign will look like this. During the primaries, the candidates will argue over who is the most competent to be President. But after the nominees have been chosen, the debates will revolve around which party and candidates have the right intentions to make our nation more powerful and wealthy. No one will be arguing over which party and candidates are most willing to make our nation just. In contrast to that, what we have here in Jeremiah is a canon for measuring our leaders. And that canon revolves around justice and thus revolves around helping the vulernable both here and abroad.




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