CORRECTED: Giving, Receiving, And An Attitude Not Even Remotely Giving

(This was mistakenly posted yesterday before I finished it.  Please read on if you’ve already started!)

There aren’t many Christian pundits more devoted to exalting the right of private property ownership than Doug Wilson, nor many who consistently reveal much more about themselves than simply their views of . . . the right of private property ownership.

But before I analyze Monday’s Blog and Mablog post, part of which I excerpt below, please help me set the context by reading Genesis 41, the account of Joseph’s actions in securing from the people enough grain to survive the famine the LORD revealed to him would occur in Egypt.  Nothing in the account contradicts the testimony in Deuteronomy that Wilson uses — that private property is the result of the Giver, Yahweh, bestowing gifts upon the recipient, who then decides from his ownership how he will give in accordance with the “pure religion” found in James that requires support of widows and orphans.

Indeed, no one would argue that God gives material gifts — land, money, resources, equipment — to those he loves.  From there, reasonable people will acknowledge that it is better to relinquish one’s property volitionally in caring for the poor than to have it stolen by the poor or by those purporting to act on their behalf.  But thoughtful Christians see a marked difference between the taxation authority of the State, as described in the Genesis account that lauds Joseph’s wise handling of the people’s grain reserves, and robbery at literal or figurative gunpoint.  They may dislike the rate of taxation or the eventual uses it funds, but they’re clear on the difference.

Wilson, not himself a thoughtful Christian, isn’t.  Here’s what he says, and says with his usual peppy contempt:

“Pure and undefiled religion means doing what God says to do, the way He says to do it. When we rebel against Him, and do something else, we have still been created with a slot called ‘pure and undefiled religion,’ and so we fill it in with something else, and police the boundaries of that new thing with a religious ferocity. This something else is usually some form of ritual righteousness — something tangible that you can see. It may have no biblical basis, or it may be a counterfeit of something that has a biblical basis. For the former, cool is the new righteous, and it would be something like skinny jeans and moussed hair instead of wide phylacteries and flowing robes. For the latter, it would mean supporting greater levels of coercive taxation levied on widows and orphans so that some faceless bureaucrat might issue an EBT card to some skateboarding waster dude, and all in the name of helping widows and orphans…”  (Blog and Mablog, August 13, 2013)

In his spirited but depressingly life-denying defense of private property rights, Wilson reveals his contempt for both the State’s role in relieving poverty and for the recipients of tax-funded aid, and it’s clear that he finds State and undeserving, skateboarding “waster dudes,” to be equal partners in the pickpocketing of the God-favored in this country.  Programs supported by his tax dollars, programs whose financing he equates to a thuggish theft of resources given him and others directly by the God who favors them, are only a blaspheming counterfeit of “pure religion,” never a means by which God intervenes for good in the lives of those who are helped by them.  And the poor around him?  In Wilson’s world, they lack the purity and authenticity of James’ “widows and orphans.”  They suckle at the teat of government, as he’s famously commented, and in doing so, they suck the money right out of his wallet.  And while Wilson would undoubtedly continue, as he’s done in the past, to diagnose the reasons for people’s poverty straight from the Proverbs, he appears certain that the only noble poor are those he helps directly — the others are simply immature, weak, and conniving little thugs-in-training whose lamentable circumstances are nourished by that damned government teat at which they suckle.

The milk of human kindness goes sour, indeed, in the world Wilson believes God is building for him.

But more disturbing, even, than the Bloviating Bishop’s faulty grasp of government’s Biblical role in alleviating poverty is his unquestioned belief that in a nation rotting since its inception from institutionalized bigotry that has both enshrined and entrenched within it the poisons of racism, sexism, and classism, all of his resources are a direct, untarnished boon from a God who consistently chooses to bless him and his kind while others, the ones not like him, go without.  Wilson drinks with alacrity from the stream of privilege, finds it to be good, and blithely presumes that the abundance flows richly toward him from the throne of the Almighty.  With one eye on the font of privilege from which his treasure flows and the other on the poor around him, he blesses God for the Providence of his power and position and curses those who would try to direct the flow more equitably.  It doesn’t seem to trouble Wilson that so many people who worship the same God have merely a trickle, nor does he appear confounded that so many who despise the Giver nonetheless make off with a hugely disproportionate stream of riches.  God has given him what God has given him, and it would be unseemly, and certainly unprofitable, to question the hand of kind providence.

I believe — I cannot be persuaded otherwise — that all good things come from the God who loves us, who gives us all unfathomable riches to enjoy for his glory.  But those “good things” are very often, perhaps most often, not things at all; in fact, it’s safe to say that far less of God’s “good” gifts will be souvenirs from a sin-soaked world groaning under the weight of economic injustice.  We have the resources we have not in a vacuum, apart from a world filthy with lust for power and money, and not always directly from a pristine Heavenly pipeline, unsullied by unearned privilege, power based on sex and skin color, and social position enhanced by the things that most displease our God.  We have what we have; we receive what we receive, and we dare not hold it with anything other than a loose hand.  And not because we’re “just stewards,” although we are — we hold it loosely because we know that what God concedes to give us in resources are tainted, and we dare not embrace either the resources or the sin that corrupts them.  We know that what might have come unjustly to us from the throne of unfettered and amoral capitalism and entrenched social injustice may nonetheless be used to relieve the burden of poverty, ignorance, sickness, and marginalization created by it.

A truly Biblical ethic of giving, a truly Spirit-filled understanding of private property, can’t afford the luxury, in a rotting world, of defending the rights of those who have before defending the lives of those who have not.  A truly Biblical ethic of giving rejoices in Kingdom righteousness; it doesn’t count and keep record of what the steward loses in its establishment.

And a truly Biblical ethic of giving does not mock the poor — a statement so obvious that its inclusion here must tell you the depths to which Wilson’s theology and pastoral counsel have once again sunk.

May God’s Holy Spirit bring him to repentance.

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