Dark Brightness

Bleak Theology: Hopeful Science

Rich, politics, and widows.

The political process has a great challenge. We are going into a period of economic turmoil. These things happen: this will be third I can remember (admittedly I was not a teenager when the first one hit). What has happened this time is that most governments have pumped dollars into their economoy in the hope that there will be no collapse. And, as part of a distraction exercise, they have turned to identity politics, scandals… anything.

John Tamihere is of the left, but he has a brain. His comments apply not just to New Zealand.

Mr Tamihere is critical of the party’s current direction, saying it is too focused on what he calls identity politics. He’s keen to make a come back.

“The party really needs to start talking about economic policy and jobs and housing but that debate seems to get lost over gender politics or sex-based politics,” says Mr Tamihere.

He left Parliament in 2005 after a Serious Fraud Office investigation and after losing his Tamaki-Makaurau seat.

Labour’s fixation on gay marriage has “crowded out” some very important discussions, he says, adding that the party needs to discuss ways to stop New Zealand being a “training incubator” for Australia.

Mr Tamihere says despite working for David Cunliffe for six years and praising his work ethic, he still backs Mr Shearer as Labour’s leader.

“If you want a fire brand, that’s not David Shearer. They knowingly chose a chap that everyone rates as a decent man. But a decent man needs to be supported by decent colleagues.

“One man doesn’t make a party but one man leading a very good team does,” he says

Now, there is a subtext here. Tamihere has been scathing about the lesbians and gays in Labour. They got him out of the party, and they do not want him back: Grant Robinson (who is a decent man) is their candidate primarily because he is gay… and it appears that the most competent person in their party (Cunliffe) is difficult to work with.
But enough NZ, The state is going to eventually fail to provide for the poor. If you go down the social democratic path far enough, you run our of money, and you need to bring in austerity. In plain English, that means keeping tax rates as high as the populace will tolerate while reducing the dole to a point where one can just feed oneself. It means cutting back or destroying government sponsored organizations: reducing research and military budgets, reducing the conservation / national trust / national parks, and getting out of a lot of businesses.
The state cannot sustain provision for all those in society. It is the duty of the church. And those who are rich are told to hold onto that lightly, for it can go. Suddenly.

James 2:1-13

1My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

Luke 16:10-17
10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

14The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.

16“The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. 17But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.

Now, the rich in Roman times were quite rich. It was the time of latifunda: large farms run by slave labour. A large proportion, if not the majority, of residents within the Roman empire were not free, only a minority were citizens.  And the rich made the rules. Rome was never a democracy: it was a republic then an empire with the trappings of a republic.  The rick oppressed their slaves in a harder and harsher manner than any Plantation owner in the Southern States or Jamaica (and the British and American landowners were not gentle). There is a qualitative leap between the lash and crucifixion.

But James said this was not to happen in the church. The rich and powerful were to have no favours, and the poor no partiality: all are to be treated equally. The rich are blessed with property and resources — they are to give generously. And the poor are to serve their masters.

The church does not make or control the state. We live in the societies we find ourselves in.

Not the problem that the semi wealthy face now is that the tax rate is huge. The intrusion of inland revenue is not small (most NZ rich families try to hide their wealth as the NBR rich list is used by the tax department to target audits).  I pay a third of my income as taxes.

However, this town needs a food bank. We have chronic unemployment. There are the handicapped, the mad, the crippled… and they are supported (barely) by those taxes. At present the church can make their lives bearable. But the time may come when the taxes go to pay the bank, and the poor are cut loose — probably at the same time as people like me get their pay cut by a third, and the tax-exempt status of the churches is removed.

We need, as a church, to be prepared to support those around us. With or without the permission of the government. We need to dissolve the financial ties with the government (who currently contracts all chronic care out to agencies such as Anglican and Presbyterian social services) and modify the oppression of the state and wealth holders.

The church did it before, locally and without much organization in the Irish Famine, We have had a pile of Christian aid organizations in the last few decades working in the poorest nations, as they ought. Let us pray that we do not need them in our country.. although we all have people who are relatively poor,  no one need starve (thank God) in New Zealand. May it not happen.