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Tuesday, 30 November 2004

GRINDING THE FACES OF THE POOR

By Jim Jordal

The Lord stands up to plead, and stands to judge the people. The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders of His people and His princes: "For you have eaten up the vineyard; the plunder of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the faces of the poor?" says the Lord God of hosts.

Isaiah 3:13-15 (NKJV)

Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun: And look! The tears of the oppressed, but they have no comforter—on the side of their oppressors there is power, but they have no comforter. Therefore I praised the dead who were already dead, more than the living who are still alive. Yet, better than both is he who has never existed, who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 (NKJV)

These verses refer to predatory, oppressive, exploitative practices against the poor by affluent, powerful people and institutions in society. To deny that this exists is to ignore reality. How can one peruse news publications and programs without realizing the truth and horror of this situation.

It’s one thing to deliberately choose a lifestyle of voluntary poverty. Society honors these choices because it realizes that such people have chosen to renounce "things" in favor of the deeper values. It’s also understandable that in an open, free society some people fall into poverty because of poor individual choices or irresponsibility, making it difficult for them to hold a job or save money. This kind of poverty has always existed and will as long as human nature persists. The book of Proverbs details this form many times, and offers possible cures such as discipline, education, and hard work. But these are not the types of poverty banned under Mosaic Law, protested by the prophets, and forbidden by Christ’s teachings.

Scripture contains literally hundreds of verses condemning cruel, heartless, oppressive treatment of the poor. And yet it persists, often with toleration and even support from the very persons and institutions that ought to know better—the Christian church and its members.

Grinding the faces of the poor has become almost an art form in the United States. Educated, wealthy persons have choices as to what banks, grocery stores, convenience stores, loan offices, car dealerships, and transportation services they will use. Not so with many of the poor, especially those living in urban areas. They are limited to what exists in the inner city—check cashing services with high fees, loan sharks with weekly interest rates of 10 percent, banks often practicing predatory lending policies, and used car lots complete with high-priced junkers and exorbitant interest rates. It’s not easy or cheap to be poor in America.

Consider what Isaiah said above about God judging the elders or leaders of the people for their callused, cruel treatment of the poor. Their crime consisted of "eating up the vineyard," or destroying the means of sustenance for the poor. In modern idiom the charge would be that powerful economic and political institutions in society control, manipulate, and even destroy what the poor need to survive: decent jobs, affordable housing, adequate public transportation, equal educational opportunity, safe neighborhoods, and access to reasonably-priced loans.

Isaiah also charges that "the plunder of the poor is in your houses," meaning that what is stolen from the poor graces dwellings of the rich. How do the rich steal from the poor? Not through armed robbery, but through legal manipulation and stratagem. Isaiah declares "woe upon those who decree unrighteous decrees…to rob the needy of justice, and to take away what is right from the poor of My people" (Isaiah 10:1-2).

Most of these perversions of economic justice occur under the banners of efficiency and profits. But the trouble with these purely economic goals is that they have concern only for profits, not for human welfare.

Consideration solely of the laws of economics will have little effect upon the problem of poverty, since it is mainly a moral issue.

Is the law stacked against the poor? Often, it is. The American income tax is labeled as "progressive," but in reality has hundreds of loopholes passed at the behest of special interest groups. The result is that some wealthy individuals and corporations pay no income tax. Of course, the resulting tax shortfall either adds to our national debt or is borne by average wage earners. And the sales tax is even worse, being quire regressive in nature because lower income groups spend a much larger percentage of their income that do upper income groups. And new tax plans in the legislative hopper threaten to make the situation even worse.

Scripture often condemns what it calls "respect of persons." What this means is differential treatment before the law based on personal wealth, position, or influence. All responsible citizens are to be treated equally under the law, and persons having economic or social power should be unable to unfairly influence judges, courts, or legal and political officers. We all know such is not the case, since "money talks," and talks very loudly in many instances.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1978, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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