I recently heard someone giving the pros and cons of increasing taxes on the rich. The speaker said that some believe the rich work hard to build up their businesses and so they deserve to invest their profits in whatever way they see fit without being heavily taxed. On the other hand, some people believe that a true American would want to share their wealth with the poor.
A true American....
I looked for that concept in the Declaration of Independence, in the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights but if the definition "A true American = someone who gives their wealth to the poor" was in those documents, I missed it.
I'm sorry I did. Even more to the point, had I known this 30 years ago, it would have come in handy. Coming from a single parent family, living on food stamps, ensconced in a single-wide mobile home, I think we might have qualified for "poor". At the time, however, I didn't realize the rich owed me anything. I grew up hearing that America was a land of opportunity and when the opportunity came to work my way through college, I didn't know any better so I took it. As soon as my brother and I got through working our way through school, we both went to work and started supporting our mother so she wouldn't need food stamps. When her health improved enough that she could work, she became a substitute teacher in Pulaski county. Her job was just a tad difficult... but she kept at it and worked for 10 years in spite of a chronic heart condition.
Which leads me to another definition that I have been pondering: what is "poor"?
We have worked with the "less fortunate" off and on throughout our married life and we've always received a blessing in one way or another for doing so. But if you've ever worked or visited a Salvation Army place or even become involved with a needy family in your area, you'll find that they don't all fall at your feet and express gratitude. Many are grateful but some are, quite frankly, demanding. Whiny... Even unpleasant and rude.
Also, over the years as we've participated in various ministries, I've noticed that a gathering of "poor people" in America looks somewhat different from say, a gathering of poor people in Africa or Asia... Quite a bit different actually. For one thing, the majority of the poverty stricken individuals I've seen here (and granted - my experience is very limited) don't have that emaciated look that you find in Uganda. For another, I have the impression that if you give food, any food, to a needy person in India, they don't throw it away... They eat it. We've given food to poor kids in our area and seen them toss it because it wasn't sweet enough. We've bought new shoes for kids in our neighborhood and seen them destroy them, literally, because they weren't exactly what they wanted.
Frankly, to many Americans, Phil and I would be lower middle class at best and to some we would be upper lower class, whatever that means. Put simply, I know that most (if not all) of our friends have more property, more possessions and more wealth on hand than we do. In many cases, a lot more than we do. So by American standards, some would consider us poor.
Yet we own our house (small though it is), three cars (which mostly run:), two computers, two televisions (which I consider to be one too many), three cell phones and a land line, a ton of books, a ton of tools, central heating and air, 4 dogs (3 too many..), hot and cold running water, a membership at Sam's, a washer and a dryer, and have more food in our pantry and our fridge right now than most third world families would see in a week if not a month.
My point is this: we have given to the poor and will continue to do so. Not because we are rich. And not because it is in the constitution. And not even because the poor are always pleasant (and/or deserving).
We give because the Bible enjoins us to give.
II Cor. 8:1-5 puts it this way:
8 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
And the reason for giving?
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
There are many passages in Scripture that require us to consider not just our own needs but also the needs of others, to give not just of our possessions but also of ourselves - our time and our energy. (See the book of James for example...)
And the reason is always the same -
We give because He gives...
We love because He loves...
So I don't think there is anything that says a "true American" who is wealthy has to give their wealth to the poor. But I don't see any way a true Christian cannot share what they have, be it a lot or even a little, with others in need.
So, going back to where I started this blog - I would have to say that even though I might be considered "poor" by some, I'm not for continually upping the ante on the rich via capital gains taxes.
I am, quite simply, for the way of Christ. Love that overflows, not out of our wealth but out of His and generates a smile, not always from the poor, but always from Him.