Last weekend, demonstrators gathered in the public squares of New York, Chicago, London, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, among others. The demonstrations spread across Europe, Asia and the Americas. Their protests were varied, sometimes promoting views in opposition to one another. But, according to the New York Times, “the protests were united in frustration around one issue: the widening gap between the rich and the poor.” The phenomenon is global.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. poverty rate grew to 15.1% in 2010, the third year in a row the poverty population has risen while median household income has declined. At the same time, the wealthy are becoming wealthier. According to Terry Clower, Economist at the University of North Texas, “Over the past 30 years, the share of household income going to the well-to-do has risen dramatically.” Edward Wolff, economist at NYU, stated, “The Great Recession has exacerbated wealth divisions in this country, with the wealthy share of the top 1 percent rising from an already huge 34.6 percent in 2007 to 37.1 percent in 2009.” When the rich get richer while more people drop beneath the poverty line and the middle class continues to shrink, something is askew.
Compounding the unrest are the frustrations created by the Great Recession. Thousands of young people signed up for student loans to pursue educations that would open doors for well-paying careers. When they graduated from colleges and universities in 2008, the jobs weren’t there. They still aren’t. For more than two years many have worked in menial and minimum wage jobs that they could have had in high school. Older adults who intended to work into their sixties and seventies have been forced into early retirement with limited income.
The Bible is clear that God is concerned about the issue of poverty and wealth. David wrote, “I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor.” (Ps. 140:12). Solomon said, “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself … will only come to poverty.” (Prov.22:16). “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, The wicked does not understand such concern.” (Prov. 29:7). Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18).
There is wide disagreement regarding the complexities of economics and economies, the balance between equity and efficiency. But the bedrock principles that will ultimately see us through never change: integrity, honesty, generosity and justice. Even Gordon Gekko had to learn that greed is not God.