A Biblical Theology of the Black-White “Wealth Gap”

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Much is being said today about the so-called wealth gap that purportedly exists among black households and white households in America.

I say purportedly not to deny that such a divide exists – it does – but to highlight that the very term wealth gap is inherently misleading, as it assumes that such imparity is innately unfair – if not immoral – and, as such, should be redressed under the nirvanic pursuit of “income equality”.

The publication The Economist defines income equality as:

the ratio of the share of national income going to the richest 20 percent of households in a country to the share of the poorest 20 percent.

When speaking of the wealth gap strictly in terms of numbers the data are indisputable.

But therein lies the rub.

A study on income inequality conducted by Pew Research found that:

From 2010 to 2013, the median wealth of non-Hispanic white households increased from $138,600 to $141,900, or by 2.4%. Meanwhile, the median wealth of non-Hispanic black households fell 33.7%, from $16,600 in 2010 to $11,000 in 2013. 

On the surface, these numbers appear to paint a rather disadvantageous and inequitable picture in and of themselves. Nevertheless, in today’s politically-correct, hyper-sensitive society, context is more important now than ever.

This is especially true considering that the default milieu in which matters of wealth acquisition and distribution are debated – in terms of race as opposed to socio-economic class – is that any “gaps” that do exist are solely the result of institutional and structural injustices committed by white people against black people.

Notwithstanding the above-referenced data from Pew, the truth is the black-white wealth gap should not be viewed strictly in terms of dollars and cents.

True, there are any number of quantifiable reasons for why such disparities exist, but that they exist does not suffice as a sufficient argument that they should not exist.

In other words, that there is disparity does not necessarily mean there is inequality.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

There is a fundamental problem with using “inequality” to describe the income disparity between black and white households.

The word inequality intrinsically conveys that the wealth “gap” is a problem to be remedied simply because there is a gap, and that the acquisition of wealth is the only solution to mitigate that disparity under the subjective premise that income inequality is patently “unfair”.

But to assert that income inequality is somehow unfair is to place oneself in the throes of a philosophical dilemma. For to argue that anything is “unfair” is, by definition, to introduce into the conversation the question of morality.

Consequently, one is forced to consider by what or whose standard of morality should income inequality be deemed unfair. Hence, what began as a circular discourse rooted in subjectivity and ambiguity has morphed into a theological exercise on the level of untying the Gordian Knot.

“When people look at questions of income and the disparity, they’re not looking for causes. They’re looking for blame. And those are not the same things.” – Thomas Sowell, from an interview with World magazine, 12/30/2014

A highly popular television sitcom The Jeffersons ran on the CBS network for 11 seasons (from 1975 to 1985).

The Jeffersons followed the lives of George and Louise Jefferson, an African-American couple who relocated from the poverty of Queens, NY to Manhattan, as a result of the success of George’s dry-cleaning business chain.

The theme song from The Jeffersons was titled Movin’ On Up, the lyrics of which celebrate the fact that the rambunctious George, and his beloved wife Louise, had finally achieved their dream.

In other words, they had conquered the wealth gap.

Well,, we’re movin’ on up (movin’ on up)
To the east side (movin’ on up)
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin’ on up (movin’ on up)
To the east side (movin’ on up)
We finally got a piece of the pie.

Fish don’t fry in the kitchen;
Beans don’t burn on the grill.
Took a whole lotta’ tryin’
Just to get up that hill.
Now we’re up in the big leagues
Gettin’ our turn at bat.
As long as we live, it’s you and me baby
There ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Well, we’re movin’ on up (movin on up)
To the east side (movin on up)
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin’ on up (movin on up)
To the east side (movin on up)
We finally got a piece of the pie.

“The rich and the poor have a common bond, the Lord is the maker of them all.” – Proverbs 22:2 (NASB)

Please understand that I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with an individual endeavoring to achieve the “American Dream” and acquiring their own “piece of the pie”.

But when those pursuits are engaged in solely under the pretense of “income inequality”, a philosophy predicated on pitting the haves of the world against the have-nots, then perhaps the time has come for a re-evaluation of motives (James 4:1-3).

“Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it.” – Proverbs 23:4 (NASB)

A major fallacy of the black-white wealth gap is it assumes a cause (e.g. systemic racism) without regard to other factors that might contribute to it.

A case in point is a report published by Demos, progressive public policy organization, which found that:

  • 42 percent of African Americans report using their credit cards for basic living expenses like rent, mortgage payments, groceries, utilities, or insurance because they do not have enough money in their checking or savings accounts.
  • African Americans carry an average credit card balance of $5,784.
  • Just 66% of African American households report having a credit score of 620 or above, compared to 85 percent of white households.  
  • 50 percent of indebted African American households who incurred expenses related to sending a child to college report that it contributed to their current credit card debt.
  • 71 percent of African American middle-income households had been called by bill collectors as a result of their debt, compared to 50 percent of white middle-income households.

What no one is talking about concerning the black-white wealth divide is the role human behavior plays in helping facilitate that gap.

It is a universal truth that when, in our self-centered efforts to “move on up” in life, we choose to violate the principles of God’s Word, we should expect certain outcomes as a result.

Scripture is clear on matters of:

This is not to suggest or infer that the black-white wealth gap is attributable solely to a collective disregard for biblical principles on the part of black Americans.

Not at all.

I am not naive to the reality that not all black Americans – nor Americans in general – are believers in Jesus Christ and submit their lives to the spiritual disciplines set forth in His Word.

To be sure, not even we who are believers in consistently abide by His precepts (Luke 6:46).

Nevertheless, the reality is personal responsibility is a major factor in the black-white wealth gap being what it is. It would be disingenuous, to say the least, to suggest that socio-economic factors alone (e.g. unemployment, racism) are at fault in creating this imbalance.

“The measure of our success cannot be defined by what we accomplish here on earth; it has already been defined by the fact that we are in Christ.” – Dr. Ian Duguid, from the January 2017 issue of TableTalk Magazine, p.13

It may not be politically correct to say this, but the truth is not everyone is destined to achieve the American Dream.

The sovereignty of God is such that, ultimately, it is He who determines to what degree we experience success in this world, whether material or otherwise (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 20:4; 118:23-25;  Deuteronomy 8:18; Romans 9:14-16). With this (God’s sovereignty) in mind, as followers of Christ, contentment should be our goal not closing the wealth gap (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

This is not to suggest that one should not aspire to improve their socio-economic station, but that they should do so with the larger picture in mind – eternity.

For, indeed, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world, and forfeit their soul (Mark 8:36)?

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Image credit:
huffingtonpost.com

Related:
Thomas Sowell on the Root Causes of Income Equality – World

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