Wealth Creation and Justice
This paper examines ‘wealth creation and justice’ through three different lenses. In section one, Paul Miller investigates the claim that the basis for the Christian’s duty of helping the poor, the widow, and the oppressed, is a duty rooted in justice rather than in mercy/charity. Section two, by Tim Weinhold, examines the biblical mandates to employers and business owners: what it means to act both justly and righteously in the economic realm. Section three, by Mats Tunehag,[i] then examines how biblical wealth creation is essential for effective strategies to combat human trafficking. Businesses are key to both prevention and restoration of human trafficking survivors.
In section one, Miller claims to see a dangerous tendency today dismissing ‘charity’—mercy-based actions—as sub-biblical, with justice-based action urged as the proper replacement. The paper critiques the alleged biblical basis for this tendency as argued in selected writings of Jim Wallis, Tim Keller, and Greg Forster, and it critiques it chiefly for its ‘interchangeability’ argument.
That is, Wallis, Keller, and Forster argue that helping the weak and vulnerable is not ‘charity’ but always an act of ‘justice’, basing their argument on the fact that two chief Hebrew words for ‘justice’ (mishpat) and ‘righteousness’ (tzadeqah)—terms often connected with the biblical commands to help the vulnerable— are so constantly ‘associated’ and ‘brought together’ that this shows they are actually ‘interchangeable’, interchangeable to the degree that what is ‘just’ and what is ‘right’ are essentially the same. The danger here is that included in ‘what is right’—tzadeqah, ‘righteousness’—are all the acts of kindness, generosity, and mercy, which are usually categorized as ‘charity’. But if these acts are ‘essentially the same’ as justice, then the line between mercy/grace and justice has been obliterated, and mercy swallowed up by justice. Indeed, Keller comments that Micah 6:8’s command to ‘‘do justice and love mercy,’ which seem at first glance to be two different things… are not.’ This is dangerous.
It is dangerous both in our relationship with God and man: With God, because the distinction between justice and mercy/grace is absolutely fundamental (grace, not justice, is the entire basis of our relationship). With man, subsuming mercy into justice is equally destructive as it encourages a victimization mentality—our needs become others’ problems that they, in justice, must meet. Our own responsibility is obliterated. Wallis, Keller, and Forster are right to insist on the Christian’s duty to help the vulnerable, but to turn that into a duty of justice is not the way forward.
Tim Weinhold’s second section focuses on three areas. First, he lays out God’s justice requirements which condemn businesspeople who take advantage of their workers, particularly through exploitive compensation. Second, he moves beyond simple justice to spell out an even higher biblical duty laid upon employers—the duty of shared rewards. Extrapolating from the biblical command of ‘do not muzzle the ox’, Weinhold notes that God wants something more even beyond the ‘livable wage’ for employees—that they should be allowed to enjoy bonus feedings over and above the normal feedings (wages) provided by the farmer. They are to enjoy the shared rewards of the business’ success.
Third, Weinhold unpacks God’s Old Testament commands concerning ‘gleanings’—farmers allowing the poor to pick ‘gleanings’ from their field. He explains its intention to forge a direct connection between the needs of the poor and the predominant wealth-generating businesses of the day, then puzzling out the reason God left the specifics of this gleaning command so vague—to effect a transformation of the heart of the businessperson in the process. It was meant to solve both parties’ mutual poverty—both the rich businessperson’s propensity to selfishness and the larger community’s physical lack.
In section three, Mats Tunehag examines how biblical wealth creation is critical for liberation of those crushed by economic injustice. As an example, it considers business solutions to human trafficking. A root cause to this modern-day slavery is unemployment. This makes people vulnerable to traffickers and creates high-risk areas where people are tricked and trapped.
Millions of people are held as slaves today; more than were shipped across the Atlantic during the legal slave trade. Today human-trafficking is illegal. While there is room for improvements of laws and law enforcement, we recognize that today, the systemic issue is lack of jobs. Thus wealth creators—businesspeople—are needed. This section shows how businesses are coming to the forefront to bring hope and restoration through jobs with dignity. It describes businesses that exist to fight human-trafficking, called freedom businesses. This section highlights the Freedom Business Alliance, a global trade association, which exists to help freedom business succeed.
[Quotes in italics are excerpts from the report, unless otherwise stated.]
[i] With significant input from Jennifer Roemhildt Tunehag.