Fixing the Moral Deficit

 Fixing Deficit

America has a serious budget deficit. But at its root it is a moral deficit. Ron Sider, the gracious provocateur, has done it again. His Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (IVP, 1977) challenged the complacency of affluent North American Christians concerning the plight of the poor in America and overseas. The prolific president of Evangelicals for Social Action has just published Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget (2012). It’s a timely and prophetic proposal to a nation paralyzed by its politicians and a potentially fatal inertia. America’s root problem, argues  Sider, is a moral one. And the really disturbing thing is that most of us are part of it.


My very good friend Ted has a bumper sticker on his truck that says: “God is not a Republican . . . or a Democrat.” Ron Sider would agree. The unusual thing about Sider, though, when compared to most Christian spokespersons, is that he cares passionately about the poor. Most white Christians in America view the poor as merely the competitively challenged among us.


Sider says that Christians must “hold together two truths: persons are made for both personal freedom and responsibility, and for communal interdependence” (p. 69). In the conservative Christian circles I’ve moved in all my life, there’s a lot more talk about the former than the latter. But Sider reminds us that “poverty results both from wrong personal choices and unfair systems” (p. 65). And many of America’s expensive programs for the poor actually work. He argues (convincingly, I should add) that God has a special place in his heart for the  oppressed and disadvantaged, and therefore we ought to too.


But Sider is strongly opposed to America continuing to run up its deficits. He calls this spending of our children’s and grand-children’s inheritance “inter-generational injustice.” And he views our staggering accumulation of debt as a kind of willful national suicide. But he sees a way out. He does not regard economic wisdom and moral justice as incompatible. His proposals for reform are surprisingly detailed and astute—he knows what he’s talking about.


Years ago in Scotland I used to take the train down from St. Andrews to Edinburgh through the dirty little industrial town of Kirkcaldy (pronounced kirk-cawdy). It’s where the Scots invented asphalt and linoleum, and it’s the home of Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations and in many ways the father of capitalism. Capitalism is not intrinsically Christian. It more like Darwinism, frankly. Ask the young people contemplating suicide in the sweat-shop conditions over in China where our beloved Apple products are assembled. Without humane and Christian restraint, capitalism exploits. Greed is not Christian either. For centuries Christians have recognized it as one of the seven deadliest sins—like the grave, it is never satisfied.


Personally I still cannot grasp the argument, touted by otherwise intelligent people, that the rich cannot be taxed their fair share lest they move away, or decide not to be entrepreneurial any more. Are you kidding me? For one thing, these people are amongst our fiercest competitors—will they give up because of something as innocuous as a tax? Why shouldn’t that incentivize them to do even more? But more importantly, no rich person in America could acquire or retain anything they own if it weren’t for the countless number of ordinary Americans who are supporting and facilitating their success. If all else fails, can we not shame the rich and successful into being a bit more obviously grateful and patriotic?


America’s deficit problem is a moral problem. It involves the greed of many callously rich and under-taxed Americans. Yes, it also involves the indolence of many who access the safety net of this country when they could and should get out and earn their own way. It involves the envious who feel entitled to take what others have acquired through skill and effort. It also involves the sleazy insiders who cheat the system and take care of their own above the common good. It includes those who make money on wars when the blood of Americans and their enemies are needlessly squandered. It involves all of us who are unwilling to make sacrifices now for the sake of the next generation. Very few of us look squeaky-clean here.


Neither President Obama or the Republican contender can save America. Our problem is deeper and more pervasive, and most disturbing is that I’m part of it. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, “we are Legion.” We do not have a financial deficit. We have a moral one. Some days I’m tempted to give up on the church, but then I remember that Christ hasn’t, and maybe, just maybe, the church can point America to a better way. Ron Sider is one believer who is trying to do just that.

2 Responses to Fixing the Moral Deficit

  1. Ross Bassingthwaighte February 26, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    Sobering thoughts, indeed. ‘Capitalism with compassion’ would be a wonderful system with which to begin healing, but even within the Western evangelical church it is pretty much unknown. Thank God for churches who uphold Christ and his Word, and also take seriously the responsibility to stand for social justice. I encounter too many Christians who thoughtlessly dismiss social justice as the old social gospel, and never give consideration to God’s passionate concern for justice. I am thankful for the awareness of men like Sider and Gabe Lyons who work for glimpses of heaven on this tortured earth.

  2. Mike Lillie February 21, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    I agree this problem is Legion and is completely a moral problem. Where the heart is our treasure will be spent. I agree when you say: “It involves all of us who are unwilling to make sacrifices now for the sake of the next generation.” Totally on board with this one. However, I hear this a lot in many circles but I am as confused as can be about what that really means for us as the church? Never (that I know of) in the history of this planet have we faced the issues we need to deal with. The fact that corporations run the world is a scary thought. The fact that Monsanto can patent the seeds that grow our food eventually becomes the catalyst for social control. The fact that our government has spent the last ten years invading two countries resulting in the longest war in American history under the banner of God and country is beyond disturbing. The fact that we allow the prison-industrial-complex to oppress the mentally ill is despicable. We must as the church not only name this moral deficit but somehow ask the question what will we do corporately about it? I wish I had answer…but…