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The Tea Party truth

The month of February 2009 marks the turning point in the minds of many Americans as the beginning of a decisive push back against government policies designed to halt the country’s economic freefall.

In the waning days of the Bush administration, the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bailout was conceived by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson as a way that toxic assets from some of America’s premier financial institutions could be purchased by the U.S. government in hopes of avoiding a mortgage subprime meltdown. Early in the month of February, Congress passed the $800 billion stimulus bill by a slim majority and on Feb. 18, President Obama unveiled his own latest program, the “Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan.”

At 8:15 a.m. the next day (Feb. 19), CNBC editor Rick Santelli seemingly could take it no longer. From the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, his voice began to echo throughout the room. At this hour of the morning most of the traders had not arrived at work, and all was virtually quiet until he began to loudly oppose the Obama housing plan. As he continued to speak out about it, traders slowly joined in the protest until a loud group of people were gathered around him agreeing with his every point.

Santelli not only criticized the economic policy of the proposed government program, but the implication also was certainly not to be missed: this program was a moral hijacking of the entire mortgage industry because he thought it rewarded the bad behavior of people who could not afford the homes they were trying to purchase.

“You can’t buy your way into prosperity,” he said.

The idea that the federal government should “spend $1 trillion an hour because we’ll get $1.5 trillion back,” was absurd to him. By the end of the segment on CNBC (which has now been viewed on YouTube by more than 1.2 million people), the Tea Party was born.

The very idea of a “Tea Party” hearkens back to the year 1773, when colonists throughout what was then known as “British America” objected to the Tea Act passed by the British Parliament. The antagonized fervor of the colonists finally rose to the level of an outright refusal to pay tax on something that had not been approved by their own representatives in government. While historians point out that while the actual price of tea had been reduced under the Tea Act of 1773, a more important concern began to be embraced by a large segment of the Whig Party (many of whom called themselves The Sons of Liberty) over the issue of “taxation without representation.”

As a result of the Tea Act, many British ships were turned away from colonial harbors and forced to return to England. In Boston, Mass., however, a standoff between the Royal Governor and a group of colonists led by Samuel Adams resulted in 342 chests of tea being dumped overboard into the waters of Boston Harbor on Nov. 29, 1773. The Boston Tea Party remains one of the most significant historical reminders that American citizens often do not approve of the edicts of government regarding taxation and regarding the lack of representation and accountability of leaders to the taxpayer.

Taxation—A Theological Issue?
“And yet, taxation and other areas of economics are seldom discussed accurately among the vast majority of Americans because so many feel economic policies are too difficult to understand,” stated Oklahoma Baptist University’s president, David W. Whitlock. “The very fact that more people are not better informed about what is taking place in major American corporations and small businesses in our nation is enough to give pause to reaction of citizens to government policies that seem, in many ways, designed to stymie growth rather than release the power of markets to enhance business research and development.”

A former professor of business, Whitlock is concerned that vast numbers of American citizens seemingly know very little about the general principles of business and how the market works. He points to a new textbook by Shawn Ritenour, Foundations of Economics: A Christian View, as a helpful resource for government officials and policy makers as well as the church.

“Ritenour presents the general principles of economics in a way that makes people want to read more about the subject,” he said.

Whitlock said he thinks Ritenour, associate professor of economics at Grove City College, provides a concise and easy to understand definition of taxation.

“A tax is a coerced levy paid to the state,” Ritenour writes. “As such, all taxation is a forced exchange between the citizen and the government.”

The Tea Party movement can, in some ways, be explained as a reaction to policies that seemed to be created against the will of the majority of Americans.

“There are legitimate differences of opinion,” Whitlock states, “but the entire movement emerged from a pronounced dis-satisfaction with the status quo of government intervention in areas which were once off limits to governmental power.

OBU's 15th President, David Whitlock

“Theologically, there is every indication that many Christians view the Tea Party movement as a moral imperative, and thus drives them to act out of duty to the Gospel. But, while we should remain vigilant to maintain our responsibilities and freedoms as citizens of this nation, we must never confuse political philosophy with Bible doctrine and suppose that they are one in the same.”

Through his years of study of the free market and reading the Bible, Whitlock has come to the conclusion that the theological planks of creation, the fall, redemption and restoration through the person and work of Jesus Christ serve as the overarching story and plan of God through every age and in every nation as time marches forward toward the return of Jesus Christ to the Earth.

Whitlock is quick to point out that while a market-based economy often allows the greatest religious liberties for nations, he warns that “we should not equate the government with the Gospel or confuse political freedom with gospel freedom granted to those who trust in the provision of God for salvation.”

Whitlock believes that while we should not shirk our responsibilities as citizens of our coutry, the chief responsibility of all Christians is to glorify God and share the good news of Christ in ways that penetrate the various areas of darkness in American society.

“The great challenge for the church is to take seriously the call of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations beginning with the mission field next door to our homes,” he said.

While he believes protests and public policy disagreements are important and must be maintained with integrity and fervency, Whitlock maintains “political freedom is a byproduct of spiritual freedom in ways that cannot be overlooked or swept away under ideas which seek to denigrate or dethrone God from His rightful ownership of this present world. So many challenges and dangers to our nation seem to be coming from within our own ranks, but the church still has standing orders to preach, teach and live the Gospel in ways that manifest the power and goodness of God to everyone—everywhere.”

Douglas E. Baker is Executive Editor for The
Baptist Messenger and Communications Team Leader for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

Author: Douglas Baker

View more articles by Douglas Baker.

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  • Jason Brown

    This article crosses the line. Not all Christians and yes, not all Oklahoma Baptists are politically conservative. You say the Tea Party movement is a “moral imperative”. Well some Christians believe it is a moral imperative to help the poor and needy. Some Christians believe it is a moral imperative to protect the environment–God’s creation. Go read Jonathan Merritt’s “Green Like God,” a major new book from a young Southern Baptist leader that this publication ignored.

    Wasn’t it just a week ago that Mr. Baker was decrying the declining attendance numbers in the SBC? Ever stop to think perhaps that is because the SBC–and now the Messenger–continues to alienate 20-somethings like myself, and others that don’t hold a conservative perspective on every issue? These people are leaving for non-denominational churches that have wisely kept out of divisive politics. That’s why they are so huge. Before you become defensive and try to back your stance up with scripture, consider whether the SBC can continue to only welcome one far side of the political spectrum. Perhaps it’s time to stop endorsing a political party on an official basis as the newspaper of the BGCO.

    The Tea Party, when you really boil it down, is about selfishness. That’s what it really comes down to, and you can’t deny it. It is about people who want to keep their money for themselves, and it’s quite ironic that the denomination that celebrates working together under the Cooperative Program would so whole-heartedly stand with the Tea Party. Get real. This is not taxation without representation. You can’t compare this to the American Revolution. You have representation. They’re just outnumbered right now.

    And as if this article wasn’t offensive enough, you advertise an event by the radical right-wing organization Reclaiming America For Christ, which encourages pastors to BREAK THE LAW and endorse candidates from the pulpit. I expected better from The Messenger.

    • Gary Capshaw


      Have you ever heard this comment, as I have? “How can you be a liberal and claim to be a Christian?”

  • Jeremy Hillsberry

    Do some research before you criticize the Tea Party and those who support it (Baptist Messenger). The statements you make are uninformed and blatently hateful. There are many Tea Party supporters that hold liberal viewpoints, including being environmentally conscious. Most are just tired of the outrageous spending and are also tired of their representatives not listening to them. I am a 20 something and am a proud Tea Party supporter and a Southern Baptist. You almost implied in your article that those who are conservative and a Tea Party supporter don’t care for the poor and the needy, but statistics show that conservatives give more money to charities and those in need than do liberals. Therefore, that is why they want their own money and want to decide where their money goes. They don’t want the government to decide for them. And finally, the reason for the decline in the SBC isn’t because of any political view (I think Jesus would take offense to that) it’s because many in the SBC have become comfortable, pastors have stopped challenging their people, and their is a lack of contextualization as well.

  • Jason Brown

    Why would Jesus be offended by that? I would think he would want the SBC to be a place where all people feel comfortable. I never said the conservative leanings are solely responsible, only that they contribute to a problem. The fact remains that this newspaper has chosen to fully endorse Conservative politics and promote an extremist right-wing organization. If you were on the other side of the spectrum, would you find that acceptable? Even the Daily Oklahoman is nowhere near this conservative.

  • Jason Brown

    Bottom line: there is nothing BIBLICAL holding up Tea Party conservatism as “the truth”, as the headline calls it. True Christians can be liberal just as easily as they can be conservative. Why can’t the SBC and the BGCO be a place where we can agree to disagree on how to help the poor or protect God’s creation? That’s all I’m asking.

    • Douglas Baker

      Jason –

      Thank you for your comments. This article in no way states a firm position on the issue of the tea party. The article was a research-based journalistic endeavor to discover some (not all) of the origins of what has become a movement across the nation. The Baptist Messenger is not the only journalistic enterprise interested in this movement. Our task, however, to examine areas where theological ideas intersect with news. This we endeavored to do.

      Reporting on Rick Santelli’s statements on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in no way endorses his particular view. Other journalists researched his statements as well in hopes of finding a particular starting point to what exactly has happened across the nation. If partisanship is your accusation, we brought forth the fact that the TARP (what many political conservatives consider a governmental tragedy) was enacted under the Republican presidency of George W. Bush.

      I am aware that political issues are fraught with potential land mines. This is why we sought President Whitlock’s perspective. As a scholar in the field of business who understands economic principles and cycles, we thought we could go to no better authority to help sort out the often thorny issues of government than OBU’s president.

      Admittedly, he brings an economic perspective that is not Keynesian, but more that of Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian school. Yet, he is careful to not equate economic/governmental/public policy with the authority of Holy Scripture. At no point does the article even take a biblical view other than these issues deserve our utmost study and careful thought. George F. Will and even the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan would agree (at least in part) with what President Whitlock stated here.

      That you believe the Tea Party is about selfishness is your opinion, and you are welcome to share it here. The Baptist Messenger did not do so in any way. In my editorial this week, I address many of these concerns that political issues can often cloud sound theological thinking.

      In 1970, Nathan Glazer gave an important speech at the City College of New York entitled, “The Limits of Social Policy.” Glazer was certainly no political conservative. Yet, even he stated without equivocation that social/economic policy cannot fully address all dimensions of human life. As Christians, we believe the gospel can and does do so.

      I would hope that you might read Carl F. H. Henry on the subject as well as some of Abraham Kuyper’s writing on public theology as you continue to form your view in these important areas.


  • Jeremy Hillsberry

    I didn’t say that holding a “liberal” viewpoint is unbiblical. It is just my opinion that when you take away from people the opportunity to give to the poor and needy themselves, through taxation (that’s how the gov’t funds “giving to the poor”) they become complacent. It is truly a question of government giving vs. individual giving.

    • Gary Capshaw

      I hope you realize that the reason our people instituted government assistance in the first place is because people DON’T give during hard times.

      Most of the government spending on the so-called social safety net began during the Great Depression when millions were in dire straits and the local churches and individuals could not meet their needs. While the ideal would be for people to generously give to take care of the poor and disadvantaged, the reality is that they don’t and The People decided, via their elected representatives, to address that issue collectively through the distribution of our tax dollars. It’s what The People wanted and, in our form of government, The People rule.

      If The People ever decide differently, it’ll all go away, but the result will be poor and distressed people dying for lack of help, just as they did before.

      Would forcing that outcome be the Christian thing to do?

  • Jeremy Hillsberry

    First, the “Christian” thing to do is to give our lives, our hearts, and our money to serve Christ and those in need. When James was speaking to the Church he wrote that it is the churches responsibility, not the State’s “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
    Second, the problem with your argument is when those tough times are over the welfare state continues and it continues to rack up our debt. This makes our nation poorer and hinders our ability to help those in need when the times get tough again.
    There is always a need for welfare, I agree, but there are some parts of welfare that need to be reexamined (i.e. social security) due to the fact that we can’t afford them anymore.
    Lastly, despite our recent recession the United States have given more to the relief efforts in Haiti than any other country. Not our gov’t (yes the gov’t gave money too), but the people gave millions and millions. The people will give even in tough times.

    • Gary Capshaw

      Yes, people will sometimes give during times of great disaster when it’s on TV, but it’s the every day lives of the poor where free-will voluntary giving falls flat in the modern church.

      Been to an emergency room lately? How many of the patients are there because they can’t afford health insurance and have no other place to turn? They have sick children or are in pain themselves. Is the church willing to pick up their bill? “Government” pays their bills because we won’t or can’t.

      How many in your own neighborhood are on food stamps? Will your congregation provide them adequate food if government assistance is curtailed or ended? Not just once around Easter or Christmas, but every day…from now on?

      The needs are mind-boggling and the cost staggering, even for government. You say we can no longer afford it? Well, if the government, which collects taxes from all can’t afford it, how much more so would that apply to the church, which doesn’t collect taxes?

      And, I find it interesting that you mention Social Security as an example of something we can’t afford. I know many, many elderly whose only source of income is Social Security. Cut that out and what will they do? Will you pay their electric bills? Will you pick up the their mortgage or rent payments for as long as they live? Will you take them in when they can’t take care of themselves or pay their $5000 a month rest home bill? Can you? Can we as a church afford that too, on top of everything else?

      It’s easy to make a stand for a cherished principle, but is that principle worth the lives of the disadvantaged and poor? What would Jesus have to say about it? Would He tell us to stand on the principle of self-sufficiency and let those who are too lazy or too disadvantaged to take care of themselves live in misery and die in pain?

      Taking care of the poor, however we do it, is an act of love and we’re told in scripture that love is evidence of the presence of the Spirit and that the presence of the Spirit is evidence of true salvation. If we don’t love the poor enough to take care of them, personally and collectively, we’ve got a salvation problem.

  • Jeremy Hillsberry

    You really think it is a moral imperative to take care of the “too lazy”. I think it is our moral imperative to take care of the “too lazy’s” children or family, but not the actual “too lazy” themselves.

    If you actually read my earlier post you would see that I think gov’t has a role in the welfare state, but there has to be reforms in order to be able to afford it. Never did I say to get rid of social security, but there has to be changes made. That is obvious.
    And yes, Jesus himself said that “They (unbelievers) will know us by our love”, but I ask how paying higher taxes to the government shows our love as believers. Non-believers must see tangible actions in their lives, not just a vote or a tax return, the church must step up and be that love that you speak of, not the government.

  • Gary Capshaw

    As far as I can find in my Bible, yes…we do have a moral imperative to take care of the “too lazy”…..unless they are fellow believers! Then, Paul’s admonitions in II Thessalonians 3 would apply.

    For everyone else, I think the Bible is quite clear that we are to feed, support, protect and fight for the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden and the disenfranchised without sitting in judgment of how they got that way. Doing so is not an act of charity (in the modern usage of that word) for which we can expect their gratitude, but an act of love for which we expect nothing in return. Jesus himself did not ask the poor and crippled to justify His helping them, He just did it. When He fed the masses, He didn’t distinquish between those who could have brought their own and those who could not have. He simply fed them all without questioning them first as to whether or not they deserved it. That’s our example as believers and as a church.

    Ideally, that would all be taken care of by the church, but the church today either will not, or cannot, meet everyone’s needs so government has a role to play. Think not? Look to the Old Testament where taking care of the poor was codified into law. God was, and is, deadly serious about feeding the hungry and taking care of the poor and we will be held accountable for what we do in relation to them. So too will He hold us accountable for whether we give willingly or whether we gripe and complain about it the whole time.

    Since our government is not a theocracy where God is the head of government, but a representative democracy where The People are supreme, how much and under what circumstances we collectively feed and take care of the poor is a political question which we could argue about all day, but the moral imperative to do so is very clear.

    This discussion reminds me of one we disaster relief workers had among ourselves in Alabama after Hurricane Dennis. I was there with the BGCO feeding unit and we still had hundreds coming through for free meals even after the power came back on and restaurants and stores had re-opened. Some were apparently quite well off and probably able by then to feed themselves, but we would give them how ever many meals they requested anyhow.

    One gentleman suggested that we ought not to do that, that we ought to deny food assistance to those who looked to be well able to feed themselves and a lively discussion ensued. Eventually, after prayer and consulting the Scriptures, we came to the conclusion that God had sent us there to feed people, not to sit in judgment of them. We re-committed ourselves to doing what God had told us to do and if we were being taken advantage of, that was between them and God.

    I think that was the right answer and the principle applies to whatever we do for the poor. God said, “Do it,” so we need to do it.

  • I would for all to picture this in your minds,take all the opinions on this subject,and place themin a Ravaging rolling sea, some being lifted up and some being thrust under, then the ones that were thrust under are lifted up and the ones that were lifted up are thrust under and so on and on and on.The Bible teaches us that in the end times knowledge will increase, and there will be a great spiritual apathy. I leave you in the vacuum of this great falling away and encourage the reading of the Sermon on the mount by Jesus himself.
    I give you this,it would help if all of us paid more attention to our neighbors in need, then it would follow that there would be less need to be met. I must admit that in a free society their is want, need, and pain, but in any type of society their is want, need, and pain. Both can take notice( the seeing and willing); (and the blind and unwilling) in a sovereign creator called God. Some will prosper and some will not, some will be saved in glory and some will not. Simple answers to age old questions biblical. Harry.

    Have a blessed day!
    Christs free gifts daily,
    Discernment,and Eternal Life Forever

  • Landon

    First off, anyone for this big government help is missing a great deal. charitable acts of paying taxes without a moral or ethical thought is nothing. being forced to pay into a churches collection plate will not be “counted” as heart felt or personal sacrifice. isnt that what Jesus came and created? to show that the Father cares on such a pesonal level that our personal actions reflect our love for Him. not that our actions would get us into heaven, but just a show of our love for Him.
    that being said, being forced to pay unto cesar to “help” the poor is not biblical.
    Standing up for your God given freedoms is not selfish. We pay because it is law.
    Social Security is not being used soley for those in need. Politicans have used the money for other things. how is that helping the poor? another thing to remember, is that the middle class are poor and we are being forced to pay more and more. how is that helping out anyone? wouldnt the middle class be the downtrodden in this sense?
    Tea party is about helping the poor, your selfish act, as you call it would offer more benifits to those that are really in need. by cutting all the useless spending, overly taxing, and having a balanced national budget you would in fact be cutting the cost of items, lowering housing, and giving businesses the confidence to make their business bigger, thus creating jobs. The poor, us, are suppose to lean on God for help, we are not to look at the government for madated help. during the great depression you had people helping people. with the social programs coming into play, you no longer felt the need to help because the goverment was doing it in your behalf with your money. how is that building connections with others? Social programs are a joke anymore because they do not help but hinder. give a man a fish and you feed him for a night, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. that is what the tea party is trying to do.

  • Jason Williams

    Great article! Dr. Whitlock points out that we of course have a civil duty, but there is one duty and priveledge that stands alone, living for and serving the Most High God. In 50 to 60 years anyone who reads this comment today will be dead. None of this will matter then, so here my question? As Christians what do we believe will save people? As I read my copy of God’s Bible I cant find salvation proposed any where in it by the goverment. There is one Savior, His name is Jesus and when we are all dead we will never again have the chance to share this light He has given us with the World. We can argue all day about what is right and wrong with the goverment, but how is that sharing the gospel with anyone? Dont get me wrong, we should care about our country and participate, but only true repentance of our country men and thier salvation should be our purpose even if we disagree politically with each other or them.

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