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.
“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.