Shane Claiborne – author, activist and founder of Red Letter Christians – describes how conversion should change our economics, and lead us to a redistribution based on love.
One of the things that we see in Scripture is that God is forming a people out of the broken world that they come from. The story of Exodus is the story of God rescuing a people who were slaves, making bricks for the storehouses of Pharaoh’s economy. There was surplus, but they had no access to it.
As God leads them out of the struggle, one of the first commands that they’re given, even before the Ten Commandments, is “Do not take more than you need for each day”. That economy was one that they’re to trust that God would provide this day their daily bread.
As God is rescuing the Hebrew people from their slavery in Egypt, God begins to put some other things in place to form them as some kind of counterculture in the world, to show the world what a society of love really looks like. They’re to have laws like gleaning that make sure that the poor are able to have access to some of the field’s produce. They are to have special laws about how to treat the immigrants in the land. They are to have this beautiful celebration of the Jubilee that was to systematically dismantle the inequality of the world that we create – to make sure that the land is redistributed and that slaves are set free and that debts are forgiven. All of those were ways of saying “If you don’t do these things, then you are going to end up like the empire again.”
In the early church, there is a real sense that our rebirth has to affect our economics and how we care for our neighbour. John the Baptist said “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,” and he also said “If you’ve got two tunics, you need to give one away.” The early Christians would go on to say, “if we’ve got two coats, we’ve stolen one, because there are still people that are cold on the street. We don’t have a right to hold more for ourselves than we need, while others have less than they need.”
I think the idea of philanthropy or charity is actually pretty foreign to Scripture, in that in the early Church was no great noble act or virtue to give to those who were poor. In fact some of the early Christians would say, “when we give to the beggar, we should get on our knees and ask for forgiveness, for we are only returning what’s been stolen.”
God has not created one person poor and another person rich. We’ve got to figure out what it really looks like to love our neighbour as ourselves. That’s where rebirth really demands redistribution. It’s not just a system of Socialism or Communism or something like that. It’s an economy that is rooted in love and real relational love for our neighbour.
In the early church, one of the signs of this rebirth is that they ended poverty. In Acts 2 and 4 the Scripture says that “all the believers shared everything they had, and no one claimed any of their possessions were their own” And then it says “and there were no needy persons among them.”
They ended poverty.
What might these practices look like in today’s society?
How might our giving and faith communities’ budgets reflect more fully the practices in these Scriptures?
Originally presented as a video talk for Economy of Love, a Relational Tithe resource. Republished with permission.