Stealing isn’t a poor people problem. What?!

I’ve been reading the book Radical Reconciliation by Curtiss DeYoung and Alan Boesak. It was recommended to me over on Austin Channing’s site (she’s a great US reconciler, go check out her stuff!). It has been good to read a book on reconciliation that is written by:

  • A South African
  • An American
  • A theologian/pastor
  • A sociologist/academic
  • And hello, the forward is by Desmond Tutu.

So, when I saw this book existed, I knew I just had to read it. It wasn’t exactly light reading, and there’s some intense liberation theology that isn’t quite my cup of tea, but the book is full of things that really made me think. They do a great job of painting what reconciliation looks like in the Bible, and how it should look in the church. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some more about it.

One of the things that literally made me sit up and go “Wait. What?!” was just a small section where they talked about stealing.

Stealing. That’s a sin. It’s in the ten commandments. Like, don’t take your neighbour’s cookie they left by their lunchbox, and don’t take their cow, and don’t take their purse, or their car. Right? That’s how I picture stealing. Except when I was like five and stole marshmallows, stealing isn’t a sin I’ve really had to confess lately, because, you know, I don’t take people’s stuff.

The authors pointed out that theft (and on the whole, crime) is seen as a lower class problem. That’s something that poor people do. They steal stuff because they’re poor.

BUT THEN. When you look at the Bible as a whole (especially the prophets) you realise that most of the time when the Bible is talking about stealing, it is talking to RICH PEOPLE. Stealing is a RICH PEOPLE problem. Gather aroundthe table

If you’re a rich person, don’t even take your neighbour’s coat as a pledge overnight, because the poor man needs it, and he’ll cry out to God, and God will be angry (Exodus).

If you’re a rich person,  sitting in a wonderful house, surrounded by beautiful things, while the blood of your workers cries out against you, God is super angry. (James).

According to the Bible, you’ve robbed your workers if you haven’t paid a just wage, or have withheld their wages. (Leviticus)

God condemns his people for saying they are busy being religious, when in fact they are exploiting their workers (Isaiah).

God condemns those who rob the widow, the fatherless and the poor (Isaiah).

God hates robbery and wrongdoing in this passage— and it comes right after God is talking about giving good news to the poor, freeing captives etc.

God rescues the poor and needy from those who rob them. (Psalms)

This passage in Jeremiah talks about justice for those who have been robbed in the same sentence as justice for the poor and the widow. To me this implies it’s the poor who are being robbed by the wealthy, since that’s the pattern we see.

In this description of the unrighteous sinner in Ezekiel, the unrighteous man “oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge.He looks at idols. He lends at interest and takes a profit.” Sounds to me like the rich robbing the poor.

 

A lot of times in the Bible, robbers are spoken of in the way I think of them: bad guys who lie in wait to attack you and steal your stuff. But it seems that most of the time GOD is talking about robbery, he’s talking to rich people, and telling them to stop stealing from the poor.

CRAZY.

So this made me think. It made me think about the fact that I have to confess the sin of stealing, along with my many other sins. It made me realise how biased I am because I think stealing is something those people do. I need to reframe how I think about buying products that don’t pay their workers a just wage… it’s not just getting a good deal, it’s probably stealing from the poor.

Or, take this one. America is rich. So we don’t think about flying, or driving, or the environmental impact of our farming–when maybe that’s stealing from the poor in other countries that are really affected by climate change.

The point of this book is not just to induce a vague sense of guilt or add another burden on a list of “things I should be doing but I’m failing at”. That’s a heavy burden to carry around.

But guilt is good when it leads to repentance and reconciliation. And generosity. And the fruit of the Spirit. And humility.

What do you think about this idea? What do you think are some practical implications for us today–and how do YOU keep from being bogged down in useless guilt, but still working towards justice?

 

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5 thoughts on “Stealing isn’t a poor people problem. What?!

    • Yes, a ton of the crime in the US is drug related. You could argue that’s also a case of the “richer” taking advantage of the poorer (I’m pretty sure you’ve seen this TED talk about the economics of dealing crack, and how it’s the really rich people at the top who con everyone below them to work for not very much money https://www.ted.com/talks/steven_levitt_analyzes_crack_economics?language=en) — but yes, I personally am not involved in any drug related robbery! 😉 Can check that one off my list.

    • Maybe true but I think Steph is pointing out the type of stealing we don’t label as theft.
      So paying workers at a company an unfair wage is robbing them even though it would never be called theft. So something that’s always on my mind now as I keep buying the latest gadgets, is that somewhere in a (probably dark) Chinese factory workers are being exploited to manufacture these things at the cheapest possible cost to me because I want the cheapest option and I don’t care about the value chain behind it (I don’t value the labor at all in actual fact).

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