Social justice Bible abuse
Economy | Would the Prophet Amos concern himself with the emerging gig economy?
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Thursday, September 15, 2016, at 3:01 pm
Over at Sojourners, the Rev. Keith Anderson has written an article evaluating America’s emerging “gig economy” on the basis of Old Testament prophecy. He cites a moral dilemma he faced when trying to decide whether or not to take a traditional taxi to a destination or use Uber. Anderson suggests that the economic and technological progress we see today may be immoral but he fails to make a convincing case, and worse, he misuses the Bible in the process.
In a gig economy, individuals cobble together sustainable income by collectively taking on multiple small jobs, often on-demand in the digital marketplace, instead of the post-industrial model of full-time employment at a single organization. Anderson suggests that the gig economy may be leading to unequal wealth distribution, so he calls on the Prophet Amos to address the situation:
“Amos saw that economic exploitation takes many forms. Sometimes it might even appear as a shiny new app.
“For Amos, ‘socioeconomic reorganization without compassion is not acceptable.’ Nearly 3,000 years later in today’s gig economy, the same must be true for us.”
Anderson’s argument leads me to ask several questions. Why is an Old Testament prophet, who spoke to a religious theocracy during the reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam II, being used to evaluate technological advancements in the economics of a modern, secular nation-state like the United States? Why does Anderson believe that the economic issues plaguing Judah and Israel are the same as the economic issues facing the United States? Is America equivalent to Israel or Judah?
If Amos were in the United States today, would he speak directly about the gig economy? It seems highly unlikely. Contextually, Amos was addressing a religious and political community of God’s people. In fact, it seems that given the dynamics of God speaking to His people about their lifestyles, because of their covenantal relationship with Him, if Amos were writing today, he’d address Christians who are stingy, immoral, and abusive within the context of the church. He would speak to Christians in upper-class urban and middle-class churches who are not supporting the needs of financially struggling rural and inner-city churches. He would comment on the egregious levels of child abuse and adultery within some church communities.
The Bible is a covenant book for God’s people and should not be abused by forcing it to address issues it was not intended to address. There are many issues that fall under the realm of prudential judgments regarding human flourishing in pluralistic, secular political economies such as the one we have in the United States. But using Bible verses out of context to support an ideological political position undermines the role of Scripture in the life of the church. If pastors want to talk about public policy and justice, they are free to do so, but forcing biblical passages to fit ideologies makes the Bible about human will instead of the will of the Triune God for His creation.
Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.