Monday, April 28, 2008

The Wisdom of Joe

Joe Carter and I (along with a couple of others) have been having an email exchange about whether or not giving the money from the economic stimulus violates the spirit of the exchange (in other words, the government is sending you a check for one purpose: that you would spend it to stimulate the economy). With his permission, I'm reprinting Joe's response, which I found helpful:
Consider this thought experiment:
Situation A: To stimulate the economy, the U.S Government asks everyone to take $1,200 out of their pocket and spend it on consumer goods.

Situation B: To stimulate the economy, the U.S Government takes $1,200 out of everyone's pockets, gives it back to them, and then asks them to spend it on consumer goods.
On Situation A it would be clear that we had no moral imperative to spend our money on big-screen television just to jump start the economy. As Christians we'd recognize that our primary obligation was to be stewards of our money in a way that is honoring to God. (Of course, we might believe that using the money the way the government wanted was God's purpose for those funds. But I don't think it would be clear that everyone would feel the same.)

So the question is what moral requirement is changed by Situation B? Just because the government took the money out of your pocket for you does not change our stewardship obligations. We are also not obligated to follow the government's suggestions about how we spend our own money. Also, the legislation makes no suggestions for how the money should be spent. (And if it were intended only to purchase consumer goods then the IRS should have sent us vouchers rather than cash.)

If out of sense of obligation to the government and/or economy a Christian buys a Wii, an iPhone, and a dozen Crossway books from the store, then they should feel free to do so. But if they believe that the money would be best used on foreign missions they should do that too.

And if they are conflicted then they can fulfill both obligations by using the money to buy material good (e.g., clothes, food) for those in need. That way they can be Christ-exalting and government-pleasing at the same time.