Equality and justice in the kingdom of God

Every year, the international charity confederation Oxfam provides its annual update on the state of the world and each time it makes for dismal reading. Wealth and income disparities seem to be growing ever-wider.

Jun 14, 2019

By Anil Netto
We leave in a world deeply divided – and the chasm is growing deeper and wider.

Every year, the international charity confederation Oxfam provides its annual update on the state of the world and each time it makes for dismal reading. Wealth and income disparities seem to be growing ever-wider.

In its update earlier this year, Oxfam revealed that billionaires’ fortunes rose by 12 per cent last year — or US$2.5bn a day. In fact, the number of new billionaires has doubled over the last decade.

On the flip side, the poorer half of humanity — 3.8 billion people — saw their wealth fall by 11 per cent.

This is happening at a time when many governments are under-taxing corporations and the wealthy. They are also failing to clamp down on tax dodging, Oxfam said in its statement.

Falling tax revenue makes it difficult for governments to balance their budgets.

In the face of revenue constraints, public services such as healthcare and education in many countries are now underfunded.

The hardest hit are women and girls — “millions of girls are denied a decent education and women are dying for lack of maternity care.”

Things could have been much different if only there was a slight shift towards a more progressive taxation system.

“Getting the richest 1 per cent to pay just 0.5 per cent extra tax on their wealth could raise more money than it would cost to educate the 262 million children out of school and provide healthcare that would save the lives of 3.3 million people,” said Oxfam

One way to raise revenue is to look at wealth taxes. Oxfam pointed out that “only 4 per cent of tax revenue globally came from taxes on wealth such as inheritance or property in 2015”. The group lamented that many rich countries had reduced or removed these taxes while developing countries barely implement these taxes.

Another problem is the gradual drop in the top rate of income tax for the wealthy over the last few decades. “The top rate of personal income tax in rich countries fell from 62 per cent in 1970 to just 38 per cent in 2013. The average rate in poor countries is just 28 per cent.”

Worse, in some countries, such as Brazil, “the poorest 10 per cent of society are now paying a higher proportion of their incomes in tax than the richest 10 per cent.”

Some major profitable corporations end paying negligible taxes due to clever tax avoidance manoeuvres.

This glaring divide is a sharp contrast to the equality in the kingdom of God, as envisioned in the New Testament.

Some might believe that this kingdom has not yet arrived or remains a work in progress – or maybe it is just a pie-in-the-sky dream for the next world or the afterlife.

But Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is already here among us, within us, growing like a mustard seed. As he himself demonstrated in the miracle of the multiplication of fish and loaves, no one in this kingdom should go home hungry.

There should be no glaring differences in this kingdom, said Paul in his letter to the Galatians, chapter 3. This was a radical departure at a time (First Century) when the social hierarchy and gender and social differences (eg clean vs impure) were so pronounced:

27 since every one of you that has been baptised has been clothed in Christ. 28 There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female — for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Such is the equality demanded in the kingdom of God, that Paul, even while imprisoned in Rome, wrote a letter to Philemon, a Christian, requesting him to live up to his vision. In his letter, Paul urged Philemon to free his slave Onesimus, who had become a Christian, and treat him like a brother instead.

15 I suppose you have been deprived of Onesimus for a time, merely so that you could have him back for ever, 16 no longer as a slave, but something much better than a slave, a dear brother; especially dear to me, but how much more to you, both on the natural plane and in the Lord. 17 So if you grant me any fellowship with yourself, welcome him as you would me.

So we should work to build a more just and egalitarian society where workers earn a fair income for their work and distributive justice prevails.

Policymakers have to evaluate development projects more carefully. Often profits are privatised to a few while losses (including social and environmental costs) are borne to the public. This hurts all of us including future generations.

Pentecost last week reminds us that we are to participate in the work of renewing Creation so that everyone can partake in a more egalitarian kingdom, where no one shall be turned away empty-handed and hungry for lack of means.

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