Jeremiah instructs those being sent into exile: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you … for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Surely this is a statement of prophetic imagination; even while displaced, the people of God can work for the common good.
Somehow the word “welfare” has come to be a distasteful, highly politicized term that describes a rung of society more interested in subsistence than work.
The term actually has a much more venerable and noble history. To fare well means to thrive or to make successful progression in life.
For Christians, the Jewish root of welfare grounds our understanding. It is a form of justice (tzedakah). The poor are entitled to charity or welfare as a matter of right rather than benevolence.
The expectation that faithful people will invest in the common good is a hallmark of biblical righteousness.
Too often churches (or seminaries) are more interested in survival than service. This self-protective stance will have the opposite effect. Cautious preservation of institutional identity will repel those who might comprise future generations of leadership.
Gabe Lyons in “The Next Christians” describes a new generation of Christians as “restorers” – persons who seek to make the world what it was meant to be.
As my friend, David Goatley, has suggested, an institution ought to measure itself more by what it scatters than what it gathers. Are our resources mobilized for maximum impact in the social landscape?
Cliff Vaughn and Robert Parham of EthicsDaily.com recently invited me to provide an endorsement of their important new documentary, “Sacred Texts, Social Duty.”
With keen insight into the social context of persons of faith in America, representative leaders from the Abrahamic traditions speak of the moral responsibility of taxes in the documentary.
The significant message of the documentary is that individual and congregational charity cannot resolve the urgent needs of those in poverty. Only public morality through constructive, progressive tax policies can address the common good and move toward justice.
Viewing the responsibility of taxes through the lenses of sacred texts reframes the issue and provides a timely public service. The unequivocal teaching of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament and Quran is that almsgiving demonstrates compassion and faith in God. These Scriptures also advocate for participation in the larger social contract of taxation.
Seeking the welfare of the city in our day takes the form of generosity of heart when paying taxes, not the vigorous complaint too often voiced by those running for office. We all benefit by a tax system that protects the most vulnerable and requires those with greater resources to live justly.
Hopefully persons of faith will offer leadership in this realm of social responsibility.
Editor’s note: To learn more and watch “Sacred Texts, Social Duty,” click here.
Molly T. Marshall is the retired president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) in Shawnee, Kansas.