Donald Kraybill’s book, “The Upside-Down Kingdom,” is a modern Christian classic of social ethics.
Its basic thesis, well supported from Christian Scripture, is that the kingdom of God is a social order of reverse values – from popular, “common sense” values that tend to reign in everyday life outside God’s kingdom.
In essence, although this is never stated as such, it is an indirect challenge to social Darwinism.
According to Kraybill, and on the basis of his very strong biblical support, I completely agree – the kingdom of God values servanthood over mastery and domination. It values helping the weak over strengthening the strong.
Many defenders of capitalism argue that the system is right because it works. But my question is: Works for whom?
In my opinion, capitalism – defined as free market economics void of government interference or intervention – is an economic system that favors the strong and oppresses the weak among us.
Who are the “weak?” I suppose we could debate that endlessly, but I believe we all really know who they are.
The weak are the disadvantaged – those who, through no fault of their own, suffer disabilities that put them at a disadvantage in the competition for the goods necessary to live a fulfilling human life.
We are surrounded by them, although many of us choose to ignore them, be blind to them or blame them.
When I step into a voting booth, literally or symbolically by making political choices, I ask myself of each candidate whether he or she will favor the strong or the weak.
To be specific: “Who will really promote the equalizing of social advantage in spite of the inevitable gap between the strong and the weak among us?”
I am absolutely convinced that the ethos of the gospel, of the way of Jesus Christ, is favoritism toward the weak.
In the kingdom of God, the weak will be lifted up, enabled and empowered to live fully human lives.
I cannot support any ideology, agenda or platform here and now that does the opposite.
I know that some will attempt to put a wall between the kingdom of God and secular society, especially politics. I cannot do that.
Insofar as any Christian, follower of Jesus Christ, possesses political power – from merely being able to vote to being president – he or she ought to strive to use that power to help the weak live human lives.
As Barbara Ehrenreich has convincingly argued and demonstrated in “Nickel and Dimed: On Getting by in America” (2001), our current social order in America (and much of the world) is stacked against the weak.
In fact, Ehrenreich asserts that the weak among us are almost forced to break the law to survive.
We have become a society that worships the strong, the beautiful, the powerful and the rich and that blames the poor, the disadvantaged and those who struggle to survive.
So how does the “upside-down kingdom” translate into the social order?
A social order that functions according to the values of the kingdom will opt for social policies that guarantee that a rising tide lifts all the boats – John Rawls’ “justice as fairness” philosophy – and that establish and maintain strong social safety nets so that no one, due to weakness, falls into de-humanizing living conditions.
I believe it will also opt for government regulations that protect small (weak) businesses from extinction due to competition from huge (strong) corporations.
Roger Olson is the Foy Valentine professor of Christian theology and ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas. He is the author of numerous books, including “Against Calvinism” and “The Story of Christian Theology.” A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.
Roger Olson is the Foy Valentine professor of Christian theology and ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas. He is the author of numerous books, including “Counterfeit Christianity” and “The Story of Christian Theology.”