I am not a Biblical scholar, nor a professor of constitutional law. It’s rare when I can resolve my own struggle between a society’s right to determine acceptable behavior and citizens’ civil liberties.
Looking for guidance, I found Jesus didn’t ever mention homosexuality or abortion, but he was crystal clear when warning that amassing and maintaining great wealth (America’s pastime) puts an immortal soul in serious jeopardy.
Maybe a theologian could explain to us laypersons why Christian Republicans aren’t spending their time and energy doggedly attacking rich people.
I’m not a theologian either, but a quick answer comes to mind anyway: hardly anybody dreams of being homosexual; nearly everybody dreams of being rich.
Back in university I’d been in a sociology class that explained some history via religious roads, particularly protestantism. There was something called the protestant work ethic and Max Weber had written a series of essays around 1904/05 about it that later became the book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
On my hunt for a brain refresher about his work, I ran across a worthwhile article outlining how people’s perceptions of work have changed over the centuries, and across cultures for that matter. Especially in the middle ages. After Martin Luther hammered his ideas for radical changes onto a church door, a man by the name of John Calvin came up with some ideas of his own: predestination and the idea that only a few, the Elect, would be selected for heavenly reward. It was impossible to tell at a glance who’d be so lucky but Calvin figured a good way to judge worthiness was by how well off the person was financially.
A person who was indifferent and displayed idleness was most certainly one of the damned, but a person who was active, austere, and hard-working gave evidence to himself and to others that he was one of God’s chosen ones (Tilgher, 1930).
Calvin taught that all men must work, even the rich, because to work was the will of God. It was the duty of men to serve as God’s instruments here on earth, to reshape the world in the fashion of the Kingdom of God, and to become a part of the continuing process of His creation (Braude, 1975). Men were not to lust after wealth, possessions, or easy living, but were to reinvest the profits of their labor into financing further ventures. Earnings were thus to be reinvested over and over again, ad infinitum, or to the end of time (Lipset, 1990).
Thus was born the idea that God wants people to get rich. They’re not supposed to love the money, though (love of money is still the root of all evil); they’re just supposed to collect it by the bin load.
Weber, and Karl Marx for that matter, felt the change of attitude had to do with the economics of the time and the changing behaviours, work, and living conditions of the people then.
European cities acted to alleviate the problems of unemployment and begging on the streets by passing laws which prohibited begging. The general perception of the time was that work was available for those who wanted to work, and that beggars and vagrants were just lazy. The reality was that the movement of people into the cities far exceeded the capacity of the urban areas to provide jobs. The theological premise that work was a necessary penance for original sin caused increased prejudice toward those without work. Bernstein (1988) suggested that a fundamental misunderstanding of the economic realities facing the poor contributed to the theological development of the Protestant ethic.
From a marxist view, what actually occurred was the development of a religious base of support for a new industrial system which required workers who would accept long hours and poor working conditions (Anthony, 1977; Berenstein, 1988). Berenstein did not accuse the theological leaders of the Protestant Reformation of deliberately constructing a belief system which would support the new economic order, but proposed that they did misconstrue the realities of the poor and the unemployed of their day.
And, I think it’s fair to say a lot of this still goes on. Maybe the idea of penance for original sin has been lost but the misunderstandings and mismanagement of problems/lack of good solutions is still an issue. Especially when so many people want to hoard or waste their “hard earned” money instead of doing something worthwhile with it.
So, getting back to the question posed, it’s far easier to pick on the gays than it is to fix a financial problem of this magnitude. We’ve made the making of money such an important part of our lives, whether we’re protestant or not. We continue to think ill of the poor and the homeless. We accuse them of bringing it on themselves and then give them a side of Jesus when they come by for soup, as if the acquiring of Christ will fix all the problems their lack of money buys. In some cities, panhandling might pay better than minimum wage.