Of course John McCain is rich. So is Barack Obama. So are Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mitt Romney and just about every presidential candidate these days. It doesn’t take one rich family to run a country. It takes an oligarchy.
McCain’s seven houses, Obama’s book deals and even Edwards’s haircuts tell us plenty about the lifestyles of the rich and politically famous. But what does the personal wealth of candidates tell us about their faith, and in particular their Christian beliefs? And why aren’t they being asked those questions?
The gospels are filled with the words of Jesus admonishing the rich to take less and give more, trying to get the rich to see that it’s not what they have but what they do for others with what they have that matters. Can you call yourself a Christian and spend millions on yourself? Sermons rarely go there.
Neither did Rick Warren at last week’s presidential forum at Saddleback Church — missing an opportunity to explore an important part of each candidate’s personal faith.
Pastor Warren asked the candidates to “define rich” rather than to talk about the limits and responsibilities, if any, that their faith places upon their wealth. Warren’s reluctance to get specific is a reflection of the church’s overall discomfort with and confusion about the subject of money.
Most church leaders don’t have any qualms about asking us to tithe — to give 10 percent (tax deductible) of our income to the institutional church. But how many ask us to account for the other 90 percent? If they did, we’d probably tell them to mind their own business. Or we might start asking them the same questions. It’s the church’s version of don’t ask, don’t tell.
If the church is going to measure today’s candidates on such “faith and values” issues as abortion. gay marriage, war and the environment, shouldn’t wealth (theirs and ours) also be part of that discussion?
I’d like to hear McCain’s response to this question: “You are a rich man. You and your wife Cindy own seven homes, which you apparently use just for yourselves and your children. A number of years ago, you adopted a child from an orphanage in Bangladesh. How many more children could you save if you sold five or six of your homes and just used one or two for yourself. As a Christian, do you feel a responsibility to do that?”
I’d like to hear Obama’s response to this question: “You are a rich man. A few years ago, you signed two book deals worth nearly $2.3 million. You and your wife Michelle made more than $4 million last year and you own a home worth more than $1 million. What have you done with that money to help “the least of these.” I don’t mean how many checks have you written to charity. Can you give us specific names of people you have helped?”
What politicians do with their own money says something about their character. It says even more about their faith.