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Letter 69 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 69

Brian Rainey

Assistant Professor of Old Testament
Princeton Theological Seminary

March 29, 2017

Dear President Trump, Vice President Pence, Members of the Trump Administration and 115th Congress,

I have been thinking about the verse: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). Let us face facts: the United States has been given a great deal, much of it an accident of history or a result of sometimes less than honorable geopolitical strategy. Some might dare call our wealth and power a “blessing.” I certainly experience it as such, since by chance I was born an American. I did absolutely nothing to deserve the privileged circumstances in which I find myself. Whatever caused it, America’s great wealth and power—and indeed anyone’s wealth and power—should be a force for good rather than evil. We should be humbled, not ashamed or boastful, by how fortunate we are.

On a national level, the rhetoric and actions of our leaders should be full of pragmatic generosity rather than stinginess. Yes, there are limits to how much we can permit and provide. All nations have financial and security constraints. However, as a people to whom much has been given, our limits must be informed by a mandate to benefit others. We should institute policies that come from an honest but good faith assessment of the maximum we can provide for those in need, at home and abroad, without compromising our ability to be the best agent for good that we can be.

Whether we are speaking of government budgets, corporate balance sheets, or personal wealth, pragmatic generosity means that by cheerfully sharing our blessings with others, we ultimately enrich ourselves. To reach the practical, sensible goal of magnanimity being mutually beneficial for all, Scripture suggests we nurture our capacity for humility and generosity instead of giving into our propensity for cruelty and selfishness. In policymaking and personal choices, we would do well to keep in mind this biblical maxim: “Some give generously and gain all the more…A generous person will be enriched” (Proverbs 11:24-25).

Yours in Christ,

Brian Rainey

Brian Rainey
Assistant Professor of Old Testament
Princeton Theological Seminary

 

About the author

Brian Rainey, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, earned his MDiv from Harvard Divinity School and his Ph.D. from Brown University. He studies ethnicity in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East and is fascinated by the way in which contemporary Christian and Jewish communities bridge the gap between modern ethical concepts and the ethically problematic social context of the Bible. Other interests include Assyriology, biblical mythology and Christian theology, and the development of monotheism in the ancient world.