The tendency of wealth to entrap people in greed has been confirmed in numerous studies. Research has consistently shown that, generally speaking, the more people have, the less percentage of their income they tend to give away.
This is reflected on a national level in the case of America. In 2000, the gap between the wealth of the average Americans and that of the poorest 25 percent of people on the planet was four times greater than what it had been in 1960. During this same period of time, the percentage of our country’s Gross National Product that went to providing assistance to the poorest 25 percent of people on the planet decreased to about one tenth of what it had been in 1960! (See Ron Sider’s Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger).
In other words, the richer we have gotten as a nation, the more we have tended to keep for ourselves and the less we have given to help the poor.
“[W]oe to you who are rich . . . ” (Luke 6:24). Most of us need to take this warning seriously.
We need to remember that the most frequently mentioned reason why God judged nations in the Old Testament was that they were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezek. 16:49). In this light, consider that two-thirds of Americans are now overweight — with close to one-third being obese. Meanwhile, about half the world lives in poverty and close to a billion are malnourished. Upwards of 40,000 people die each day of issues related to poverty, disease and malnutrition.
This has got to make you wonder about the claim frequently made by Christians that America is a nation uniquely favored by God. If God was still operating as he sometimes did in the Old Testament, all indications are that America would be on his hit list.
Add to this the fact that we Americans constitute less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we consume over 25 percent of its resources. At the same time, measured by the percentage of our GNP that we invest in developing countries, we are the least generous of the developed countries. Consider also that the U.S. government spends far more on our military (as much as 27 times more) than we did on helping the poor, even in our own country. Along the same lines, Americans spend enough money on entertainment each year to feed all the hungry people on the planet for a year.
In this light, I don’t think I’m going out on limb too much by claiming that greed and gluttony are rampant in America.
Much more concerning to me, however, is that they are also rampant in the American church. The average American gives 2 percent of their income to helping people in need. Christians improve on this statistic by less than 1 percent.
Now, no one is in a position to judge other individuals in terms of how greedy or generous they are. But these statistics certainly tell us something important about Americans as a group — and American Christians as a group. We are guilty of grieving the heart of God by hoarding more resources and food than we need while multitudes of his children around the globe are dying because they have less than they need.
A nation uniquely favored by God? I don’t think so.
Greg Boyd is senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn. This blog originally appeared on his website, ReKnew.org.