Bill said, "Preach about greed, boy! That's what's needed."
Bill's remark surprised me. In the 1960s, while I was a young pastor in a small Oklahoma town, Bill had told me to preach about peace. "Preach about peace, boy!" he roared. "How can the churches be silent when we keep getting involved in wars? Preach about peace!"
Now, many years later, I had come to see Bill. He was old now, an invalid. He said, "What are you preaching about these days, boy?" He still called me "boy."
"I haven't forgotten what you taught me, Bill," I replied. "I preach about peace-making."
"That's good," he said, "but times are different. Our big problem now is greed! Preach about greed."
I think he was right.
Our country seems to feel it can't take care of the poor, but it has to take care of the rich. We need to read the book of Amos, in the Bible, again. There, the prophet said God would punish the nation because they mistreated the poor. The rich drank wine from bowls and oppressed the poor. God was not pleased. (Amos 6:4-7, 5:11) The punishment of the nation was sure. (4:2)
In an article in The Buffalo News on April 20, I read that chief executive officers in 299 U.S. companies earned enough to pay more than 102,000 workers. The average pay for CEOs of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index is enough to cover the salaries of 28 U.S. presidents or more than 700 minimum-wage workers.
As one example, the CEO of Occidental Petroleum received compensation valued at $76 million in 2010. That is obscene.
There seems to be no shame felt by those who make more money than anyone could possibly need while insisting that they must not pay any more in taxes, and that services to the poor must be cut to balance the budget. All the warnings about greed that appear in the Bible surely apply to us today as much as they did to ancient Israel.
Some years ago, I wrote to my congressman because I was disturbed about seeing homeless people on the streets in New York City. They don't go to shelters because they are robbed there. If they need drug rehabilitation that needs to be provided. Some work but can't afford an apartment. I urged that taxes be raised so we can take care of these people.
Our tax payments are lower now than in most European countries. In the New Testament, Paul said that nobody should have too much and nobody should have too little. (II Corinthians 8:13-15). That's biblical!
Let's tell our politicians that we want to see some compassion for the poor, some justice, some equity in our society. We will tell the CEOs to stop being so greedy and to care for the poor among us. Let's tell Congress that it is OK to raise taxes on those who can afford it. That's the right thing to do.
Charles Lamb is a retired minister serving at First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown.