Monday, May 2, 2016

Paying More than We should?

The cost of political campaigns keeps growing. As we see additional levels of poverty in our country and in our world, how do we react when political candidates and government officials spend large sums of money to further their own interests? How do we justify the amount of money that government officials receive for performing the duties of their office? Does Calvin have anything to say on this matter? In 4.20.13 of the institutes he says “taxes and imposts are the legitimate revenues of princes, which they are chiefly to employ in sustaining the public burdens of their office.” He also notes that several of the biblical kings such as David, Hezekiah, Josiah, and others “expended liberally.” But Calvin also cautions that [the princes] revenues are not so much private chests as treasuries of the whole people.” Calvin also reminds us that these government officials should do all things (including monitoring their spending) with a pure conscience. To do anything less is to incur God’s displeasure. The officials must be taught how to do this. Several questions come to mind as one thinks about political spending and the salaries of government officials. First, what measure is used when we consider spending? If this spending seems to be excessive, whose responsibility is it, the political official, the people who are being governed? Ultimately it would seem to be God’s responsibility. Through whom will God work to curb this problem? Secondly, what does Calvin mean by “public burdens?” Thirdly, who is doing the “teaching?” And how is it accomplished? Calvin has sections in the Institutes devoted to deference and obedience to even wicked rulers (4.20.22-30). I am wondering if this applies to those rulers who misuse funds? in the last section Calvin explains the exception - that Christians must never let obedience to rulers lead us away from obedience to God (4.20.32). Peter upholds this view at the Jerusalem Council, "We must obey God rather than any human authority." (Acts 5:29). How do we reconcile these concerns of inappropriate government spending with God's call to reach out to the lost in society and to make God's kingdom visible (if only dimly)?

1 comment:

  1. The modern state is so different from what anyone in the 16th century could imagine that it's tough to apply old principles to contemporary situations. It's interesting that Calvin allows in 4.20.13 for princes to live far more lavishly than common folk, to project the dignity of their office. Calvin even chides "private individuals" who would "rashly and shamelessly decry any expenses of princes" (p. 1502). One of the many facets of modern American politics not anticipated by Calvin, though, is that private individuals are now (mostly indirectly) also responsible for determining public expenditures. I'd imagine that this shift would lead Calvin to hold public officials to the same standards of simplicity that he advocated for private individuals, while still allowing the U.S. president to, say, throw a really nice state dinner. It's so hard to know.