By The Rev. Peter Wells
Associate Conference Minister
"All too many of those who live in affluent America ignore those who exist in poor America. To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it." Martin Luther king
I am sure you have heard that “a rising tide raises all boats.” And there is no doubt about it. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting in a 30’ house boat or a canoe – a power boat or catamaran - when the tide goes up, up you go. Works every time. In fact it works 2 times a day. I have heard a lot about boats rising with tides during discussions about the growing gap between the rich and poor. I find it is often used as a justification for financial policies which benefit the “haves.” The argument seems to be that our policies are good for the “have nots” because when the tide raises the yachts all the rest of the boats will also rise. That's how it works. A rising tide raises all boats. Simple as that.
I am not an economist. So please don’t call to point that reality out. Nor am I all that nautical. (If you want to take me out in your boat, please call.) But I will not let those realities stop me from offering an economic observation tied to this nautical aphorism. The reality is that the only boats that rise when the tide goes up are the ones that are sea worthy. Boats with holes in their hull lying at the bottom of the sea are going nowhere no matter where the tide is. So like all sayings there is a limit to the truth of tides and boats.
In fact, I would dare to say that the promise of salvation which will come because of someone else’s good fortune is empty for those living on boats at the bottom of the economic sea. A reality made even worse by the fact that many of God’s children don’t even have a boat. They are standing chest deep in rising waters without even a life saver to hang on to. I could state statistics like the fact that nearly 16.7 million children live in households that struggle to put food on the table. But I won’t give in to that temptation. I will simply say that to think that a rising tide of prosperity for a few will in the end help everyone is to offer false hope. And to simply wait for the tides to take care of the least of those in our midst is in essence to ignore them and to ignore them is to be complicit in the evil that is poverty.
There are politicians and others saying that I am inciting class warfare and/ or the politics of envy. Why is it that when one states the facts about the growing inequality of wealth one is accused of engaging in class warfare? Why is it when one questions an economic system which seems to work really well only for a few, one is accused of engaging in class warfare? Was Jesus engaging in class warfare when he uttered his concern about the challenge that the rich face to get into heaven? Is the gospel provoking class warfare in its fundamental message that God has a preferential option for the poor? I don’t think so. I think that facing the realities of a broken system and its most vulnerable victims can be the first step to becoming engaged in concrete solutions. To not do that is to walk by on the other side.
Am I encouraging envy when I talk about haves and have nots? Personally I really don’t think someone is being envious when they simply want some measure of comfort that the rich have in abundance. I really don’t think it is envy when someone demands educational opportunities for their child like the CEO can provide for hers. I really don’t think it is envy when a homeless person would like some kind of permanent shelter like I have. I really don’t think it is envy when someone facing a catastrophic illness wants some kind of medial insurance like that enjoyed by the US Congress. We are not talking about envy, we are talking about hope. Hope for a good life. Hope for a better future. Hope for a boat – even just a small boat with no hole in the hull so that all can rise and fall together.
Peter Wells is the Associate Conference Minister serving churches and clergy in the Central and Hampshire Assocations and the Coordinator of Mission and Justice programs.