By Daniel J. Webster
Tax day has come and gone. News video of tax protests is still being shown. There were images of President Obama wearing a Mao hat with the Chinese Communist red star. There were images of makeshift American flags with a hammer and sickle replacing the stars. One news photo showed a woman holding a sign that read, "My God, My Money, My Guns."
My God and my money, indeed.
This Sunday millions of American Christians who attend churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary will hear a reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It's a short reading. In just four verses those who hear Acts 4:32-35 may be a little surprised about how the early followers of Jesus handled their money and possessions.
They will hear "...no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common." The story tells us followers sold their homes and property, gave the proceeds to the apostles who distributed the funds so that there "was not a needy person among them."
I'm going out on a limb here and suspect that, like the woman holding the sign about God, money and guns, most of those protesting on April 15 really and truly believe the United States is a Christian nation. Many of them truly believe the economic stimulus actions by the federal government amount to socialism. That's what they've been told by their favorite radio talk show hosts or cable news antagonist anchors.
The brief reading for Sunday is actually just the beginning of a longer section of Acts that details those who redistribute and those who refuse to share their wealth. St. Barnabas is singled out as one who does right in selling his land and giving the money to the apostles.
But Ananais and his wife Sapphira don't fare as well. They hold on to some of their possessions. Peter calls them agents of Satan. And the consequence for withholding wealth for yourself in this story is death. Both Ananais and Sapphira drop dead when told of their inaction. They might as well have been holding the sign, "My God, My Money, My Guns."
This is one of those uncomfortable readings that are dismissed by millions of modern Christians who believe capitalism is God's will. Don't get me wrong. Capitalism is not evil if it has a conscience. But when capitalism is perverted to create a society that proclaims loudly, "I've got mine. You get yours," then we have a system that promotes death among the least among us.
There have been other images on TV and in the news. A recent "60 Minutes" report on CBS profiled uninsured patients at a Nevada hospital who had their cancer treatments canceled when state tax dollars were withdrawn because of the economic downturn. One patient said it amounted to a death sentence.
In that same story a doctor was shown treating some of those patients for whatever they could pay. He and other physicians were donating, or redistributing their wealth, to take care of those who were needy. They were acting today in the spirit of Barnabas and those early followers of Jesus.
Living in that spirit will really make us a Christian nation for all Americans whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or those of no faith. President Obama, the man vilified as communist or socialist at the TEA Parties, often refers to the multi-religious golden rule when he discusses tax increases for the wealthy. Maybe he should refer to Acts 4:32-35 in the future for those who believe in "My God, My Money, My Guns."
The Rev. Canon Daniel J. Webster is canon for congregational development in the Diocese of New York and Vicar of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Montgomery, New York.