We've heard a lot about the "middle class" in pretty much every election. However, I don't think that the "middle class" is a distinction that Christians should be in the habit of making. There are two reasons for this - the Christian view of classes and the economics of the United States.
Let's start with the Christian view of classes. Here are some verses (certainly not exhaustive), I'll simply list them out and then I'll discuss their implications:
Galatians 3:28 - "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Collossians - "Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord....Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven..."
2 Thessolonians 3:10 - "For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat."
James 2:2-7 - "For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?"
2 Corinthians 9:11 - "You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God."
Luke 6 - "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God...But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation."
Luke 12 - The rich fool
Luke 16 - The story of Lazarus (sorry, not going to copy it)
Luke 18 - Rich young ruler
Luke 19 - Zaccaeus
In the gospels, especially Luke's, it appears that Jesus really has it in for the rich. This is somewhat true. In Luke 6, there is a clear distinction between what happens to the rich vs the poor when the Kingdom comes. However, as Luke develops, I think the story gets more nuanced. It isn't just that every rich person is bad and will be punished and every poor person is good and will be rewarded. I think Luke 12 epitomizes the problem with the rich - it is not their income, it is the fact that they store it up so no one else can use it, and then it becomes worthless to them when they die.
In the story of Lazarus, it was pretty clear that the rich man had been ignoring Lazarus who basically lived on his doorstep.
In Luke 19, you actually have a rich person who is lauded by Jesus. Note that he does not get lauded by Jesus for becoming poor - he only gives away half of his possessions. But what he does do is (a) move from stinginess to generosity, and (b) repent for any possible wrongdoing he has done to the poor. (just as a note - parts of this story are unclear, as I may blog on in the future, but these two points appear to be what elicits Jesus' response no matter what the rest of the story means).
Note that although Jesus asked the Rich Young Ruler to give away all of his posessions, he is clearly fine with Zaccaeus only giving half.
So here's what I get from the gospel message:
Now, if you imagine further on, the early Christian community has to figure out how to live out these sayings. Thus, the apostles further develop the theology of economic classes along the sames lines as Jesus.
Paul is an interesting study - for he says both that there is no difference, and that we should each be faithful in our differening positions.
So here are my take-aways from all of this:
It is clear that Christianity is not the introduction of or the calling for equality of outcomes, but of equality of personhood - recognizing the full image of God in each person.
Therefore, as Christians, I do not believe that we should recognize economic class, but rather economic income ranges. That is to say, as Christians, we are all in this boat together. We shouldn't consider ourselves a distinct group from the "rich" or the "poor" - we may have a joining economic location, but that is so little of a reason for division. Instead we need to recognize that God's grace is for everyone, and that God has removed the distinctions (actually, they were probably never there to begin with).
There are in fact economically disadvantaged people, but again, they are not a class. We should in no way be treating them as a class. Note that this is the same thing that annoys me with the race-baiters - they continually want to divide us up into classes, and start class warfare between the groups. This is not the way Christ taught.
Likewise, because Christ never taught the equalization of assets, there is never any reason at all to care about the "gap" between the rich and the poor. The gap is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the needs of the poor are taken care of. It makes no difference whatsoever, from a Christian standpoint, it is the standard of living of the poor, not the gap between the poor and the rich, that is our concern.
Now, the economic issue. The fact is that "the poor" is not a static group of people in the United States. Maybe in other countries, but certainly not here. When people talk of "the rich" and "the poor" in the country, in many cases they are talking about the exact same people - just in different phases of their lives. If I start out working at $30,000 a year, get a mortgage on a new house, and save 10% per year, and have an annual raise of 3%, then I will start my work life being "poor" (no savings or assets and $30,000 a year), and at age 65 be "rich" ($103,000 per year, $245,000 in savings, and probably a $100,000 house, plus other assets - this would actually be a lot more if you converted the house payment into savings after the house was paid off).
So, when we look at the "poor" and the "rich", we may just be looking at the "young" and the "old". This gets especially amusing when you hear politicians engage in class warfare about how the "rich" should be paying "their fair share", followed by saying that we need to be protecting our senior citizen's retirement accounts - THESE ARE THE SAME PEOPLE THEY WERE TRYING TO STEAL MONEY FROM IN THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE!
Note that none of those numbers assume that anything special happened in someone's life. Also, $30,000 is a perfectly livable income (at least in Middle America) for a starting family, and is achievable at just about any job in the US with two incomes, and still many for just one. Calling such households "poor" is a huuge stretch, especially when you remember that many of our "poor" are living at about the same living standards as the rich are in Jesus' day.
But not only that, in America, there is often opportunity. And many people take it.
If this is a class-ridden society denying "access" to upward mobility to those at the bottom, why is it that immigrants can come here at the bottom and then rise to the top?
One obvious reason is that many poor immigrants come here with very different ambitions and values from that of poor Americans born into our welfare state and imbued with notions growing out of attitudes of dependency and resentments of other people's success.
The fundamental reason that many people do not rise is not that class barriers prevent it but that they do not develop the skills, values and attitudes which cause people to rise.
The liberal welfare state means they don't have to and liberal multiculturalism says they don't need to change their values because one culture is just as good as another. In other words, liberalism is not part of the solution, but part of the problem.
Many comparisons of "classes" are in fact comparisons of people in different income brackets — but most Americans move up from the lowest 20 percent to the highest 20 percent over time.
Yet those who are obsessed with classes treat people in different brackets as if they were classes permanently stuck in those brackets.
The New York Times series even makes a big deal about disparities in income and lifestyle between the rich and the super-rich. But it is hard to get worked up over the fact that some poor devil has to make do flying his old propeller-driven plane, while someone further up the income scale flies around a mile or two higher in his twin-engine luxury jet.
Only if you have overdosed on disparities are you likely to wax indignant over things like that.
Sometimes it seems as if liberals have a genius for producing an unending stream of ideas that are counterproductive for the poor, whom they claim to be helping. Few of these notions are more counterproductive than the idea of "menial work" or "dead-end jobs."
Think about it: Why do employers pay people to do "menial" work? Because the work has to be done. What useful purpose is served by stigmatizing work that someone is going to have to do anyway?
Is emptying bed pans in a hospital menial work? What would happen if bed pans didn't get emptied? Let people stop emptying bed pans for a month and there would be bigger problems than if sociologists stopped working for a year.
The real chumps are those who refuse to start at the bottom for "chump change." Liberals who encourage such attitudes may think of themselves as friends of the poor but they do more harm than enemies.
So, as a Christian, I reject class distinctions and especially class envy, but fully embrace the need for those with wealth to be generous (note that taxes aren't the same thing as "generosity" - the Bible is just as forceful about the need to give from a good heart as it is for tgiving itself), especially to the poor. Also, there is a bottom requirement to receive help - you must work if you are able. Interestingly, you see the same values reflected in Conservatism - the red state/blue state divide of the 2004 election matches almost perfectly with the top and bottom of the "generosity index" - meaning that conservative states tend to reflect the responsibilities of the rich - to give more.
The system of class warfare and envy is anti-Christian and leaves everyone in poverty. The system of generosity and peace with your fellow man is the system described by the New Testament, and by most measures it appears to be one which offers a very high standard of living even to its poor, and provides the mechanisms to allow the poor to rise out of their poverty.