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Should We Have a Preferential Option for the Rich?

No, no. I’m not referring to a cleverly-worded smack down of Republican tax-plans.  I’m talking about turning the preferential option on its head–at least as it is traditionally understood.

Why do Christians have a preferential option specifically for the poor?  At least one reason is the fact that sin–social and otherwise–often conspires in a particularly powerful way against the poor such that they cannot flourish and participate in society, and even such that they cannot get their basic needs (like food, education, health care, etc.) met.  We must therefore follow the example of Jesus, who gave special attention to the plight of the poor, in an attempt to push back against the forces which conspire against their flourishing.

But it doing so we should not fail to consider another group to which Jesus paid special attention: the rich.  Indeed, his concern for the poor was often connected to a concern for the rich–though his words for the latter certainly had a different tone when compared to those directed at the former.  Indeed, though Jesus rarely speaks of Hell, when he does so it is often connected to a rich person’s failure of one’s duties to the poor. In recounting a rich man’s refusal to help a poor beggar, for instance, Jesus explains that the rich man ends up in torment in Hell (Luke 16: 19-31). He famously said that a rich person will struggle to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). And in one of the most important stories of the Christian tradition, Jesus famously divides the Heaven-bound from the Hell-bound based on whether or not they fulfilled their duties to ‘the least ones’ in their communities (Matt. 25: 31-46). The early Christian community took this message very seriously, and as a result one could argue that the Church had skepticism even with regard to money-making itself. Pope St. Gregory the Great claimed that it stained one’s soul and Pope St. Leo the Great claimed that it was difficult to avoid sin when buying and selling. The usurious lending of money at interest was even punishable by excommunication and denial of a Christian burial.

This is not about politics: Jesus and the Church didn’t make a distinction between those who are “rich like George Clooney” and those who are “rich like Mitt Romney.”  All the rich, especially insofar as their being rich indicates a failure to use one’s wealth to aid the poor, find their salvation seriously imperiled.

Why don’t we take the vulnerable position of the rich more seriously?  In short, why don’t we have a preferential option for the rich? We should, of course, be concerned with the flourishing of the poor.  But flourishing in this life is only of proximate value, isn’t it?  Our ultimate goal is salvation and ultimate union with God.  And many of the rich among us–and many of us (who are surely rich by any reasonable standard), period–have put our salvation in serious danger.  We abandon the poor in buying luxuries we don’t need.  We abandon them in supporting usurious policies.  We haplessly attempt to serve two masters…despite our true Master telling us that this is impossible.

It is important, even essential, to have a preferential option for the poor.  But isn’t this often connected with having a preferential option for the rich–many of whom, if we take Jesus seriously, imperil their own salvation?

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29 Comments

  1. Excellent post, Charlie. What would this mean ecclesiologically, or in other words for the life of the church as a community?

  2. Very thought provoking post, Charlie. I am sitting here thinking about the dynamism of conversion. It is far too easy for us to take one side or the other, as we all so often do. The poor need the rich, but the rich need the poor as well. It is very hard for the dualistic mind to really enter into that, isn’t it? Yet, it is essential. Much food for thought here.

  3. I must say I find the expression “Special Option for the Rich” extremely painful to bear, while your point is quite valid.
    I guess I call what you suggest the “Lazarus effect”, as in the parable of the same name.
    The rich man goes to hell, sees Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, and asks Lazarus to go and tell his brothers and sisters to change their lifestyle.
    To which the final sentence is:
    “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.” (Lk 16:19-31)
    Do you think the “preferential option for the rich” will have any more effect on the rich than the parable of Lazarus?

  4. Charlie,

    Thank you for this post. Before I launch into my response, in a spirit of candor I’d like you to know that my initial reaction to this post was disappointment mixed with a little rage. Therefore I’ve waited a bit before responding because I do not wish to break the bond of charity with you. That being said, I’ll continue now, after having benefitted from some discernment.

    First, I commend you for bringing to the attention of all that the possession of wealth entails social responsibility. Although we might disagree on which practical steps this responsibility would involve, I think we both agree that the redistribution of wealth and income from the wealthy to the poor is integral to the experience of salvation and the living of the Gospel, in light of the passages from Scripture which you cite. Sondra Wheeler, a biblical ethicist, explores these themes very well in her book Wealth as Peril and Obligation, if you’re interested in a good read.

    However, I think there are a few problems with your argument above.

    For one thing, there is much more to the preferential option for the poor than what the Gospel says about poverty and wealth. None of what Jesus claimed concerning these issues would have made sense to his audience outside of the context of the Hebrew Scriptures, in particular the Exodus, Deuteronomy, and the Prophets. Multiple exegetes (Nardoni, Lohfink, Hoppe, Donahue, and Gutierrez even though he isn’t a biblical scholar strictly speaking) emphasize that God chose Israel precisely because the injustice and suffering of slavery and sociopolitical subjugation in Egypt was an extreme form of poverty. The Exodus narrative presumes that Israel was poor as a nation, so to speak; for this reason God chose them for a particularized covenant relationship. The terms of this covenant, as expounded in Deuteronomy, entailed several requirements regarding the treatment of socioeconomically poor or otherwise vulnerable persons in their midst, whether Israelite or Gentile, as a way of remembering their own history of oppression. The foundation for the preferential option for the poor is found, therefore, in the Torah, knowledge of which Jesus presumed when he himself addressed the poverty and oppression his own people experienced in Roman-occupied Palestine.

    As the gap between rich and poor increased under the Divided Kingdom, prophets like Amos chastised the wealthy, naming specific practices of theirs that were causing the poverty of the multitude. Thus, even before Jesus came along, there was in the First and Second Temple periods an increasing understanding of what we today would call the structural causes of systemic poverty, and an increasing awareness of how much these failures constituted an offense to God. Overall, there is an overwhelming sense in the Hebrew Scriptures that injustice in this world matters a great deal to God; if it didn’t, God would have never rescued Israel from slavery in the first place, demanded that justice for the poor be integral to the Mosaic covenant, or sent the prophets to call Israel back to covenant fidelity when they failed.

    A second major problem with your argument concerns what you mean by the word “preferential.” You seems to be using the word in one sense when connected to the poor, and another sense in connection to the wealthy. “Preferential option for x” does not simply mean “God cares about x,” or “God is concerned about what x is doing,” or “God wishes to save x.” Of course God cares about the salvation of all people. That’s not the point of the idea. The point is that God’s concern is prioritized toward those who are suffering right now, in this world. In fact, it has been argued by either Gutierrez or Sobrino (I can’t remember which at the moment) that, given a sinful humanity who usually fails to make justice for the poor a reality, a preferential option (read: prioritized concern) for the poor is necessary IN ORDER THAT God’s universal love for all people can actually be credible in practice. When non-poor people choose to struggle for justice for the poor in their own lives, they participate in God’s preferential option for the poor, and in so doing, work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, to use the Pauline phrase. Therefore, the word “preferential” is not appropriately applied to God’s concern for the wealthy in regard to their own salvation, inasmuch as they are nowhere close to being comparably vulnerable to the poor in terms of their access to material preconditions for flourishing in this world, however imperiled their eternal salvation might be because of their hoarded wealth.

    As a final point, none of the Biblical authors, with the possible exception of the Johannine writings and some of the Pauline Epistles, would say that this life is only of “proximate value,” as you say. Even Augustine is careful to say that God is the highest Good and that all creaturely goods are to be loved in relation to God, whether in this life or the next; he does not say that temporal life is of proximate value (and thus of less concern) to God when compared against eternal life. Both the Biblical authors and Augustine presume that God’s providential action in human history can and ought to be experienced as salvation (admittedly partial) here and now, as a foretaste of the fullest consummation of God’s saving action in the anticipated eschaton. In other words, they expect that God’s action in history effects some kind of discernable continuity between the experience of salvation prior to the eschaton and the experience of the eschaton itself. None of these authors is prepared to argue that the poor’s lack of flourishing in this world is somehow ethically excusable because they will be compensated for this suffering in the next life. Although you do not claim this yourself, your distinction between proximate and ultimate value strongly implies this, and will inevitably be read this way by those who are not sympathetic to your argument. Moreover, such a theology would have disastrous implications at the sociopolitical level, inasmuch as it did actually function to excuse widespread injustices from the medieval period up to the end of European colonial rule across the globe.

    • Hi Michael, thanks for your detailed response. It deserves more time than I have to give it on the moment, but let me just say a few things and ask some clarifying questions that might help a response be more fruitful and address what are clearly strongly-held views on your part.

      At a very basic level, I’m noting a lot of assumptions and reading-into-the-text that simply isn’t warranted. For example, despite your assumption to the contrary, I think we probably agree about a lot of practical (and urgent!) steps needed to allow the poor access to their flourishing. For another example, I’m puzzled as to how you can read anything about how “the lack of the poor’s flourishing being excusable” into what I wrote. It is not only not implied, but it is specifically countered in that it is precisely the succoring of the poor that in which the rich must engage. A preferential option for the rich cannot be separated from an overwhelming concern for the poor. It is not as if we are playing some kind of binary, zero-sum game here. One builds off the other.

      As you know, Thomas certainly makes a huge distinction between proximate values and ultimate values, then there is the huge tradition of martyrdom…and I could go on…but let’s not spend out time proof-texting the tradition. What do you think? Is flourishing in this life just as important as flourishing in the next? Or, if you don’t like how that question is phrased, how do you see the relationship between flourishing in this life vs. flourishing in the next? Suppose we did the following thought experiment: lets say you were presented with two people–one who was physically dying and needed physical bread to eat, and the other was spiritually dying because of indifference to the poor and his salvation was in danger. (All other factors being equal.) You could save one from their malady, but only one…which would you choose and why?

      Final question…for now. :) Do you think that the rich are a vulnerable population in light of their imperiled salvation?

      Thanks again for pushing me and engaging the topic.

  5. I am wondering how you are defining “salvation”? Because it seems to me, as I read what you’re offering, a dichotomy between what most political/liberationist theologies (that developed the notion of preferential option for the poor) would identify as salvation, connected to full humanization and earthly flourishing, and a more “classical” or common understanding connected to Heaven and forgiveness of sins. As such, you seem to be divorcing a concept from its framework, that would see salvation as necessarily linked to the praxis of the kingdom in light of the preferential option (which is not ours but is God’s affirmed in revelation) and critiquing it imported to your own framework. Further, it would seem that what we’re really talking about is the preaching of the Gospel to all people, for there is only one Gospel–even for the rich (which is a broader category than jsut the people you mention here). But if the rich, all of us, do not want to hear or see in order to not have to be challenged by the Gospel demands for the preferential option for the poor, that is another question.

  6. I agree with Claire46. It seems that the rich man also told Jesus that there should be a preferential option for the rich–to which Jesus replied, “No. You experienced a preferential option for the rich every day you were alive. Game over.”

    It also strikes me that such a question–”Should we have a preferential option for the rich?”–assumes that a preferential option for the poor has actually been put into practice. It’s rather like asking, “Shouldn’t we fund safe houses for abusive husbands, too?” or better, “Why should we have affirmative action? Let’s just make admissions ‘colorblind’ and ‘objective.’” The questions seem to be about fairness when in reality they only function to mask privilege.

  7. Hi Charlie,

    Just going specifically with the last part of your response to Michael, your “thought experiment”: I think that this scenario subverts the other point that you have made, namely, that it’s not a zero-sum game between the rich and the poor, because it seems that the implied answer to your scenario is that we “save” the rich person who has the “spiritual malady.” So the two groups of people have already been set up in competition with each other, and one wins out over the other, because “ultimate” values are assumed to trump “proximate” ones, when push comes to shove. Okay, that was one thing I wanted to point out.

    Of more importance to me, though, is the truth that the preferential option for the poor isn’t about *excluding* anybody, even the rich, from the scope of God’s love. The gospel is the same for all and is to be preached to all; the rich, *we* rich, are thereby constantly being called to conversion, and that’s a huge spiritual and moral responsibility that we have to live up to. Given that our own spiritual conversion is something that we ourselves have to take responsibility for (through constant repentance, ongoing concern for the poor and eradication of their suffering, and worship of God), nobody else can actually *save* us from the “spiritual malady” of eternal punishment, if we have really closed our ears to the gospel. We can and should, however, ease the socioeconomic plight of the poor and help enable the conditions for the possibility of their flourishing, which, by the way, is never totally disconnected from “ultimate” salvation in and with God (it might be helpful to read some people like Metz and Sobrino on these points, at least for contrast against Aquinas’s arguably sharp distinction between earthly and heavenly happiness).

    In general though, to answer your original question I suppose, my point is that we are called to preach the Gospel, and to respond to it through constant repentance and concern for the poor, so we rich are already covered and do not need a “preferential option.” To use such language obfuscates more than it elucidates. Because we already know from the gospel that the way that we respond to God’s love is by acting out of concern for the poor, because we have now come to see with greater clarity that the preferential option for the poor is the way that *God* acts toward the poor, in Scripture. It’s not an arbitrary thing that a bunch of liberal theologians decided to concoct in the second half of the twentieth century. It’s a robustly theological concept that deserves respect.

    Anyway, I get what you’re trying to do with this post but I found your final question to Michael to be especially troubling.

  8. From a certain angle, this post manages to be shocking only because it is equivocal. What the author calls a preferential option *for* the rich is constituted by nothing other than a strong divine judgment *against* them (or, more precisely, against their conduct). There is only one preferential option here, not two. It is an option for the poor and against those who oppress them. The appearance of a second is based on a very misleading use of the term preferential option to mean not support but (loving) condemnation. Once this usage is clarified, there is nothing shocking about the point, and it does not depart from the teaching of liberation theology.

    However, from another angle, this post manages to be shocking because it is actually opening the door slightly to a practical decision against the poor (perhaps despite the intentions of the author). The equivocation encourages greater sympathy for and solidarity with the rich. It suggests that their plight, as eternal instead of temporal, warrants more of our energy and investment. There is a real concern underlying this sort of reasoning, but here it seems to generate a competition between two distinct preferential options, leaving open the question of which of these is preferred. That is, which one is the real one.

    The real one–the unequivocal one–is the preferential option for the poor. This seems clear to me. The conversion and salvation of the rich are contingent on adherence to this principle. There is no need for equivocations that lend themselves to cooptation.

  9. I wish I had more time to devote to this discussion! It is difficult to come back to the computer for only a few minutes in-between unpacking and moving into a new apartment!

    Two quick things. Elizabeth, the thought experiment I proposed was designed simply to test how far anyone wishes to go in blurring the boundaries between flourishing in this life and the next. It is a zero-sum game in the artificial thought experiment, but it is not a zero-sum game in real life…for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. (Hopefully this responds to Andrew’s concern as well.)

    Megan, I hope you’ll agree that the POFP has now transcended the thought tradition from which it came and is now being applied and interpreted in many different contexts. Some have added lots of vulnerable populations to the sphere of concern under the umbrella of “poor” that were/are not a focus for the liberationists. If one accepts that the rich are in a vulnerable situation with respect to their salvation (do we, in fact, accept this?), is there any good reason to leave them out of this sphere of concern? God is in the side of all vulnerable populations. Could there be anyone more vulnerable than someone whose salvation is imperiled?

  10. Right, I know that the vulnerability of “poor” has been extended. But I’ve only ever read it as still connecting salvation to flourishing in this life (although not reducing)– and if it went in another direction I would have to question its validity. At some point, an appropriation of an idea becomes so divorced from its original meaning, that in doing so the concept is violated/undermined. That was the basis of my question how you’re defining “salvation” (which remains a question). I don’t exactly know how to answer your own question, because I honestly think it’s a false alternative given that I don’t believe (based on what you’ve said here, but am happy for you to answer my initial question) I subscribe to the way you’ve set up the issue in terms of salvation.

  11. Hi Charlie. Based on my understanding of Catholic Social Teaching and systematic theology, I thought the POFP was meant to convey that solidarity with the poor is the aperture by which ALL are able to come into right relationship with God.

    By standing in solidarity with and for the poor, we rich come to see our vulnerability and poverty in respect to God and we relinquish idols (which you note is the aim of a so called POFRich).

    While it is clearly not what you meant, I think based on how “preferential” is traditionally understood, a POFRich would mean humanity coming to right relationship with God by acting like they were invulnerable, able to own anything. I think that is why some including myself find this post so shocking and upsetting. I would love to talk about this sometime when you’re back from the UK. -B

    • Hey Brianne, I’m back in the area and will be around the department next week and would love to chat more about this! I’d really like to hear more about what shocking and upsetting about (at the risk of sounding repetitive here) adding the vulnerable rich to the other vulnerable populations that are now the source of concern under the PO? Do we not think that the rich are in peril of losing their salvation? Or do we think that this kind of peril doesn’t count as vulnerability in the proper way? Or does this reaction come from the upsetting nature of considering that most of us reading these words count as “rich” and are currently failing in our duties to succor the needs of the poor? Is it something else?

      I might have missed them, but I don’t know of many people who understand the PO as imaging the behavior of those populations for whom one has the option–is that what you meant by suggesting that a POFR would mean “acting invulnerable, able to own anything”? I suppose that one of the problems with this conversation is that, as you know, so many people mean so many things by a POFP. Heck, even Paul Ryan has said that he has one.

      The main things I want more of us to consider are (1) the rich are a vulnerable population with respect to their salvation and (2) this has implications for a POFP which is now embracing multiple vulnerable populations.

  12. Hey, Charlie, thanks for reminding us all that the position of the rich is one of spiritual vulnerability. That’s a good supernatural outlook we often forget with our (admittedly very urgent!) concern for the natural needs of the poor.

  13. Let’s certainly chat about this and more when we cross paths.

  14. Charlie,

    Would you understand all kinds of vulnerabilities, as embodied by diverse groups (i.e., rich => spiritual vulnerability, and poor ==> socioeconomic vulnerability) as isomorphic? More specifically, do these kinds of groups deserve the same kinds of attention in fidelity to the gospel? If not, what are the differences there that you would see, if any?

  15. One thing I think the question of a “preferential option for the rich” does it obscure the concrete oppression involved in the rich-poor dynamic. It’s not just that we have Group A with $1million each and Group B with $2 each, and we’re trying to decide whether God loves one group more and whether we should love one group more. It’s that Group A has systematically and historically robbed, raped, killed, silenced, and trampled on Group B and continues to do so, whether individually or, more commonly, through institutional arrangements that now seem simply “natural” to us. Indeed, I don’t think the question of a preferential option for the rich could even be entertained by anyone who doesn’t already benefit from tremendous, tremendous privilege.

    Instead of approaching this question as one concerning “material vs. spiritual salvation,” another, much more disturbing way to frame it would be, “Is it worse to suffer harm or to commit harm?” The poor would be those suffering harm and the rich, presumably, would be those doing the harming. According to the dichotomy in this post, it’s the harmers who are worse off than the harmed, since it’s their salvation that’s at stake. Ergo, we should be “more” concerned about the rich, since eternal welfare is more important than temporal welfare.

    But if you bring this abstraction back to reality, what you’re in effect saying is, “It’s better to be raped than to masturbate”; “It’s better to be tortured than to lie”; and on and on. True, those are very jarring examples, but the fact is that people are very often raped, people are very often tortured, and given that they are also very often silenced *precisely by “the rich,”* I don’t see what on earth a “preferential option” for their oppressors could accomplish other than to silence the oppressed even further. The preferential option for the rich is precisely that they stop being rich. Then they will not risk going to hell like Dives.

  16. Please define “rich” and “poor.” It’s horrendously squishy.

    Perhaps this is all semantics and in the end one’s behavior is all that counts, and we should leave special preferences to be judged in the eye of the Beholder.

    As a layperson, I recall (hopefully accurately) the story of the man who’s debt was forgiven after pleading with a richer person, but the man turned around and treated his debtor harshly sending the debtor off to prison. Here we have three people with the assumption one is richer than the next who is in turn richer than the next. Who’s “rich”? And does the assigning of the adjective “rich”, in the context of right behavior and salvation, matter?

  17. Very well written! I have long thought the same thing and really couldn’t have said it better myself!

  18. Charlie,

    I am again disappointed, this time by your response to my comment. You systematically avoided responding directly to any of the three major critiques I offered in response to your argument. I can only assume that you failed to grasp fully the substance of what I had written. Therefore I shall reiterate my three points as briefly as possible, attempting to be as crystal clear as the complexity of these issues will allow.

    One: Your interpretations of Gospel passages you cite are flawed. I consider them to be flawed because they fail to engage the Hebrew scriptures, writings which Jesus did engage. Had you adequately considered these Hebrew traditions, you would not have attempted to argue that Jesus’ warnings directed to the rich imply that the vulnerability of the rich and the vulnerability of the poor are morally comparable. This is to deny neither that the “spiritual vulnerability” of the rich is a serious issue, nor that God wills the salvation of persons who are rich, nor that practices such as almsgiving and working for structural transformation conduce to the salvation of the rich. It is to deny that God chooses the rich as an object of prioritized concern through God’s salvific action in history. Rather, God acts in human history with prioritized concern toward those whose vulnerability is concrete (which is to say, material and historically verifiable), those whose vulnerability is a direct result of unjust practices engaged in by the rich. The rich oppress the poor, and the latter suffers and is vulnerable in a concrete way that simply cannot be attributed to the former. If God’s concern is prioritized (this is what “preferential option” means), then it can only be prioritized with respect to one group, and that group has to be the poor, or else God would not be God.

    Two: “Preferential option” is a technical theological category originating in the practices and writings of liberation theologians who held that the category should convey a very specific meaning: God’s prioritized concern toward those who suffer from concrete, empirically demonstrable forms of vulnerability and oppression. As such, it can only be applied by extension to other groups if their suffering and vulnerability are the direct result of some system of oppression in which the privileged and powerful are complicit (oppression always implies an oppressor). In this sense, the concept can include other groups in addition to the socioeconomically poor, as you yourself note. However, to apply the category to the rich by further extension, as you do, is to claim that the Image of God in them is tarnished by being an oppressor (to be sure, it is) in a way that is comparable to the way in which the Image of God is tarnished in those who they oppress. This cannot be the case, as claimed above in point one. Different theological categories already present in liberation theology, such as conversion and solidarity, would have been more appropriate choices for describing that to which the rich are called by the Gospel, as has been noted above already by Megan, Elizabeth, and others.

    Three: Your appeal to the distinction between proximate and ultimate value is in itself praiseworthy from the perspective of its being a distinction relevant to just about any moral consideration. You rightly notice that I also affirm this distinction in my own work from the standpoint of Thomist moral methodology. Indeed, certain values are always higher than others and ought to be acknowledged as such. However, the highest value in the Augustinian traditions presumed by Aquinas is always God, which is to say, a mystery who cannot be reduced to or shoehorned into our distinction between “this life” and “the next life.” Therefore, neither can the former distinction between proximate and ultimate value be mapped onto this latter distinction. For liberation theologians, Schillebeeckx, and Metz, God (the ultimate value) is known to us in the experience of salvation, an experience which transcends the facile distinction between “this life” and “the next life,” with the necessary eschatological qualifiers. Therefore, from such a perspective, the salvation of the rich is already imperiled in “this life” because the experience of salvation (ultimate value) starts now. Likewise, the salvation of the poor already becomes a reality in “this life,” for the same reason. God is “already now” and not only “later,” so to speak. The preferential option for the poor is only intelligible as a concept within this very worldly experience of salvation; therefore one misses the point and adulterates the concept when one attempts to excise it from this context and import it into a framework in which union with the “ultimate value” of God is tacitly reserved for the “next life.”

    I hope that you will choose to respond to these criticisms directly.

    • Michael, I have two puzzles. First, I’m puzzled as to why you focused on the fact that, in my limited time, I didn’t address those three particular issues. The main energy of your critique seemed to be focused on the actual practical effect of what I was proposing for discussion (NB: not “arguing for”) would be on the flourishing of the poor. I tried to respond to that…did I misread you? If I did, I apologize.

      But I’m also puzzled as to why you failed to address my clarifying questions to you…it would have made our discussion of these other issues more productive, and I’m just not sure how fruitfully we can engage these topics without you having answered them.

      If I had to respond at this point I would say, though I can’t be sure, it seems that we do not share the very particular lens through which you appear to look at our complex and varied tradition. As you know, there are plenty of folks–with a lens different than yours–who read the Hebrew Bible on these questions differently than you do, and I’m not sure how much good it does for us to cite chapter and verse and author at each other in this format. As you also know, the POFP has now outgrown its originating context and has advocates and interpreters that go well beyond the authors and frameworks you mention. (I think many, in particular, would reject the idea that in order to “count” as the right kind of vulnerable population under the PO one needs to have an oppressor. One’s vulnerability could be a happenstance of chance, with no clear oppressor, and still be a vulnerable population worthy of special concern under the PO.) Finally, whatever lens one uses, my own view is that one must work very hard to make the tradition cohere with the idea that making a strong distinction between this life and the next life is (in your very strong word) “facile.”

      Thanks again for your willingness to keep the conversation going.

  19. So, it seems this question about how tied the preferential option is/is not to political/liberationist frameworks (broadly construed) and the issue of how well it fits into a model of salvation that has a sharp distinction between this life and the next has come up a few times. I’m wondering at this point for some bibliographic recommendations for where this kind of appropriation? (particularly in response to Michael’s latest question)

  20. *where this kind of appropriation comes from

    (apologies on the muddled writing)

  21. What would be an example of a vulnerable population that doesn’t have an oppressor? Especially with respect to structural sin, which has only recently begun to be taken seriously by most theologians? This post and its comments have made me think about a lot of related issues, too. One of the most pressing, for our country, is surely the race issue. Given that most of the world’s rich are white, and given the history of white hegemony (not only in the political but also the theological scene) is there any way a “preferential option for the rich” could *not* be functionally racist?

  22. Magnificent post, Charlie; the best I’ve read anywhere in a long time.

    It occurs to me that to the extent we persuade the rich (especially ourselves) to exercise a preferential option for the poor, several things follow: a ) the preferential option for the poor is exercised by the rich in and through them abdicating their riches on behalf of the poor, and b) the rich repent of what puts their salvation most in jeopardy, at least in terms of the present discussion. But this means that the preferential option for the rich is exercised *precisely through* persuading them to exercise, or having them exercise, a preferential option for the poor. (A “preferential option” for Group A requires “opters who so prefer” from Group B).

    In rough narrative terms, “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor” locates the sense in which the poor are being preferred. And: “You will have treasure in heaven; come, follow me” locates the sense in which the rich are being preferred: all within the same sequence of action as discrete but mutually reinforcing ends. Since the two desiderata are “preferred” in different senses, there is no logical contradiction in preferring *both*. A lot of the comments worry that your line of thought gives pride of place to the rich over the poor somehow. This would make it clear that not only is the relationship non-competitive, the two “preferential options” are in fact symbiotic. (Goods shared in the communion of saints being the paradigm here.)

  23. Thanks, David. It is interesting to see that so many of us (who are all deeply committed to the flourishing of the poor) can have such wildly different theological reactions to the concept of a POFR. Some are disturbed and offended, while others think it is right on the money. (So to speak.)

  24. Okay. I just wanted to make one last comment, which was to say, somewhat in response to David’s comment (Hi David!), that those of with a concern about Charlie’s language of the preferential option for the rich actually do get what he’s going for. Specifically, that the intention behind the post is to tie these two preferential options together in a relationship of symbiosis, and that there are different levels of vulnerabilities, some of which include the rich, and that’s something Christians need to attend to, etc. But I think that the critical comments were more designed to test whether this language is not only valid in the most formal sense (i.e., POFP can be seen as a plural discourse encompassing all kinds of vulnerabilities) but also fitting and good in the sense of uniquely clarifying the state of things and actually inspiring the right kinds of praxis in the world. I don’t really think Charlie has sufficiently dealt with these concerns, but that’s fine. It’s just a blog post.

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