Monday, March 23, 2009

Christ's Take on AIG

Here are the facts about the AIG bonuses as I have been able to ascertain. AIG received over $170 billion of federal bailout money to stay solvent. The company used $165 million (now their saying $218 million) to fulfill contractual bonuses to over 400 employees ranging from $1000 to $6.4 million per individual. The Stimulus Bill passed earlier this year included an exemption crafted by Chris Dodd and the Treasury department to permit the bailout money to be used for such bonuses. News outlets have had plenty to talk about since the bonuses were revealed. The bonuses have incited public outrage. And finally, most Americans don’t even know what AIG stands for. OK, I can’t actually substantiate this last fact, but I have a feeling its true.

Public outrage has in fact turned quite ugly. One person e-mailed the company stating, "All the executives and their families should be executed with piano wire — my greatest hope." Another person suggested publishing the names of those "Yankee" bankers "so some good old southern boys can take care of them." The numerous death threats these executives have received has prompted the company to recommend that they travel in pairs.

The House of Representatives voted to retroactively tax the bonuses received at a 90% rate. Many on both sides of the political aisle felt the public outcry from these bonuses warranted such an extreme action. President Obama stated, "Today's vote rightly reflects the outrage that so many feel over the lavish bonuses that AIG provided its employees at the expense of the taxpayers who have kept this failed company afloat. Now this legislation moves to the Senate, and I look forward to receiving a final product that will serve as a strong signal to the executives who run these firms that such compensation will not be tolerated." He has since changed his view on the 90% tax, citing constitutional and legal concerns of such legislation (see article 1 section 9 of the US Constitution).

Thus, we have observed two solutions in dealing with this issue: kill the executives or steal the bonuses back through unconstitutional retroactive tax laws. Both of those options stem from emotional outrage and suggest that two wrongs actually do make a right. However, God’s word affirms nothing of the sort.

The AIG issues brings to the forefront familiar sins that man has wrestled with from the beginning: greed and envy. Paul instructs believers in Colossians 3:5 to "put to death…greed, which is idolatry." Adam and Eve exhibited greed in the garden of Eden. They wanted to be like God and greedily ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, even though God said not to. Certainly some of the AIG executives fell into this sin of greed by seeking such bonuses in their contracts. Scripture informs us that the love of money is the root of all evil, and the love of money can twist a person's worldview. The general public lashed out at these executives for accepting such bonuses when the company used public money to stay afloat. It didn’t matter to the populace whether the bonuses were contractual obligations or not. It just seemed greedy to accept such bonuses.

The public outrage however, reveals a second sin that has plagued mankind since the beginning. That is the sin of coveting or envy. When Abel received God’s blessing for his offering and Cain did not, Cain envied his brother. Cain dealt with what he perceived as an inequity by murdering his brother. One sin led to another. Cain was outraged that Abel would receive a commendation from the LORD and he did not. I think if people were honest with themselves, they may discover something similar in their own outrage over AIG.

Now by no means am I suggesting the AIG executives are the equivalent of Abel. That’s certainly not the case. But I am suggesting that some in the American populace have fallen into the sin of Cain. From a legal standpoint, the individuals receiving the bonuses have done nothing wrong. The bonuses were in their contracts and the stimulus bill signed into law permitted the federal funds to be used in such a fashion. However, many people want to see that money stripped from them. I have a feeling though, that if these same outraged people were on the receiving end of these million dollar bonus, then their tune would change.

So, would Christ's attitude toward these individuals be "stick it to them any way you can?"

Jesus certainly warned the rich about trusting in their wealth and storing up treasures here on earth. He condemned the rich when they oppressed the poor or trusted in their wealth for eternity, but he never condemned them solely because they were rich. Many wealthy individuals, in fact, contributed to Jesus’ ministry. These included Joseph of Arimethea, Joanna (the wife of Herod’s household manager), and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Neither did Jesus condemn Zacchaeus for His wealth, but rather transformed how Zacchaeus used his wealth.

We must guard ourselves from an attitude of envy toward those who have more than we do. God will deal with greedy individuals in His way and in His time. We should leave the judgment and discipline up to Him. Our job as believers is not to act as Robin Hood, but to avoid greed and envy in our life. We must make sure that we use the resources God entrusts to us in a God honoring way. Then we can encourage other believers to use their resources in a like manner. Paul instructed Timothy,

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."

Notice that Paul didn't instruct Timothy to strip the wealth from those who are rich. Nor did suggest any death threats or mob lynchings. Was it greedy for those executives with extremely large bonuses to accept them despite the company having received billions in bailout money? I think we could argue, yes. But is it also envious to confiscate that money simply because we don't think they should receive that much? I would also argue, yes.

So what would Christ’s mind on the AIG issue be? I believe He might suggest that each of us focus more on how we use our money and resources for His glory and let Him worry about how other people use theirs.

No comments:

Post a Comment