(The first part of this blog post is adapted from The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Election by Nicholas Confessore, Sarah Cohen and Karen Yourish in The New York Times.)
They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth. They live in exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.
To whom am I referring: the 158 families who have provided nearly half of the early money for efforts to capture the White House. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found. Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago. These donors’ fortunes reflect the shifting composition of the country’s economic elite.
Relatively few work in the traditional ranks of corporate America, or hail from dynasties of inherited wealth. Most built their own businesses, parlaying talent and an appetite for risk into huge wealth: They founded hedge funds in New York, bought up undervalued oil leases in Texas, made blockbusters in Hollywood.
But regardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs. While such measures would help protect their own wealth, the donors describe their embrace of them more broadly, as the surest means of promoting economic growth and preserving a system that would allow others to prosper, too.
Now what does this have to do with Wedgewood? That’s my question for you as we give our offerings of money and time and energy and talent to this beloved community. What does it mean to be church, to be Christian in a country in which the rich have so much influence? What are the implications for our life together, and our ministry efforts?
At a minimum, we need to help those who do not have a voice have their voices heard. At a minimum, we need to insure that those who have more wealth in our congregation do not rule our congregation. At a minimum, we must be suspicious of, and ask questions of, those who prosper in our culture. Have you made your money off the backs of the poor? Are you interested solely in your own wealth or the well-being of the world? At a minimum, we have to remember Jesus said the people who have the hardest time understanding the kingdom of God are the rich.