I grew up in the United Methodist Church.   My father is a pastor.  I am now a Southern Baptist.  I know a few things about testimonies.  For those of you who don’t, a testimony is where a believer gets up in church, in front of everyone else, and tells his story of faith,  confesses her struggles, or does something that points out the specific triumphs and trials he or she has encountered on the journey.  As a child, I would hear the testimonies begin, and I’d feel a guilty compulsion to say something, but I really didn’t know what.  Now that I’m mature in my faith, there are lots of things I want to say, but I rarely get the chance.

This occurred to me recently as I listened to all of the economic discussions attending the current presidential election.  I keep hearing about upper-class, middle-class and lower-class.  I keep hearing about rich and poor, and the plight of this group or that.  I hear, over and over, the same tired-out old Marxist rhetoric of class warfare and economic re-distribution.  And so, I decided that I would give my ‘economic testimony,’ since I’m apparently one of those persons who is part of the problem of America’s wealth inequality.

My grandparents were what you might call ‘lower-class.’  That’s really a misnomer, referring only to their economic status.  In actuality, they were first class people who loved my brother and me dearly.  Grandpa and Grandma Leap farmed a little and sold small garden tractors from their home.  Grandpa Owens was a truck-driver, Grandma Owens stayed home and managed her house, making sure Grandpa had lots of good food to eat.  All of their parents were farmers, miners, teamsters, part-time soldiers and every other thing that regular people did.  As far as I know, no one in my family stole the royal jewels from their princely parents and scooted off to America with a fortune. We were just folks.  Appalachian folks they were, with Appalachian houses, names, habits, speech and faith.
I was raised in West Virginia, and I am the child of two parents, who are still married these forty-six years since their wedding day.  They were the first in their families to graduate from college.  They raised me in a two-parent home.  It was also a two-income home, so I was fortunate in that regard.  However, they weren’t wealthy.  My mother was, and remains, a registered nurse.  My father was initially an employee of a manufacturing company.  He worked in the shipping department, usually nights, after returning from a tour in the Army, including an all-expenses paid trip to scenic and dangerous Vietnam.

Later, my father felt God call him to be a pastor, so for several years he went to seminary out of town all week, worked part-time at a church on weekends, and my mother’s work largely supported us.  They were both gone a lot, but I had loving parents who did their best with the situation put before them, and with the lives and pursuits they chose.

(My wife, also raised in Southern Appalachia, comes from Irish immigrants and Swiss immigrants, down a line of housewives and pioneers, sailors and miners, laborers and all the rest.  Her father is retired from the coal mines of West Virginia, her mother from local government.  She paid her way to college and graduate school.  She rarely slept in grad-school, working and taking classes simultaneously while we dated long-distance.)
I went to Marshall University on an academic scholarship; I never paid a dime of tuition because of that.  But it had nothing to do with my ancestors or ethnicity; it had nothing to do with anyone’s pity or perception that I couldn’t do it.  I worked hard for my grades.  I did well.  I went to medical school and paid for it by getting loans that I later paid back, on time, in full, as a physician.  Lots of it was paid by working extra during residency, moonlighting at small hospitals.  My wife astutely used our extra money well.

My wife and I bought a house after residency, when I started work in western South Carolina. We were back to Appalachia after all, it seemed, having only recently left.  We paid our mortgage.  We paid our taxes.  We paid for our insurance.  We paid malpractice insurance.  We paid for our vehicles.  The job I first started 15 years ago is still my job.  I am an emergency physician in Upstate South Carolina.  I see lots of people who can’t, or won’t, pay my bill.  I understand that some of them are strapped.  My partners and I accept that as a part of our practice.  I don’t understand the ones who simply won’t, but I still have to see them, according to Federal Law.

We have had, praise be to God, four beautiful children since moving here and starting my practice.  We paid for pre-natal care for their mother, and paid for all of the medical issues that every childhood entails.  We pay for their insurance; one has diabetes and is on a pump.  Insurance is not cheap, but I am blessed that I can afford it for him and the others.  We buy their food and clothes.  We home-school, but still pay our taxes in support of the public school system.  We have no voucher or tax credit.  We do what we believe is right for our family.
We are Christians and go to church where we donate to the church’s causes in the community and world.  We try to always give what we believe God calls us to give.  We have animals.  We pay for their care.  We have land; it is not being developed, but is sitting wild, busily creating oxygen and scavenging carbon-dioxide, 24/7.

I have tried, all my life, to be self-sufficient.  I have tried to be a citizen who cares for his own, and who contributes to the common good; financially, by raising good children, by putting my hands into the hands of the sick.  I have tried to use my talents to care for myself and family, and for the world of humanity around me.
So tell me, when did I become the enemy?  When did my wife and I become the people who simply aren’t doing enough for the rest of the country? When did my giving, in current taxes and charity, become inadequate?  When did my success become the sign of a parasite?  Who decided that there was a vast money-tree, and that people like me had raced to it first, and beaten everyone else away with sticks?

We are poised on the brink of financial catastrophe, both from the struggles of the market and from the promise of higher taxes if the power-structure swings left following the election.   I know that if that happens, despite what anyone says, I’ll pay more taxes.  Not because I’m ultra-rich.  Actually, I probably don’t make as much as many building or plumbing contractors, realtors or professors.

But it doesn’t matter.  It will come.  And will those taxes really be implemented to make the world better by lowering the deficit for my children?  Will it really be to help the poor?  Or will it really be because I have simply done well and need to be taught a lesson?

Whence this ridiculous perversion of the American dream?  ‘Succeed, citizens!  Prosper!  But if you prosper too much, remember that you are the problem.’  When did prosperity, thrift, wisdom, planning, work and ethics become anathema?  When did it become evil for men and women to contribute their talents, care for their families and enrich their communities with businesses and investments?   When did we decide that taxation as punishment was rational?  When did socialism rise from its well-deserved grave to cry out ‘economic justice!’  When did the world turn upside-down?

I will still work.  I will still care for my own.  I will still add my gifts and talents to my nation, my world, my community and to the church, local and universal, temporal and eternal.  But if I am punished for goodness, if I am derided and condemned for doing right, if I am demonized for success, I will be angry, I will be hurt, I will be active in seeking my own justice and I will not be silent about the lunacy of the American slide from freedom back to the tyranny of collectivism.

My economic testimony ends here.  I pray that justice is done for all of those who have spent their lives striving to do right, even as the forces of madness conspire to deprive them of the respect worthy of their lives and the rewards worthy of their endeavors.

Defiantly Yours,



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