Finance First Friday: God’s Economy

Reading this week’s email from Bishop Loya, the following paragraph caught my attention:

God doesn’t simply command sabbath as a nod to wellness or self-care. It’s an act of social and economic resistance to the lie that human beings are only valuable because of what they produce. The ten commandments are given to the people of Israel to help shape a different social economy than what they experienced as slaves under Pharaoh. The social economy of Pharaoh says work, because people are there to be exploited to produce. The social economy of God says rest, because human beings have inherent worth and are made for love.

As an economics student this time of lockdown has piqued my curiosity about a global economy that honors people, profit, and the planet – something I have long desired but not thought possible. However, there are an increasing number of books about Eco-civilizations built on an economic philosophy that is just and generous. Entire schools of thought like Modern Monetary Theory offer us new visions of how we can do well while also doing good. If you would like a break from the constant bombardment of scary stories of impending financial doom facing our country and the world, watch Economist Stephanie Kelton deliver the 2018 Presidential Lecture at Stony Brook University, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpyuqKLh6QU.

In 2016, at a Neighborhood Economics event, Old Testament scholar and theologian, Dr. Walter Brueggemann described two competing protocols of how society should be structured, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZtpD304AmI:

Protocols of Purity (rooted in the book of Leviticus) stratify the community into hierarchical groups based on gender, religious practice, appearance, diet, etc. Straight men being the purest, immigrants being the least pure, and women, LGBTQ, and People of Color featuring somewhere in between. Brueggemann says the protocols of purity demean people who are considered less pure and when people have been ritually demeaned, they can be economically exploited. So, when religious purity is transferred to the practice of economics we get stratified education, stratified housing, stratified healthcare and the less pure and demeaned cannot get loans, pay higher interest rates, earn lower wages, etc. – sound familiar?Protocols of Neighborliness (rooted in the book of Deuteronomy) include laws from Moses such as you must not charge interest on loans to neighbors (and who is our neighbor…?), you shall not collect collateral on loans to poor people, you shall not practice wage theft, do not be so greedy you do not leave enough for the vulnerable and needy, and after 7 years cancel debts for poor people [reworded/summarized]. Brueggemann says, these protocols imply we cannot do the economy in any viable way without recognizing that human people merit dignity. They aim to subordinate the economy to the community, so we do not have a permanent underclass. The primary call of the protocols of neighborliness is to beat the debt system.

Brueggemann argues that the protocols of purity do not understand that neighbor trumps purity and stratification – Jesus did, but not the protocols of purity! And that the Bible is an endless contestation between people who believe faith is about stratified purity and people who believe faith is about neighborliness.

Brueggemann draws two conclusions:

Protocols of purity cannot make us ultimately safe or ultimately happy because they are out of sync with the emancipatory God of the Exodus.Protocols of purity inevitably end in violence, whether quick or slow.

Finally, he calls us to the work of figuring out how the protocols of neighborliness can break the vicious cycle of stratified purity. Over the last 14 months, I believe, we have seen signs that more and more of us want this too. I have heard calls for new ways, different ways of honoring our value and meeting our needs. I have witnessed the emergence of creative ways of relating to one another that respect our planet, distribute power equitably, and honor all of God’s creation.

In economic terms, we need to change the risk/reward equation; make the actions and products that hurt people and the planet less profitable and less desirable. Some examples:

Make providing healthcare more profitable than denying it.Make maintaining peace more profitable than going to war.Make protecting women’s rights and freedom more profitable than selling them to human traffickers.Make investing in under-resourced communities more profitable than jailing people of color.

Each of us have unique gifts that we can contribute to this work. As we emerge from this pandemic, how can you work toward an economy that shapes a better world for all of us? Here are a few ideas I had as I researched this post:

Do not allow money to separate you from God, which leads to spiritual death. Use the power of the Holy Spirit to remain grounded in God and in Jesus’ teachings when dealing with financial matters.Forgive yourself. Most of us have made mistakes when it comes to money and some of those mistakes have fallen short of our Christian values. Christ has already paid the price of those sins, and of any sins to come. You are forgiven and restored to new life. Accept His gift.Consider if there are debts owed to you that you can forgive. We understand sin as seeking our own will instead of the liberating and loving will of God. This sin distorts our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation. Jesus frees us from the power of sin so we can live in harmony with God, within ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation. Discern what sacrifices you can make to clear debts owed to you, give the debtor new life, and restore your relationship.If you have been blessed with money or other resources, look for ways to pay your blessings forward and use those gifts to help others.If you have been blessed with financial skills use them to help others navigate complex money matters. Financial concerns are a leading cause of stress and money mismanagement can have devastating consequences such as crippling debt, homelessness, and legal issues. Using your God given talents to help others avoid or get out of these situations is bringing God’s love to a hurting world.Similarly, if you have been blessed with being an advocate, use your voice to bring about financial reforms that help the poor and suffering and brings about God’s justice and equality for all.Just as Christ stood in solidarity with us on the cross, look at how you can invest and spend your money in ways that reflect God’s values and stands in solidarity with the oppressed.Follow Bishop Loya’s advise, and God’s command, to rest as you need to. We do not have to keep up with an economy built on protocols of purity and stratification; take some time out for neighborliness.

Jesus talked about money more than any other topic during his ministry among us. There’s a reason for that. We can’t love God and oppress each other. John 3:17-18 says it best:

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

I would love to hear your experiences, thoughts, or ideas on how we can work to bring about God’s economy here on earth.

Understanding and navigating our society’s financial systems as followers of Christ can be challenging. As with most spiritual practices, we gain strength when we share with and support each other. To write a post, offer resources, submit an article, or do an interview please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull – you never know who needs to hear your story.

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