Tag Archives: economy of Jesus

Toward A Theologically Responsible Economy

I have been wrestling (poorly) on Facebook recently with a variety of folks who disagree with me about a number of political/social/economic issues. As Facebook seems to be a forum where civility is many times suspect, I wanted to stretch my legs a bit around economics here on Political Jesus, where it is safe (yeah right). At least here, we can have more room to build a case or extend an argument. So here is my question: How do we build a theologically sound economic worldview? I am tired of letting the Republicans and Democrats frame the issues here. Jesus talked about economic justice as much as any other single topic. And I think that means we should as well. I am going to set down an idea and try to build from there.

Big Idea #1:

If other countries make it easy for companies to use slave labor, pay less than a living wage, allow inhumane working conditions, allow dangerous or deadly working conditions, or threaten workers, competition, or unions, then outsourcing our country’s jobs there is immoral.

Deuteronomy 24: 15: “Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.”
James 5:4-6: Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.This flows naturally from Jesus’ teaching to treat others how we would want to be treated”

Big Idea #2:

Any system that allows those who are wealthy to use their wealth to influence lawmakers to make laws that benefit them with no discernible benefit to the country as a whole is immoral.

Proverbs 28:20: “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished,”
Hebrews 13:5: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,”
Ezekiel 16:49: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy,”(this passage points out that God expects better from every nation, not just Christians or Israel)

Big Idea #3:

In a land of such abundance as ours, being poor is a moral issue. While we may disagree on what exactly poor means (I welcome that discussion), no one, not even those whose circumstances we may frown upon, should go without basic food, clothing, and shelter. There is no amount or quality of work that justifies the wealthiest among us getting wealthier while there are still those among us who don’t have basic human necessities.

Deuteronomy 15:7 “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.”
Deuteronomy 15:4: “However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you.”
Jeremiah 22:16: “‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.”
Romans 12:20: “On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'”
Matthew 25:45: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Big Idea #4:

Children should always be taken care of. No matter if the parent is bad, evil, lazy, homosexual, Muslim, or illegal. Every child should have access to basic food, clothing, shelter, safety, and as much education as it takes to reasonably expect a job.

Romans 12:20: “On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'”
Psalm 83: Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.”
Jeremiah 22:3: And do no wrong or violence to the immigrant, the fatherless, and the widow.”

Big Idea #5:
God’s values are not only active within the church, and the church, to a great extent, exists to bring God’s truth to the world. As such, while the church is indeed commanded to feed and help the poor, fatherless, and the widow, it does not follow that government should not do so. It seems that if it is God’s will for the poor, fatherless, and the widows to be helped, then God is pleased whenever this happens, through government or church or individual.

Ezekiel 16:49: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”
Jeremiah 5:28: “[The wicked] do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. Shall I not punish these people?” declares the LORD. “On such a nation as this, shall I not avenge myself?”
Luke 16:19-25: (paraphrased) in which a clearly non-Christian rich person ignores the poor Lazurus and is found eternally guilty.

 

I offer up these in a real and genuine attempt to get at something that Christians from all stripes can agree with and work together toward. What big ideas can be added? Which need to be changed? Which are completely wrong?

 

Jesus the Economist

“We may usefully recall here that Jesus Christ, being God as well as man, was and is a better economist than Adam Smith or John Stuart Mill.”- Bernard Dempsey, The Functional Economy, page 83 found in D. Stephen Long, The Divine Economy: Theology and the Markets, page 212-213.

When asked who his favorite political philosopher was at a 1999 debate in Iowa, then Governor George W. Bush responded,

“Jesus Christ, because he changed my life.”–Jesus the Philosopher

While D. Stephen Long notes that the Gospel remained marginal to do with Bernard Dempsey’s overall project, Dempsey at least tried to have an economics consistent with Christian tradition. I would say similarly, Christ had very little to do with much of George W. Bush’s policies.

I think what gets lost, and I see this with D. Stephen Long’s text, is that Jesus was a philosopher, a lover of wisdom, but whence comes that Wisdom? I would say the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible–the philosophies of Moses, Solomon, and Ezekiel.

Book Review: D. Stephen Long's Divine Economy: Theology and the Market

In my past posts, I have made my criticism of Radical Orthodoxy known. Particularly bothersome is the lack of engagement and appreciation for theologians “from the margins.” D. Stephen Long’s Divine Economy comes as a welcome surprise, with a few qualifications of course.

Long identifies three traditions in which religious thinkers from the Christendom have engaged economic theory. In the Part 1 of the book, named the Dominant Tradition, Long identifies persons who vary, but who share similar assumptions, from conservative Catholic Michael Novak to Max Stackhouse and Philip Wogaman. In their search for a “post-confessional” and “post-Christian” secular theology of economics, Christology takes a step back since economics and politics are seen as belonging to separate realms. In addition, theologies of creation take preeminence to Christology and ecclesiology.

Part II recognizes the emergent tradition, the one in which the liberation theologians such as Rosemary Reuther, James Cone, Gustavo Guttierez, and Jon Sobrino are identified and observed. Sharing a common vision of human being with the dominant tradition, i.e., being as liberty, Christology and ecclessiology (according to Long’s interpretation” become subordinate to notions of freedom. Perhaps the most unnerving critique for me was Long’s argument against liberation theologians’ tendency to claim that all theological speech is limited in what it can say about God, and that those who argue this protest essentially against God’s plentitude. Only those who hold to the capitalist logic of scarcity, and its promotion of competition would consider truth claims as a negation of other truth claims (i.e., other religions).

Part III is Long’s constructive proposal, and his engagement with economists, who he considers to be moral philosophers, whether they be Adam Smith, Karl Marx, or John Maynard Keynes. The tradition that Long proposes is the one of the Residual nature, not something that belongs to the past, but that has continued to be inherited and passed down by the Church. The Residual Tradition calls for a functional economy that is all together opposed to capitalism, for capitalism makes it impossible to pass down traditional Christian virtues.

Critique: For the the first 2 parts, I found much to agree with. However, his constructive proposal was not all too surprising. The Eucharist sorta works like magic for the RO folks: if we can just get the ordinary lay person to understand the magic behind the Eucharist, she would know what God’s economy is like. The preference for localism was not all too surprising as well. I don’t believe in a separation of the confessional from the cosmopolitan, the content of the faith from real world politics. Also, what Long fails to take account in liberation theologian’s such as James Cone is the idea that Jesus Christ as God’s Word as Revelation is what regulates what we can say about God. It is in that revelation that we can participate in God the Liberator’s fullness. Though, notions of revelation and particularity disappear in Part 3 when it comes to discussion of Christ, in favor of a Thomist natural law/New Law perspective. For me, this is an interesting turn of events. Why? Because in Long’s criticism of Sobrino, he accuses him of being anti-Judaic in the name of being for the poor (139). The liberationist doctrine of the election of the oppressed supersedes YHWH’s choosing of the Jews who “do not stand as a symbol for some other social group.”

Yet, Long never fully explicates what does Jesus’ Judaism mean for a Christian economics; how does the life of the church serves as a continuation or personification of JEWISH virtues we find in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament? What we are left with is a mentioning of the Ten Commandments, but that is only to reach a more Thomist understanding of personhood (218). What makes Long’s ecclessiology and Christology less supersessionist than Sobrino’s (given that Judaism has no connection in either’s theo-economics)? Perhaps the most indicative of D. Stephen Long’s Gentile Christology comes in his silence to John Milbank’s dismissal of the Historical Jesus in favor of a narrative, or shall I say, poetic understanding of the Messiah. While the atoning life, death, and resurrection are what Long and Milbank argue as “the objective content of the beautiful” so that what is deemed beautiful exists in the Universal made Particular (251), the very particularity of Jesus is overlooked in favor of what it means to be human in general. Jesus as that poetic gift from God is “re-mythologized” as “human language becomes a participation in God’s plenitude” (253). However, exactly what kind of human language is Scripture recorded in? Which human bodies did God inspire to let us Gentiles know of God’s story?

This all of course means that we have to go with the RO and Hauerwasian school’s narrative/dramatic understanding of Christology and the Creeds, giving priority to an infallible ecclessial structure, i.e., the Church, the community that God has made stewards of this story. What Long conveniently leaves out is that utmost importance that the Historical Jesus has on liberation theologians, and as James Cone argued in A Black Theology of Liberation, we must come to reject the division of the Christ of faith and the Historical Jesus. Advocates of RO like Long would have us concentrate solely on the former. As I have argued before with postcolonial biblical scholar, Sugi, the literary/narrative approach to the Bible, used in exclusion, leads to us residing in an ideal past, separate from concerns for histories of praxis. Hence, with the typical RO emphasis on localism, D. Stephen Long remains almost silent on global matters as they pertain to international trade, multinational corporations, and post-colonial empire (with its soft forms of power) imposed by the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund onto “developing” countries.