STOP! PAUSE! I already realize there will be people on both sides of this debate arguing that “well Christian communism” or “Christian socialism” is also wrong, yada yada. Sure I’ll concede this but these concepts aren’t the status quo or relevant to this discussion.
Last year I went down close to the San Antonio area with my church’s singles group for a Baptist conference for singles. I had some good memories, and also some not-so-good memories that I live-tumblred. Even wrote a song.
At that time I was working two part-time jobs, 1 in retail, the other substitute teaching. I wanted a little bit more stability so I attended the “manage your finances” seminar. The lesson was taught based on the premise that one was full-time employed, with benefits, and earning $40,000 at minimum. The lesson was irrevant to the needs of the working poor/unemployed and to the message of the Gospel. Jesus’ liberating mission (Luke 4:19) was completely ignored. God’s favor for the oppressed was dismissed in favor of free market talking points clothed in religious piety. Just because our lecturer, a white collar worker at an investment firm, was at the top, did not mean he had the clearest view. But again, that’s the problem with the Church’s marriage to Capitalism; there’s very little space to hear the voices of those who are suffering.
In Christianity, we have a bad habit of hiding behind power. The 4th century bishops hid behind Emperors like Constantine; Martin Luther had his princes, John Calvin had his city councils; church going slave owners had their Bibles and plantations; the abolitionists had Lincoln, later Woodrow Wilson; the Moral Majority had Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In today’s world, the culture wars are almost out of the hands of politicians, and in the hands of businessmen through the media, social media, and various institutions. Who are the Defenders of the Faith today? Christian celebrities from Duck Dynasty, and the owners of Chik-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby, respectively. #NoShade
Systematic theologian Joerg Rieger asked it best, “what if our theologies and our churches have, at least unconsciously, become part of the religion of the market? What if the God worshipped on Sunday mornings looks more like Mammon everyday?” For more see Rieger’s Liberating The Future.
What I see happening is the cycle of Christians coalescing around the powerful, placing their hopes on them. This adoration of money and influence isn’t limited to the church of course; what I am saying is that this is happening in spite of our Savior’s teachings on the subject of money. Yes I already know the Parable of the Minas (Talents) and you’re wrong. When a person has the audacity to speak up and compare Christ’s teachings to the American church’s economic practices, they are labelled “communist.” Such red-baiting only exemplifies how much people are willing to go to cling to their idols.
One practice that happens in mainline and evangelical churches that goes unchecked is denominational structures investing their money in stocks and futures. About two weeks ago, the Presbyterian Church USA applauded itself and its white saviorism for divesting from THREE corporations implicated in destroying Palestinian lives. At the general assembly, America was seen to be the “real” Promised Land and anti-Jewish propaganda were first placed then taken down from the PCUSA website.
What doesn’t go questioned is WHY ARE CHURCHES INVESTING in the stock market in the first place? Why not the lives of the poor? Why not homes for Palestinian refugees? This paternalistic white saviorism is part of the legacy of capitalism. James Baldwin said it best, that Israel was created for the salvation of Western interests.
Neoliberalism and neocolonial empire is built upon the history of divide and conquer among conquered groups, the Palestinians and Israelis being just two of those. The imperial missionary religion transplanted overseas said, “love your neighbor at home, except if she was black or First Nations. Love your neighbor in a foreign country, except if she is a woman of color.” This hypocrisy remains today. Take for example, “Christian” business Hobby Lobby. As Tyler pointed out, we think it’s great that HL is paying a living wage. However, they are inconsistent in their “pro-life” ethic by expoiting Chinese workers and investing in abortion pills still here and abroad. The Supreme Court ruling given on Monday was not about religious freedom. It was about economic liberty and power as understood by the Christian capitalist managerial class. In the words of Bill Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid!”
There are ways towards resisting the Church’s sacramentalizing the free market, and that starts looking back with the teachings of Jesus, and being present in the here and now with the least of these. One of my favorite Gospel passages our mother had us to memorize was Matthew 6:21, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. If you value fellow human beings as all being made in the image of God, from fetus to factory worker, you will show them love, struggle against the systems of death with them, and bring them life. This may mean church may have to stop giving in to the status quo, take risks, and in a rare moment of agreement with Wayne Grudem, invest in people, not corporations and power.
In the words of James Cone, from hid A Black Theology of Liberation,
“Embracing the world is a denial of the gospel. The history of traditional Christianity and recent secular theology show the danger of this procedure. Identifying the rise of nationalism with Christianity, capitalism with the gospel, or exploration of outer space with the advancement of the kingdom of God serves only to enhance the oppression of the weak. It is a denial of the lordship of Christ. To affirm Christ as Lord means that the world stands under his judgment. There is no place or person not subject to his rule.”