Lesson 8: Christian Influence in the Economic System

Mark, perhaps our only economist, suggests our present problems have more to do with sinful human nature and abusive political power than economic theory. While reading his comments,I realized John, a model in sustainable agriculture, has been saying pretty much the same thing. For that matter, most of the comments can be read this way.

Indeed, there is nothing inherently wrong with a global economic system. There is no reason it could not care for the vulnerable rather than exploit them. There is no reason it could not make some reasonable consideration of local particularities.

However, every one of our respondents agree we are presently experiencing severe problems in this area. As I have frequently asserted, I think a major reason is that extremely high-speed communication, huge data banks, and other technological advances enable a few people to exert tremendous economic power over others. As this has developed all the traditional checks have been weakened. The global perspective has rendered localized religions practically irrelevant. International corporations have gained control over national governments. Politicians have stifled information sources such as the free press and academy.

It is taken for granted that Jesus followers generously care for the vulnerable in any society, acknowledging each person is a unique child of God with whom we share ourselves and our goods. We relate to all as friends and neighbors not as parties in business transactions.

However, that is not enough in a democratic society that also offers us opportunity to serve the needs of our neighbors. As Father Jude maintains, we have a duty to get our hands dirty in politics.

One way to do that is to work with others to provide reasonable economic regulations. That is critically important in a credit-based economy that can so easily exploit the vulnerable. To rely on the market alone is naive in the present situation when the powerful clearly manipulate it.

We can also advocate for some kind of distributive justice such as a truly graduated income tax. As Paul suggests, simple handouts do not help as much as providing realistic ways to enable people to help themselves. Myron, whose diplomatic background provides a global perspective, calls for supporting education that includes the humanities so that we are nurturing thoughtful citizens as well as informed consumers.

In many ways, Jesus’ followers find ourselves in the same situation as first century church. In those days, Rome controlled the economic system and exploited the provincials such as Jesus neighbors. Christians practiced what they proclaimed in their own communities but also saw their efforts as a witness to those beyond. They spoke boldly in the public conversation advocating Jesus’ way of love and care for the neighbor. Although influencing the mighty, Rome seemed a hopeless dream; in the long run the witness turned the empire.

Of course, as soon as you talk this way, people rightfully point out many Christians are part of the problem not the solution. Certainly the Religious Wrong has become the establishment religion that speaks far more for the status quo than Christ. They fall into the trap of those insisting we have to conform, because that is the way the real world runs. If you truly trust Jesus’ promise that God participates in his creation, all sorts of new possibilities open up.

Having said all this, we also have to consider Paul’s question about looking for what he calls Jesusian economic models. Being a student of indigenous cultures, he finds they have more to teach us about Jesus’s way than so-called Christian economic theories. This thought reminds us to continually be searching for a better system.

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