* This began as a response to a good comment on The Pastor Salary Fallacy. See comments there for points to the other side.
Let me take a first stab at describing why I speak about the Church and money in ways that sound odd to most people.
The Church as Alternate Society and Alternate Economy
At root, I’m looking for the Church to live as an alternate society (by no means separate from the world, but by all means very distinct from the world), a society that in many ways provides a prophetic critique of the rest of society, a counter-culture. This is some of what I was getting at in the post Prophets and Pragmatism.
And in a culture submerged in capitalism (no, I don’t believe God is a capitalist… or a socialist — see Christians, Capitalism and Ayn Rand and Jesus and Politics), I think one of the most important parts of that alternate society is an alternate economy.
Though maybe our capitalist-immersed setting doesn’t matter. Scripture always seems to describe an alternate economy. One that would have been shocking and rubbed right against the grain of the rest of the world’s economy.
Church Use of Money
So when we consider the Church’s use of money, at best I hope our use of money will be a prophetic critique of the marketplace. At worst, I hope it will ignore the marketplace. Whatever we do, I hope our use of money won’t be overly influenced by the marketplace. Can we re-imagine how money would be handled in a new creation economy without being terribly influenced by the capitalist US marketplace?
For instance – why are we concerned to be sure our high-level people have enough for comfortable retirement, a nice house in a good school district with nice vacations, but we don’t seem nearly so concerned for the same with our custodians and secretaries? I get why the capitalist marketplace differentiates these, but why the Church? What does this reflect about a new creation, Christian economy? We usually say something about “fair,” but what’s our standard for fair? Is the standard “fair market value”? And here we are again, back at capitalist economics in the Church…
This is just something early to try and identify the issue at root in our differences. I need to spend more time thinking and writing on this. Perhaps it will help me realize the fallacy of my own thinking. Perhaps it will convert someone else to my position. (Then there will be four in the world!) Most likely, we’ll all just keep talking in different directions. But at least we’re all trying and talking.
And an important note: this is hard and requires plenty of discerning and questioning. “Do not steal” is usually pretty easy. We can generally draw an easy line with “Do not commit adultery.” On issues of how to live out an alternate economy in the Church, the answers aren’t nearly so clean. I don’t presume to have them all, or to be doing it all even close to right. But regardless, I think they’re important questions to ask and attempt to answer with our lives.
For now, some links to those who have been most influential for me in all of this: William T Cavanaugh, James KA Smith, and John Wesley.
- Cavanaugh video on the Myth of Consumerism.
- Also read anything Cavanaugh ever wrote – especially Being Consumed.
- James K. A. Smith’s symposium on Faith, Economics, and Globalization is a perfect example of how two Christians with different starting points can talk completely past each other on matters of economics. This is pretty dense if you’re not used to economics talk, but it’s quite good.
- In my post on pastors’ salaries and church buildings, I use the Wesley quote that was pretty influential in my own thinking and re-imagining.