The Church as Alternate Economy

alternate economy* 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.

15 thoughts on “The Church as Alternate Economy

  1. If the church is to be an alternative economy, it needs to develop an alternative currency. I think time banks may be a helpful model. The church could issue currency denominated in hours and backed by the rental value of church property. It would be a very helpful to the development of transformative ministry with the poor.
    For example, a congregation could rent its fellowship hall for a day at a rate of 5 Hours per day. Volunteers could be paid in Hours and those Hours could be spent at the church yard sale. Part of a pastor’s salary could be paid in Hours and the pastor could buy canned or fresh fruits and vegetables from church members or rent a member’s vacation home with those Hours. The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations and our trust in one another.
    Perhaps most importantly, such a faith based currency could serve as an alternative to the debt based currencies of the world which are causing misery everywhere. Google Wayne Walton and Jubilee Hours. Wayne’s exegetical skills may be problematic but his economic ethics are right on target.

    1. Hi Cornelius,

      Thanks for this. Very interesting notion. I admit I’m dubious about creating an alternative currency like this. This still sounds to me like capitalist economics, just as a bartering system that doesn’t make use of currency. What I tend to see throughout Scripture isn’t a rejection of currency itself, but a different understanding about how it would be used.

      1. Teddy, I agree that we can and should use our national currency differently. However because of the way it is used and originated, not enough of it falls into the hands of the poor. If we were to create our own currency it could be utilized to recognize and realize Christian values. For example, parenting is a value that our culture does not value or else parents would get much longer and greatly compensated for parental leave. We could reward the single mother who faithfully brings her children to Sunday school and let her use our currency to purchase clothes from the church’s thrift store. Currency is meant to get economic interactions flowing as the word itself shows. We should not wait on the government to spend money into the economy or for banks to create money through making loans yet not creating the money needed to pay the interest on the loan. We should step up an make the alternative economy come alive without Ceasar’s cash. And why wait for cash strapped businesses to hire when there is work to be done and unemployed people who are very much willing adnd able to work. At best what you are advocating is God’s economy being a supplementary economy which functions at the mercy of a usurious economy.

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