Thursday, August 27, 2009

Christianity, Capitalism, and the Crash

Christianity, Capitalism, and the Crash

We've now been in a recession for almost two years. As we have hit certain key points along the way--the collapse of many banks, the burst of the housing market bubble, the fast increase in unemployment, and the dramatic restructuring of our auto-making industry--I have spent time, like many of us, trying to make sense of it all. Specifically, I have wondered, "What should I preach during this time?" I have also wondered, "How are Christians called to care for each other during this time?"

I'll admit that I don't have a lot of easy answers. Some basic tasks come to mind: pray for and comfort those who have lost their jobs; volunteer in the community to help those adversely affected by the economy; help people realize that their dignity and value as a person isn't in their work, but in the love God has for them as a child of God. Our family also increased our benevolence, assuming that the church, and many needy and poor people, needed even more assistance during a recession than during times of relative prosperity.

However, as a pastor I felt (and still feel) ill-equipped to relate biblical faith to the larger economic and global dynamics that are in play. How does our faith shape our response to the current economic crisis? All of us started reading articles in the paper and hearing news on television that offered analysis of market forces, and many of us have come to support or oppose the way our government has taken action in relationship to the crash. Suddenly even regular newspaper articles mention economists like John Maynard Keynes or Adam Smith, and we're all supposed to know who they are. We're all economists now, and we're called to relate our faith to these issues.

I imagine we've all been on a steep learning curve through this time. Not only have we had to change some of our habits, maybe reducing our expenses in order to live as a one-income household. We've also had to make decisions about our generosity, how we will help our neighbors in need. And we've been forced to learn some of the intricacies and complexities of a global free-market system.

I have decided to be intentional in study and prayer in this area. I'm convening a study group that will meet at the synod office every other month. The focus of our study will be on this question, "How do you as an intentional-theologian respond to the current economic crisis in your speaking, spending, and caring?"

Here's the description of the course:

The economic crash of 2008 needs no introduction. It does, however, require a theological response that critically examines the underlying causes and charts a Christian response informed by faith seeking understanding. Christian ethicist Mark Douglas helpfully describes the economic dynamics that precipitated the crash as two opposite-spinning spirals. One spiral surges upward. As competition increases and profits are shared and reinvested, wealth is distributed. Or so it should. Then there is the downward spiral that spins out of control once credit tightens, consumer debt piles up, loans default, and the stock market falls, resulting in untold misery. The crash reveals just how precarious the current global economy is. Does biblical faith have anything to do with the financial “laws of the household” (Greek oikos + nomos, the basis for the term "economic")? Does its vision of peace imply an altogether different economic order? If so, is it one that improves upon or rejects entirely current economic practice and its theoretical foundations?

The foundering economy presents a propitious opportunity to consider the place and purpose of the so-called free-market economy in all its complexity from the perspective of faith. Doing so broaches such issues as sin, the “life abundant,” wealth and poverty, stewardship, materialism, and the purpose of life, indeed creation.

The meeting dates for this conversation are September 9th, November 18th, January 13th, February 3rd, May 12th, and July 14th. So far, the group includes many lay people and clergy in the synod, and I'd love to have a few folks from EKLC join the conversation. I can send you a copy of the syllabus if you're interested. We're reading really interesting books, like Paul Krugman's The Return of Depression Economics, a lively history of the development of economic theory, books on the relationship between giving and forgiving, and of course, lots of bible study.

As a congregation, we are also trying to minister during the economic downturn in caring ways. On Labor Day, we are are praying for the unemployed, and petitioning God for blessings on all those seeking work. This will include a time for laying on of hands and annointing. Consider joining us for that special service.

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