Friday, September 20, 2013

Sabbath Economics

“So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  (Luke 16: 11)

Two weeks ago Kristi and I attended the Oikocredit USA summit in Washington, D.C. Oikocredit describes itself as a “worldwide cooperative and social investor, providing funding to the microfinance sector, fair trade organizations, cooperatives and small to medium enterprises.”  In our desire to become socially responsible investors, Kristi and I began investing in Oikocredit a few years ago, trying to use our dollars to give a “hand-up” to the poor in the majority world.  This conference made us feel incredibly excited about our investment with Oikocredit!

Divine Chocolate photo (for blog)
These women and men work with Divine Chocolate
a fair trade organization and partner of Oikocredit  
(photo taken from Oikocredit website)

Ched Myers spoke at the summit on a principle which he calls “Sabbath Economics.”  He taught from Exodus 16, when Israel first receives manna from heaven.  Ched shared with us three lessons learned during this wilderness experience as chronicled by Moses.  All three lessons deal with economic principles that can be instructive for our communities today.  First, the people are to gather enough for that day, and that everyone should have enough.  Second, the manna should not be stored up and accumulated.  Lastly, keeping Sabbath is central.  Sabbath is about self-limitation.   

Ched described how we have more than our share in our dominant culture.  We, in the United States, are caught in a dominant economic cycle whereby capital has replaced community as the center of our economic story.  Myers quotes Ferdinand Tönnies, a German philosopher and sociologist, who elaborated on this principle.  Myers argues that there is the need to advocate for community over capital.  He argues that the inequality created by a largely capitalistic culture is unjust.  He stresses the need to connect our faith with our money. 

How do we connect our faith with our money?  The answer, according to Myers, is to advocate for community over capital.  To make his point, Myers cites a seemingly obscure story of Jesus recorded by Luke (16: 1 – 13).  In short, this story describes a money manager who is in the process of losing his position from the rich man whom he serves.  After a period of self reflection, the manager realizes that his only option is to associate himself with the debtor class so that when he loses his job, he will be welcomed into their homes.  Thus, while still retaining his position, he shrewdly reduces the debts of the debtor class, helping them and thereby endearing himself to their cause.  In the end, the rich man commends this manager for his shrewdness.

How does this story connect with us?  Myers suggests that the “mammon” (money) system of the world is unsustainable.  Too often it destroys community because of its impersonal nature.  For instance, how many of us have IRA accounts and stock portfolios which invest in companies with whom we feel no kinship and don’t have a clue about their business practices and social dealings?  I, for one, stand guilty as charged.  Some Christian financial advisors even advise investors not to concern themselves with the social implications of their investments.  Thus, we Christians often find ourselves part of a larger global system which, by definition, marginalizes the poor. 

Myers says that Sabbath Economics is essentially the struggle between manna and ‘mammon’.  The real issue, he contends, is “where do we place our trust?”  Do we place our trust in capital or in community.  These are significant questions which require some soulful wrestling.  However there is a warning to be heeded.  If we don’t seek to remove the gulf that exists between the rich and the poor, we may find ourselves on the wrong side of a chasm that can never be removed (see Luke 16: 19 – 31).

Thankfully our money can be used as an instrument of social relationship and social good.  As we think about what our investment capital is doing, may we consider the human element, seeking to identify with the debtor class and the economically marginalized.  Kristi and I feel that the “compound interest” of investing in people through Oikocredit is greater than any hot interest rates we will ever receive from stock portfolios which in most cases widen the chasm between the rich and the poor. 

Lord, please help us to learn more about how we can honor you with what we have…

Lord, help us to be faithful in advocating for community over capital. 

1 comment:

Jim B said...

Well said from a Pastor trained in finance (IMHO). The "gulf" between haves and have nots extends beyond finances. The evil one will exploit the "gulf". Maybe the "Gulf War" of the last century was an omen??