What should Christians be doing about the current economic crisis? CC.com consulted a number of economic and socio-political leaders for faith-based perspectives on the subject. Third and last in a series.
1. Get out of debt
One of the key things Christians should do in the current economic crisis is to “get out of debt,” says Lorne Jackson, president of the Canadian National Christian Foundation (CNCF). Government efforts to stimulate the economy by making it easier to borrow are only going to make things worse in the long run since that is “what got us into the problem in the first place,” he argues, noting that the combined government, business and individual debt in the US is $32 trillion, several times the amount of money in circulation. The average American’s credit card debt is $8,000, and “the majority of people have more liabilities than assets.”
People should “never borrow to buy coal,” that is, to buy things that will burn up or deteriorate and be forgotten, says Jackson. Yet much of the current debt is “consumer debt,” debt incurred to buy things that people hope will make them happy but never do. The only acceptable reasons to go into debt, he says, are to buy a house or to expand a business or to buy a car, but only if it is necessary to get to work — something that will make people better off in the long run.
Another key thing churches should be doing is teaching, says Jackson: “The Bible talks more about money and possessions than any other subject.” Yet Jackson was in three churches recently where the people in the pews were worried about losing their jobs and investments, yet nothing was said from the pulpit — which, says Jackson, is one reason people think the church is irrelevant.
Many pastors lack experience and expertise in financial matters or are afraid of looking like they are just trying to raise money, says Jackson. If that is the case, they should call in financial advisors such as those affiliated with the CNCF to do the teaching.
Christians need teaching on the subject because they buy the same cars and live the same lifestyle as non-Christians, but “every financial decision is a spiritual decision,” says Jackson. If God owns everything, before every financial decision, people need to be taught to ask, “Is this going to help me draw closer to the Lord and enable me to give more and bless people?”
“Churches should impress on their members that their economic lives are one of the most important ways we tell people how we serve God,” says Elwil Beukes, professor of economics at King’s University College in Edmonton.
There is nothing wrong with being rich and successful, since Abraham was rich and blessed, he says, but “our actions as consumers, workers, businesspeople and civil servants should contribute to an economy that serves life.” In the Bible, God repeatedly tells people to “serve Me in the way you eat, drink, care for your fields and flocks and care for each other.”
It is important for churches to “talk about a variety of spiritual issues,” says Carsten Hennings, Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto. One of them is self-worth — “what makes me valuable if I lose my job.”
It is important for the church to “stand in the gap and supply people’s psychological and physical needs,” says Paul Rowe, associate professor of political and international studies at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC. “In previous recessions, it is the church stepping in that has made the difference for a lot of people.”
But while the church has often taken on more of a social role during tough economic times, and certain church institutions have expanded, Rowe says it is also important for churches to ensure that they do not lose their fundamental moral and spiritual role either.
Teaching on economic issues may require significant changes, suggested Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice. “Churches have been part of the problem. Our church parking lots look like a Wal-Mart parking lot two hours later.”
Rowe says there is “a strong materialistic strand in American Christianity,” and the “prosperity gospel” has helped fuel the over-consumption that created the economic crisis.
3. Practise the sabbath
Paul Williams, an associate professor of marketplace theology and leadership at Regent College in Vancouver, centres his advice around three biblical concepts: sabbath, jubilee and hospitality.
The concept of the sabbath has two parts, he says. The first is to establish a boundary, exercise self-control, cease striving and say enough is enough. This speaks directly to the compulsion to over-consume which has driven our long-term economic troubles, and is a call “to live within our means.”