What’s in your wallet? A look at what the bible says about money

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That is the title of the presentation and discussion by Dr. Walter Brueggerman at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church on Saturday, October 28, sponsored by the McClendon Scholar in Residence Program.

For two or three years while I resided in Cincinnati I had the privilege of participating in various initiatives of the Economics of Compassion Initiative of Greater Cincinnati in which Dr. Brueggerman and community building consultant Peter Block are the faces of the movement. Through the McClendon Scholar in Residence Program, New York Avenue Presbyterian church endeavors “to bring in scholars, teachers, and authors to help members of NYAPC and other residents of Washington better understand how to respond to the pressing moral issues of our day”.

Today’s economy which creates unparalleled economic disparity is indeed our pressing moral issue and I am yet to meet anyone who can articulate better the biblical imperative and the church’s response.

Dr. Brueggerman aptly characterizes our economic system as an economy of extraction in which everything is monetized. The first biblical paradigm is Pharaoh’s Economy, which produced nightmares of scarcity. Pharaoh’s nightmares drove him into building storehouses and the creation of a forced labor pool. Those on the bottom of the scale become inextricably dependent on the system and complicit in its exploitation. In this regard, Joseph too, was complicit.

We see the same picture today. And, today, as then, eventually the people cry out, and the Exodus is the alternative. Today, the Gospel is the alternative and that is where the church must articulate its relevance and non-complicity. Brueggerman stressed that economies of extraction inevitably cause tension. It is not the church’s responsibility to reduce tension. The church’s task is to process the tension. There is a lot of tension right now in our society and so it is a prophetic time for the church.

A second paradigm can be seen in the Persian Period with examples in Ezra and Nehemiah where w in Neh. 10 the Israelites reckon with their complicity to what eventually has become normative (the economy of extraction) and agree to renew the covenant. In other words the people symbolically reconstituted themselves as a chosen people and re-assumed their identity.

Similar paradigms can be found in King Solomon’s reign in which taxation is burdensome to the people and results in forced labor.

It is the same story in the New Testament and the Roman empire. Citing Galatians 5: 19-21 Dr. Brueggerman pointed out the correlation between destructive predatory economy and restlessness. The alternative economy bears fruit in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5: 22-23)

This presentation came as the church celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Ironically the Reformation was the alternative to the church’s practices of monetizing God’s grace and abundance. Now, as then, it is a terrible time for the church institutionally but Gospel-wise it is a terrific time. It is a challenge to the church and a call to action.

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