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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

There's an upside to economic disaster

The first line in Charles Dickens classic novel A Tale of Two Cities seems appropriate for what’s likely to come in the days ahead. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Unless you’ve been living in a cave (sorry Geico man) you’ve probably been affected by the current fiasco on Wall Street and Capitol Hill. Within the past week 401K’s have evaporated into thin air, life savings have slipped through the cracks of who knows where, and now that it’s clear that even a $700 billion dollar bailout from Uncle Sam can’t save the stock market, some financial gurus in the media are now using the dreaded “D” word signifying in no uncertain terms that the next president is going to inherit a financial depression. The prognosis is in. These are scary times indeed.

In times like these it’s very easy to become fixated on venting our frustrations against—take your pick—the Republican party, the Democratic party, Wall Street fat cats, predatory lenders, gullible first time home buyers, low income minorities that took advantage of sub-prime lending rates. There’s plenty of blame to pass around. We all know we’re in a mess. The question is what do we do now?

As for what Moses recommended in terms of an economic bailout—debt cancellation and land redistribution—I’ll let the economists and the theologians duke it out over whether that applies today. The Bible may not be an economic textbook—as much as Secretary Paulson could use one right about now—but it is a message from God to humanity and when you read it from cover to cover there’s an underlying message that speaks loud and clear. God is the defender of the poor.

So what’s the upside to an economic disaster? The upside to economic disasters is that economic disasters spur moral reflection. They serve as a wake-up call to remind us that the economic decisions we make every day really do affect other people. They serve to remind us that a day of judgment is coming and that God takes very seriously how our lives affect the poor. And I’m not just talking about how much we give in the offering plate on Sunday mornings or how much we give to our favorite charitable organizations. Sure it’s nice that we tip God with our tithes (or spare change depending on our level of piety), but how many of us think about how we earn our money and whether our jobs and our investments coincide with the values of Jesus?

I’ve heard a lot of Christian leaders use the bully pulpit to decry private morality issues like homosexuality and abortion, but few and far between are the voices that call us to repent from social morality issues. As a life-long member of the Pentecostal/charismatic tradition, most of the teaching I’ve received about money is “God wants you to have a lot of it, as long as you’re generous and use it for charity or to advance the gospel.” Big houses, nice cars, bank account surpluses are all signs of God’s approval in this vein of thinking. With the exception of pimping and drug-dealing, the question of how to attain this money, and the morality associated with it has been left to a fairly generous interpretation. Questions like “Should I really be investing in weapons manufacturers when I don’t know who those weapons are being sold to?” or “Is the oil company in my 401K propping up the military dictatorship in Burma?” rarely make it to the surface.

I invite you to join me in a moment of reflection over the words penned by James the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury, you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you” (James 5:1-6).

In an age where CEO’s make 400 times the wage of what the average worker makes in a day, I wonder if James might be talking about some of the companies I’ve invested in the past. Even worse. I wonder if he could be talking about me?


Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Aaron...James 5:1-6, does indeed fit precisely to the majority of folks involved in commercial business these days. Many of them are products of the moral relativism that has taken hold in the last 25 years or so.

With regard to we as Christians and investment, I've often thought about how we are to determine whether our investments support immoral people and their agendas. I came to the conclusion that companies are so diversified, it is very difficult to determine who is behind them, how they conduct their business, and what extracurricular causes they are involved in. And then secondly, there are very few companies out there that operate by a Judeo-Christian ethic anymore. Nevertheless, we are responsible for what we become aware of. If we have an investment in which we find is operating immorally, then God holds us accountable; we should divest. My stance is that these businessmen will be running these companies immorally, and making all the money anyway.

Since the wealth of the wicked is laid up for the just anyway, anything immoral going on that I'm not aware of, and I make money from such companies, then that money goes into the kingdom. In a way, money coming back to us counters the bad things i.e. exploiting the poor that the companies do. For example, let's say a company is stealing money from their employee pension fund (that I wasn't aware of), and I have stock in that company, and the company fails and all the people lose their jobs and pensions. Further, let's say some of the people go to my church. I would use the same money I made from the stocks to help those who are now out of work. So essentially, it's a way to reverse the hurt that they caused.

This is my personal view, and balanced approach.

With your phrase,"...moral reflection...", a question that speaks to the overall purpose of what God's purposes are with permitting this crisis arises. It seems that there may be one of two primary purposes for it, either this will usher in the return of Jesus or for the purpose of preservation God will you it to refine America just as he did with the Great Depression--because He is not yet through with America. No matter which one of the two it is--it's all-good and we should retain our hope.

Lastly, your phrase, where you said, "In an age where CEO's make 400 times the wage of what the average worker makes in a day, I wonder if James might be talking about some of the companies I've invested in the past.", appears to reveal a certain political lean, and with any such political leanings cannot be separated from principles found in the Bible, as you so aptly demonstrated in your article. You may recall in the Word where God commanded that the crops that fell to ground while harvesting should remain there for the poor. God did not make a commandment that the owner gives the poor equal wages to that of which the owner received. Nor, did he command that the owner give his land away to another group of people so that they could in turn, give it to poor people. The poor had to come out to the field and work to pick-up the gleanings.

I think that it is absolutely immoral and corrupt as to the salaries that these CEO's are making. But the reaction to that is not to force them to redistribute that to the poor. We must retain our complete liberties and freedoms. In that way, we will excel based upon our abilities and merit, only. I'll never have the ability that Bill Gates has, and therefore I would not force Bill Gates to give me half of his company or half his salary, just because it is not fair, that he has what I don't. If our government forced Bill Gates to give his money to the poor, then he gets no credit with God. If in freedom, he gives out of his compassion...then he pleases God. It's like the difference between God forcing us to love Him verses us voluntarily loving Him, or, accepting Him as Savior and going to heaven, versus not. It's all done in complete freedom.

Just my humble opinion...keep up the nice work, Aaron, and continue, as I do, to always pray for the Wisdom and Mind of Christ.

Yours for the Harvest,


Aaron D. Taylor said...

As far as my political leanings, I tried to leave the article vague
enough to be relevant both for conservative and liberal minds. Thank
you for the additional insight on the wage issue. I'm not opposed to
progressive taxation, though that wasn't the point of the article.
Something I'm surprised you didn't comment on is when I said that
Moses prescribed debt cancellation and land distribution, which is, of
course, what happened on the Day of Jubilee. Whether that's still a
good idea today is an open question.

Keep studying God's Word!


P.S. If you're interested in ethical investing, I recommend Mennonite
Mutual Aid.
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