"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
0 items in your cart
$0
Blog // Thoughts
November 15, 2007

Pushing The Camel: Why there might be more rich people in Heaven than in your local Church.

Call me cynical if you must, but I’ve long given up hope of hearing church leaders speak in wise and intelligent ways on the issue of wealth, fortune and prosperity. That’s why I’m participating in this SyncroBlog on Money and Church; I need to beat the cynicism. All too often, it seems, the easy approach […]

Call me cynical if you must, but I’ve long given up hope of hearing church leaders speak in wise and intelligent ways on the issue of wealth, fortune and prosperity. That’s why I’m participating in this SyncroBlog on Money and Church; I need to beat the cynicism.

All too often, it seems, the easy approach is to seek shelter in extreme and emotionally potent oversimplifications – glorying in wealth as a sign of God’s favour or clamouring to denounce the wealthy as wicked and self-obsessed. We all know about the former, but my experience is that the latter is far more common; particularly amongst the clergy. It’s a view that suggests, quietly but sternly, that being wealthy is incompatible with being a Christian.

The superficial reason (or justification) comes from Jesus’ words in the Gospels (especially the story of the rich young ruler) and the generally pessimistic tone of the New Testament towards wealth.

Of course, such pessimism can, sometimes, reflect justifiable theological concerns. It’s a clear (and harmful) instinct to equate financial success not just to superior intellect and skill (see Taleb’s work for an excellent refutation of that), but also to superior morality. Such a false view of providence doesn’t just plague contemporary versions of the prosperity Gospel, but also wormed its way into ancient Wisdom traditions and is even at the perverse core of the Protestant work ethic.

But, perhaps there are some other things at work in the rejection of wealth and faith’s compatibility. After all, we find this idea in suburban church contexts where this is, in global terms, an awful lot wealth going around. I’ve heard some really horrible things said about the wealthy by believers who clearly did not see their own possession of two (or more) cars for one family, new computers, private education or solid heath cover as signs of wealth. But, of course, in a global view these things are massive markers of wealth and privilege. Moreover, there is a common view that church should try to be a reflection of the counterculture movement. Naturally this will suggest that wealth is a sign of “selling out;” not just commercially, but also morally and relationally.

That said, both these positions hold within the seeds of a more hopeful and balanced perspective. There is a great irony in the counterculture movement being unreconciled to the creation of private wealth, since the 60s ethos has created some powerfully transformative companies (Barnes and Noble, Ben and Jerrys, Starbucks, Apple Inc). If there is a great story that needs to be told about (largely smaller) suburban churches it relates to mobilising resources for (largely foreign) mission.

So private wealth can come through positively transformative business and private wealth can be pooled for transformative mission.

And, controversial as it might seem, my experience with very wealthy Christians has time and again shown that this is not only possible, it is also often the common (though seldom publicised) practice. If anything private philanthropy is one of the great stories of this decade.

All of which makes the scepticism that meets wealthy believers when they come to church all the more discouraging. Unlike Christian leaders in more “helping” oriented professions (education, medicine, even law), those working in business, finance and industry sometimes struggle with the assumptions made about their morality because they have high-paid jobs or positions of power.

Although you may never see it researched, it seems clear to me that some churches (and maybe even some denominations) have systematically and generationally driven the wealthy away. Of course, it’s a self-fulfilling (false) prophecy – people conclude that the wealthy appear underrepresented in churches because prosperity always erodes faith. But, maybe, they are underrepresented because wealth breeds mistrust, jealously and resentment, making church a too-uncomfortable proposition, or one that must be endured by virtually denying your day job.

This post is part of a Synchro-Blog on Money and the Church. For links to the other blogs participating see the comments section or click here.

[tags] Wealth, Prosperity, Ecclesiology [/tags]

Tagged
21
Responses
Fernando Gros 15 years ago

The Check That Controls at Igneous Quill
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz at Hello Said Jenelle
Zaque at Johnny Beloved
Walking with the Camels at Calacirian
Greed and Bitterness: Why Nobody’s Got it Right About Money and The Church at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Kirk Bartha at Theocity
Money and the Church: A Fulltime Story at The Pursuit
But I Gave at Church at The Assembling of the Church
Moving Out of Jesus Neighborhood at Be the Revolution
Money and the Church: why the big fuss? at Mike’s Musings
Coffee Hour Morality at One Hand Clapping
Bling Bling in the Holy of Holies at In Reba’s World
Magazinial Outreach at Decompressing Faith
Money’s too tight to mention at Out of the Cocoon
Bullshit at The Agent B Files
The Bourgeois Elephant in the Missional/Emergent Living Room at Headspace
When the Church Gives at Payneful Memories
Who, or What, Do You Worship at at Charis Shalom
Greed at Hollow Again
Church and Money – What if we had nothing at Tim Abbott

Phil Wyman 15 years ago

Fernando,

Great post. Thanks for balance in an often bitter topic.

Alan Knox 15 years ago

Yep. Great post. Of course, I’ve known “pastors” who loved to see wealthy people walk through the door, but those wealthy people soon learned that the “pastor” in question was only interested in how much they gave to the church organization. I can understand how this would generate cynicism. Personal philanthropy is also very important to me, both for the wealthy and the non-wealthy.

-Alan

Bryan Riley 15 years ago

It is a good post. Job, Solomon, David, and many others all come to mind as biblical examples of managing riches and faith.

Tim Abbott 15 years ago

True, and a very helpful corrective in the whole God and money debate. We are too easily deceived by the appearance of wealth and so often miss the hidden application of wealth which the truly humble wealthy keep quiet about anyway. I know a few wealthy Christians here who give more than generously and do their utmost to keep it quiet.

But here’s the challenge – our reaction to the wealthy reveals not their moral state but ours, which too often bleeds jealousy, greed and a hypocrisy that wishes they were our friends, because we like their money first and them second.

Jenelle 15 years ago

Great provocative thoughts here. I like your correctives, as Tim Abbott put it. I’d like to see you write further posts on this one sentence:

“If there is a great story that needs to be told about (largely smaller) suburban churches it relates to mobilising resources for (largely foreign) mission.”

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Bryan, yes there are lots of Biblical examples. Lydia is a New Testament example that comes to mind.

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Tim, I agree on all counts. Some of the most worst vilification of the wealthy I’ve heard from Christian speakers has come from those who, once I got talking with them, had really patchy or limited meetings with wealthy believers.

Quiet generosity is a point that bears repeating and also something of a problem in all this. We would expect people to not parade their generosity, but we (human tendency) assume generosity is not present unless it is clearly sign-posted.

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Jenelle – thanks for your comments and for the subtle challenge to expand on that sentence. Maybe a future SynchroBlog could unpack that with other people’s stories as well?

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Alan – yes I’ve seen that sort of “targeting” and it can be pretty ugly.

Of course, you are right that philanthropy is a game for everyone, not just the obviously wealthy. There’s also an important related game, which is ethical investing – something that is only going to become more important as we move to more and more people privately managing their retirement savings.

Paul 15 years ago

Thanks F, it is a point well made that we in the west our amongst the richest people on the planet and yet often feel that we don’t have enough. That of course can be a feeling we have whatever the size of our bank a/c or net assets – the desire to be generous with what we have rather than what we have not is a challenge that all of us have to face.

Phil Wyman 15 years ago

Did you ever read Dallas Willard’s thoughts on this? He speaks of the church’s bias against the rich.

Sue 15 years ago

This was really interesting hearing a side not often put. Thanks 🙂

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Paul – you are right.

As an aside, I was recently studying Romans 12.3-8 (Romans has been a reading project this year). It makes me wonder why we don’t talk about philanthropy as one of the spiritual gifts, along with prophecy, teaching, etc.

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Phil – no. I’m familar with Dallas on other topics. But, you’ve caught my interest. Is there any particular book I should be looking for?

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Sue, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Leave a comment

Enter your and your to join the mailing list.