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]