my recent summary of up/rooted’s december gathering

“Is God a Capitalist?” and why it matters

Mike Budde’s main purpose was to explode any presumed congruency between God and Capitalism. He started by connecting God and the Church. Assuming that our theology of God is connected to our ecclesiology (the doctrine/practice of the church), whatever practice we then see the church doing we can imagine what kind of theology of God lies behind it. In other words, whatever the Church looks like, so also does it believes God to be.

So, “What does it mean that the Church is acting like a for-profit corporation?” is Mike’s question for us.

(Now, for those who might not think that the Church is acting like a for-profit corporation, Mike came with a dizzying display of examples: i.e. the Catholic corporate underwriting of events and the marketing of their mascot, the Pope, to soda companies; listening to market research which cautions against the cross during Easter because it is a downer; Anglican Bishops talking about “customers” instead of congregants; to a Catholic Bishop arguing from corporate law, instead of canon law, that the Church is not responsible for the actions of their priests because priests are really “independent contractors”; to the insanely successful Jesus: CEO which tries to figure out how Jesus made the Disciples into lean, mean, strategic marketing machines.)

The assumed answer to this question is that the Church believes God is a Capitalist, or is at least not opposed to the idea. But, as Mike shows, this answer is not consistent with the character of God, nor the portrait of Jesus. Jesus’ labor practices are horrible (pathetic disciples and unproductive followers like prostitutes and leper; but he did have lying/stealing tax-collectors, so that was quick thinking by Jesus!), his location planning was poor (backwater Judea instead of Rome), he didn’t partner with the powerful (made enemies of both the Romans and the Pharisees), and his strategic/long-term planning needed to be thought through better (he just takes off and leaves it all with people who barely understood what was going on). And most of his parables reveal bad capitalistic practices as well. Also, much of the Old Testament reveals that God is a bad businessman: rewarding bad behavior; choosing insignificant business partners (former slaves of Egypt), etc, etc.

Now, of course, just like in a major corporation, after some successes, the founder may go soft and grow a conscience or something. But it is our job, as middle managers to keep this company going at full steam, even it the founder in his old age and idealism would run into the ground. We must give him a dose of reality and practicality. And Mike’s main point is just this. That we as pastor/lay leaders (the Church in general) have looking at God’s vision of the world and said, “Yes, that’s great and perfect and ideal, and certainly You mean well, but we have really problem here (like a budget to balance),” and so we go about business as usual.

Mike ended with a general statement that Capitalism presumes scarcity and needs, while God presumes plentitude and fullness. These are fundamentally different mentalities by which to see the world.

From here our discussion ranged far and wide: from how has a needs orientation effected how we do church, and how has Capitalism effected our time management, and how have we lost our humanity by becoming consumers? to how do we then live in, but not, of Capitalism and what is the “economy of the Church?”