The morality of money and partisan politics

September 6th, 2016

In the final months leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, candidates are unveiling their economic strategies. The media has speculated throughout this campaign cycle that the anger of those who feel economically abandoned or left behind by the sometimes tepid recovery of the economy has fueled what seems to be the most divisive and bitter election yet in a long line of contentious political seasons.

The headlines only confirm that many are seeking economic salvation through a partisan political platform instead of pursuing the “wholistic” Kingdom of God economics of Jesus.

Karen Perry Smith and I spent over a year researching Christian patterns and values in making purchasing decisions for the book The Christian Wallet. To our chagrin, we discovered that Christians’ economic lifestyles virtually parallel the values of the general public, more driven by the market sirens of mass consumption than by the tenets of our faith. For instance, we often give little to no regard for our economic decisions’ impact on God’s creation or the impacts of our consumption on others’ lives. In a survey of 564 Christians, only 5.6 percent indicated that they always or almost always take environmental impact into consideration when making purchases, and only 4.8 percent consider the wages and treatment of the workers producing the items consumed.

Throughout Scripture, God expresses concern for all of creation. Leviticus 25:23-24 reminds us of God's ultimate ownership of the Earth that God has placed in our trust: “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land." Yet our wastefulness and disregard for the consequences of our consumption are having a real impact on the health of our planet. From the oil we use to make our ubiquitous plastic products and to transport products (including ourselves) from here to there, to the disposable packaging everything comes in, the cycle of consumption and waste is embedded in the most mundane things of our daily lives. Many of us are not disciplining ourselves to reduce, reuse and recycle.

It is easy for us to be wasteful — even with the food we consume, or perhaps rather fail to consume. Each year, Americans waste about 133 billion pounds of food, not only contributing millions of tons to municipal solid waste collection but also failing to recognize the waste as a human rights issue. There are 1,842 million children, women and men in the world who are chronically hungry. In the meantime, our garbage disposals “eat” better than most of the world eats, as do our pets.

In Isaiah 58:3, God notes to the prophet Isaiah that the people of Israel are complaining that God has been ignoring them. They are puzzled: “‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’” To paraphrase, “But God, we have been going through all of the right religious rituals! Why are you ignoring us?” God immediately responds in the remainder of verse 3, “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.” We often ignore this Kingdom of God priority, failing to consider who is making the products that we consume and their treatment. The International Labour Organization estimates that 20.0 million people, 5.5 million of whom are children, are victims of forced labor globally. Slavery is alive and well in the world. We need to remember that each victim is someone’s spouse, parent or child, and God has numbered the hairs on each of their heads. As Christians we need to educate ourselves, investigate the policies and practices of our favorite retailers, buy less, go used, make our own, check labels and take responsibility to reflect the care and heart of Jesus in our purchases.

The challenge this fall election season — and for all seasons — is for Jesus followers to conscientiously explore these difficult questions about morality and money, making the hard choices to reform our lifestyles to embody the economics of Jesus.

Mike Slaughter is the almost four-decade chief dreamer and lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church and the spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovations. Mike’s call to "afflict the comfortable" challenges Christians to wrestle with God and their God-destinies. His newest books are The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience and The Passionate Church: Ignite Your Church and Change the World.

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