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For years I have heard of an institution that exists sitting on millions of dollars and are unwilling to reinvest that capital in people. This occurs while many of their employees, constituents and shareholders suffer unemployment, layoffs, decreased pay, lack of job opportunities, bankruptcy, underemployment, decreasing benefits and crushing debt. Although this scenario sounds familiar in the banking and corporate world the institution that I am talking about is the church. From denominational, judicatories, foundations, seminaries and individual churches there has been an economics of hoarding that would make producers of A&E network shudder. Churches with millions of dollars in the bank let staff go, watch prayerfully as parishioners lose houses and sadly shake their heads when they hear stories of people who are getting gamed by the health care system. It is time for a radical redistribution of the capital wealth that these institutions hold.
How did we get here? In my opinion over the corporatization of the American economy we as the church listlessly relented to market principles in our own affairs. We stacked our boards with the right people: businessmen, lawyers and intellectuals. They in turn conformed to the prevalent cultural norms of the day. These being, set up a huge pot of money for survival and those assets will ensure the “life” of the church. Added to that was the unspoken and sometimes explicitly spoken reality that the only portion of that money that could be touched was returns on capitalistic investments.
In the glory days for investors this left these institutions with capital to spare. Returns sometimes annually came in 10-15% increments. When you are talking about large sums of money this amounted to a substantial amount of liquid assets. Then came the economic downturn. Large chunks of the gains over the “good years” were eaten into over a short period of time and panic ensued. “How will we be good stewards if we don’t fire employees, pastors and janitors to protect the money?”
It is an immoral choice when followers of Christ value the safety of storehouses over life. Christ himself said, “I came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” Yet, this is the situation that I hear over and over again from my colleagues and the institutions where I received my higher learning.
It is time for us to quit listening to the same people who put our entire global economy into this mess. The last time I checked all of these institutions were nonprofit entities and not banks or corporations. They are receiving and giving huge tax benefits for unused capital. Open up the storehouses to the tremendous suffering in the world, pay off a member’s student debt, help someone with a credit card payments, buy a block of apartments for affordable housing, pay off someone’s surgery or even more radically give it all away in faith.
We need to spiritually reflect upon the church’s view of capital before we turn outward and criticize banks, mortgage backed securities and predatory lending. Unless we repent and turn toward the creative salvation offered us, how can we expect the world to know Christ’s witness in the world?
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