Sanctus Monetarius: The dangers of Christians endorsing a specific economic system

The Republican Party might not have a demographic monopoly within the Christian faith, but its evangelical members are among its most vocal advocates.
An even more interesting question than, “why is this?” might be “why are Republicans, and especially Christian republicans, so predominantly capitalist?” A recent USA Today poll found that only 37% of GOP members “believe that capitalism and Christian values are at odds,” and that white evangelicals are more likely than any other people group to think that “unregulated businesses will behave ethically.”

It seems like Christians are placing a great deal of trust in our current economic system. Are we sure that it’s worthy?

After all, capitalism is no more a Christian institution than republicanism. Yet, the modern church has been quick to either justify it in terms of biblical concepts like “stewardship” and “free will,” or to forgo examination completely. Most conservative Christians dismiss participants in the admittedly nebulous “Ocupy” campaign as whiners and bums. Whether or not they actually are, the overarching sentiment is one that asserts, “I am not my brother’s keeper.”

There are huge spiritual problems with this attitude. “Stewardship” does not mean hoarding, the “free will” aspect of the competitive “American Dream” does not give you license to withhold help from your less-fortunate neighbor, and an earthly need for income does not justify an idolatrous belief that “the invisible hand of the free market is actually the hand of God,” as religion professor Andrew Walsh states.

Read any gospel, and you will see that Christ himself took no stock in the free market. In fact, if he were on Earth today, he might be more socialist than we’d like to admit. If wealth were a virtue, he would not have thrown vendors out of the temple in rage (Mat. 21:12-13).

If his goal was to perpetuate “healthy” financial inequality, he would not have told rich men like Nicodemus to give away their possessions and live in poverty (Mark 10:17-27).

The Bible does not condemn worldly success altogether, of course.

But the Kingdom of God is not a state that celebrates ladder-climbing for its own sake. The rest of the world might not hear a call to be keepers of their neighbors, but we should (Rom. 13:9, Mark 12:30-31).

We are repeatedly warned not to put value in money, because none of our riches will go with us when we leave this world. That being the case, it’s shameful that many Christians will trust God with most everything except their pocketbooks.

By now you might believe that I am claiming socialism as a superior alternative to free market economy. If you are, you’re missing the point. In a perfect, fully redeemed form, I believe that socialism would be the most Christ-like economic system available.

In the current world, however, the ugly truth is that stubborn self-interest is not a trait that limits itself to the confines of Wall Street. A socialist structure cannot prove beneficial without universal cooperation, which is impossible to achieve in this fallen world.

But does that mean capitalism is automatically a better option? I don’t think so. No matter how you slice it, the primary “virtue” instilled by a capitalist system is greed. Yes, with socialism, we would be forced to trust that a vast governmental machine would care for the individual. But even now, with capitalism, we blindly assume that corporations will work for our betterment out of basic human decency, despite their primary goal of “getting.” I don’t see much of a difference. Both options rely heavily on the assumption that people are basically good. You see the problem. We humans are not good (Rom. 3:10).

Thank God, then, that He is. That’s why we should place our ultimate trust in his will and his way, not in any system that we could devise. Left to our own devices, we lose the ability to give. Even worse, we forget what we have in the first place.