Tag: Economics

When Life was not solely tied to economics

In the economy of the ancient world one’s well being was not so tied to the economy as it was to their group structures.

Jonathan Faulkner

The Fallacy of Presentism teaches us to view historical events through our modern lens instead of reaching back into the past to understand the world of the past. That is, there is a widely held belief that a person’s well-being is and always has been tied to the economy of the city-state and then empire and then nation state that said person lived in. We have the arrogance to think that we in the twenty-first century are doing things the same way we have always done them. Thus, in our present times two equally dark options appear to be all that is left to us. 1. Either people die from the Pandemic or 2. People die from economic depression and despair. This is a false dichotomy that operates within a black and white framework and fails to work beyond the two equally horrible options. Tribalism then comes into play and one tribe adopts one side and another tribe adopts the other and both sides are at an impasse.

Of course, this is the problem in a society that has so undermined the intellect as to literally be blown about by every single wind of thought. We lack the capacity to think abstractly, throw in the way that the internet manipulates our thinking and steals our objectivity from us. Stripping away our ability to think beyond the black and white options available to us. And the failure of our education system to teach proper critical thinking skills and laws of logic mean that we do not have ability to reason our way to a third or fourth option in a situation like this.

The reality is that there was once a time when the well-being of a society was not tied to that place’s economy. There was also a time when societies did not rise and fall on economic power alone. Was economic power a factor? Yes, but it was not the only factor. Historians tell us that Culture, institutions and geography also played a major part in a person’s well-being until around the 15th century and the first wave of Globalization that came with Columbus, Magelian and other great explorers.[i]

Those places and cultures had economies, but they were centered more on cultural advancement than on economic development. It is telling that while money and ethical use of it is mentioned in ancient texts like the Bible, it is the group watching out for one another, not the economies of those places that take center stage. The Early Christians were not necessarily economically advantaged (in fact the opposite was true in most places) and yet they survived and thrived and even fulfilled God’s command to make sure there were no needy person among them (Duet 15:4, Acts 4:34). Even when Rome’s economy suffered during the various later invasions of the empire the church continued to care for its members and non-members, using her resources to ensure the well-being of everyone she met. One of the reasons the gospel spread so rapidly, and the church grew in kind was because even in the worst of times the church cared for everyone and sought the well-being and shalom of everyone. Even when someone had to forfeit their job after becoming a Christian, the Church would find alternate employment, retraining and other resources to make sure that person survived and flourished. This of course was not something the pagan religious could duplicate as Julian the Apostate so lamented in a letter to one of his priests in Galatia. A letter in which he also identifies the Christians: “Care for their own sick as well as our own” as the reason for Christianity’s unstoppable advance and his failure to revive Roman Paganism.

The reason for this was that the early Christians were a strong group family structure rather than a weak group individual structure. In the strong group the group was central, but not supreme, one understood that their well-being and flourishing was tied to the well-being and flourishing of its neighbor. When one part of the group suffered, the entire group suffered. This is one of the lessons of Isaiah 1, the sin of the group meant and the sinful attitudes of those within the group towards other members of the group would lead to the destruction of the group because in doing so they had abandoned what God had commanded them to do. The group was not supreme, but abandoning the group to seek ones own interests actually kept the one looking to his own interests from flourishing as well. The well-being of the individual was tied to the well-being of the group. The difference between this and tribalism is that tribalism holds the group ideology as supreme and punishes descent. This is how cults and totalitarian groups operate and is detrimental to the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

In a weak group like the one we live in one looks out for the interest of self, the self is not only the focus, but is supreme. Weak groups do not look out for one another because the self and the well-being of the self is central and in fact supreme. We are under no obligation to protect or watch out for or care for one another because we do not feel we are connected to one another. If you want to know how a weak group operates, look at our current discourse online. The irony is that we have applied tribalism’s totalitarianism to the self and so the individual self joins a tribe of people who think like the person and descent from the individual’s infallibility is considered anathema. Modern tribalism is not a strong group because it still insists upon the primacy of self.

Now, as I said at the beginning, until the 15th century there were a number of factors that determined a persons well being and all of those were tied in some way to the group because until the Enlightenment and the rise of individualism there was no such thing as a “weak group.” To this day the Global West is the only place where most societies are “weak group societies.” Until the first Globalization almost every society was a strong group society in which culture, institutions, geography, and economics were equal in seeing to the well-being of all human beings. Institutions included strong group family structures that find their most pure form in God’s intentions for Christianity as lived out in the early church. The phrase: “It takes a village to raise a child” carries with it a strong group mentality, as do the covenantal promises forged when an infant is baptized between the parents and the congregation.

Now, I have intentionally not specifically mentioned government because government would be included in the institutions mentioned before. Government should be a benign background operator that supports but does not dictate the other institutions that support the well-being of the strong group and provides protection against the enemies of the group. It should also recognize that neither too little government or too much government are detrimental to the well-being of all people. That means that Socialism and Communism and unfettered, government backed Capitalism are bad for the group. You cannot force people into a collective without doing harm and you cannot leave people to their own individual devices without doing a lot of harm, but government cannot be the primary check and balance or economic provider of the group. That should fall to the institutions on the front line which are daily involved in the life such as churches and schools. This makes strong groups voluntary but the effects of leaving the strong group are like those of not being a part of the group in the first place.

This also diminishes the reliance on economy because a person’s well-being is spread out across four separate categories rather than totally dependent on one. If the economy breaks down the institutions like the family are them to support the person. If something happens and a once prosperous geographical position is compromised the person can fall back on the economy or institutions or even culture to ensure their survival.

In our present crisis we are seeing the effects of weakened institutions which had already led to a greater amount of loneliness and isolation before social distancing began. One of the observable and recorded data points we have seen repeatedly in the last 4 years has been that people are more alienated, isolated and afraid then ever. There has been a growing since that those who claim to speak for us do not and that feeling is justified. This feeling goes back more than 4 years though, and likely further back than we think it does. Unfortunately, some have answered this alienation by using the same solution as the ones who did the alienating in the first place. Instead, we should focus on strengthening the local institutions that have the ability to care for those in the trenches and know what those needs are because they are rooted and grounded in the community. Like our grocery store here in town which has promoted and supported our food pantry and works with the churches. We strengthen one another, our churches in town are better because of our grocery store and our grocery store is better because of our churches. The same should be true of the churches and the schools. It is these local institutions that are the solution to solving and providing a third solution to the false dichotomy mentioned earlier. Institutions working in the geographical location of the people they are serving and caring for even while the economy teeters, these are institutions perfectly placed to care for those in need and provide for them. They should support one another and be supported by one another to make sure that no one falls through the cracks.

We can prevent unnecessary deaths of despair by becoming less dependent on the economy and more dependent on one another and the institutions in our location that there to work for our well-being. We can survive an economic downturn like so many people in so many places before us without having to sacrifice thousands either to the virus or economic downturn. We have done it before; we can do it again.

[i] Robert C. Allen, Global Economic History, A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2011, New York.

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

A Response to R.R. Reno and First Things: i will not sacrifice my congregation.

We are now seeing the full depths of our depravity; the god of Mammon and Moloch have taken over.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Brothers and Sisters, I am angry, not because there is a global pandemic, not because there is worldliness, not because there is sin, but because the past two weeks I have watched as prominent evangelical leaders and major politicians pivot from a message of: “Stay home, shelter in place” to “we need to get the economy back on track and fast” the message has switched from “Protect human life” to ‘protect the financial bottom line. Which brings me to R.R. Reno and First Things, the once proud publications that actually addressed issues in a gracious and Gospel-Centric way, but recently has embraced the nationalism of the Alt-Right, something its own writers and editors, specifically Karl R. Trueman and Bradford Littlejohn (both historians) should know better than to partake of. R.R. Reno though, on March 17th wrote that we as Church Leaders need to keep our churches open:

He writes:

“Closing churches and cancelling services betrays this duty of spiritual care. Many are speaking of death and disaster. Social media whips up fear. Stern faces on TV tell us how many people are infected. Cancellations cascade into our inboxes. In this environment the faithful need spiritual truths from their church leaders, not recapitulations of public health bulletins and exhortations to wash their hands.”

As a pastor I do understand his point, he is concerned that Churches continue their role as spiritual caretakers of the people. However, as a pastor of an older congregation, I want to make this point, I cannot spiritually care for them if they have all died of COVID-19, the disease caused by this Novel Coronavirus of which they are mostly among the most vulnerable. Reno wants us to not worry about death because Christ as set us free from death and theologically he is correct, Christ has set us free from death, but unless it is for the sake of the Gospel, as in, dying as a martyr, we should be wantonly throw away the lives of our congregations. Part of spiritual care is physical protection, creating a sense of underlying safety so that they can worship as freely as possible. That may not be possible in every location, but it is possible in the United States of America for now, and I take my responsibility to care for my flock in all capacities very seriously. I get to stand before God one day and be asked if I was faithful with all He had given me. As a pastor I should be the first fed to the wolves, not the last, and I should not actively turn my congregation over to the wolves. I am a Shepherd and a Shepherd who lets the lion devour his flock is not a very good shepherd. Even though I am not the chief shepherd, the care of the chief shepherd has been entrusted to me and too many of my colleagues have taken that responsibility too lightly. Yes, we are free from death, but we should not actively seek suffering from disease and famine, that runs counter to everything we see within the Early Church. They did all they could to mitigate death, even, at times, suspending large gatherings and meeting in small groups in secret locations. Yes, they still worshiped, but they it was the pastors and priests who were among the many martyrs. That does not mean lay persons were not martyred, indeed, thousands were, but the pastor did not actively turn their congregations over to the Romans. Instead they had the same mind of Christ and gave themselves up for their congregations. During the Plague in Carthage, it was pastors and lay persons alike who aided in the care and health of those who the Romans had left to die. If anything, Christians should be signing up to help our medical experts and personnel, not debating whether we should be meeting in our buildings.

By the way, many of them are doing just this. Our little community here in Buffalo Center has been making masks for Mercy One in Mason City and other hospitals around the region as we anticipate the eastward spread of the virus and increased infections rates in our beautiful state of Iowa. I have members who call asking how they can help, I have a website, coordinated with another church in town, where they can go to find people who need help. The Church here is mobilized to do what Christians should be doing, caring for one another, but doing it sensibly. The Christian couple who runs our market are making sure people have the supplies they need; our food pantry is still operating. Christians are working together, across denominational lines, and when we attend church, we do so online and next week, my church will observe the Eucharist with instructions on how to receive it remotely. We will still carry out the ministry and ordinance of the Church by utilizing the technology that God has given us the ability to utilize, and we will do so while we love one another. I will not sacrifice my congregation on the altar of Moloch (the Babylonian god who demanded human sacrifice) by putting them at risk for this virus because the “Ministry of the Church must go on.” Especially when I can carry on that ministry from afar, through phone calls, text messages and service streams. Is it harder? Would I prefer the human to human contact, yes, but I love my congregation too much to chance them getting a virus that could kill them painfully.

The conundrum is often produced as a dichotomy, black and white, either we sacrifice people to the virus to save the economy, or sacrifice people because we let the economy falter. This kind of dichotomized thinking is rampant, it gives us two options and say: “pick between the lesser of two evils.” However, one sacrifices people to Moloch for the sake of Money (Mammon) and the other sacrifices people to Moloch because Moloch demands a sacrifice. Both prioritize something over human life, human life that gains its inherent dignity and value because it is attached to the very image of God. We are the only part of creation that gets stamped with “the image of God” and the part of creation that God says He cares most about. In God’s economy, humanity is greater than other created things because it bears His image. All creation points us to the glory and Holiness of God, but the Imago Dei points us to His image. As Eugene Peterson writes in “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” “If you want to know what God looks like, look in the mirror.” Now, I agree with J.W. Nevin that sin has separated us from God and requires us to have a renewed relationship with God through Christ so that the image can be fully actualized through Christ. But that does not change the underlying assumption that pervades all of scripture, humanity has value because it is created in the image of God. To prioritize anything over human life, anything, and then disconnect human life from God and His Holiness is evil, it is blaspheming, it says that money is greater than your grandfather and it grieves the Holy Spirit. By making the false dichotomy above we ignore the fact that there are third and fourth and maybe even fifth options to mitigate the suffering of both the virus and the coming economic collapse. In the richest country, with the richest church ever known in the history of humanity, there has to be.

Now, I reject the notion that the government should be the catalyst that forces us to act. That is, I do not believe in forced redistribution on any level. I believe that this is the time when the Church can and should stand up and do what it was always called to do, love our neighbors. In a crisis like this we do not have the false luxury (false because we never really had it to begin with) to ignore anyone’s suffering, especially those right next door or down the street from us or in the next town. We are in the same boat, you care for someone else’s needs, someone else cares for yours. That is how this works, that is how it worked in Acts and they fulfilled a part of the Old Testament Levitical Code (Duet 14:15) because: “There were no needy among them” (Acts 4:34).

The Spiritual Care of the church continues as we guard its physical health as well. I just got a call from the daughter of one of my nursing home residents thanking me for all the cards and calls from the congregation. One of which was sent from the entire church. We are meeting her spiritual needs even though we cannot physically visit her right now. No one is abdicating their responsibility to spiritually care for our congregations as R.R. Reno is suggesting, instead we are finding new and innovative ways to do this while we do what is responsible and guard the health of our most vulnerable. What is more loving? To put our congregation at needless risk so we can fulfill a role we can still do using modern technology. Or to take the proper precautions and listen to health professionals and the CDC for the sake of guarding not just the spiritual health of our congregations, but the physical health as well. We are the Church, we contain a faith so powerful it can move mountains from a God so powerful He created ExNihlo through Christ who has reconnected us to God by His death and Resurrection and sent to us the Holy Spirit to remake us into new creatures and allows us to fully actualize the image of God through being transformed into the image of Christ. if we cannot mitigate the effects of this virus, spiritually, emotionally, economically etc. based on whose we are alone, then we do not fully understand the power contained in having a relationship with the Triune God of the universe. (By the way, if the Church did what it is called to do there would be no need for forced Government redistribution).

I will not sacrifice my church on the alter of Moloch or Mammon, they are too precious to God and because they are precious to Him they are precious to me. Yes, I will tell them not to be afraid, but I will not, I refuse to, expose them unnecessarily to something that could kill them. That would be the highest form of evil and the greatest violation of my pastoral office I could ever commit.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.