Lesson 9: Regulation

RegulationI have been assuming that the Christian voice in our secular democratic society must deal with reality, and in our time and place that is the capitalistic economic system. That does not mean that capitalism is a Christian program. Even a quick scan of the New Testament finds Jesus warning that you cannot serve God and mammon.  He illustrates this by telling those who seek God’s Kingdom that they have to sell all they have, give the proceeds to the poor, and then follow him. You later find that the first Christian community demonstrates what this entails when they continue Jesus ministry by selling their property so they can share all they have with one another. The epistles further explicate the teaching in passages such as James claiming the love of money is the root of all evil.

If you are looking for a pure Christian economic program, this would be it: give according to your ability and take according to your need. From that perspective, capitalism turns the program on its head. It champions competition rather than co-operation, profit seeking instead of sharing, winning at any cost over caring for the needy, and opportunity in place of generosity. However, we do not live in a Christian society, and some form of capitalism might be the best economic program we can handle.

That does not mean economic values should control our society. Wealth should never be our only standard of success. The health of our culture should never be measured by the state of our economy alone.

Beyond that, Christians refuse to limit God’s activity even in the economic realm to the machinations of a free market. To do that necessitates accepting anything that happens as God’s will and eliminating the need for any human ethical activity. The Christian voice, as I have been arguing, insists some things have priority over a free market. Or better yet, it observes in this world someone is always trying to control the market. It might be the very natural influence of technology and international corporations, as we examined briefly in the last lesson, or it might be basic human nature.

The simplest of examples reveals to anyone the problem of a totally unregulated market. When my wife taught second grade she had each student bring a Christmas present that they shared by drawing names. On top of that, my wife gave everyone an eraser. At the end of the day, everyone left with one gift and the class bully left with his gift and all the erasers. That is not to say all wealthy people are bullies, but to observe there is need for some form of regulation, because some people are.

The Christian voice refuses to pass off responsibility for the care of the poor to some supposedly invisible hand of God operating in the free market. It proclaims God’s call for humanity to act compassionately and to share his love for all people in the community.

Just about every politician claims that the first function of a democratic government is to protect its citizens. Although they usually are talking about defense against foreign aggression, the Christian voice makes clear this duty also involves protection from exploitation by other citizens. The common citizen depends upon the power of our government for this defense. It certainly includes some form of regulation over the economic market. We Christians have no super insights into how to do this fairly, but we always speak for respecting the dignity and worth of every citizen in doing it.

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4 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Kerry says:

    Excellent! Loyal to the Gospel and sensitive to facts on the ground, as always!!

  2. Fritz Foltz says:

    I have been receiving a lot of helpful and encouraging responses to the recent lessons. For instance Paul from Australia wrote “…there are voices in the church that do speak out, not enough, but it is growing. I think a lot of the problem is the lack of critical thinking in ministry education and consequently pulpit teaching. Some of us are working on that issue also and trying to broaden the curriculum of training colleges. At the same time, those well-educated pew dwellers who have stayed with the church, are beginning to get a voice. A very slow process which may not survive the decline of the church as a credible institution. I am not so sure that public conversation on this issue is non-existent. More people are moving away from those media publications and networks that promote the growth of corporate power over our lives. Working for change demands a commitment to hope and belief in the possibilities to shift thinking and practice. As a grandparent, I am constantly thinking about this and am warmed by the enthusiasm some young people have for a better world.

    • John Myers says:

      I appreciate posting Paul’s comment and I think he hit on something important. Critical thinking – but, not only in the Church but also in public and private education, and in popular culture. For example, I have completely given up on any traditional news source. None are credible any longer – all have a bias and seem to enjoy dividing us as a people for some cheap thrill. On the other hand, I see much hope in our religious institutions today. Many people who have rejected this deceit and shameful practice are now wondering around looking for and hoping to find something that contains truth and love. What an opportunity for the Church! I am hopeful because, in my lifetime, I have seen our religious teaching evolve from a mostly OT message (repent of your sinful ways) that was viewed by many as harsh and filled with judgement……to one where the primary message is (NT) spreading the truth and love of Christ. This is the perfect prescription for a broken and cynical world.

  3. John Myers says:

    What a thought provoking lesson! I would challenge the point that capitalism is a culprit – but, rather a victim. This is also true of communism. These systems are victims in the sense that the culprit is actually us – the people and our failings. These two diametrically opposed systems approach the problem as polar opposites. Communism with total control and capitalism with freedom and free will. I think if you believe in God, that we are made in His image, and his living Spirit is in each and every one of us, you must believe in the overall goodness of man – which then brings you down (in this debate) on the side of free will being good and trusting in mankind.

    So, what of regulation in this? In a capitalistic society, regulation is to protect us from the excesses of the weaker among us (people and people who run corporations) and is generally based on the good of the people as defined by our religious beliefs. Some would argue they are not and religion is not tied to regulation in a capitalistic society. Maybe…. but, in ours it is. I say this because our laws were initially created based on the ten commandments and our Christian values. This is where we got right and wrong in the USA, at least initially.

    Religious beliefs have no place in communistic society (and religion is banned) because the state will decide good based on objectives of the state. The state becomes the religion. But, the state is made up of men who are also weak, corrupt, and seeking power – the same vices that we all have. Except, here there is no restraining societal moral belief system. Often, this results in millions of dead citizens, such a wrought by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol pot.

    Today, with a declining religious influence in our society, it is more important than ever that we Christians speak in our society. We are free in our capitalistic society to act. Regulation is complicated and sometimes ugly, but it is where the sausage of our society is made. As Bonhoeffer said, not to speak ……is to speak. MLK said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We must be a force for good, it is what we are called to do.

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