Sunday, July 19, 2009

#2/2 – Jesus saves; the church?

The Sydney Anglican Diocese lost $100,000,000.00 in the stock-market slump brought on by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), [read some news and opinions about it in my #1/2 post.] The $100 million loss was partly caused by an investing strategy known as “gearing,” where the investor borrows money to then invest. If the market goes up, gearing accelerates the gains, but if the market goes down – as it did in the GFC – then the losses are magnified. Here are three of my reflections on the Sydney Anglican Dioceses investment woes…

First, a fairly rudimentary understanding of the biblical text should result in the reader feeling uneasy with a ready embrace of debt, which we see in Western economies today – from households to firms, governments and perhaps even churches. While I won’t argue for a water-tight hermeneutical understanding linking biblical texts about debt to modern investment practises, it is worth hearing the biblical text’s aversion towards debt. In Lev.25, the Year of Jubilee is prescribed to ensure indebted families would be able to have their debts forgiven and retain ownership of their land, resulting in their ongoing economic and social inclusion. Deut. 15 speaks of removing debt from the life of Israel and foresees a situation where Israel borrows money from no nation. Prov. 22:26-27 warns about entering into debt when the cost of such debt may be losing life’s essentials (in this case, a bed to sleep in). Jesus uses canceled financial debts as examples of the Kingdom of God in his parables (Lk.7 & Mt.18). The aversion to debt expressed in the Bible is also expressed in the lives of saints throughout the majority of Christian tradition. It was only in 1822 that the Catholic Church relaxed its condemnation on charging interest on a loan. Considering the aversion the Bible has towards debt, doesn’t the question have to be asked why a church denomination would willfully go into debt without any necessity to do so?

Second, the majority of written material I read from the hands of members and leaders of the Sydney Anglican church had no biblical or theological reflection on the gearing strategy (using debt to accelerate gain). Instead, the articles were responding to media criticism, informing parish members about the consequences of the $100 million loss, explaining away the loss as the fall-out of contemporary investment strategies, and some were looking for heads to roll. The lack of biblical and theological critique on the $100 million exposes a way of thinking that separates issues of the church from issues of the marketplace; traditionally this has been termed the “sacred” and the “secular” divide. This form of dualism manifests itself in much Sunday teaching and preaching, where the nitty-gritty practicalities of the biblical text are spiritualised away, beyond any connection to everyday actions and decisions that parishioners face on Monday morning. If the scholarly leaders of the denomination don’t set an example of how to integrate biblical and theological understandings with everyday practicalities like investments, then the pew sitters will be left stumbling in the dark as they try to live holistic Christian lives. Or worse, they will be sadly ignorant that the good news of the redeeming gospel may, in-fact, have implications for all areas of life.

Third, how can a church be salt and light to a city if it acts in exactly the same way as the city? The reactions of journalists and letter writers, as they express opinions on the 100-million-dollar loss, is that the Anglican church has no credibility: the church has acted hypocritically and the church even ignored its own good book. The Sydney Anglican diocese has demonstrated that it has a disconnect between the means (debt-dependent gearing) it chooses to employ and its ends (the preaching of the Gospel and bringing people to faith in the God of the Bible). They have seemingly adopted the attitude that as long as the market keeps going up, the means justify the ends. But do the ends justify the means?
In Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, Hauerwas and Willimon argue that for missional activity by the church to be effective, the church must not accommodate itself to the ways of the world, but instead the church must behave like the church. Perhaps, Sydney Anglicans need to ask themselves Hauerwas and Willimon’s question:
“At every turn the church must ask itself: Does it really make any difference, in our life together, in what we do (in this case, in how we invest), that in Jesus Christ God is reconciling the world to himself?”

No comments: