Christians: the vanguard of American anti-capitalist sentiment?

Shane Claiborne breathes fire

I’ve been wanting to write up a longer introduction to this link for two weeks, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Zach over at Revolution in Jesusland was visiting European lefties and told them that Christians are on the vanguard of American anti-capitalist sentiment:

So when I bring up the “Revolutionaries” of the American church, people over here completely freak out. They cannot believe it. They will not believe it. Their faces wince up, because they know I can’t be making this up completely, but it’s just too much to process. They dismiss it. There’s a strong stereotype of the “ignorant protestant preacher” and they can’t reconcile it with what I’m saying.

Somehow, eventually, these two mainstream forces that are questioning capitalism on both sides of the Atlantic will have to get to know each other, but that’s probably a while off.

I know not everyone who reads and comments hear is anti-capitalist by any means, so I thought I’d throw it out there and see what you all have to say. Is Zach off his rocker? Is he on to something? If he is, is it hopeful news? Or is it another sign of the wayward drift of the church in the United States?

When I think of Christian anti-capitalists, I always think of my friends in Prayer I58, a network based around Isaiah 58. In July 2005 I camped out with them for a week at the Eco-village in Stirling, Scotland in response to the G8 meeting in nearby Gleneagles. We set up a prayer tent and read the litany of resistance while riot cops marched by. And I think of PAPA fest, a gathering with a similar atmosphere, but no riot cops.

Of course these are only my personal encounters with a wider movement that is happening across the church from Justice Revivals at Vineyard churches to John Perkin’s Christian Community Development Association.

Comments (9)

  1. Josiah Garber

    I hope all followers of Jesus are revolutionaries! :-)

    Capitalism is not the system that this country has. But I will join you in protesting our current system. :-)

    Reply
  2. SteveK

    While there is strong anti-capitalist seniment in the New Testament, I think that Christians in general are far from embracing this. Sure, there are the odd groups, as you mention, Tim, but even the most “radical” mainstream Christians, like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis, are still pro-capitalism and pro-government.

    Reply
  3. Michael Wiebe-Johnson

    I think there is a growing movement towards anti-capitalism, though it is pretty small. But I mean, mustard seeds are small and they grow like weeds. …Anti-capitalist mustard-seed Kingdom? How could it be any other way?

    Reply
  4. somasoul

    I don’t think capitalism is a problem.

    Reply
  5. TimN (Post author)

    Yep somasoul, I know. I had you in mind when I wrote “I know not everyone who reads and comments hear is anti-capitalist by any means”

    Reply
  6. Zack

    We need a new name for capitalism. That would do a lot to clarify things.

    People look at mechanisms like markets, competition, rewards for success and see a lot of good in them. But those mechanisms are not capitalism. Those mechanisms have existed in almost every kind of society.

    You have a capitalist system when most of the economy is controlled by a life-or-death game to “maximize capital.” In a capitalist system that game will often dismantle or corrupt markets, eliminate competition and pervert rewards systems so that even people who are destroying the planet can win the biggest rewards. It even gets so chaotic sometimes that people who are destroying capital (instead of maximizing it) get the biggest rewards.

    Somasoul: my guess is that you’re in favor of markets, competition and rewards. But that’s not capitalism.

    Reply
  7. Tim Baer

    I am in favor in favor of mostly free markets. I think capitalism is an open market for people to buy and sell their goods as they see fit. However, one must balance these principals with principals that take into account that capitalism doesn’t answer all of our needs. If the Galapagos (sp?) Islands were not protected a free market would sit some god-awful chain hotels on ‘em and ruin everything incredible about ‘em. The market always exists to make money, nothing more.

    Life is more than that. But freedom depends on the ability to buy and sell and own as we see fit. Without balance, unrestrained consumerism or opppressive fairness takes hold. Balance, man, balance.

    Reply
  8. TimN (Post author)

    Tim B,

    I just came across this article by Douglas Rushkoff (thanks, Carl) that speaks directly to the difference between corporate capitalism as we have it today and an environment that fosters innovation:

    Except in a few rare cases, corporate charters and centralized currency were never intended to promote commerce. They were intended to prevent locals and non-chartered entities from creating and exchanging value. They are not extensions of the free market, but efforts at extracting value from the free market. Corporate monopoly charters were extended to a king’s favorite companies in return for shares. Then, no one else was allowed to do business in that industry. Centralized currency forced businesses to run their revenue through the king’s coffers. Likewise, in its current form, centralized currency is more akin to a ponzi scheme of interest rates, each borrower paying up to the banker above him.

    Both of these innovations—corporate charters and centralized currency—tend towards resource exploitation rather than innovation. They are extractive in nature, not productive. And, more importantly, these particular innovations cause wealth to end up being generated through speculation rather than creation. They cause scarcity, not abundance. Over time, it becomes easier to make money by having money than by doing anything. And this was the pure, stated intent of centralized currency and banking in the early Renaissance: to keep the wealthy wealthy, in the face of a rising merchant class.

    Reply
  9. jc

    My Mennonite pastor who is a white male in his 50’s (maybe even early 60’s) originally from the South, is getting bolder and bolder with what could be considered anti-capitalist sentiments in his sermons lately.

    Of course it’s not hard to come up with such teachings from the New Testament.

    This is a rural congregation in Indiana too. And he’s not being run out of church on a rail.

    I don’t know what all you can read into that, but I think it’s interesting. This isn’t some kind of “radical emergent church” at all.

    Reply

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