Recession Revolution

This is part of a discussion on the PNMC Peace And Justice Forum:

I think it is time for the church to reconsider its politics.. I’m not advocating that we all try to get elected or take over the government necessarily. But I do think we might be entering a 1930’s scenario where if we think things have been bad for the middle-class and poor through the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I know I’m going to hear it from those who like to keep Jesus out of politics (and I do still harbor many healthy anabaptist political hesitations myself) but I’m becoming equally angry with a church that seems more interested in building new administrative centers and benefiting from our MMA retirement portfolios (well, up until 6mo. ago at least), but seems less interested in walking the neighborhood, asking how people are doing and searching for real ways to bring hope and healing to those who know first hand what it feels like to search for scraps beneath the “master’s” table. I’ve recently been inspired by reading about church leaders of the 1930s who searched for ways to move beyond insular spiritualism to both care for the poor AND passionately advocate for significant social change. I wonder if the coming revolt might need some committed nonviolent Mennonites who can help keep it nonviolent.
-Matt F.

I think, Matt, that you’re barking up the wrong tree. I feel I can say this as a person who is deeply involved in my communities here in Portland. I personally think that the governments and corporations and banks are so full of their own self interest, especially in maintaining whatever status quo there is, that the system itself is unreliable. I believe that if we as Christians took over the system, then we would do no better than those who hold it now (or previously). Part of the problem is the structure of the system itself, whether that be the U.S. government, capitalism, the banking system, or modern labor being controlled by large corporations. What is needed is a complete breakdown of the systems– which we will get when Jesus returns.

However, in the meantime, we need to do SOMETHING. I think the best option is to create alternative communities that can provide both an economic safety zone as well as an example to others as to how to act in God’s economy. I am not advocating dropping out of the world, but rather calling on believers to have an economic change of heart. This would look like this:

a. Our economic insentive would not be to obtain more income or property ourselves, but to invest into the community. This investment would include money, but not be limited to that. It would also include property, time and labor. Thus, we could encourage others to think about every economic decision to be about the community rather than about individual gain. Each decision would still be made by the individual, but the incentive of the individual would be different. (Acts 2:44-45)

b.The economic gain would not be on the basis of reciprocity, but on a broad concept of meeting other’s needs without obtaining anything back. A broad concept of need would include survival issues, but it would also include issues of respect, entertainment and inner peace. But, again, it is focused on what can give the community these things instead of individuals or nuclear family units. (Luke 6:30-31)

c. The focus of this economic return would be to provide the greatest amount of economic resourcing, not to those who have the most resources, but to those with the greatest needs. Thus, should all else fail, the basic needs of all the community– including the poor and outcast of society– would be met. (Luke 12:33; Luke 14:12-14; Acts 4:34-35)

d. Because all people’s needs are met, the community will draw those who are poor and outcast, who are the most economically vulnerable. While this seems unsustainable, in a cash poor society, this means that the community will be wealth in a viable economic resource– namely those able to do labor and time and who have the insentive to act in resiprocity for what they have received even if reciprocity is not demanded. Namely, a work force will be available for the community, which will make them a viable self-sustaining community. (Luke 16:1-9)

This is what we do in Anawim, with minimal assistance from our (more) wealthy friends in other churches. And, actually, I just read of a similar report in the latest issue of the MMN publication. In Argentina, many were losing their jobs. Since they didn’t want to just be sitting around waiting for their next opporunity, many in the Mennonite church decided to create a food co-op, which provided for the entire community.

What do you think?

Comments (6)

  1. gyakusetsu

    This is a reply to the quoted text, not the poster.

    We must remember that every government action that imposes a new restriction or requirement–or which requires or takes more funding–is backed by threat of theft, violence, imprisonment, and ultimately death.

    Before advocating any new restriction, requirement, tax, or funded program, one should be ask the following question: “is this important enough that people who disagree with it should be shot and killed?”

    I believe the pacifist ought usually (if not always) answer “no.”

    The Good Samaritan didn’t go to town and start demanding people’s money at gunpoint, in order start a fund that would put a (small) portion of its money back towards a program that might help people. Rather, he personally, ethically, humanly helped someone.

    If there is something that you want peacefully changed: go do it. If you can’t do it alone, solicit _voluntary_ help from friends, business associates, community, family, and the church. Please don’t ask someone with a gun to make people do it on your behalf.

    Now, if you want to engage in politics to REMOVE a restriction, REMOVE a tax, REMOVE a program, REMOVE power from the Sword, then do as the Spirit and your conscience moves you.

    But, be warned, of course, that those who are in charge of making, interpreting, and enforcing the laws are those that benefit the most by them. Employees of the Sword should not be expected to give up the power that they have worked so hard to attain.

  2. gyakusetsu

    One thing our church has been struggling with is being a geographically-dispersed community.

    We have a “Swap & Shop” board at church, where people can make postings about services, products, rides, freebies, etc.

    I have been encouraging people to use this much more frequently as a means of people meeting each others’ economic needs within the community, as an addition to the normal venues of small groups, etc.

    Naturally, more personal interaction tends to work better, but techniques such as this can help to expand the reach of where we can help one another, even if we are geographically or socially farther apart.

  3. Michael Wiebe-Johnson

    I agree, with both of you. Matt- we will always have people who worship money, and that is sickening especially when they are among us or we find it in ourselves. Steve – Investing in community with whatever we have is investing in God´s kingdom. When we do that work, all we need to do is trust that we will be provided for. Consider the lilies :)

  4. Josiah Garber

    Looking forward to that day when our Saviour returns to this earth. Things are gonna be shaken up again. In a BIG way. :-)

  5. SteveK (Post author)

    Here is a reply from Matt Friesen, the author of the original quoted paragraph:

    I think the church needs to see its role on at least 3 levels (I’m sure I could come up with more, but 3 will do for now)…

    a) Charity, ambulances and band-aids (something the church is traditionally pretty good at – in part because it makes us feel good about ourselves and requires very little personal commitment)

    b) Alternative community. I sense that as our economic system continues to twist and reel and possibly break in some very significant ways, people will need alternative imaginations and concrete examples of how to care for each other and get through some very difficult days. I think Steve hits the nail on the head here and am wondering what all sorts of alternative communities people have pursued over the years and how these might inform our time and age. I lean toward thinking that there is not one “right” way but rather a variety of possible alternatives that grow out of mutual commitment and respond flexibly to their contexts.

    c) I think the church really needs to get off its ass and re-engage society in a powerful, meaningful and public way (can I say that online?) Like I shared before, I’m still not sure what to do with my hearty Anabaptist quiet-in-the-land political-hesitations, but besides the “normal” amount of poverty and homelessness that we’re (yes, I’m including myself in this) generally willing to accept in the “best” of times, this crisis is and will continue to hurt and kill millions. I’d say that this is a great time for the church to (dare I say it?) ask “is our current economic system fair, just, or compassionate?” Who will have the courage to say that the emperor has no clothes? That in the last 6-months evil has unmasked itself? That the US economic system (capitalism on steroids) is designed to make the wealthy colossally more wealthy at the cost of everyone else? I recall the that when the Iraq war began, those of us who opposed it were told to “shut up and shut up publicly” in support of our soldiers and nation. Today, I think we need to resist the same cultural gag-order pressuring us to not ask questions about the essential structure of our economy. What would happen if the church stood up and said, “Our economic model is sinful. It takes from the poor and gives to the rich. It is time to repent, come together and create something new.” I seem to recall a black pastor some years ago who understood this about his world, helped gather together others who were equally as embarrassed and angry and made a difference.

    If there ever was a time for the church to reclaim a tiny bit of the moral ground it has lost by quiescently accepting the reign of neoliberalism, empire and injustice, perhaps once again become a community of hope and healing and maybe even regain some of its self-respect in the eyes of those who have written it off, it is now.

    Peace, Prayers and much Appreciation for your replies,

    Matt F.

  6. Donny

    We the people are tired of being oppressed by the rich and powerful. We as a people carry the economic status of America upon our backs. While the rich and well off only watch from afar. It is time for a change. All men are supposed to be created equal. All people should be taxed, when there remains a class of people who stands outside of any standards or rules that are set, shows unfairness. The king’s law died long ago, but the wealthy seemed to resurrect it somehow

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