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During this semester I have taken a course in environmental economics at Uppsala University. Our final assignment for the course was to pretend to write an article for the Solutions journal that explores an economic solution to a sustainability problem. I chose to write about how economic inequality is a root cause to many sustainability challenges and argued that the church should start practicing economic equality again just like in Acts 2:44-45. Below is an excerpt (with some added subtitles), and the whole article can be downloaded right here: One Heart and Mind – A Challenge of Redistribution for the Global Church.
Redistribution on the Denominational Level
If the church sees itself as a global body of brothers and sisters equal in value, economic equality across borders is logical. This is not very foreign to Christian practical theology – the only time the New Testament talks about churches giving money to other churches, it is stated that “[t]he goal is equality”.
On the denominational level, the Roman Catholic Church has a unique position. It is one single transnational organization with 1.2 billion members, with most people in the global South and most money in the global North. Because all national jurisdictions are subordinated to the Vatican leadership, redistribution would be easier practically compared to a network of autonomous denominations. Since the current pope, Francis, is Latin American and emphasizes the importance of poverty reduction, social justice and simplicity; internal redistribution of finances may not be a totally foreign idea for the Vatican.
Ideally, ecclesiastical provinces and dioceses should be economically equal, adjusted to population and a certain list of needs like poverty, climate change vulnerability, special interests of the Church, etc. This would result in that churches in developing countries generally becoming slightly richer than their Western counterparts.
In my previous post, I wrote about how God does want to prosper the poor but not to bring them to a state of luxury and wealth but to a state of generosity and sharing so that there may be equality for all. I wrote that the dangers of the prosperity teaching is that it glorifies gluttony and despises simplicity. But I didn’t mention the, in my opinion, greatest danger of the prosperity teaching here in Africa – the theology of sowing and reaping.
I was listening to a pastor teaching other pastors about how to break poverty bonds. He talked about prosperity and giving. At first I thought it was a nice combination – sure God can prosper the poor but it’s also the responsibility of the rich to give. Then I realized that what he was saying was that it is the responsibility of the poor to give to the pastor or the ministry in order for God to prosper them, because you reap what you sow.
He was exhorting these South African pastors never to be afraid of demanding generous offerings even in very poor churches, because “no one is too poor to give”. His proof texts for these statements were 2 Cor 8:1-4 and 9:6, where Paul is telling the Corinthians about how the Macedonians, despite their “extreme poverty”, gave generously over their ability, and that if you sow generously you will reap generously.
I raised my hand and argued against him. Firstly, the Macedonians and Corinthians were giving to the poor of Jerusalem, not a pastor or a church building (the latter didn’t even exist). Secondly, 2 Cor 9:6 is not necessarily talking about a financial reward, especially in the light of Mt 19:21 and 1 Tim 6:5. Finally, while Paul seems impressed of the Macedonians giving so generously despite their poverty, he is careful in pointing out that he doesn’t want the Corinthians to do the same: