show me the money!
While Jerry MacGuire may have screamed this now-iconic quote down the mouthpiece of a telephone as his cocky client bounced playfully on the other side of the line whilst encouraging him to say it “Louder Jerry!” the truth is that in the end it wasn’t the money which was important. It was family, relationships and even professional ethics that came out on top at the end of this classic flick named after its main protagonist.
Perhaps Jerry MacGuire can reveal something to us, the Church, in the terms of what we should value most.
In a previous post entitled Religion Sells we (Greg and Matt) outlined the problems inherent in the Church’s collusion with the marketplace. The kingdom of God is different from the empires of this world, we argued, and thus kingdom buying and selling (particularly in regard to ministry and “resources”) should look different to the regular imperial marketplace. In fact we should not even be selling Jesus at all, as Jesus is not a capitalistic luxury to be offered but rather is the Lord who promotes an alternative way of life. Inasmuch as contemporary Christian marketing exploits and excludes the poor and benefits the rich it is opposed to the kingdom and thus another way of doing kingdom “trading” is necessary.
We received a number of great responses to that initial post, including some very important questions. Perhaps the most obvious question was related to how Christians should make a living if they do not wish to collude with the capitalistic dog-eat-dog-eat-God activities of an exploitative and exclusive marketplace.
This is no easy question, and our answer may be accused of being too idealistic and ethically-based rather than practically-grounded.
So how are Christian artists, writers, teachers, preachers etc. meant to make a living? Indeed, it is all well and good to go on about justice for the poor, but what about economic justice for those who genuinely work hard without exploiting others? Is that not also important? (Justice to the poor after all does not necessitate injustice to others.) Let us be clear, our Religion Sells post was not intended to serve as a call to stop earning money. It was a call to retreat from collusion with empire and to halt the practice of exploitation, exclusion and cheating so often entangled in the marketplace.
What might this mean for, say, a pastor who writes a book? Well, it depends. Are they earning a wage as a pastor? If yes, then there is nothing wrong with that – the people of that local congregation deem it necessary to support the pastor, who may well be able to earn more money in another profession. However is the pastor writing the book at times during which they are being paid by the local church they serve? If so, would it not then be cheating to earn a second wage for that time by receiving payment from book sales? Keep in mind that either the pastor has dishonestly written the book during time in which the church had trusted her/him to be serving them, or has been given the task of writing for the benefit of that church (and others) in which case they have been paid their reward by means of the original wage.
This is different to, say, a Christian author who supports themselves by their writing, though it would apply for musicians who write songs on church sponsored time. Can it be justified that they earn a wage and then on top of that earn royalties? Obviously the line is not clear, as it may be that they write some songs in their spare time, though the exact details may distract us from the big picture – do Christian artists need to earn two full-time (or even more!) wages? Is that honest? Is that kingdom?
Another issue that was addressed in our original post was that the poor of this world are excluded from obtaining many Christian “resources” because they cannot afford the often exorbitant price tags. The problem with charging people for products that claim to be ‘kingdom’ is that you favour the affluent (minority of the world’s population) and marginalise & exclude the poor (majority of the world’s population). This is empire.
For the pastor on a wage who writes a book or makes an album this doesn’t have to be difficult – give it away to the poor! A more difficult problem occurs when the artist earns a living from their craft. Perhaps some intelligence would go a long way in deciding how, when and where to charge for resources. Charging $20 for a CD in Australia is fine if you are hoping to survive from that payment. But why do you have to sell it for the same amount in Africa, for example? Why can’t the prices be different? Why can’t it be given away in Africa, at the expense of the Australian buyers who can afford it, and will buy it regardless?
The details can be debated, for certain. But the call for more imaginative (and even biblical…?) models of economics that aid the poor and marginalised and set up an alternative to imperial marketplaces is being made, not merely on this humble post, but all over the world. The problem at this point is that Christian buying and selling is so entangled in the marketplace of empire. Any hoped for change will probably begin with individuals, then grassroots movements. Maybe then the Church will catch on. Maybe then the Church will realise, as Jerry did, that money wasn’t really what needed to be ‘shown.’
Posted on August 10, 2010, in Church/Ecclesiology, Culture & Art, Mission and tagged Cheating, Consumerism, Empire, Enterprise, Exploitation, Industry, Market, Marketplace. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.