Archive for June 23rd, 2010

Babylonian Economics

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

From my work on Revelation 17-18:

Since at least the time of Tertullian, in the late second century, the church has grappled with which vocations might be inappropriate for Christians, even idolatrous. Tertullian raised questions about a host of occupations, including teaching (for promoting secular values and polytheism, or idolatry) and the military (for engaging in idolatry and violence). Touched by God’s amazing grace, John Newton (1725-1807) knew he had to stop buying and selling slaves. But apart perhaps from prostitution and drug-dealing, the church today seldom discourages any career path considered by young people or undertaken by adults. In my own United Methodist denomination, for example, a video on “vocation” for youth mentions a career in the military in the same breath as vocations in social work, medicine, the church, etc.

While few Christians today would question the appropriateness of teaching in secular schools as a vocation, perhaps, at the very least, Christian teachers should question and “come out” from some of the values and practices inscribed in many secular—and even Christian—forms of education. I am thinking here, not of topics like evolution, but of even larger worldview issues, such as nationalism and consumerism, to name just two. As for the military, many Christians cannot even imagine a reason why a career in the military might be anything less than an honorable Christian vocation, much less engage in a discussion about it. But this is a topic in need of discussion, especially for those who live in or near Babylon. There is something amiss when a Christian youth can go to summer camp one week and sing “Kumbaya,” and then go to Marine boot camp the next and chant “We can kill.” But it happens—all the time.

It would be easy to assume that most careers and day-to-day practices are exempt from critique, but Revelation will not allow us to be so naïve. If it involves buying or selling goods, Revelation puts a question mark on it. It this a business that directly or indirectly promotes the rich and exploits the poor? Does it harm the earth or other human beings? If so, then Revelation 18 has something to say about it. Churches, too, need to consider carefully the sources and means of their income, whether local “fundraising” techniques, such as flea markets or silent auctions or fashion shows, or larger issues such as investing.

How do we begin this conversation in the churches?