The new issue of Relevant Magazine showed up in my mailbox today - the same mailbox with the holes in the roof that makes things soggy on rainy days - and their cover story is entitled, 'Laying it Down: Learning to Live with Less in a Culture of Excess.' The article's pretty well written - Don Miller, Shane Clairborne and Tony Campolo get alot of airplay and Miller and Clairborne painted a particularly biblical and gospel-centered perspective on issues surrounding money and finances in our consumer-glutted culture.
I'm not going to recap the article (and its not up on the Relevant website) but it begins by talking about the backlash that Bono and his RED campaign has received after spending hundreds of millions in marketing while bringing in less than $20 in profits (for more on this, check out the very good article/blog post by Ryan Anderson over at First Things entitled, 'Bono Still Hasn't Found What He's Looking For'). The criticism is that for all of the good intended by the RED campaign, the reality is that it pandered more to our consumerism than it did to cut against it. A pragmatist might be content with this approach and proclaim that the end justifies the means - but what does it say when the end isn't reached. Why are such obvious needs like the AIDS crisis in Africa seemingly ignored in terms of money and resources flowing out of areas of affluence?
Would it surprise us that the answer comes down to the gospel? The apostle Paul found himself in a similar situation as the U2 frontman - trying to connect the resources of one group to the needs of another. Yet rather than appeal to their conscience or will via emotionally manipulative stories or shaming them into giving by appealing to statistics about consumption and waste, Paul takes a different approach. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 he tells the people of this church to remember 'the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.' He is not calling them to be nice or to think about the starving children in Jerusalem - he simply says, 'Remember what Jesus has done for you.' Paul's conviction was that true philanthropy and mercy takes place when the earth-shattering love of Christ becomes real and satisfying.
Rodney Stark writes this in Cities of God:
In a letter to a prominent pagan priest, [Roman Emperor] Julian wrote: I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the [pagan] priests, the impious Galileans [Christians] obvserved this and devoted themselves to benevolence...[They] support not only their poor but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.' But his challenge to the temples to match Christian benevolence asked the impossible. Paganism was utterly incapable of generating the commitment needed to motivate such behavior (emphasis mine). Not only were many of its gods and goddesses of dubious character, but they offered nothing that could motivate humans to go beyond self-interested acts of propitiation (emphasis mine) (page 31).
As our church struggles financially as we continue to find ourselves within this community, we're convinced that guilt and focusing on people's wills (Just Do It!) will not bring about the total transformation that God has planned and that we so desperately need.