show me the money!

by Matt Anslow and Greg Attwells
(For this to make sense you should read our previous post, entitled Religion Sells)

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 , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hi Matt.

    I enjoyed this post. For the most part I agree and recently starting posting about church and identity which is touching on what you have said.

    I don’t think you have engaged deeply enough into the societal implications. By this I mean why single out pastors and musicians?

    What about authors who write books and also work? Are they stealing the bosses time by thinking about such endeavers while on work time? Or journalists who write books about their experiences of journalism…who should own the money from any profit of such?

    Or tradespeople who do work for the church, should they be paid by the church or even profit by selling / trading their services to the congregation and building up a client base within?

    John Stott whom I have a lot of respect for, gave / gives all his money from his writings into missions. However he is also a single minister who celebrates his gift of celebacy and can live on a single wage…

    Speaking from first hand experience as a lay preacher for many years and more recently as a chaplain the job description is not a 9-5 job where you can turn off at the end of the day, rather its a lifestyle that has no hourly boundaries…. though in saying this, self care of boundaries and limiting hours is a necessity. How do you draw the line between writing in work time and non work time?

    One of the issues you havent touched on which I think you could have is in the legal, though unethical abuse of some of the ministerial expenses account. In Anglican circles its reccomended the clergy appropiates 33% whereas in Pentecostal circles its around 50% or higher. This system was set up to help pastors and charity workers who are traditionally paid a lower wage…. and for the most part the majority of such workers are in need of such benefit… how ever there is a smaller proportion who are not in need of such a benefit.

    What you think of the current church structure in which we aim for building larger edifices? Multi million dollar entertainment centres maintained by much volunteer labor in the name of christian service…with the push and call for more service…huge peer group pressure in the name of Christianity! Perhaps this vast sum of money spent on edifices…ildols??? temples??? could be much better spent on other matters……filling the gaps in society

    Perhaps though its like an episode I watched on South Park recently where they stood against the consumerism of Walmart for it was the organisation running the show… not the people running it…….

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