It’s the Economy or, A Piratic Snowclone to Challenge the Church

I love neologisms. Reading up on the origins of the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” I ran across a reference to snowclones. It occurred to me that this phrase could be used to describe how the phrase could function to alert us to the subtle way the economy often influenced and influences the Church more than our stated commitments to the way of Jesus. And, yes I am guilty too.

Twenty years ago James Carville’s leaked internal memo revealed an angle the Bill Clinton campaign would use to unseat George H.W. Bush. Some of you may remember the phrase that seemed to encapsulate it all, “The economy, stupid.” The leaked phrase morphed into the public vocabulary as, “It is the economy, stupid.” Not much has changed.

Today it appears no one is willing to make the mistake of ignoring the economy. Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney is willing to go all ostrich on the issue of American life that pervades nearly every conversation.

President Obama rallied the wind energy crowd in Iowa last week. He promised to fight to maintain the tax credit to help this developing source of energy. We do not, as of yet, have an economical way to store surplus electricity generated by large wind farms. The technology is being developed but we are not close to both solving the storage problem and the distribution issues related to large battery facilities now in use at some wind farms. What does a pastor know?

I sat in on a conference at Oklahoma State University a few years ago in which my Dad was invited to make a presentation. During the day it became apparent, wind energy was a significant topic. The presentations were interesting. Not incidentally, my Dad worked for Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company when the first co-generation plant went online in Oklahoma City.

Dr. Hall encouraged us to consider alternate energy fuels as the subject for a Freshmen English paper at OBU more than 30 years ago. Since my Dad was in the energy business, I asked his opinion. He told me then it was possible but not economical. Not much has changed. Solara anyone? There seems to be some interesting parallels when exploring the viability and economics of both solar and wind energy sources.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney was out on the campaign trail touting coal and North American energy independence. He made a bold claim that in his second term the United States would be completely independent and not need oil from the Middle East or Venezuela. EPA regulations continue to both be very expensive and have forced the creation of improved scrubbers on coal stacks to reduce unwanted emissions. The cost for these improvements are, of course, passed on to the consumer. It is the economy.

Obama touts job creation in Iowa. Romney promises saving coal jobs in Ohio. They both understand it is the economy even if they have different visions of how to solve our problems. I know, some would question if they have a vision for the problems we face. Let’s give their respective people the benefit of at least working to come up with something.

My mentor recently suggested pastors should be aware of issues facing the polis, the people, and be wiling to have conversations about them. He is not part of the Black Robed Regiment. Nor will he be passing out Value Voters Guides. Rick believes it inexcusable to be unaware. He wrote, as I cannot get the link to work,

Why Does a Pastor Post on Politics?

by aintsobad

Seriously.

The 2012 US presidential election may be the most important one since 1980, Reagan vs. Carter. Apparently, according to some, the church should just sit this one out, pastors should mostly remain silent, unless they are unabashedly red staters and the super-PACs should just rule.

If you want spiritual leadership that is just too silly, lazy or inane enough to let it all go, this says a lot about what you think about spiritual leadership.

Grow up. Get real.

I thank God for a congregation that thinks about things.

It is the economy.

Really it has always been the economy. In my recent post on David Barton, Richard Land, and Nathan Finn, one commenter pointed me to an article by John Fea. He believed the article from 2010 would help make his case that American history holds enough discernible data to support the claims it was founded as a Christina nation. Fea was referenced because he is quoted in the NPR story to which I linked.

Fea begins with the Treaty of Tripoli. I am going to assume his accuracy on the information related to the treaty with the Barbary pirates. According to Fea a requirement of the Treaty was the United States had to acknowledge it was not a Christian Nation. Why would the Christian United States agree? Because they wanted access to the economic markets and it was incumbent on them to shutter any idea the United States was Christian to open new financial channels in Muslim dominated countries.

When did this take place? 1797. The convictions Barton and others point to as having been so strong were disavowed, and just thirty short years from our celebrated 1776. It is the economy.

Let me be clear. I have noted elsewhere that the mistake on the Left and Right is just how Christian influence is played. Revising history to jettison any record of Christian influence by the Left is no worse than revising from the Right asserting Judeo-Christian values provided the foundation upon which the Founding Fathers fashioned the United States. Neither side should ignore the reality of Christian influence. But to overplay or underplay exposes deeper agendas.

We would be blinded by our agendas to miss seeing the Treaty of Tripoli as an illustration that other forces were certainly in play in the formation of the United States of America. The late Leslie Newbigin, noted the subtle change in our founding documents. What was ratified included certain inalienable rights, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Debate stirs as to the source for this phrase and the implications of its exact meaning. Some see the influence of John Locke and note the phrase would have referred to “property,” as in, “life, liberty, and property.” Others believe Leibnitz served as influential for Jefferson and that it was noble to pursue others’ well-being as a means to achieving personal happiness.

Who knows but in either case the economy is in view. If we opt for Locke as chiefly influential we might view this as a resistance to the privileged land ownership in England – Lords and Serfs. If we choose Leibnitz we would include working for the betterment of others, which would include the privilege to own land and other possessions for personal well-being. Both seem to ride on the shoulder of economic stimulus. Is it the economy?

If we follow the trajectory that posits Jefferson was influenced by the noble cause of others’ well-being, how do we account for the silent first, or second, sentence? “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Who is “we?” The framers. While it sounds great today that we look back believing “all men were endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” we must acknowledge the conviction to view all men this way seems absent.

“We” seems to have excluded blacks, Native Americans, and women. Silently implied is the first, or second, sentence that serves as a blockade or envelope to the very notion of human equality that we would find in a Judeo-Christian ethic. There seems to be a missing component of concern found in the warning prophets. Christians charting a new world under the banner of Jesus and Moses should be as concerned about the widows (women) and aliens (foreigners) in the land many believe God gave the various groups landing on our Eastern shores. I am fighting the urge to remind us in detail that we were not the first here. We were the foreigners.

Look back at Fea’s article and read how Native Americans were viewed. It was considered Divine Providence that Native Americans fell prey to the Yellow Fever. Settlers needed the land already occupied. Where is the sort of Christian influence that would have over-ridden the urge to wipe out an entire people, or most of them? And, since we are giving props to land ownership to white men, there would be the need for more laborers. We imported cheap labor, from Africa.

I do not intend derision. I love my Country. But, the Left and Right re-tell their respective stories laden with a priori commitments. I only seek to point out that the economy seems to have been the larger driving force among our Founders.

Fea suggests it is up to theologians to decide if it was good for Christians to assume America was a Christian nation. He asserts that it is up to historians to decide how Americans felt about their Country. He concludes there is evidence in the 19th and 20th centuries that most Americans believed their Country to be Christian.

But, considering Fea’s own article and its details seems to demonstrate Christianity was but one influence on the formation of our Country. It is the economy. Again, if the Treaty of Tripoli indicates anything, the United States preferred the open Muslim markets to hanging on to the moniker, Christian Nation.

Churches continue to face the impact of a sluggish economy and the loss of trust by many who once gave tithes and offerings. The economy has forced some ministers to look at the bottom line before the well-being of those in need around them.

Two illustrations may help. My young friends who hold leadership positions in mega-churches face increased pressure to tailor programs to families that will be able to contribute rather than spend time with single parents, college students, or youth whose parents do not attend church. Inspirational reading is about better business practices rather than the ongoing engagement with the mission of God in the world. Second, larger churches in some areas outsource the meeting of needs to smaller churches. We have had not just a few of these experiences at Snow Hill.

We are glad to help. But, when the church buys into consumer capitalism it often misses the subtle messages that are sent as to what is important – its own economy.

Kester Brewin, in his book Mutiny, suggests the Church missed an opportunity. When systems were instantiated to blockade resources and envelope goods, the Church could have opted for a different economy. The description of a communitarian approach to expressing that most noble action – working for the betterment of those in the community – is often dismissed as idealistic. Amidst the economy of the Roman Empire, these groups cared for one another in ways that surely drew both curiosity and scorn.

Sadly things changed. The Church, in its various cultural iterations, adapted to the host economy rather than offer a different vision. And it is here I return to the theme, it is the economy.

Jesus in a piratic act taught that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Try as we might to battle for what we say our heart is bent toward, we choose actions that betray Christian influence. In our economy, consumer is king.

Maybe we should explore the other significant influence among our Founding Fathers – unbridled individualism. That may be for another post.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.