Fail of the day: theologians and the economy

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My generation coined a great phrase: the “epic fail.” Though it is not intellectual enough, I can think of no better way to put a theological affirmation by NC Triangle-area theologians relating to recent economic trends; link to statement here – link to Christian Century story here.

This won’t be an exhaustive examination of the statement, but just a run down of what annoys me the most.  There is a particular focus on what they see as “unbiblical” usury practices.  Is America now Israel?  I can see how the norms of Mosaic law *may* be important for contemporary Christians and Jews, but do they really think Bank of America is going to care about the year of Jubilee?

Most interestingly, the statement wastes a lot of ink telling us that usury is condemned left, right, and sideways in the Bible, and then go on to say it should only be limited to 10 percent! If usury is an affront to God, why allow it at all?  Of course, the same logic says “abortion is horrible, but a million a year is acceptable.”  (To be precise, it is 45 million legal abortions since 1973)

I had classes with several of the signatories.  I only bring this up because the writing in this statement is so basic, so insufferably banal that I shutter to think what grade it would have garnered in one of their seminars.  Here’s an example:

To get out of the current mess, we will need an economic reform which acknowledges our mutual dependence and obligations and turns aside from the way of selfish individualism and competition for status and conspicuous wealth. What kind of an economic recovery leaves giant banks standing while the average worker’s life gets harder and harder? It is not an economic recovery when billions can bail out executive jobs but nothing can bail out the rest of the jobs. There is not justice when everyone’s tax dollars can pay off banks’ bad debts, but the average taxpaying citizens are left on their own to drown in their debts. Debt relief for millionaires and homelessness for working people—that’s not the kind of economy we believe in.

Ugh.  This is the result of dozens of of PHDs working together? Not encouraging.  Bad writing; bad economics; bad theology.

Further questions: What do professional theologians know about the “average worker” (if there is such a thing)?  How much debt are the students at their respective seminaries going to incur getting their education??

Oh, and economic justice?  Whose justice?

As economist Thomas Sowell writes,


One of the few subjects on which we all seem to agree is the need for justice.  But our agreement is only seeming because we mean such different things by the same word.  Whatever moral principle each of us believes in, we call justice.  This is especially so today, when so many advocate what they call “social justice” [or “economic justice”]  – often with great passion, but with no definition. (The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 3)

Jesus also told us that the poor will always be with us.  Some no doubt due to systemic injustices; some to misfortune; some to prodigality and/or laziness.  Yes, some interest rates are remarkably high.  But no one forces you to take out a loan.  I’ve torn up many credit cards over the years, especially during college.  Yes, Christians should be concerned for the poor.  Is the best way to do this picketing huge multinational banks? Doubtful.  Should theologians be writing our economic policies?

Perhaps – but not until Christ returns in glory.

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