I recently attended the Mennonite Economic Development Association (MEDA) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. If you keep up with my stewardship blog, you know that in some sense this was a great accomplishment (read The Cost of Leaving). While I was there promoting KC2015 and other Mennonite Church USA Executive Board programs, I had some time to do some theological reflection as I drank my Tim Horton’s coffee and enjoyed a nice helping of poutine (not really). Wealthy people and material possessions often get a bad rap in some of our Christian circles. Maybe this is based on the bad actions of Judas and narrow interpretation of Mark 10:25 (NRSV) “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Mega-Church pastors like those featured on Preachers of L.A. don’t help either. Many Christians have this love-hate relationship with money and wealth. Basically, we love when we have money and we hate when other people have it.
MEDA’s tagline is “Creating business solutions to poverty.” What I love about this organization is that “for over 60 years, MEDA has been working with the poor around the world, bringing dignity and joy by helping them grow sustainable, locally owned small businesses that are not dependent on charity for survival.” MEDA also works hard to make sure these businesses have ethical business practices and offer fair compensation. I often say the church can learn a lot from business people. Business people know how to get things done. I should add that business people with the heart of Christ know how to get things done and get them done in a way that brings the love of God to life.”
Money is simply a tool, a medium of exchange for goods and services. I don’t believe it is inherently good or evil. The church has tried to make it both. In our Western version of Christianity we often equate blessings and prosperity with money and possessions. I remember a speech from a Kenyan theologian who asked, “If blessings are equal to wealth, does that mean that God does not love the poor?” She went on to say that people claim America’s strength and prosperity is due to the fact that America is a Christian nation. Her retort was, “America is prosperous because you work hard and long hours. You are bound to reap a harvest whether you are Christian of not.” An article by ABC news backs up her claim that Americans Work More Than Anyone. “Americans work more than anyone in the industrialized world. More than the English, more than the French, way more than the Germans or Norwegians. Even, recently, more than the Japanese. And Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later, too.” I am not sure that is the best thing for our families. But it is clear why we Americans have so much stuff. With the holidays and black Friday looming, even Christmas is increasingly about accumulating more stuff than it is about sharing hope with the world.
I quickly came to understand that what MEDA does is not about wealth and money, but true Christian stewardship. As Christians our goal shouldn’t be how can we get more stuff to fill up our coffers. It is more than just praying for the poor, but we should really ask ourselves, “God, how can we be a blessing to others?” How can we as Godly people maximize the resources and tools we have and meet the needs of those in our communities and in our world?
I didn’t see any camels while at MEDA (a few folks did see polar bears), but I have a hard time believing these social justice minded Christians who are using their wealth and expertise to create practical solutions to global poverty and injustice won’t have a place in heaven. Now, let the theological debate begin….