Believe it or not, the Christian belief system and the principles of economics are not at odds with each other. That’s because God is not only interested in the spiritual aspect of His creation; He’s interested in the material aspect as well, and that includes economic resources and the systems in which those resources are distributed.
The Bible has a lot to say (about 2,000 verses) about economics and how Christians should interact with money and any other resources that impact our spiritual and financial lives. Here are just a few.
“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14:31)
“Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” (James 5:4)
“Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights? Your rich people are violent; your inhabitants are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.” (Micah 6:11-12)
“Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:10)
A few things are clear in these verses:
- God cares about the economically poor and disadvantaged.
- Oppressing others is counter to the nature of God.
- Failure to compensate people for their work is wrong.
- Dealing dishonestly in economic transactions goes against God.
- Maximizing economic gain from the land with no thought to the poor is not what God desires.
So, why does this matter for us? Well, whether we like it or not, we all participate in economic systems. We work and get paid for our efforts. We buy and sell products. We invest and save. It’s easy to do all of those things without thinking about the broader implications that might result from our actions.
Consumers make choices about what items to purchase and where to purchase them from. Some consumers make that decision solely on the price of a product. Others consider quality or how it was produced. When consumers make a purchase, they are economically supporting the brand and company.
Small business owners make many decisions that directly impact their employees. They have a say in what salary and benefits to provide their employees and whether they offer full-time or part-time positions (which affects benefits). They choose what part of town to have their business and who to hire.
Multinational corporations make decisions about where to build production facilities, often based on what countries offer the lowest wages and the most lax labor laws. Corporations make decisions about what suppliers to partner with and what level of transparency to have in their supply chains.
In a globalized economy, there are layers of complexity around economic systems, and it’s important to understand what those are if we want to know what we are contributing to with our dollars. All economic systems have elements that are both beneficial and harmful. Because the prevailing global economic system is capitalism, we’ll focus on that one here. The capitalist system is one in which supply and demand determine the price of a commodity in the market, and the key motivation within capitalism is to make a profit. There is nothing biblically or morally wrong with making a profit. Jesus encouraged people to be productive and earn wages so they could provide for themselves. But, he did speak against profit that is made at the expense of someone else.
The way that we make our money (or support others to make theirs) matters. If we encourage the buildup of wealth at the expense of others, we are not promoting economic justice or protecting the poor. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Proverbs 29:7) Within the capitalist system, there is high incentive to cut costs in order to increase profit. In many cases (especially globally), cost cutting takes the form of lower wages, unsafe working conditions, long, high-demand hours and no benefits. These practices are oppressive and exploitive and do not represent economic justice. Not all businesses engage in this type of behavior, but there are many that do, either intentionally or unintentionally due to lack of information and visibility.
We aren’t here to tell you whether one economic system is better than another or which system aligns most with the teachings of Jesus. We’ll leave that up to you to determine. But we do want to encourage you to think more critically about what it looks like to pursue economic justice in the way you live your life.