I knew I would be in for some interesting, and probably fruitless, conversations when a deacon strolled into church one Sunday morning with a hefty book under his arm. It wasn’t God’s Holy Word, large print with a thick, full grain leather cover.
“Ah, Ayn Rand,” I said, “that depressing objectivist with a dystopian vision for the future?” Yep. That was the one.
“I love you man, but no thanks on us having much of a discussion on her material,” I quickly volunteered. And, thanks, but we’re going to pass on having a discussion class on her stuff in this church.
Give me a little credit for acquiring skills, like ecclesiastical self-defense, not taught in seminary. I headed this disaster off early on.
I’d be with Chuck Colson on Rand followers, “crypto-cultists” including some Christians who have seemingly bought into a world view that could hardly be more “antithetical to Christianity.” Our former SBC ERLC leader, Richard Land, said “A lot of people go through an Ayn Rand phase…Hopefully, they get over it.”
For the record, I prefer that readers pelt me with hymnals or Broadus’ Abstract than Ayn Rand’s interminable volumes. Less collateral damage.
Then one of my liberal Baptist friends tried to cajole me into reading Adam Smith’s magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, but I’m passing on that one also. I don’t think he had read it either but wanted to make a point about Smith not being all that free market kind of guy. Riiiiight.
Christians and economics and economic theory can get really interesting which is usually what results from ignorance like not knowing profit from profit margin. My all time favorite was a pal who blithely quoted this line to me: “I think we should practice the approach that from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
Dude. “Seriously, my Marxist friend?” I replied, the dear brother not knowing the source of the quote.
All of which brings me around, oink oink, to my self-description as a Christian greedy capitalist pig…in a sanctified sort of way, of course.
I don’t disagree with much of anything in David Rogers’ article on the rich and the poor, although I would be more definite about capitalism in general as easily being the system that delivers more resources to the poor than alternatives.
And I have no complaint about Christian capitalists like Beth Moore (whose organization has many millions in cash and cash equivalent assets), or Ken Ham (whose organization charges around $50 a head to stroll in and around a big boat; according to records filed he is quite modestly paid, btw), or the denominational staff guy who names a high three figure price to belt out a 30 minute sermon for pulpit supply, or the pastor whose skills, experience, connections, and record puts him in a large church that is perfectly willing to pay his several hundred thousand dollar annual compensation. Caveat emptor, charge what the market will bear…and all that. Just do it in a sanctified way. Be rational. Be generous. Honor the Lord in what and how you receive resources and in how you steward them.
Pastors of the median sized SBC church, around 70 or so, can complain about capitalism for their modest pay of $60-70k per year. It’s supply and demand, brother. You resign and the church has a wheelbarrow load of resumes of possible replacements. There’s no rational reason to pay a lot more. There’s a reason the average nurse pay in your area is higher than yours; they have skills you don’t and the market is tighter for those with such skills.
I’ll go with the Baptist capitalist that was the richest person in history, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. There are multiple ways to measure wealth but Senior was said to be the recipient of a percentage of GDP that has yet to be matched. Not Gates, Bezos, or a Saudi prince. Senior defined both ruthless capitalism and modern benevolence. Most of us probably encounter the product of his giving as often as we fill up with gas that has antecedents in his Standard Oil Trust.
If the SBC has an achilles heel, it is the system that leads to a distribution of resources that lacks accountability at the retail level. If trustees are distant and unresponsive to those who pay the bills we are in for slow, steady decline, which is what we have had for my entire several decades of ministry in SBC churches. There are other culprits but our wonderful Cooperative Program works better in the open and with transparency. If churches lose confidence in things like reasonable salaries for entity heads and competent, prudent handling of resources, they will give to other things. We can weather a lot of nonsense and meltdowns in our cooperative ministries but they all take a toll.
We live in the greatest time of all times in the greatest place of all time. Make a lot of money, brethren and sistren. Charge what the market will bear. Give a lot of your income away. But don’t come in my church with books on economics. It’s still the dismal science and we’ve got better things to share with people.
As an aside, several commenters mentioned one popular Christian health cost sharing ministry. I did a little checking and here’s what I found: The CEO of that organization makes a very modest salary. I’d guess that it is only a fraction of what our GuideStone CEO makes. The health sharing nonprofit is required to make filings that disclose compensation, not so GuideStone.