ReConsidering the "Baptism of Capitalism"

In his book, With Justice for All, John Perkins discusses how the often unexamined embrace of capitalism from US Christians has brought about devastating results in our society. He writes, “ Free enterprise, as it now exists, falls far short of God’s standard. It has failed to distributed the earth’s resources equitably. And when Christianity should have been calling the American free enterprise system to account for its immoral stewardship, it was instead “baptizing” the system, adopting the free enterprise as an implicit “article of faith.” Free enterprise has become almost a religious doctrine that justifies our greed and substitutes token charity for real economic justice. It enables us to blame the victims of oppression for their own poverty and lets us feel little responsibility to redistribute our wealth to the needy. The result of such a system is predictable- increasing production by the rich, but continuing poverty for the oppressed (157-158).”
In light of President Obama’s real or perceived economic policies, Perkins’ advocacy of “redistribution” is hard for many Christians to accept. In an era of government bailouts, healthcare reform and “pitchfork and torches”talk radio, words like “equitably” and “redistribute” send up red flags for many.

Fortunately, Perkins is not appealing to a government solution- but a solution from the church. He is not saying that the answer is to support a “rob from the rich to give to the poor” economic policy. Rather, Mr. Perkins arguments are largely apolitical; they are social and spiritual. Perkins appeals to the belief that the answer for injustice centered around wealth is rooted in God’s sovereignty and justice. He writes, A truly Christian economic system would begin with the fact that the earth is the Lord’s, not ours, and that God and God alone has the authority to determine how his wealth will be used. Our job as stewards is to carry out His will. A Christian economic system would recognize that God provides the earth’s resources for all mankind, not just some. It would be designed to distribute God’s resources to all humanity in some sort of equitable way (158).” In other words, “There is no need for us who have plenty to hold so tightly our possessions when others have little. Besides, our stuff really doesn’t belong to us but to God.” Notice that Perkins is not advocating a forced “redistribution” by the church or the government, but a voluntary sharing of God’s resources.

Perkins is not against capitalism per se, but a spirit of greed which leads to the disenfranchisement of many. He writes, “My good capitalistic friends argue that American free enterprise is the best economic system ever devised. I answer, ‘Yes, you’re right if you mean our ability to produce. That’s why I support the free enterprise system. But so far we lack the moral will to distribute the fruits of our production in a more equitable way( 148).” It only make sense that capitalism left in the hands of people who have not experienced the depths of God’s grace would result in a system with an unjust outcome. Through Jesus Christ, however, who admonished love for brother, neighbor and even enemy, flawed people can take a flawed system and use it in order to bring about justice and redemption. Through loving our neighbors as ourselves, the church can use the resources that God has entrusted to us in order to help those who truly need it. The bottom line is that neither capitalism nor socialism are God’s economic systems and we should question ourselves and our brothers and sisters who use the Bible to advocate any political system. Instead, God’s economic system surpasses anything that can be regulated or deregulated- it is a system that recognizes our call to work as unto the Lord, while realizing that what our hands produce is for the benefit of more than just the individual.

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