Christianity and Capitalism in Conflict?

By Julie Roys
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Do Christianity and capitalism clash? A stunning 44-percent of Americans think they do; a mere 36-percent believe they don’t. That’s according to a new poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Religion News Service. White evangelicals, however, tend to view capitalism more favorably than the general population. Forty-four percent reportedly think businesses unregulated by government would behave ethically. That’s compared to 36-percent of Catholics; 33-percent of mainline Protestants; and 34-percent of minority Christians.

So, what should Christians make of these results? Not surprisingly, some readers of “Out of Ur,” a blog for church leaders, echo the sentiments of the 44-percent.

One reader writes, “Love of money is the root of all evil, and capitalism runs on, depends on, the love of money.”

But, as others note, “All economic systems ‘run on money.’” And, “There is nothing wrong with abundance. The more money someone has, the more (he) can help needy.” Another astutely asks, “So if we need government to keep business honest, then who is keeping the government honest?”

These are great questions and observations. Yet, the one that impacted me most was this: “Ultimately, Christianity clashes with every economy and every form of government. This is the tension of living in the Kingdom that has come, but not fully yet.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think some economic systems are better than others. Capitalism evolved out of Christian convictions that God ordained private property by prohibiting theft and covetousness. In contrast, socialism developed from unbiblical assumptions that man is good and private property bad.

Yet, I retain a healthy suspicion of all economic systems because I know how easily economic forces can trump the influence of God in my life. For example, when I was a teenager, I loved bartering for goods in Third World markets. Why? Because I saw it as a game, and getting a lower price than everyone else stroked my pride and made me feel clever. Yet, when I went to Ghana this past summer, I found the thrill of bartering was gone. I no longer wanted to get the basement price from some vendor I knew was living on a dollar a day. Over time, God’s values had replaced blatant self-interest and I was okay with paying a bit more for a product. Yet, this example reminds me how easy it is to succumb to economic interests before Kingdom interests – to allow a force that’s morally neutral give birth to sin.

Is Christianity compatible with capitalism? Yes, I think it is. But, the free market, just like any pressure in society – can trigger sin. And, people operating in even the best of economic systems will pervert them. Regardless of what economic system we support, we constantly need to examine how money and market forces are shaping us – and then submit our attitudes and actions to the Lordship of Christ. That’s my view.

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