Radical Biblical Economics at PLNU?

By Randy M. Ataide, JD 

All of us have seen the humorous commercials for a major credit card company with the burly Vikings placed in various situations but always closing with the catchy question/slogan “What’s in Your Wallet?” In the next few months, the PLNU community will have multiple opportunities to enter into not only the “what” of your wallet, but also the why, how, where and when of our wallets as well.  

In April, PLNU’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation will be hosting Ched Meyers, a biblical scholar and popular educator. Meyers is a noted author, organizer and advocate who has for 30 years been challenging and supporting Christians to engage in peace and justice work and radical discipleship. At chapel and at Brewed Awakening, Ched will interact with the PLNU community about his vision of compassion, equity and justice, utilizing the gospel of Mark and his own experience in the founding of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries committed to mutual aid and discipleship. His writings and language are freely sprinkled with terms such as radical economics, ecojustice, jubilee and other phrases all of which are concepts and recommendations that are uncommon to most conversations on economics.  Undoubtedly, PLNU’s time with Meyers promises to be provocative, insightful and challenging. (For more information on the Brewed Awakening events see http://www.pointloma.edu/experience/academics/centers-institutes/center-justice-reconciliation/brewed-awakening/spring-2011-schedule)

But how should Christian businesspersons and economists respond to Meyers? While at the present time I am drawing no personal conclusions as to his views, as a member of the School of Business faculty at PLNU and an entrepreneur and businessperson, I must admit that I often wince when I hear church leaders, pastors and theologians speak on business and economic issues. While they may properly identify an unjust situation and experience, frequently I think that they show little understanding of practical economic realities, especially when it comes to the operations of businesses and the decision-making processes that we use. All too often, sharp lines are drawn as if Christians engaged in business are not “fully” Christians, and that such efforts and endeavours are far apart from “God’s work.” This concern led me to present a paper titled A Transformational Undertaking: Entrepreneurship and Economic Freedom that challenged some fundamental notions and understandings of radical and jubilee economics at the Prophetic Imagination Conference held at PLNU in 2010. (A version of this paper appeared in the Fall 2010 PLNU Viewpoint.)

In the book, Church on Sunday, Work on Monday, Dr. Laura Nash of Harvard Business School and Scotty McLennan, dean of religious life at Stanford University, suggest that business and economics is not as simple as religious leaders tend to think it is. Capitalism is frequently reduced to a monolithic concept labeled as “The Market,” that inevitably exploits all participants except the most powerful. In my own experience, misconceptions about the marketplace create hurtful and inaccurate stereotypes that portray even Christian businesspeople as uncaring, unthinking, exploitative, and unengaged. Events of the past few years that led to a global economic crisis certainly do need examination and critique, but we should work towards a richer and more accurate view of business and economics than is often portrayed – one comprising numerous relationships and actions, full of nuances and complexities.

Spurred on by this opportunity for the PLNU community to engage with Meyers, and with a desire to have a deeper dialogue on the important issues of personal and communal economic decisions and the results and effects of these decisions, not only will we have Meyers appear in several venues, other PLNU voices will attempt to expand upon Meyer’s message. Dr. Jamie Gates and I will appear in a follow-up chapel to discuss radical and jubilee economics, but more importantly faculty members of the Department of Sociology and the Fermanian School of Business will engage in a series of articles to appear preceding Meyers’ time at PLNU in April. Short opinion pieces will be written on a variety of economic issues including debt, vocation, justice and personal economic decisions which should provide many members of the PLNU community the opportunity to enter into this important dialogue. These articles should be appearing not only in The Point Weekly but in social media sites to make them widely available. There will likely be diverse opinions expressed on these issues providing for interesting reading but more importantly to provide time for personal and communal time of study, reflection, prayer and action.

Therefore, many of us are looking forward to participating in a vigorous yet temperate and gracious dialogue with Meyers and others and sincerely believe that this is an important topic for all of us at PLNU. I am grateful to Dr. Jamie Gates and PLNU for their leadership in bringing Meyers to PLNU and also for Dr. Mary Paul and Mark Carter for seeking to broaden the economic conversation, creating a great opportunity for students, colleagues and friends to share in this very important issue that affects all of us.


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