The Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 brought economic inequality and its attendant social ills to the forefront of public conversation, marked by its language of the ‘99 per cent’ and the wealthiest one per cent. Five years later, the questions raised by the movement continue to resonate.
Within the Anglican Church of Canada, the need to consider these economic realities found expression during the 2010-2013 triennium through the Faith, Worship, and Ministry committee. Addressing such issues in light of the Christian faith, the committee said, would require deeper reflection in the next triennium—not just on subjects such as poverty and inequality, but on the meaning and theological implications of money itself.
After discussions throughout 2014 and 2015, the Task Force on the Theology of Money has completed its work and presented it to the public. On the Theology of Money: A Resource for Study and Discussion is available free online and provides Canadian Anglicans with a comprehensive resource that includes an essay on the theology of money, guidelines for group discussion, a series of reflections and questions, and musical and liturgical resources.
The Rev. Jeffrey Metcalfe, who served as chair of the task force, said that the resource “resituates the conversation” on economic justice and the church’s relationship to money, which in the past had often focused on stewardship.
A key component is the essay Non nobis, Domine: A Theology of Money. Its primary author was the Rev. Maggie Helwig, who wrote the initial draft for consideration following months of discussion and then expanded upon it after receiving feedback from other members of the task force.
A long-time anti-poverty activist, Helwig had read widely on the intersection of theology and economics. In crafting the essay, she drew upon contemporary theologians such as William Cavanaugh, Susan Holman, and Daniel Bell, as well as economic critiques from the patristic era such as the Cappadocian Fathers and John Chrysostom. Yet it was the concept of idolatry in Psalm 115—whose opening lines gave the essay its Latin title—that most informed her theological analysis of money and our contemporary economic system.
“If we are to address the fundamental sin in our economic system, it is not greed,” Helwig said. “Some individuals are motivated by greed, some relationships distorted by greed, but we’re all entangled. And what we’re entangled in is a system which is, at its root, about idolatry—about becoming enslaved by a human construction.”
Recognizing a need to imagine alternatives to the existing capitalist system, Helwig posits a form of economics that would take seriously the doctrine of the Incarnation. Non nobis, Domine describes the scriptural vision of human life as based on the concept of “enough”. Helwig recommends that all Christians develop formation in what she calls “countercultural economic practice” to strive towards the scriptural vision of a world in which everyone has enough to live a healthy and creative life.
For those who are relatively privileged economically, that might mean learning to limit and control material consumption. For those who have lived lives of material deprivation, it could mean being able to experience “the goodness of food, warmth, and community.”
Other forms of countercultural economic practice can include producing our own clothing, food, or furniture; finding out where goods come from and the conditions in which they are produced; and supporting fair trade and sustainability wherever possible.
Along with its central essay, On the Theology of Money includes resources for further discussion as well as related music and liturgy. Anglicans may use the resource in any manner they choose; Metcalfe offered the examples of diocesan clergy conferences, or Lenten study groups in a parish context.
While the task force has finished its assigned task, members hope the resource will lead to ongoing discussions as communities interpret it and apply it to their own contexts.
“It’s meant as a launch point from which we can try to grasp this issue and struggle with it, and continue to have that conversation,” Metcalfe said.
“As churches and people who are engaged in that conversation enter it, they may identify things that the task force hadn’t thought of … bringing a multiplicity of perspectives that can really enrich that conversation.”
Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, October 18, 2016