Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sex and Money

I was teaching today from two stories; encounters between Jesus and rich people. As the day comes to a close, I'm pondering why it is that we are more prone to get enraged over sexual sin than economic sin. Why, for instance, does discussion about homosexuality elicite a fairly large response, while entries about justice and ecnomics receive barely a whimper?

I speculate that sexual issues are easier to talk about because we who are North American Christians are so wedded to our economic system that it's difficult to face those kinds of issues head on. Sexual sin is, for most people, a safer topic because its either something we don't struggle with, or if we do, it's something we struggle with privately. Our economic issues, however, are so public, so universally accepted, and so tightly woven into the fabric of everything we do that they are, perhaps, more threatening, and thus more difficult to see.

Does anyone have thoughts on this: Why would someone be more upset that a company such as Nike offers 'partner benefits' to its homosexual employees, than that the same company exploits its overseas workers, paying them an unlivable wage, while enjoying enormous profits for themselves. That we would be up in arms about the former while virtually ignoring the latter says something about evangelicals. My question to you is: What does it say?


At 31/7/06 10:16, Anonymous ceguy said...

Hi Richard,

Thanks for a great post (but not for coming to SoCal without telling me). Let me offer an additional theory as to why sexual sins receive so much more attention than economic sins--not so much in contrast to what you've put forward, but to strengthen what you've said.

In a nutshell, I think it's because Billy Graham was more successful than Reinhold Niebuhr in shaping America's Christian consciousness in the middle of the 20th century.

That probably sounds a bit arcane, but let me see if I can flesh it out a little. In 1956, Niebuhr wrote an open letter to Graham, in which he praised him for his sincerity, integrity & modesty, but took him to task for presenting a gospel that could be embraced without any radical criticism of existing social structures.

Graham's goal had been (and continued to be throughout his career) to persuade as many individuals as possible to accept Jesus as Savior. Of course, this would require that hearers recognize themselves as sinners. Graham chose an efficient means of exposing sin: take an established moral code and demonstrate the ways that the hearers break that code on a regular basis. Since our sexual mores are largely hypocritical in the first place (a whole other subject, but go with me on this), they provide a ready mirror against which most of us can see ourselves as sinners.

Niebuhr points out, however, that Graham's strategy leaves unexamined the moral codes themselves. Graham's approach obscures, in Niebuhr's words, "the moral transgressions that are embedded in the customs of the community, the sins that we do, not 'one by one,' but with the approval of our community"--transgressions like pride, nationalism, hating our enemies, hoarding that which is "ours," taking vengeance into our own hands, etc.

Graham's methodology connected with the American public in a way that Niebuhr's social analysis did not for at least two reasons. First, the individualism central to the American ethos provided better soil for a message of personal, rather than collective, sin and redemption. But more important, the emotional reaction provoked by Graham's preaching lends itself to mass acceptance in a way that Niebuhr's more intellectual social analysis does not. It's hard enough to look at one's own personal sins. To consider the idolatry and evil embedded in the collective practices that one has always associated with morality is something few of us have the stomach to do.

Sex is easy to get worked up about (in more ways than one). One can easily point out one's own or another deviations from an established sexual ethic. Economic justice, however, requires that we think critically of our social customs, that as a community we step back and radically rethink what it means to be human. Unfortunately, the Christian community, which is called to do exactly that, has been taught not to.

See you in November, I hope--Scott

At 31/7/06 10:43, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Very thoughtul, CE Guy. You should consider teaching ethics. Thanks, as always, for adding great insights to the topic. As for visiting while in LA - Kristi and I were sad that things back in Seattle pressed home just after the conference ended. But I'll look forward to November.

At 31/7/06 11:23, Anonymous Lisa Page said...

I'm guilty of this. I actively respond to the churches outrage on matters of sexuality, in defense of a marginalized, oppressed, and villified group. It impacts me directly and so I am passionate about the how the church treats sexual minorities.

As I learn more about Jesus, as I reach further outside of my own life, I care not less about the above mentioned issues, but more and more about greater issues of justice, economic and otherwise. I've recently tried pointing out to those who celebrated on religious grounds the upholding of the states ban on gay marriage that perhaps we'd all be better served by getting angry about the things that Jesus gets angry about. I hope that ultimately any discussion amongst Christians will follow the teachings of Jesus and not simply be a reflection of our own fears.

I have to add that I believe issues such as homosexuality and abortion have become such contentious issues in large part due to political manipulation. The religious mouthpieces of the political Christian Right have dictated to candidates and politicians the issues that will serve them up the votes necessary to be elected. Nevermind that these issues are promptly ignored once leaders are elected. It's fear based and an easy way to whip people into a frenzy, raise money, and elect politicians that will be beholden to the far Right's agenda. I believe they didn't choose an issue such as poverty for many of the reasons that ceguy points out, mainly that we're all at fault for contributing to poverty and it's much easier to have an enemy to villify than it is to identify our own sins and the impact of our own "lifestyles".

Does anyone else have something to add or disagree with what I've said?

At 31/7/06 15:30, Blogger Kari said...

I think economic justice requires a lot more study to understand as well. While what richard said about Nike exploiting workers & offering unlivable wages sounds horrific, it seems to me like the situation is one hundred times more complex than that statement. It's a tangled web and it's easy to just give up and listen to capitalist rationalizations rather than figure out how on earth you begin to truly affect (without destroying) the economic machinery that seems to govern these sorts of things. Or figure out where the truth is in all the messages that you hear when you haven't seen or experienced it for yourself. (How do I know what working conditions are like in a Nike factory? How do I know if they are better or worse than similar factories in the region? Maybe their factory is the best locally, even though it is poor by our standards. What if my boycott hurts the workers rather than Nike?) Not that this is an excuse, but confusion can be a reason for apathy.

At 31/7/06 21:04, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of my "soap boxes". While in college (I studied Human Services) we spent some time watching a video about the sweatshops and unfair working conditions put on by Walmart, GAP, Nike etc...the list goes on and on. If you would like to learn more about different companies practices I would suggest the book "Blue Pages" and it is a guide for companies practices and the political parties that they support.

What I seemed to have found is that the problem of why the "church" doesn't focus on this (and instead other topics) is because we simply don't know how real and great the unfair working conditions are impacting humans in the world. We don't know how rich we are. We don't realize that we, middle class Americans, are quite literally financially speaking the "richest" people that ever lived on earth. We haven't seen face to face the negative effects of economic globalization that is stripping away people's dignity. The church needs to be educated on this. We need to be educated on this because the media won't cover it because the media is supported by businesses for advertising.

What is frustrating to me is that I don't know where to begin to help stop this problem....I feel that we are married to our life style where everything that we want and more is available and given to us. We are told every day what we are supposed to consume and buy...while our neighbors in other countries are literaly being exploited for our benefit. It's just like slavery but we don't ever meet the slaves because they are in another country. Because they are poor we think that it is ok to take advantage of thier poverty and pay them too little? - too little for human standards...not "country or cultural standards" HUMAN STANDARDS.

The reason why we don't as a society and as a church pay more attention to this is because we don't know about the awful reality of it. Also because we don't know what to do...we can't let our slaves free because they are in another country far away....How can we educate each other? How can we help? Let start to set HUMAN STANDARDS and are healthy.

At 1/8/06 13:30, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can we help? Feel powerless? We're not, and as long as we feel like 'somebody else' holds the cards, we contibute by our disengagement to the problem. If I ignore it because its somebody elses problem, then I can feel better about buying that patio furniture, or adding onto the house/garage, or landscaping my built in BBQ, or whatever...

We can help by not buying things that are not NEEDS. It's a minimalist viewpoint for sure, and maybe we need not go all the way there, but some amount of balance would be in order. If we put off some of these creature comfort things and put that money into missions (Worldvision comes to mind), then we would be helping in two ways.

1) We're not buying products that MAY be exploiting other people.
2) We're helping build infrastructure and hope in an area where there was less of it yesterday.

Oh, and one minor detail....we're building treasure in heaven!

Holy moley, it gets better as you go!

P.S. Richard you'll be in Forest Home in November?

At 3/8/06 21:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I kid you not, I was going to go to the Finish Line store at Northgate today and buy a pair of Nike walking shoes which were on sale....couldn't do it.
I'll wear my old ones longer. Thanks - it was a
freeing coincidence to read your blog this morning!

In graduate school days it was easy to wear things
that were well worn. That was expected (and accepted) of grad students. Now I struggle to
reconcile cultural expectations and the voice of the Spirit. I always appreciate it when others mention their own struggles to walk the narrow path,
whether it is in the realm of consumerism, affluence,
or sexuality. There are no easy lists or instructions - it's all so entangled. I think pride though, can easily sneak up on us and convince us that "our soap box" is better than "their soap box". Soapboxes should hold soap. We need to stand on the Rock and pursue holiness out of deep heartfelt gratitude to our Savior who, like no other, understands the dirtiness of this walk on earth.
And he still offers each of us grace beyond understanding,
even as we wrestle with our wicked American ways.
I've seen lives hurt by both economic oppression and homosexual practices. I suggest that neither lead us down the path to holiness.

At 4/8/06 19:36, Blogger Kristi said...

I just wish there were easier ways around this. Some months ago, I went to Super Jock 'n' Jill, bound to buy anything BUT Nike. Yet after trying on 10-12 pairs, the only pair that fit right and made my feet feel like flying was the Nike pair (even though it was aesthetically atrocious!). Did I buy it? No. I settled for a different brand, the second best, even though they feel heavier on my feet. And when I run, I wonder if I made the right choice, because I still really want my feet to fly! So ... I wish there was a way to get the Nike product without having to entangle myself in the ethics of the slave labor issue.

At 5/8/06 10:46, Blogger Jim Underhill said...

Indeed this is a tough issue. Our family tries balancing this out as best we can. We have supported children in Latin American countries for years, having even adopted one. We'll buy sale items at the fancy stores, and then go to Value Village for 'kick around clothes.' Like other commenters, I'll keep my running shoes as long as possible, but to avoid feet and leg injuries,I'll buy a good pair of shoes, on sale. As to the impact of globilization on our buying decisions, we need to be educated, we need to know who does business w/o harming the people and countries doing the business, etc. But on the other hand, I've met people from India before who applaud our investments as it raises the floor in local villages and provides a measure of hope and a future for those people. It seems to be, at some point, a matter of perspective and literally where one lives.

At 7/8/06 10:46, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen lives hurt by heterosexual practices. Does that mean that heterosexuality doesn't lead us down the path of holiness?

It's not the orientation that's at fault, it's how people choose to treat each other. Gay and straight alike, relationships end, people get hurt, diseases spread.

At 13/8/06 09:44, Blogger quilpower said...

"Sex and Money" Wow! What a forum for venting!! I live in a small town far, far away from Seattle (the countries fifth largest city).

No problem in taking the speck of dust from our own eye, before we deal with Nike's short sightedness (alledged). Responsibility and a balanced perspective about social ethics is on a higher plain than that of Sexual "ethics."

Billy Graham is right-on to speak simply and directly to his audience without addressing such "higher" things. Simple is where salvation begins, and sexual sins are a great place to start for right thinking and a restored life in HIM. Afer all, it is where the rubber meets the ... uh... the road. The only thing more personal than creating life (babies) is taking life... spilling of blood (Jesus'). I'm certain that anyone who comes to Salvation whether by Law or Grace, Jesus will meet them where they are spiritually, physically and mentally, to lead them out into the glorious light of the sons of God.

In the gospels, Jesus may not have spoken directly about the social ethics topic, but the Law of the Spirit is the beginning and the end of the matter.

Love. It sounds so simple but that is exactly where we should remain in order to address effectively any of humanity's issues, begiining with love and respect for ourselves. How can we love our neighbor if we don't love ourselves, and how can we love God if we don't love our neighbor? A Love for the earth and all therein... an ascending, ever enlarging awareness... it's all there.

Billy Graham points to the path but he leaves no doubt that it is up to us to walk it. From my perspective, intellectual musings from Rain City are useful, but don't forget your country cousins upon whom the rain also falls. We may not have or need the luxury to analyze to such depths but we do have a pie cooling in the window for you, should you care to drop by sometime.

At 18/8/06 00:26, Blogger philter said...

Thanks for your post on this Richard. It is true, we don't see the injustice in most areas of our lives because no one is talking about them. I am glad you are speaking out. We need to think more about what we are consuming, not consume more without thinking.


At 23/8/06 17:46, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm sorry I missed this message.

I just wanted to let you know that there's a (support) network of gay Christians in the area (part of a larger world-wide group), and we have recently had a small gathering of about 15 of us in Seattle, and we decided to visit Bethany this past Sunday morning. Sadly (for us) you were on vacation. Looking forward to coming again when you will be speaking.

Enjoy Colorado!


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