Spending Money as Christians: A Quaker Perspective

Last night Emily and I had the opportunity to hang out with some of our good friends from Ohio and eat some fantastic sushi.  During the course of the evening, we encroached on a sometimes-touchy subject (except for this night): How Christians spend their money.

The conversation almost always turns toward what we can do as American Christians to be faithful and wise with our resources.  This question, which looks at how our faith is played out in society, is one every Christian needs to ask.  When we spend money we are making a statement about what we value; after all, this is what the market wants us to do.  American consumerism values good looks, youth, power, prestige, pride, new over the old, accessibility and convenience.  These are all selling points; one or more of these traits gets played in every billboard, radio/internet/tv commercial and on every printed ad we come across in a day.  These values are portrayed as persuasive arguments in advertisement, whether corporate ads or friends telling friends why they should have Apple computers.  When we buy these products, we are in one way or another buying into the argument.

This is not all bad: there are things about market values that reflect human nature and need.  But Christians often struggle with understanding how to interact with and use our money.

Quakerism Offers Guidance on Simplicity

One of the main reasons I was drawn to Quakerism in my college years was because of their stress on simple living (also see Liz’s post on simplicity).   
Here is an appropriate query:

Do you live with simplicity, moderation, and integrity? Are you punctual in keeping promises, careful in speech, just and compassionate in all your dealings with others? Do you take care that your spiritual growth is not sacrificed to busyness but instead integrates your life’s activities? Are your recreations consistent with Quaker values; do they refresh your spirit and renew your body and mind? (New England Yearly Meeting)

Friends United Meeting: Quaker Life

Besides talking about simplicity and spending our money as Christians, it’s actually a hard thing to do.  In my experience, Christians tend to do one of two things: a) hate money and consumerism and only buy things begrudgingly (we might call this the “punk-rock” position) or b) throw all caution to the wind and live as a friend once suggested “because I have the money I can do whatever I want with it.”  We might call this position the “I’ll do whatever I damn well please – thank you very much” Christian position.  What does it take to stand in between both these positions?

How Should Christians Spend Their Money?

First, it requires that we realize that every time we spend our money we are making a witness to the Kingdom of God.  Our money becomes a witnessing tool with which we proclaim the values of the Kingdom.  If I believe that humans have rights and ought to be treated fairly and paid a fair day’s wage for the work they perform, then I will spend my money at places that share this value.  Money can become a tool for activism and Christian witness if I am careful with how I use it.

Secondly, I think there are four things we can keep in mind that can help us think more “Christianly” about the way we spend our cash.  Before, during, and after spending our money we should prayerfully ask these queries:

1. How does this business treat its employees?
Are they treated as people, in a way that I would want to be treated at my workplace?  Are they paid a fair amount of money for the work they do?

2. What is this buisness’ impact on our local economy?
Are the businesses we spend our money at selfishly looking to preserve themselves only or are they interested in being a part of the local community?  Are they displaying a “love your neighbor” approach to their business practices?
3. What is this buisness’ impact on the global economy?
How does this business play in the larger trade that takes place globally?  Is this company exhibiting characteristics that we as Christians can participate in? This question would include looking into the kinds of labor issues that happen in other countries.

4. What is this buisness’ impact on the environment?
Some companies are much better at being good stewards with the earth than others.  Caring for the creation is a responsibility of the church so supporting business that does the same helps us encourage good practice.

Many people shrug off these responsibilities because of how scary it is to think about our actions, or how “inconvenient” something like this might appear; after all, “What can one person really do?”  This is an age old cop-out.  Imagine how hundreds of thousands of Christians have asked, “What can one person do, Lord?”

We can’t change the world overnight and so we realize that Jesus calls us to faithfulness often exemplified in taking small steps.

What are some stories about your experiences of “witnessing” in they way you spend money?  Or how you came to understand this issue the way you do?

A Couple Related Links:
Wikipedia Testimony of Simplicity
Answers.com – Testimony of Simplicity

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16 responses to “Spending Money as Christians: A Quaker Perspective”

  1. My query — somewhat more snide than your own — is this — why do folks who believe the Parousia (triumphal return of Jesus) is imminent — still put money into RRSPs (Canada) or 401Ks/IRAs (USA)?

    It has a point — and just a cynical one. It raises questions about the interconnections between beliefs and convictions, convictions and life practices. If you believe the house is one fire your actions will reflect it.

    And it isn’t just others I hodlaccountable to this. I probably fall into the “I’ll spend my money on anything I damn well please” category. Yet each morning I pray the smae prayer — this day is yours God — it always was — I’m yours God — I always was.

    And yet my spending doesn’t reflect my praying.

  2. Some good points but lets consider another point. How do employees treat their company? There is a great deal written regarding the way that a company treats the people who work at a job. What are the responsiblities of the people who work at the job. What are our responsibilities as workers?

    1. Do we consider if our job pays a fair wage and are we appriceative to God and the company?

    2. Do we provide professional notice to the job when and if we leave the job. Or do we leave them in a lurch?

    3. Do we consider think about the expense and commitment that a job puts into the labor pool for training and benefits before we take a job and then leave it?

    4. Do we share an attitude that if the company prospers then so do the workers?

    5. Do we consider that no matter if paid by the hour, week, month or contract that we have made a commitment to put our best effort into whatever we are hired to do or do we just go to work and “coast?”

    Many jobs are terrible. The pay sucks and the people we work for should be brought up on crimes against humanity (joke) however there are some companies, some supervisors, some environments where things are either okay or even good. Many people will go back and demand a refund if the product or service they buy is substandard. How many of us will go back to our boss and say “I didn’t really do my job today so here is some money?”

    I’ve been involved in starting my own biz and have helpled start several others. I really don’t hear the “other” side of the coin where it comes to the workers responsiblities, especially to ethical employers.

  3. @David – this is a great question you bring up and worthy to be reflected on. I guess my initial feeling is that the Lord may not return for another 2000 years and thus I should be wise with how I spend my money (and invest in it). I don’t invest a lot of money, and what money I do invest in, I have it going toward “ethical businesses” but I think its responsible on our part to save a little for the future. If when I am 50, my wife and kids are practically homeless due to my neglance I am not sure we’ve gotten any farther along in the discussion of Christians’ practice with money.

    If we are practically homeless for other reasons – that so be it – but I think there is a level of personal responsibility involved with being a good steward albeit a difficult position to define.

    Regardless you question is well taken and appreciated.

    @Steve – thank you for adding this portion to the conversation. You are exactly right to say that we rarely consider the other side of the story and we really need to. Your five points are a great addition to this blog post and the one that I really resonate with is,

    “5. Do we consider that no matter if paid by the hour, week, month or contract that we have made a commitment to put our best effort into whatever we are hired to do or do we just go to work and “coast????”

    Ultimately when we think of spending money, we must also include conversations about “how we go about making that money.”

  4. Well, Jesus ducked the question when he was asked. “Render unto Ceaser that which is ceasers, and unto God, that which is God’s.”

    That kept him out of trouble with the Roman authorities. It also made the point that money (and things material) are ephemeral and temporary. (He also said, “the poor will always be with us . . . ” go ahead and spend money on oil for anointing).

    Maybe focusing on this question too much is even to turn away from God. I think of that book “Do What you love and the Money will Follow.” Maybe it’s, live with God and love your neighbor and your choices will fall in line

  5. I think this topic should be one that’s addressed within our churches and shared with those we know share a common belief system with us (like you & Emily did in your conversation with friends) because the way we manage our earthly “talents” (Matthew 25:14-30)will be a witnessing tool as you described so well above, and it will also be something for which we account on the day of judgment. It really is an important command.

    The one story that often comes to my mind when I’m discussing this with someone else is that of the humble, simple priest who explained his small, barely furnished living space to another by stating that this is only his temporary home – just a brief stop on his way to his real home in heaven (sorry if I’ve done injustice to the story…only the main points stuck with me).

    Being a better steward of what God has “loaned us” during our time here on earth should be the desire of our heart.

    Oh, how I desire more of the eternal perspective. This is definitely an area in my life that I’m currently working to improve – thanks for adding Godly encouragement to fuel my fire!

  6. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Sadly, my do-ology hasn’t caught up with my theology on this one yet.

    I read a book by Jimmy Carter a couple years back and one statement really made an impact on me. It basically said that many Christians think “religious values” begin and end with the issues of abortion and homosexuality. Carter said that in his estimation, we needed to remember that poverty, human rights and the environment were also “religious values”.

    So I am prayfully integrating new values – thoughfulness towards a company or product’s impact on their community, using only what I need and not being wasteful, remembering the poor.

    Hopefully, I can find God’s heart on these issues and teach my kids to do the same.

  7. Thanks for this great post reflecting on simplicity.

    My best friend and I met while working at an urban project in Los Angeles back in 2002. The project was coordinated by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. It consisted of a 6-week internship at a local non-profit organization and intenstive teaching about god’s heart for the poor, racial reconciliation and spiritual warfare. I received so much during that time about God’s statements about wealth, power and money. We studied Amos, Matthew 25 and the parable of Lazareth and the Rich Man. In the end, I was convicted about my spending habits as an American, my choices to consume – money, food, mass media, etc. I left that summer feeling more guilty than convicted to repentence.

    Almost 4 years later, I still wrestle with many of the questions that you raise in this post. How can I be faithful with my money? My choices to consume? The legalism of that summer did not help me grapple with real, day-to-day choices. It only made me no fun to hang out with. I realize life is not about being FUN, but being faithful. Yet, how can we make choices about our money that serve to love others, and reflect our obedience to God?

    I wrestle with the tension between legalism and the spirit of simlicity.

  8. @Christopher –
    I agree with this statement on the one hand,

    “Maybe it’s, live with God and love your neighbor and your choices will fall in line.” But on the other hand I see that its

    not so easy just “living with God and loving our neighbors.” This is something that is inherently obvious to any of us and unfortunately we don’t always know what it looks like. I am simply suggesting what it might look like. I agree that what you say must come first – but what follows from it is where my post comes in.

  9. @Tabitha – Hey I am glad you commented it was nice to see your name pop up on my email notification. Anyways you are right this is an issue for the church to really labor over – the church as a body of people pulling their knowledge and experience could come up with resources, training and even finances that could support what was proposed above.

    I do hope with you that,

    “Being a better steward of what God has “loaned us??? during our time here on earth should be the desire of our heart.”

  10. @John – your comment hits home – Christians ought to focus on the things you’ve mentioned as well. What’s the Carter book you’re speaking of?

    @Holly – As you know there is no easy way to get at wrestling

    “with the tension between legalism and the spirit of simlicity.”

    But I know you and the way you live and I can see that this experience with IV has had a great impact on the way you live your life. We all need experiences that wake us up out of our slumber.

  11. Worth noting the reason Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed.

    Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. Ezekiel 16:49-50

    Not meaning to comment SPAM but there is an interesting spin off of this discussion on threedays at the moment too.

  12. So, being new to Memphis, I am thinking about this right off the bat. I thought you had offered some helpful links on this at some point, but couldn’t find then, so maybe I am out of my mind. I was just gonna email you but thought I’d post here so that all may benefit. Whatcha got?

  13. I am looking for web resources which track the practices of various stories and companies so that we as Christians can make good and informed decisions about where and how we spend our money. Which businesses might have unfair labor practices? Who REALLY is into fair trade? Who is seeking to practice their business in an environmentally conscientious way? Which businesses or corporations actually do good for local economies? These are the sorts of questions I have on my mind.

  14. Hi JR – I’m having a hard time racking my brain on this one at the moment.

    Here are some “green” posts I did which do have tons of links and resources and isn’t altogether unrelated to your questions:



    And check out these two tags:

    Let me know if you find more or any of these helpful.