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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