Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sondra Shepley: Greed Is God

Greed is God: Exporting the Values of America’s Prosperity Heresy
by Sondra Shepley blog link

America, dominating the global economy, imports more goods than it exports. What is less tangible, but possibly more important, is how America exports its values to a rapidly interconnecting global society.

Arguably, most wars that America has fought aim to export U.S. values of freedom and democracy. However, a major lesson from Vietnam reveals that military intervention as a means to change values and political ideology can often backfire with indefatigable resistance. Today, we see Islamic extremists using terror as a means to communicate their values in opposition to Western ideals. However, if terrorism is fundamentally a form communication, what values do we represent when we respond militarily? We have chosen to speak their “language” of violence, and only time will tell if we will dominate the conversation.

Changing global values through the economy, however, is a completely different matter. We are winning this fight; we are changing how the world fiscally relates. What economic credo are we exporting to the rest of the world, you might ask?

Jim Wallis names that credo, “greed is good,” in his new book Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street—A Moral Compass for the New Economy. Wallis rightly assesses the current global financial crisis as primarily a moral crisis with severe economic consequences.

But McDonalds, Nike, Coca Cola, along with all other major U.S. corporations, have not been alone in the trenches winning this global values shift. I am particularly embarrassed to say that they have received significant help from one of the very establishments that should confront this immorality — American Christianity.

Perhaps one of America’s biggest exports of the 20th and 21st centuries is the prosperity gospel. Growing like wildfire internationally, this brand of Christianity says that every believer is entitled to any material possession they desire — if prayed in the name of Jesus.

The prosperity gospel has such transnational appeal because it taps into the universal self-interest of the human heart. However, when repackaged in a theological context greed is not merely good, it’s God.

Ironically, the prosperity gospel has found its most fertile ground in developing nations, where conspicuous and bloated consumption is the least realistic. Poorer nations are more susceptible to this lie not out of greed per se, but because of its inherent germ of truth: God does want us to be prosperous. God’s emphasis, however, is on us, not just me. Probably the most quoted Bible verse among Evangelical Christians is John 3:16. It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” God’s heart is for the entire world, not just for me, my family, or my country. In other words, prosperity achieved through social justice is the theological corrective to the prosperity gospel.

In the absence of a global gospel witness that includes social justice, poor nations will eagerly receive a false prosperity gospel hungering to hear the incredible sliver of truth: God cares about them! All of them, not just their soul, but their whole physical and spiritual well-being.

The gravitational center of Christianity is shifting in our world. By the year 2050, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that the Christian population in the global South will nearly triple that of American and European Christians. This century, the global South is poised to radically reshape the international face, witness, and history of Christianity. In many ways the Church should highly welcome this enormous shift, freeing itself from its historical captivity to Western culture. However, as scripture says, you ‘sow what you reap’, and I wonder what will sprout from the greedy gospel we planted among our sisters and brothers in the global South?

Our exported American lie, based on our value of greed, is a sin of global proportions. May we repent, and may God forgive us for the mass production of our immoral values. May we also confess and seek the forgiveness of the nations to whom we sold this bill of goods.

Sondra Shepley is the speaking events manager for Sojourners.

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