The Economy of Jesus
Rev. Brian Merritt
When listening to professional economists one gets the impression that an economy is something that only a specialist can understand. It is something that has too many moving parts for the common person to comprehend. That is why we need Bank presidents, CEO’s, Harvard economists and professorial types to explain the world of money to the rest of us dullards.
Yet, because of the decisions of these so called experts there are consequences for real, flesh and bone people. Theirs is the cold and calculated world of spreadsheet morality. They are moving numbers from one ledger to another in hopes of productivity, increasing Gross National products and increasing returns on investments. Let me give you a taste of some of this intentionally ambiguous language as an example:
ALTERNATIVE INVESTMENTS – Investments in short-term, fixed income and equity securities include investments through limited partnerships that are exempt from registration under applicable state and federal law. The partnerships are formed to invest in distressed debt, private equity, and venture capital. Distributions of proceeds from sales of the underlying investments can occur throughout the term of the partnership. Partnership agreements contain substantial restrictions on the transfer of partnership interests. Additionally, investments in non-traditional asset classes are made through commingling investment vehicles.
DERIVATIVE FINANCIAL INSTRUMENTS – The Balanced Investment Portfolio held investments in futures and foreign currency contracts on December 31, 2014.
Interest rate futures contracts are commitments to either purchase or sell a financial instruments are used to add incremental value and to hedge or reduce investment risk. Although the contract or notional amounts of these instruments are not recorded on the financial statements, these instruments are recognized as either an asset or a liability, depending on the rights or obligations of the contract measured at fair value.
Did you get that? Can you explain what that meant? I can tell you some, but not all. I know one thing, it stinks in the nostrils of a just God. Derivatives are what pretty much everyone believes brought down our economy in 2008, and whatever amount of the over a billion dollars invested in distressed debts means the participation in the human misery of bankruptcy, foreclosure, property seizure and debt. The result of such investment vehicles was the tragic loss of pensions, homelessness and a rise in the suicide rate. This is the part of investing that are not shown on a sunny portfolio of smiling middle class families enjoying their retirement, these are the investment equivalent of the movie Soylent Green. It is financial cannibalism where we make a profit by strip mining other people’s misery.
These are the statements from the Annual Report of the Board of Pensions for the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. It is the Board of Pensions that every congregation who has a full time, ordained minister is required to enroll that called and installed pastor. It is compulsory. It didn’t use to be that way and even though it is a Board approved by vote of General Assembly many of us know that the Board itself will tell those of us asking questions that we must talk to an incredibly well paid staff for particular information about why co-pays are going up, or particular investments.
Let me let you in on a little secret. From top to bottom the Presbyterian Church has a vast amount of assets and money in various investment strategies. From individual congregations, to Presbyteries, to Foundations, to Seminaries, to Synods, to the Board of Pensions and the General Assembly we have hundreds of billions of dollars in assets if not trillions, most of it untaxed.
So, why is it that we are continually talking about our church as if there is a no money, that we need to cut and scrimp and that we do not have enough? I believe it is because we have relied on the economy of bankers, investment brokers and lawyers for our financial morality instead of looking toward the economy of Jesus.
When I say that I can already see many, if not most of my colleagues rolling their eyes at me. They start their rejoinder with a false sense of practicality and a less than subtle inference that I do not live in the real world.
Yet, since Presbyterians believe we are primarily a denomination of White, over 60, educated, professional classed people, it is not me that is out of touch with the majority of humanity, but them. Unfortunately, that is only the way that they want the church to look and the reality is that many of the people in the pews are poor, or living on the edge of poverty in an economy that will never recover enough to help them. This has increased no matter who is President.
The economy of Jesus is calling the church, will we listen? Give all that you have to the poor and follow me. Look at the woman with a penny, she gave more than the wealthy. The prostitute should not be put to death. How dare you make a profit in my Father’s house! Go into the field on the Sabbath and pick another person’s crop for your own food. Untie a donkey without asking permission for my travel to Jerusalem. The first will be last and the last will be first. Go out in the streets and invite the rabble to the feast. Leave the flock because you might be able to save one. Welcome back the son who took your money and squandered it. Do not store up treasures on earth.
What an impracticable investment adviser that Jesus Christ is. We need to repent and turn from the immoral investment strategies that may make our storehouses full, but our souls depleted and our society the worst for our presence. Sin is not outside of us and justice is lived. We must make our church see that the only redemption worth seeking is one that starts with us and spreads to our communities and world. Salvation depends upon it. It is well passed time for us to advocate the economy of Jesus against the best thinking of the economists of the world.