Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Church, Money and Politics…aka Easy Topics!

Written by: on January 24, 2019

Karl Polanyni’s, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, is considered a seminal work in the field of political economics[1] as well as a classic in other fields such as sociology, political science, and anthropology.[2] While tracing the historical roots of the modern day economic system known as the free market, Polanyni is not producing a historical work but sets out discover the trends within human institutions that enabled the self-regulating free market system to come into existence.[3] His thesis is, “the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia”[4]  created by economic liberalism through the creation of false commodities of land, labor, and money, which in turn created a system outside of societal control which was the norm.[5] Economist Greg Clark views this work as short sided in the fact that “free markets” had already existed before the 19th-century and said this work “ultimately offers more insight into the nature of the professoriate than it does to societies they study.[6] Juxtaposed to Clark’s position, sociologist Fred Block says it is the four letter word “free” that makes all the difference, and Polanyni’s research supports markets in human history, but all were a society based until the late 18th and early 19th century.[7] It is this insight into the market and societies role that I will discuss further.

In chapter four, “Societies and Economic Systems,” Polanyni displays how much of written history shows that trade was based on reciprocity and redistribution, not personal gain or profit.[8] He writes,

          The outstanding discovery of recent historical and anthropological research is that man’s economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social claims, his social assets. He values material goods only in so far as they serve this end. Neither the process of production nor that of distribution is linked to specific economic interests attached to the possession of goods; but every single step in that process is geared to a number of social interests which eventually ensure that the required step be taken. These interests will be very different in a small hunting or fishing community from those in a vast despotic society, but in either case, the economic system will be run on noneconomic motives.[9]

        Simply put, historically people functioned inside of an economy based on social relationships not for gain or profit. The identity of the people in the economy was less about material accumulation and more about relational equity. Hence when the economy shifts to a self-regulated market so too do the identity of an individual, mainly into one of two spheres, economic or political.[10] While this work was initially written in 1944, it continues to speak prophetically into 2019’s cultural contexts.

In a recent survey, 25% of 23 to 30-year-old’s, who are recent dropouts of church stated, “disagreements over their church’s stance on political and social issues contributed to their decision to stop attending, compared to 15 percent in 2007”.[11] My fear (in America) is that we have aligned the church with the economic and political systems and that young people seek more to their identity than those two choices. Manuel Castell’s, social theory, The Network Society[12], is helpful in that it shows how a free market economy can thrive in modern culture, which is connected but lacks deep social and relational ties, because of the free-flowing nature of such system in which no clear leadership is evident.[13] It is in this crisis that Spirit-led leadership can provide an answer.




In closing, Polanyi’s states, “Institutions are embodiments of human meaning and purpose. We cannot achieve the freedom we seek unless we comprehend the true significance of freedom in a complex society”.[14] The complex for Polanyi is that we need both a society (the whole of people) and the individual to be able to exercise authority at any given time. One should not be regulated above the other but able to hold the other in balance. Josh Alexakos provides this solution to Polanyi in writing,

The tension in which Christ holds both society and the individual gives real substance to Polanyi’s solution, allowing it to exist not as a fragile balancing act but as a galaxy of orbiting priorities which work together harmoniously in their proper place. Christ’s challenge that we love our neighbors as ourselves is the fundamental moral command that gives weight to Owen’s theory that a society flourishes most when its members are responsible for one another.[15]

         The foundation of Spirit-led leadership is what Len Sweet calls first followers[16], meaning leaders are nothing more than first followers (disciples) of Christ. In any organization that involves people, there will always be disagreements and the church is no exception, but I also believe that in order to reach and retain the next generation major shifts need to happen. Maybe that shift is back to our first love and not to a new one.



[1] Brian Meier, Social Thought & Research 29 (2008), http://www.jstor.org/stable/23250067, 155.

[2] Fred Block, and Greg Clark, “Economist’s View.” Economist’s View: Is Poverty Caused by Irrational Behavior?, Last modified June 11, 2008. https://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2008/06/polanyis-the-gr.html.

[3] Karl Polanyi, Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001), Accessed January 22, 2019, ProQuest Ebook Central, 4.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid., 76.

[6]” Block, and Clark, “Economist’s View.” Economist’s View: Is Poverty Caused by Irrational Behavior?, https://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2008/06/polanyis-the-gr.html.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Karl Polanyi, Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 45-58.

[9] Ibid., 48.

[10] Ibid., 76.

[11] Jackson, Griffin Paul. “The Top Reasons Young People Drop Out of Church.” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. Last modified January 16, 2019. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/january/church-drop-out-college-young-adults-hiatus-lifeway-survey.html.

[12]Anthony Elliott, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, (Routledge: New York, NY, 2014) 309.

[13] See image (2).

[14] Karl Polanyi, Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 262.


[15] Alexakos, Josh. “REVIEW: KARL POLANYI’S ‘THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION.’” Fare Forward, Last modified April 5, 2018. http://farefwd.com/2018/04/review-great-transformation/.

[16] Sweet, Leonard. I Am a Follower (p. 4). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

About the Author

Mario Hood

Most importantly, I am married to the love of my life, Misty Hood, and I'm kept on my toes all day every day, by my son Dalen and daughter Cola Hood. I also serve as the Next Generation Pastor at Church On The Living Edge in Orlando, Florida, under the leadership of Senior Pastor, Dr. Mark Chironna as well as being a Youth and Family Life coach.

4 responses to “Church, Money and Politics…aka Easy Topics!”

  1. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Wow, you certainly derived more from this source than I and obviously expended more effort in the presentation of your arguments. So how does this, “seminal work in the field of political economics as well as a classic in other fields such as sociology, political science, and anthropology.” fit into your personal research. How does it address your primary research question?

    • Mario Hood says:

      Thanks Harry! I would say it fits into the fact that young people (and old) are not wanting to have church function as a political cohort but speak to culture issues from a truly Christian perspective.

      The next generations care more about social issues but the Church most often than not doesn’t address them or only brings one viewpoint of the said issues.

      For a more detailed answered – see last paragraph 🙂

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Excellent, Mario. You and I are doing similar research in regard to engaging emerging generations. There seems to be a rise in the desire toward humanizing people, knowing and being known, and caring for those who cannot care for themselves. Yet, at the same time there is a pull into the consumer, tech driven world. What do you see the tension doing to younger people?

  3. Mario Hood says:

    You are right Tammy. As far as I can gather at this moment, young people are diving more and more into the consumer and tech things mainly because the Church is not offering a good alternative. Meaning even in the church we are pursuing tech not as add on but as the main focus and therefore not embracing the humanness but adding to the tension.

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