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

In but not Of

Written by: on March 2, 2022

Karl Polanyi, author of The Great Transformation was credited for saying “my life is a ‘world’ life–I lived the life of the human world…. My work is for Asia, for Africa, for the new peoples.”[1] While much of this economic and historical book was beyond my basic understanding of economics, what struck me in both his book and Dr. Clark’s analysis of his work in Evangelicalism and Capitalism was what I would consider his innate connection to the human function within society. Born and raised in Budapest “in a family remarkable for its social engagement and intellectual achievements,” Polanyi encountered his fair share of what was referred to as “multiple exiles” throughout this life.[2] The significant historical and global events that he witnessed during his life would undoubtedly be influential in his worldview and economic bent. As Clark encapsulates:

“Central to Polanyi’s thesis is the assertion that society and social relationships are vital to humans, and that the SRM is problematic to that, owing to how the SRM is disembedded from social constraints. Where previous methods of market exchange existed, they did so with reciprocity. The SRM marks the first time that the market became an institution itself, based around the fictions that lacked relational reciprocity, specifically labour, land, and money.”[3]

Polanyi emphasizes that the movement from the regulated to self-regulated market completely transformed the structure of society and “demands nothing less than the institutional separation of society into an economic and political sphere.”[4] I found Clark’s analysis of Polanyi helpful in laying the framework for understanding the context in which Polanyi wrote and why others would not fully agree with his perspectives. While the connection between the SRM and Evangelicalism is still rather dubious in my mind, the questions Clark poses help me process the role of the church and the Christian leader. He writes,

“…informed by Polanyi’s thesis, I continue to ask: can Evangelical Christianity rediscover its ability as a countermovement in differentiation from secular hopes? Evangelicalism provided an unparalleled response to the pathologies of the SRM with hospices, welfare, education, etc. Can Evangelism repeat that move and countermove today, and what is it currently doing with regard to late-capitalist markets?”[5]

In the foreward of Polanyi’s book, Joseph Stiglitz writes that “most societies have evolved ways of caring for their poor, for their disadvantage. The industrial age made it increasingly difficult for individuals to take full responsibility for themselves.”[6] He continues on to give specific examples, including the number of those living in poverty in Russia, and explains Roosevelt’s famous quote about fear during the Great Depression.[7] As I’m attempting to process the readings this week, I cannot help but be distracted by what is taking place between Russia and the Ukraine as I type and the correlations with today’s events:

  • How many more families will be forever directly impacted by these attacks in both the Ukraine and Russia?
  • Do most of these young Russians on the frontlines have the remotest idea of the purpose for which they were sent? (I saw a video today of a young detained Russian that was being fed by Ukrainians and they were having him call his mother back home.)
  • How is the global church equipped to care for the new poor and disadvantaged that will find themselves classified as such to no fault of their own?
  • During this time and the recovery to come, what does responsibility even look like for an individual/family that has lost everything in such a means?
  • How do we as Christian leaders remain focused on what the Lord has asked us each to do given our individual contexts, while still being attuned to global events and their impacts that undoubtedly stretch into each of our homes right now?

While I perhaps have a slightly fuller understanding of economics and specifically the historical roots of the SRM, I leave this week with significantly more questions than I started with… many of which I think will require ongoing leaning into the Lord and into the hard to begin to find the answers.

[1] Polanyi, xxi.

[2] Polanyi, xix, xii.

[3] Clark, 127.

[4] Polanyi, 74.

[5] Clark, 148.

[6] Polanyi, xi.

[7] Polanyi, xii.

About the Author

Kayli Hillebrand

Associate Dean of International and Experiential Education

11 responses to “In but not Of”

  1. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    great post Kayli! I totally connected with your concluding questions too as I am watching how Ukraine War is unfolding. The book and the current war is also leaving me with many questions about the roots of wars in the past and its connections to present day wars.

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Kayli, I, like you, am gaining more questions than answers as we explore this topic. I appreciate your clarity in this post. You ask this important question: “How do we as Christian leaders remain focused on what the Lord has asked us each to do given our individual contexts, while still being attuned to global events and their impacts that undoubtedly stretch into each of our homes right now?” What advice would you give a pastor (hypothetically, of course) about that balance/tension?

    • Kayli Hillebrand says:

      Hi Roy: I think my major encouragement would be to educate yourself on the matters from as unbiased perspective as possible. For my work, I receive an email twice a day that provides me with links to articles written from different organizations/agencies on events taking place around the globe… most of which would not likely show up on any US-based news. My next piece of advice would be to seek the Lord on discernment for what He would consider action to look like — is it intercessory prayer? financial support? helping distill and articulate information in a clear manner? encouraging the global church? While I have come from a non-denominational background, it is times like these that I see the added benefit of denominational connection — the network is built in, the needs can be communicated in a more streamlined manner, and realistic aid can be given in a context of trust.

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Kayli: I liked what Clark had to say about Polanyi and SRM, too. It is endlessly interesting to me about macro-economic theory. No matter what exact economic system a nation adopts and practices, the Church will always be there to pick up the pieces of the poor and disenfranchised. The debates about SRM and socialism and all the rest of it are good and needed, but as Christians I like to think that we have a wisdom in knowing that our God is at work no matter the details of an economy–and we are called and privileged to join in the building of His Kingdom.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great post. I love the questions you pose at the end. You too are a practitioner;)

    I too agree with your assessment at the end. There are no simple answers here, as much as I wish there were. It is not as black and white as we might want or wish or (at least in my opinion). Hard questions and situations with no easy answers. All the more, seek the Lord.

  5. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Kayli your question, “During this time and the recovery to come, what does responsibility even look like for an individual/family that has lost everything in such a means?” is interesting to me. Thinking about meaning making and the maps we construct, what would you imagine Augustine would say to your question?

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Kayli, thank you for your reflections on the situation in Ukraine in connection with our reading. It has been heavy on my heart as well as I watch from afar. My friends and colleagues are tirelessly doing everything to meet the unimaginable needs. The Poles overwhelming generosity and compassion to take the refugees into their homes to meet the needs, makes me wonder how Webber would explain it, being that the country is .1% evangelical.

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