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

The Gospel of SRM

Written by: on October 26, 2023

“The Gospel itself is a disembedding from social and collective memberships into a new social reality.”[1]

Before identifying the central theme from Karl Polanyi’s paradigm of exchange, The Great Transformation, I found it helpful to remember and recall the story of Ruth from the Old Testament to offer a framework for how I understand Weber’s,[2] Polanyi’s[3] and Clark’s[4] work, which if not read carefully, can only feel like abstract constructs.

The story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz offers insight into social constructs of the poorest of the poor. Ruth and Naomi are two women who have seemingly lost everything after a series of catastrophic events. Because of Ruth’s love for Yahweh, we see a story of her living outside the box or in other terms, living and depending on her social relationships, not a system. She refused to place identity and belonging in the “market”.[5]  Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, supports her to break the rules of social and religious convention.  Perhaps we normally read this story as Naomi the bitter, complaining widow and Ruth as the devoted daughter-in-law who defers to Boaz.  Yet, because of their relationship and initiative, Boaz, who is a wealthy landowner, is caught off guard; he then chooses to partner with Ruth modeling for us a kind of male/female relationship the Creator intended us to have.  This story is filled with counter-cultural patterns and passions that break the rules–eerily similar to the way Jesus would want us to live.[6] 

Author Carolyn Custis James observes,“At the micro level, the story centers on urgent family issues and Ruth’s reinterpretation of three Mosaic laws: gleaning, levirate, and kinsman-redeemer.  Ruth lives on the hungry side of the law, so her perspective differs dramatically from Boaz. His willingness to listen to her (which is one of the jaw-dropping aspects of this story) moves him from the letter to the spirit of the law. As a result, a hungry widow is fed, and a dying family is rescued.”[7]  The book of Ruth is a story about land, labor and money. But it’s also a story about redemption, human kindness and God’s Hesed Love.

In our readings this week, my eyes were opened to the self-regulating markets and the impact of capitalism I hadn’t fully realized.  Although I’ve sensed the tension, I didn’t have the words to reflect as Dr. Clark writes,  . . . “For Christians, social life should not be subordinate to the market.”[8]  I now see how the deepest flaw in the self-regulating markets is how it subordinates human purposes to an impersonal market system just like a machine.  

In his impressive work, The Great Transformation, Polanyi explained the emergence of the market economy which arrived in England at the beginning of the 19th century, then spread to the industrialized world.  He describes how the economy disconnected from social relationships or as Roger Nam writes, “The industrial economy streamlined economic processes to the standard of money and set distributive decisions in terms of supply and demand.”[9]  Polanyi saw this as disastrous because of homo economics where people are selfishly motivated as opposed to homo reciprocans where people are socially motivated.

In the story of Ruth, it was God’s intent to allocate the land based on Kinship ties and the community.  Might we take God’s intents as a challenge to us as leaders to pay closer attention to how the self-regulating markets in which we are working, living and having our beings is impoverishing the very human beings we are called to serve?  Where can each of us speak up where the markets are reducing human beings to relationships built on selfishness and gain?

Three Takeaways for Leaders:

  • Evaluate how we subconsciously subordinate our social relationships, connections and communities to the market.  In Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman writes, “If we only focus on what’s out there, what we are told, we’ll miss a key element of the problem: It’s partly how we think that causes us to misperceive the world.”[10] Ruth is a prime example of a leader who rose above the norms of how she was told to live and therefore impacted generations beyond herself.  How do her actions keep her connected to religious roots and identity?  How might ours?
  • Consider more carefully what our “systems” are producing. Boaz, the wealthy land owner listens carefully to one, solitary woman: Ruth. By doing so, he reinforces her belonging to Yahweh God. Again, Kahneman says, “Our focus should be instead on individual behavior and overcoming personal barriers to healthier choices rather than on societal epidemics.”[11] Who is that one person who needs you to truly hear them in your sphere of influence?
  • Ask ourselves if we are always concerned for the poorest of the poor. The setting up of a self-regulating market system changed our economy, some for the good; but the poorest of the poor are up against an exchange for services believing that’s, “The fundamental way in which humans relate to each other.”[12] Who do I know who is living on the hungry side of the market, whose perspective and experience is vastly different from my own?

The more we read challenging books like Weber and Polanyi, the greater our understanding in God’s redemptive plan for the world and those on the margins.  


[1] Clark, Jason. Evangelicalism and Capitalism (Ch.4 ‘The Great Disembedding: The Search for Identity Within the Market’ p.122-154) p. 158

[2] Weber, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”

[3] Polanyi, The Great Transformation the Political and Economic Origins of Our Time.

[4] Clark, Jason. Evangelicalism and Capitalism (Ch.4 ‘The Great Disembedding: The Search for Identity Within the Market’ p.122-154)

[5] Clark, Jason. Evangelicalism and Capitalism.(Ch.4 ‘The Great Disembedding: The Search for Identity Within the Market’ p.122-154) (Ch. P. 135

[6] Luke 20:47. Jesus condemned those who legally but heartlessly “devour widows’ houses”.

[7] James, Finding God in the Margins.

[8] Clark, Jason.

[9] Nam, Roger. Economic Anthropology (Chapter Two of Portrayals of Economic Exchange in the Book of Kings). P. 2.3

[10] Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow. p. 32

[11] IBID p. 33

[12] Clark, Jason. P. 161

About the Author


Pam Lau

Pamela Havey Lau brings more than 25 years of experience in speaking, teaching, writing and mediating. She has led a variety of groups, both small and large, in seminars, trainings, conferences and teachings. Pam’s passion is to see each person communicate with their most authentic voice with a transparent faith in Jesus Christ. With more than 10, 000 hours of writing, researching, and teaching the heart and soul of Pam’s calling comes from decades of walking alongside those who have experienced healing through pain and peace through conflict. As a professor and author, Pam deeply understands the role of mentoring and building bridges from one generation to another. She has developed a wisdom in how to connect leaders with their teams. Her skill in facilitating conversations extends across differences in families, businesses, schools, universities, and nonprofits. Pam specializes in simplifying complex issues and as a business owner, has helped numerous CEOs and leaders communicate effectively. She is the author of Soul Strength (Random House) and A Friend in Me (David C. Cook) and is a frequent contributor to online and print publications. You can hear Pam’s podcast on Real Life with Pamela Lau on itunes. Currently, Pam is a mediator for families, churches, and nonprofits. You can contact Pam through her website: PamelaLau.com. Brad and Pam live in Newberg, Oregon; they have three adult daughters and one son-in-law. One small, vocal dog, Cali lives in the family home where she tries to be the boss! As a family they enjoy worshiping God, tennis, good food and spending time with family and friends.

4 responses to “The Gospel of SRM”

  1. Jenny Dooley says:

    Thank you for bringing Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz into the conversation. Ruth is such a pivotal book on so many levels providing a glimpse as you said of God’s intentions for dealing with issues regarding the care of widows, refugees, race, homelessness, and hunger. I’m sure there is more to glean.

    I love your question, “Might we take God’s intents as a challenge to us as leaders to pay closer attention to how the self-regulating markets in which we are working, living and having our beings is impoverishing the very human beings we are called to serve?” Reflecting on the principles from Ruth, can you give a modern day example of how we can respond to needs the SRM’s of our day create?

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      Jenny~For some reason, your question offers me a sense of relief. Maybe my response will be telling. In my work as a family law mediator for different states, the work I do in DCFS for Illinois has me working with the poorest of families whose lives are thrusted into the hands of the state – a system. Most families I am working with cannot afford an attorney, are often uneducated, addicted to some form of substance and lack basic skills for healthy parental relationships. My observation is that our self-regulating markets have widened the gap for these families, individuals and marriages to even more dysfunction. This is a long answer to a very complicated scenario but I have watched with shock how a court appointed attorney for a child will exercise “control” against the public defender representing the parent just to make a point! I have witnessed families being forced to depend upon a system that is just that: a system and this system paralyzes them from having a simple communication about what’s wrong and how they can live a better life. I don’t see an answer but the truth is the message being sent to families who are so poor and broken is that unless they become wealthy, influential, and connected, they have to live with transactions forever. How exhausting. I am still thinking how this applies to global leadership. Thanks for the good question.

  2. Adam Harris says:

    I appreciate your thoughts around subordination. Money, capitalism, the market, etc. can quickly become an idol that filters our lenses of how we view others, especially the poor which you touch on at the end.

    You’re right on target talking about the books when you say “if not read carefully, can only feel like abstract constructs.” These readings take some chewing and chewing, but once you get it, it is pretty eye opening and makes you think. Anything that really made you go, Oh wow, never thought about that?

  3. mm Pam Lau says:

    Once I immersed myself into the books, I learned so much about why I felt the tension I do with the Evangelical world. We talk about the Gospel and total dependence on God, community that is transformative but then there’s always a snag that I could never explain. Now I can name it. What gives that sense of WOW is how what I was coming up against was a great system!

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