DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Give her one of your tunics…..

Written by: on February 2, 2017

Socialism has been embraced by many as they look around and see the poverty and injustice in the culture. Who will take the responsibility for that? In his book, The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi taught that democratic movements of the people along with restraints on big business would bring about the free society envisioned by the people.

Polanyi’s central argument in the book is that a self-regulating economic system is a completely imaginary construction. It is not that there aren’t markets; just that “self-regulating” markets are an impossibility. In contrast to what free-marketers think, land, labor, and money can only be controlled by the government for the protection of the people. We can’t trust the individual business owners.

He argues that a self-regulating market system implies balance of power, gold standard, and a liberal state. The main motive of this market system is GAIN.

Dr. Polanyi explains how he believes the current (for the 1940’s) economic systems came about. He discusses war (World Wars 1 & 2), changes in technology (Industrial Revolution as well as invention of tools, etc..), changes in social relations (movement of ‘habitation’), and the ups and downs of the economies in various societies.

In his conclusions, Dr. Polanyi was hopeful that people could achieve “freedom in a complex society” (page 262). This would come about with the separation of politics and economics. When profit or gain ceases to be the motive for work, freedom and peace will be realized. Some blend of government intervention that does not impinge on personal freedom must be put in place. “As long as he (man) is true to his task of creating more abundant freedom for all, he need not fear that either power or planning will turn against him and destroy the freedom he is building by their instrumentality. This is the the meaning of freedom in a complex society; it gives us all the certainty that we need” (page 268).

We have seen experiments with communism fail, but Polanyi’s vision was really a global vision. As we move toward globalism, will socialism be more viable? Will socialism tried on a global scale finally bring peach and justice to the world?

Dr. Polanyi (who died in 1964) did not live long enough to see that much of the idealism of socialist thought eventually proved unworkable. He did not see the Berlin Wall come down. And all during those years of separation of West and East Germany, nobody from the West beat down the walls or died trying to get past the barbwire fence into East Germany.

One fallacy of socialism is to believe that somehow “government” is righteous and has pure motives. But government is made up of sinful people. I’d like to think that we could get all of the major players to sit down at a table and plan world peace. But I’m not sure the business moguls who pay Chinese workers 30 cents an hour would be happy to listen to those who engage in Fair Trade. The whole discussion leaves out what the Bible has to say about economics.

The prophets repeatedly emphasized the need for justice in human affairs (Jer. 22:3, 16; Micah 6:8). Jesus never distinguished between ‘religious’ and ‘social’ aspects of service to others. He fed the hungry, healed the sick and commanded Christians to provide food for the starving, clothing for the naked, care for the sick, aid for the prisoners, and shelter for refugees. Jesus placed human needs before religious and ceremonial considerations (Mk. 2:23-28; John 8:3-11).

Though the economy in Bible times was agrarian, not industrial/technological, the Scriptural principles of loving one’s neighbor still apply. Scripture clearly condemns sumptuous living, non-productive accumulation, and hoarded wealth (James 5:1,3).

One of the reasons that socialism is popular is because Christians have embraced a “prosperity Gospel” and identified wealth with God’s blessings. Now, wealth is not so awful if we give it away, but unfortunately in our country too many of us are selfish and just want to accumulate things.

This is important because we were just talking about contextualization. How do richly dressed Christians speak to the poor? Our greed does not only take away from our message but it will also “blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called” (James 2:7).

As a Christian what can I do? Dr. Polanyi definitely saw the problem. For many businesses the profit motive blinded their eyes to the plight of the poor. Many rich people won’t share the wealth unless forced. I sympathize with all of those who want justice; but I don’t think that government control is the answer. “Regulating” will come from somewhere – why not the Holy Spirit enabling individual Christians to be self-governing?

Two hundred years ago the Puritans, Quakers, and Methodists practiced caring for the poor. Somewhere in between then and now churches have pulled back and the government has stepped in with welfare programs. I’m glad as a nation we’ve voted to care for our poor, but I believe the personal care given by Christians is better than the non-personal, often inefficient programs of bureaucracy. And government doesn’t preach the Gospel.

Do we have to choose between greed (bad self-regulating) and socialism (government regulating)? Is there a better way?

Who will be in control? Could I choose to obey Christ’s commands without having someone force me? In my life I hope my control will be the Holy Spirit.

As I reflect on the discussions for the last several weeks on changes brought by globalization, I would love to share the Gospel of peace with others, respecting their contexts, making sure that the message includes Jesus’ death on the cross for our reconciliation, but also the coming of the Holy Spirit to give us the power to leave selfishness behind and seek justice as Jesus did.

Jesus told us, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11)








About the Author

Mary Walker

7 responses to “Give her one of your tunics…..”

  1. Yes Mary! I so concur with your statement: “One fallacy of socialism is to believe that somehow “government” is righteous and has pure motives. But government is made up of sinful people.” As long as there is sin, I don’t see socialism working very well. A church would have the most hope of implementing this as the Holy Spirit influences and the same values and principles are upheld. But even still, I would be wary, especially with some of the churches I’ve experienced.
    As you have raised children from other mothers, you have followed the scriptural principles… to share what you have. You inspire me to be more Christ-like.

  2. Geoff Lee says:

    “Two hundred years ago the Puritans, Quakers, and Methodists practiced caring for the poor.”
    Some of the best companies in Britain were started by Quakers and Methodists and Puritans. Cadbury was a Quaker company which was both a commercial success and a socially conscious enterprise. The Quakers built housing and leisure facilities for their employees and childcare facilities for their children. Now Cadbury has been bought out by the American giant Mondelez International, and such concerns are a distant memory. Maybe this is where Christians can marry commercial gain and success and social conscience? Go back to the Quakers and the Methodists’ way.

  3. mm Katy Lines says:

    You’ve hit on the enfleshed gospel, Mary, where Jesus (and the prophets) challenge the faithful to welcome the stranger and care for the marginalized. As Christians, we are commissioned to that task, no matter what political climate we find ourselves in.

    Yet, we do not place that mandate on everyone, nor require it of our government. Instead, we should be able to have a conversation with our neighbors and fellow citizens (of all faith backgrounds) on what kind of society we’d like to live in. I think everyone would like to see themselves and their community thriving. HOW to achieve that is the big question.

    We cannot continue to equate capitalism = good and socialism = bad, nor see the Marxist form of socialism (ie. Communism) as the only model. Many countries (inc. the US) incorporate some socialist practices (think Medicare and Social Security); some of the Scandinavian countries seem to be positive examples.

  4. Mary,
    A good post and one where you highlight, I think some of the major issues that Polanyi identifies and that still exist today.
    You said, ‘One fallacy of socialism is to believe that somehow “government” is righteous and has pure motives. But government is made up of sinful people.’ I certainly agree with you that government is made up of sinful people – as, of course, we are all sinful….. but I wonder, doesn’t this caution then apply even more so to the capitalist ideal?
    The advantage of socialism – or even just government regulation of something – is that it increases the scope of consideration and the field of vision….. In a completely unregulated market it is every person for themselves. There is nothing in that system that prevents individuals or companies (Geoff highlights some good examples) from doing good and being moral, but there is nothing that compels them to do so either.
    In a socialist system or, again, even simply with government control all the people are still flawed and sinful, but in this system there is, at least, conversation and thought – in public and with many voices – of what is best/right/moral for everyone.
    It is far from a perfect system – as all human invented systems will certainly be – but I do think it fits closer to a social/political implementation of our faith than unrestricted capitalism does

  5. Jim Sabella says:

    Mary, I enjoyed your post. I’m glad that you highlighted the fact that believers—especially in a western setting—can equate the blessing of God with wealth. This is a classic case of culture influencing faith instead of faith influencing culture. I like the saying; I’m sure you’ve heard it before: “If it doesn’t work everywhere then it’s not ‘Bible!'” Thanks Mary!

  6. Love your post as usual Mary.

    Our leader who insist on the label as a Christian need to confer with the Holy Spirit and not lean to their own understanding. Our churches are suffering and being misled because our leaders are misguided.

    Speaking on Fair trade, we are in danger of not haveing it more than ever.

  7. Mary, you do an excellent job of pointing to the shortcomings of pure socialism as well as the problems with a prosperity gospel.
    I feel a strange disconnect between what many believe about government and about living the Christian life, especially in our country. We are certainly going to struggle with corruption, etc., because people sin and tend to look out for ourselves first. But there is sin everywhere. I don’t think that excuses us for pushing for the best government possible. It is hard for me to understand not supporting government aid for people who are in need or for systems that will develop better communities, especially when some of the same people put so much energy into other efforts to legislate morality. It’s hard for me to think about living the life Jesus taught without speaking against systems of injustice or for systems that provide health and wellbeing for our neighbors.

Leave a Reply to Katy Lines Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *