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

Is This the Protestant Ethic?

Written by: on February 15, 2019

Coin split in the middle showing heads and tails

Living in Washington, DC can be exhausting at times. I hate to continuously write about things going on here, but it is an ever present reality. The government is in full blown crisis mode, but everything is going about as usual. Even if you try not to look at the never ending news, someone will call you with an update of what is going on.

On top of what is going on, our readings for this class have drilled home the deeper reality and gravity of the current situation. I wish I was still naïve about what is going on in the government.  But from reading Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, I now know that the job I have, the house I own, and the money that I have in the bank are not real, but are false commodities (Polanyi 2001, 76-77).  I also now see more clearly how our government manipulates the markets to keep them from being truly self-regulating. This makes me wonder about my Thrift savings and how much money I will have for retirement.

Last week we read The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective by Dennis Tourish and I am reminded that the leadership in our country is leaning heavily on the dark side. Spirituality is being used in the government to bolster the position on a variety of issues, including immigration. The use of spirituality in the government is problematic and divisive to those with non-Christian or even differing Christian beliefs (Tourish 2013, 63).  Even worse is that leaders are doing so many un-godly things in the name of God and Christian values.

Now this week, we encounter The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber. Weber has explained that Protestantism spurred on capitalism because Protestants preferred to obtain material wealth over the quite simple life of the Catholic (Weber 1930, 8-9). Weber is particularly critical of Calvinism in the spread of capitalism since this Protestant religion was practiced most heavily in the countries with the highest capitalistic economy (Weber 1930, 10). Weber believes the spirit of the Protestant faith, in particular Calvinism, is capitalism, acquiring more for the sheer end of having more and indicts America, using Ben Franklin as a prime example of this belief system (Weber 1930, 18-19). In other words, Weber is saying the almighty dollar is the true God of the Protestant faith, and living in Washington, it seems his words ring prophetically true.

The budget bill passed today, which kept me and other federal workers employed, is approximately $4.407 trillion, creating a deficit of $985 billion (Amadeo 2019). Instead of reducing the deficit, we are constantly spending, with a call for even more spending to build a wall. This huge deficit makes one wonder how long our capitalistic machine can go on.  Frerichs quotes Keith Hart stating we should examine the coins in our pockets which on one side shows a symbol of political authority and the other shows the precise amount the coin is worth in exchange; this symbolizes that the State underwrites the currencies and that money is originally a relationship between persons in society (Frerichs 2013, 16). While I cannot pretend to understand all of the theories of money presented by Weber and Polanyi, I do understand that the strength of the American dollar is based on a certain amount of faith in our capitalistic system, which given all I have read in the past few weeks, scares me just a bit.

In spite of all I have read, which gives me pause (and a little panic), I am reminded of a story in the Bible about money.  In Luke 20:20-25, the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus by asking if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar or not.  Jesus knowing their duplicity asked to see a denarius and asked whose image and inscription were on it. When the Pharisees responded that it was Caesar, Jesus told them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” This Bible story gives me great comfort in these times of economic uncertainty. Although we have “In God We Trust” on the back of our dollar, and a great political symbol of authority on the front, it is clear that our Protestant faith cannot be based on capitalism. Yes we should work hard to the glory of God, but the goal is not to promote a capitalistic faith. In the words of an old familiar hymn, Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand, we are reminded, “Covet not this world’s vain riches, That so rapidly decay, Seek to gain the heav’nly treasures, They will never pass away (Wilson 2007).” Perhaps we should adopt this as our Protestant Ethic.


Amadeo, Kimberly. “US Federal Budget Breakdown .” The Balance. January 21, 2019. breakdown-3305789 (accessed February 15, 2019).

Frerichs, Sabin. “From Credit to Crisis: Max Weber, Karl Polanyi, and the Other Side of the Coin.” The Journal of Law and Society, 2013: 7-26.

Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston: Beacon Press Books, 2001.

Tourish, Dennis. The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective . New York: Routledge, 2013.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Routledge, 1930.

Wilson, Jennie. “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.” Hymnary.Org. 2007. (accessed February 15, 2019).


About the Author


Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

8 responses to “Is This the Protestant Ethic?”

  1. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    Mary – this is really good. Please don’t stop writing about what’s going on in DC. Those of us who aren’t there need your voice. We need more truth-tellers about the scary things that are happening and what may come. Thank you for fighting the good fight from the front lines!

  2. mm Sean Dean says:

    I try really hard to not write about US American politics for the sake of our cohort members who are not US Americans, but dam it is hard. I had to use all the self control I had last week to not write a screed against 45. US politics is equal parts fascinating and disgusting right now, and I can only imagine it’s exponentially more so for you living in DC and working a federal job. Thanks for your insights. I really appreciate them.

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      I know Sean, I try not to go full blown on 45, but you cannot make up the stuff that he says, and the agreement he gets from many Christians. I think that is what is the most disheartening. However, it does make one turn to Christ, so that is a plus. We know Jesus is our only hope.

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Such an excellent post, Mary. I have much of the same thinking and concerns going on. Your reference to the hymn brought a flood of memories. “Build your hopes on things eternal, hold to God’s on changing hand.” I sang that often as a young girl and doing so again today, thank you. May we all shift our focus to the responsibility the Church has to redeem this machine by showing faith expressed through love and be part of the solutions that are needed.

  4. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Mary, Forgive me for not praying more for you and the church in the DC area. It is so easy for me to turn my head and instead focus on the opportunities that are before me. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you and others to be “right in the lion’s den” so to speak. On so many levels, you are directly impacted by the US capitalism faith. It always concerns me when well-intentioned believers prooftext their faith based on the outward trappings of western political/economic/power systems. Perhaps we should all return to the theology and spirit of our old hymns, that God (alone) is still our source and not the pundits. Mary, you are such an inspiration and I truly appreciate you.

  5. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Great post Mary. I too appreciate your witness in Washington . . . and on the blog. I really hope Calvinism has done more good in the world than helped create the economic situation we are currently living in. I would hope Christians would be more concerned not only with the “heavenly treasures” you lift up . . . but also working hard to make those treasures “on earth as in heaven.”

  6. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Mary, I appreciate you speaking from your current realities. Please do not hesitate to do so. Thank you for challenging us all to have an eternal perspective. I commit to pray for you and the work of your faith community in the neighborhoods of DC. There is unrest everywhere, but your blog reminds me of the concentrated anxiety for those who have answered the call to live and work in your city. Keep looking up, my friend!

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