Sometimes Money Divides Us: The Possibility of “Economic Friendship”

Money is a way of turning unlike things (services, rare metals, time) into a common medium for exchange.  In that  way, money can bring together two people who are looking to exchange such unlike things.  But sometimes money can keep people apart as well.  Just picture two neighbors: one guy who fixes refrigerators for a living and needs his car fixed; one guy who fixes cars for a living and needs his refrigerator fixed.  But in this economy, both have been laid off and neither can afford to hire anyone to fix his broken stuff.  Money is a common medium keeping them apart.  If they are going to get together, it will be because they stepped outside of the money economy.

In many of our churches, we shy away from discussing money for fear that the subject will offend parishioners, drive them away, and divide us from one another.  Occasionally you’ll get a sermon about tithing, or about money managements or stewardship, but even in intimate small groups, where people will openly ask one another, “When did you last look at porn,” nobody will ask each other, “How much do you make each year?  What do you do with your money?”

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove considers this reticence a strong division within the church.  He suggests a practice of “economic friendship,” following Jesus advice to “use money to make friends (Luke 16:9).”  He says,

[I]f your church is anything like most, you probably has some members with what we call “surplus capital.”  Others in your congregation most likely carry some debt – a mortgage at six percent interest or a credit card at sixteen percent that won’t be paid off for forty years.  Now, imagine a conversation if people from those two groups sat down for a family business meeting to talk about money.

Some exchanges could probably be arranged among this group at no cost to anyone.  If the person with extra money invested in a mutual fund with an average six percent yield agreed to cash out her investment and pay off her brother’s credit card bill, she could save him an incredible amount of money in compounded interest.  If he, in turn, paid her back at the same rate that the mutual fund had been paying, she would go none the poorer for it.  But they would both probably get to know one another better.  Who knows what gifts they might discover that they have to share with one another?

Wilson-Hartgrove observes that this isn’t even a generous act, it’s simply a decision to invest in relationships with fellow church members rather than investing in large financial institutions.  Christians in the church are being divided from one another (or remain divided) by their daily decisions to deal with financial institutions instead of trying to follow Paul’s command to “bear one another’s burdens.”

What do you think?  Does money sometimes divide us?  How so (or how does it not?)  Do such economic friendships have any place in the church?  Do economic practices fall under the purview of the church?


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