Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church

I am watching an interview with the author at Book TV here.  The book is here at Amazon.

In this matter I am not conspiratorial, and, quite frankly, I have learned to hold my nose at some of the money mechanics of the local church. Not so much about the way that it is spent, though from time to time I have an issue there. For me it is more about the desire for money, the signals that some send they are able to meet that desire and the consequent disabling of the church in its moral and social leadership.

The heroes in these kinds of stories are few. This is just a very hard area for a serious heavy hitter to step up to the plate and hit the curve balls being thrown.

In the Book Acts the first challenges to the revival brought by the Holy Spirit are money challenges – taking care of the widows and orphans of different ethnicities fairly, the cabal of Annanias and Sapphira to lie to the Holy Spirit and the church by a seeming generosity and the attempt of Simon Magus to buy the Holy Spirit.

Simply put, in most churches the richer have their way. Church leadership wants to be richer and richer church people can make them richer. A volatile combination. Satan has plenty of wiggle room on this one. And since the handling of money has concentric rings of privacy drawn around it, the guy in the pew has little direct access for the purposes of accountability.

But, of course, this is the RC church and the scale of economy is huge. I will be taking a look. Thought you might be interested.

Virtue as a necessary good in the public sphere

It requires a virtuous citizenry to make a democratic government work.

The great project of Socrates and Plato in Athens 400BC was the inculcation of that virtue necessary for their experiment in democracy to work and not fall into mere self interest. Politics is the good man doing the right thing, even if it is against his own self-interests.

This posture by Socrates/Plato was in direct opposition to the Sophists, rhetoricians who taught the skill of persuasion unyoked to the eternally good, true and beautiful. For them, such things were unsure and therefore of no ultimate value in the “real” world of politics and commerce. They taught others the skill of how to persuade others to do things their way.

This is the perversion of democracy, its downside, its Achilles Heel. For if a democratic society is splintered into mere interest groups, each of whom only seek their own interests, then there can be no true polis, no true city.

The only way that this perversion can be checked is if virtuous people are voting. The state cannot make people virtuous but it depends on people who love the good.

For Socrates it was philosophy to the rescue. Teach others to see that the good, the true and the beautiful were not matters of taste and preferences. They are real entities which can be discerned by the mind, only if men would recognize that the things of this world are temporary and passing, only shadows on a cave wall.

Translated into the 21st century, this is the contribution of the church. While we know that we travel to a city whose builder and maker is God and that the City of Man passes away, yet we also know that the world we live in has not become nothing and fulfills no purpose in God’s plan. We know that it is a godly means to create order and justice so that citizens can live quiet lives of peace.

It is just here that it seems the vision of the church has faded. Are we producing good people who love the good? I don’t even think that is on the table for discussion in most churches. We are interested in compassion understood as giving alms, forgiveness, mercy – all of which are biblical values and at the core of the biblical message and world view.

But I do not think the church hits the note of virtue. The Protestant emphasis on justification by faith alone, as necessary and first order as it is, becomes in my circles the only note struck, the only bell rung. We glory in how far a sinner can go and yet still be rescued by God. But we have forgotten the life of virtue that makes a man a good man. Even this is hard for  a Protestant to say. Because of the radical nature of the evangelical evaluation of the human condition we distrust any paradigm which speaks of the good man. For all our righteousness is as filthy rags, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us. This certainly says something that needs to be said. But it doesn’t say all that needs to be said.

The church should be an instrument productive of virtue and good living, where a revived and restored people go out into the market place of ideas and propound the blessings of good living and godly virtue – the life of self control, faithfulness, responsibility, work, marriage vow keeping, etc.

I would commend to you the reading of Peter Kreeft’s book Back to Virtue and After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by NT Wright.

When the church lives in a revived condition, much as happened during the First and Second Great Awakenings, society is transformed. Men and women spill out of churches into a corrupt and troubled world and bring order and love to the moral confusion and sloppy living of a lost culture. In America this is our hope. Our hope is not the political process itself. It has no power to make a man a good man. God can make a bad man a good man.

This is our hope. This is the way. Socrates’ vision was the right vision. Jesus made the vision possible.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz urged other CEOs to stop donating to U.S. political campaigns to encourage leaders to solve the nation’s growing budget deficit.

Here’s the story.

In a previous post I covered Schultz pulling out of Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit because of pressure from gay activists. They were circulating an online petition to boycott Starbucks because he was supposedly speaking at an anti-gay church. The petition only got 787 votes, not overwhelming by any measure. I wonder if this alone could be the reason he pulled out. The metrics don’t seem to carry the weight Schultz gave it.

A couple of things on the story linked here. First, he is Democrat and in light of his history of political contributions could not be put in any kind of anti-gay category.

Two, withdrawing from Willow Creek was a business decision. And apparently this call for other CEOs to stop donations until legislators get back to work is a business decision, too. But I can’t see how it ever was a good business decision on Schulz’s part to collaborate with the Democratic Party if it was ever about business. Their love affair with central planning and wealth redistribution has resulted in permanent underclasses in the USA. This reduces the pool of available people to do the hard work necessary in a capitalistic society particularly at an entry wage place like Starbucks, even if they do treat their employees a cut above the fast food places. The crowd Schulz hangs with, the people he gives to, the causes he supports is anti-business.

In the UK one writer has recently commented that 20% of all the 21 and under crowd has actually never been in a home where they have seen an adult get up and go to work.  1 out of every 5!!! Can anyone see this as a good thing? And one thing we have found out in our culture is that people who have become dependent on the welfare state don’t turn into a thankful citizenry. They simply teach another generation how to get by on the largess of others.

I think maybe the church is getting ready to redefine compassion in such a way as work opportunity matters in the definition. Take work away from a person and moral instincts are dulled and the social skills required for people to live together are dulled. It’s just the way it works.

Help a friend in need. But don’t create a state where not working is a way of life. Smart CEOs should know better than this.

White Horse Inn critiques Willow Creek Leadership Summit

Here’s the link.

I stand in between the two camps this link reveals – the Hybel’s model of leadership driven mega ministry and the parish approach that nurtures the faithful few who on in churches on street corners across America keep the lights on. Neither one these gets all of me.

I have immense regard for Hybels. While he has blurred some lines between the world and the church, he has opened up the conversation on church building in powerful ways. And despite what he says about his own church’s failure in disciple-making, my guess is that his ruthless bottom-line approach overstates what may in fact be the case. He is just more  bold than other more conservative churches in admitting that the goal is far higher than the church’s measure. I have never listened to Hybels where I walked away disappointed and was not given insight into the imaginative side of the bible and Christianity.

I have similar regard for the folks at White Horse Inn who constantly remind us that the Bible reigns over all fads and models. But I have to admit that I like Hybels’ style and communication. He is the guy I want to have dinner with.

This reminds me of something I always quote in philosophy classes. The good man with the bad point will usually win over the bad man with the good point. Often we just choose the man, the one we want to be like. So many of our choices are psychologically driven anyway.  That does not mean I always give in to these drives and unexamined attractions. But I do have a trajectory toward the open and risky and away from the curmudgeon who is ready to think everybody is wrong.

The fact is that most pastors don’t have what it takes to be the kind of leader Hybels wants us to be. We find it very easy to grumble under our breathing something about the will of God and just take the church as we find it-small and dying a day at a time. The price it would take for the church to be different is just too high a price to pay for most pastors – too much courage, too much confrontation, too much honesty, too much work. It is just less stressful to buy into the White Horse Inn model.

One of the problems I do feel from the Hybels model is that it does not attract veterans. Guys like John Stott, JI Packer, D James Kennedy, etc., are not to be found among their ranks. They are a youth movement fueled by megachurch pastors who do things on their own. They are nondenominational, entrepreneural, and theologically non-reflective. Theology gets in their way. Sacred Scripture is not so sacred. It is this I can’t abide. I think on the whole these leaders have a high view of the Bible. But it doesn’t come through as it should.

Calvary Chapels do a good job on the whole of combining the large church mentality with sound Bible teaching and orthodoxy. They pretty much stand against most of what Hybels is doing and yet bring in the similarly sized crowds. But they have some aberrations that keep them marginalized from mainstream evangelicalism.

My guess is that at the end of the day Hybels’ model fades and the more “doable” and “faithful” model of normal parish life will endure. It will endure because it puts the church in the hands of the people, does not demand success in place of biblical faithfulness, is able to stand against cultural pushes, and is theologically more reflective.