The Power of Money

Money is power and disproportionate power can make any relationship difficult. Mission work is not immune from this.

This is another in my series of posts inspired by the recent Global Connections’ conference, inspired by my tweets from the meeting.

Eddie Arthur‏@kouya

#GCC2014 Having the right perspective of finance isn’t enough, if the money has power over us. #twomasters Velloso-Ewell

Rosalee Velloso-Ewell gave a couple of extremely challenging talks which you can (and must) download from the Global Connections’ website. Rather than go into the details of her talk, I’d like to make a few observations on he subject of money in mission work: another subject that has been covered here at Kouyanet on numerous occasions (try these for size).

The thing that struck me most in Rosalee’s words is that money is not neutral; it is capable of wielding great power over people; both those who have it and those who don’t. It is possible to have all of the right attitudes, to have thought through issues of dependency and sustainability, but when money enters into mission partnerships or relationships, then things can go awry. Money has such power that it can easily dwarf anything else in a mission partnership. Those who are donating money can start to feel they are more important than they are and those who are receiving can start to feel that they have nothing to contribute because they don’t have any money. I have seen both happen and could tell some embarrassing stories.

A few months back, I made the following points about finance in mission which are worth repeating:

  • Rich Christians should be generous with their money. End of story – there is no need for debate on this.
  • However, while generosity is right, it can have a negative impact by creating dependencies, lack of local accountability and such like. These issues have to be carefully balanced and managed and donors need to understand the them. Vinoth Ramachandra recently wrote an excellent post exploring some of these questions.
  • The regulations on transfer of charitable funds from the West to other countries may involve the imposition of fairly stringent conditions on the partners in the developing world which are not always helpful.
  • The case for supporting national workers as opposed to Westerners has sometimes been overstated. Mark Pickett has written an excellent review (part 1part 2) of one influential book which throws the baby out with the bath water.
  • It is NOT a new paradigm! Whether the West is sending money or people, we still have the West as the one providing the resources and the rest of the world receiving. The seat of power and influence has not moved, the only thing that hs changed is the way in which the power and influence are expressed. A new paradigm of mission needs to see a rebalancing of the relationship between the West and the rest. We need to learn to receive as well as to give and to value contributions beyond the financial ones.

To me, this last point is the important one. Money and power are interlinked and in an increasingly Global church we need to find a way to carry out God’s mission without the disparities of power and influence which are still such a common feature of our world.

Interestingly, Rosalee suggested that some of our mistaken attitudes about money and power might be rooted in a misunderstanding of Scripture. She presented an alternative reading of the parable of the talents which I had never come across. At first glance it is very persuasive, but I’m not qualified to judge whether or not it is a good reading: I’d value your thoughts.

This post is more than a year old. It is quite possible that any links to other websites, pictures or media content will no longer be valid. Things change on the web and it is impossible for us to keep up to date with everything.

2 replies on “The Power of Money”

The interpretation of Myers and DeBode is questionable on several grounds, as it:
* Wrenches the story from its context, i.e. the Lord’s return (Matthew 25, see also Luke 19:11);
* (on v. 14) Argues from silence and ambiguity (no mention of “the Kingdom of heaven”, mere mention of “a man”) while eliding a conjunction (“For” Greek ‘gar’ — some sort of defence would be needed for the alternative reading “but”);
* Makes a convenient link nonetheless to a remoter context (Matt 24:3) in support of the notion that usury is a sign of the End Times;
* Takes for granted that the parabolic money is literal money;
* Confuses praiseworthy faithfulness / trustworthiness (vv. 21, 23) with success in making a profit;
* Contradicts the clear witness of v. 19 that the master was gone a long time, in order to support the claim that profits were reaped in an obscenely short time;
* Claims repeatedly without proof that wealth could not have been amassed except through oppression (notably usury);
* Adopts on its face the hypocritical “defence” of the third servant that the master was unscrupulous, rather than the evidence of the story itself that the master was generous (evidence which, despite their analysis, is even more compelling in the Lucan passage);
* Would have Jesus denigrate faithful service to one’s master, something he does nowhere else (apart from when two masters are contrasted).
* Claims, or at least suggests, that the reason that Jesus wanted his followers to “remain vigilant” in Gethsemane was so that they could “confront injustice”;
* (in the reference to Exodus 16) Equates money with manna;
* Appeals gratuitously and irrelevantly to our modern familiarity with “dubious investment schemes”.

Kenneth Bailey’s treatment of the parallel passage, Luke 19:12-27, in _Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes_ is to me much more compelling. The test of the allegiance of the nobleman’s servants was how they behaved while living in a land where he had vocal enemies, during a time when they had no earthly assurance that he’d return enthroned. The last steward claimed to be afraid of his boss. It appears though that in reality, he was afraid of backing the wrong horse. Had the nobleman really been what the faithless servant perceived him to be (the verb in Matt. 25:26 and Luke 19:22 does not mean ‘to know (for a fact)’ but ‘to see’), then he, the master, would have had no scruples about usury, and the rational action on the part of the lazy slave would have been to outsource the “profiteering”. (I know: IF creating wealth for your boss can be accomplished only through oppression, hiding the mina — in a rag in Luke’s version, not in the ground — is the godly thing to do. I’m just hesitant to grant the premise.) But the last steward holds a twisted view of his master, whose generosity fills the story: in the gift of the minas, in the granting of further responsibilities to the trustworthy slaves, and in not banishing the lazy slave — although in aligning himself with traitors he deserved punishment. As regards the severity of 19:27, Bailey points out (a) the Lord’s teaching in 6:36 and (b) the fact that the story is open-ended: although the rebels deserve to die, the repentant are graciously welcomed. I’ll admit that Matt. 25:30 is problematic; but before drawing Myers and DeBode’s conclusion, we’d have to compare 8:12 and 22:13 (and perhaps 13:42, 13:50, and 24:51).

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