Justice (Our Understanding Of): Christian Community in but not Of Capitalism

excerpt from The Great Giveaway, David Fitch, 2005

Evangelicals and Our "Liberal" Ways of Justice

Unfortunately, evangelicals remain mired in the language of justice as defined hy liberal democracy and capitalism. We consistently push a justice based in individual equality, equal individual opportunity, and personal rights. We do not see how this is not Christ's justice and how in fact this may be working against Christ's justice. I offer the following examples.

First, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action begins his book Just Generosity by defining poverty and explaining how to recognize it through liberal democratic ways of defining inequitable structures in the U.S. economy. For Sider, living below the U.S. poverty rate of $16,530 a year is unjust when the mean family income is $56,902. Sider argues that this is poverty because "it means stretching every penny and having no budget for many things such as furniture, vacations, recreation, private health insurance, and so on that most of us take for granted." Basically Sider delineates why this is unjust in terms of equal opportunity and living standards as drawn from democratic and American capitalist terms. Sider goes on to detail how the United States has the greatest income inequality of all developed nations. In Sider's classic 1977 book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, he makes the oft since repeated comparisons between the rich countries and the poor, stating, for example, that the "rich 34 percent claims 87 percent of the worlds total GNP [gross national product] each year. The poor two-thirds is left with 13 percent."

What Sider did not consider is that these ways of quantifying justice might perpetuate the ills of capitalism and democracy upon the poor. Certainly Sider is to be commended for his massive work in drawing attention to the Christians obligation to the poor. But Sider missed the way he allowed the capitalist machine to determine what poverty is. An what goes unnoticed is that part of rectifying that injustice in this way assumes the sucking of all the poor into the full rigors of the agonistic system of capitalism. Perhaps those who make $56,902 have a nice house but live a nonstop, stress-filled lifestyle in which they never see or spend time at the local church or with their children. Maybe the two-income family has to shove their children into a day care facility three days a week in order to participate in $56,902 a year. Maybe addictions like unhealthy eating at McDonald's just to have time to eat are a necessary part of the two-income, capitalistic-driven character of life in society. Even worse, maybe these capitalistic ways would spatialize the poor into relationships of contract and exchange incapable of communing with another as a unity in Christ. Maybe this is a life of capitalistic justice Christians should wish on no one.

Back in 1977, Sider compared the wealth of United States to the wealth of underdeveloped countries, using the GNP statistics in currency at the time. This means of comparison is still used regularly by evangelicals today to talk about economic injustice- I certainly agree heartily with Sider that North Americans are guilty of ignoring their obligation toward the world's poor some twenty-seven years later. But should we be using a capitalistically driven GDP (gross domestic product) statistic to define the terms of poverty? (GDP is now the term that has replaced GNP in government statistics since Sider's book in 1977.) Does not GDP itself assume the defining myths of wealth creation in capitalism? Could it be that GDP really represents for the Christian the production of a lot of nonessential things and the arousal of non-healthy desires to consume them, which amounts to a lot of nothing in the lives of these people or the economy of God? Should not Christians examine whether all this proposed wealth creation is really about the production of many things and the arousing of many desires we could all do without? Capitalism may quantify this as wealth creation or GDP, but the Christian may see this as a lot of misdirected energy that indeed inflames desires away from the purposes of God.

It is therefore not morally neutral to use the measure of GDP to compare a country's wealth and determine means of redistribution. Inherent in any diagnosis and solution that uses the capitalist measure of GDP is the propagation of a consumeristic, production-oriented, stress-filled existence upon people who may indeed be better without it. These are the agonisms of capitalism. Surely we should at least consider whether Chileans may be better off living more simply and less consumerist lives than their American counterparts. None of this means we should not spend more eftort in works of mercy and relief to all those in poverty. The Point is this justice should look a lot different than we are describing it. But we will never see it this way because evangelicals are prone to see Justice in democratic and capitalistic terms. When we do not practice righteousness first in the community of Jesus Christ, we do not have the means to discriminate what God is really after in restoring righteousness to those who are suffering injustice.

A second example of this same evangelical blind spot is illustrated by the following episode I have seen repeated in many evangelical churches. The pastor of a large suburban evangelical megachurch presents the need for Christians to get more involved with social justice. He describes the hurting plight of people in the urban setting. Then the pastor tells how he decided to personally seek out a man he noticed was in need of help. So the pastor invested his own sweat labor and personally helped the man fix up a building, which allowed the man to start a business. The pastor described the triumph when this man started working for himself. The man was given back his dignity by actually owning his own business. The climax of the story was when the pastor asked the man how much he had in his bank account. The man replied, "Seven hundred dollars." The pastor asked, "When was the last time you had seven hundred dollars in the bank?" and he said, "Never." Though there may have been other overtures to this man's personal salvation, the act of justice that was highlighted was this man's acquiring an independent bank account with seven hundred dollars in it.

Few would doubt that much good was accomplished in this work of mercy. But what defines this particular act as a work of Christian justice? Does a "seven-hundred-dollar" bank account owned for the first time qualify as a work of justice? Does restoring a poor person to financial independence constitute Christian justice in and of itself? Does helping a man accomplish a seven-hundred-dollar bank account count as a work of justice if it also unwittingly trains the man into centering his life on wealth accumulation? Highlighting a "seven-hundred-dollar bank account" as an achievement might be susceptible to such an interpretation. In fact, the goal of acquiring a bank account in and of itself could easily turn into the pursuit of greed and wealth accumulation as well as plain old independence from God, all of which are forms of unrighteousness. As theologian Stephen Long reminds us, "A just ordering or economic life assumes the order of charity."42 For the Christian, an act of justice cannot be discerned as justice apart from it being the outgrowth of charity in the life of Christ. And this "charity is not natural to us." It comes only as an infused virtue (Aquinas) born out of the life of the Spirit. This means that a "seven hundred dollar bank account" can only be known as justice as it is related to the life of stewardship, obedience, charity, and forgiveness.

For instance, a key Christian virtue in the business owner and his seven-hundred-dollar bank account would be the understanding that all our money is from God and to be owned in stewardship of his ownership. A key evidence of justice would be the life of charily offered to the world through this man via the grace given to him with the new "seven' hundred-dollar bank account." Otherwise we simply perpetuate the sins of greed and avarice that caused the injustice in the first place. And we train this man out of poverty into isolation and a lie seen in terms of private wealth and exchange. But these virtues are impossible to learn apart from being a part of a living community and body of Christ that practices these skills of stewardship one with another. Apart from such a community, this act of mercy could be training this man into another form of worship, the worship of the gods of greed, wealth accumulation, and consumerism. The community of Christ, is therefore essential for Christian justice.44 In this second example, the particular act of mercy was done many miles from the actual church community this pastor was regularly a part of (his own congregation). If we hypothetically assume that the man he helped did not become part of the pastor's church (he very well could have), we would have to seriously question whether this could be a case of Christian justice.

A third example of evangelicals defining justice in terms of democratic capitalism is the way evangelicals attempt to influence public policy. When it comes to public policy, evangelicals have gone beyond advocating legislation and court appointments that will further family and personal morality agendas. They also now advocate political agendas that will promote better welfare systems, equal access to health care, and fairer distribution of resources among public school systems.4' While doing this, evangelicals rarely consider how being complicit in the capitalist and democratic systems damages the possibility for achieving Christian justice. It is true that evangelicals have criticized welfare for the way it trains dependents into commodifying tendencies. For instance, evangelicals and many others have examined the ways (what used to be called) Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) encouraged more out-of-wedlock births for the mother's purpose of earning more money. But rarely do evangelicals question whether these systems should be abandoned entirely unless a central role exists for the church because of the way they perpetuate capitalist problems.

We will now champion, for instance, funding equality among all public schools and decry the inequality that exists between school districts and opportunities for education between the poor and the middle classes in the United Stales. What we will not ask is whether public schools themselves train our children for the democratic capitalistic virtues of self-interest, being a good consumer, and earning money enough to support the practice of consuming and paying for it. Therefore we swiftly support U.S. policy changes to level the playing field of public education and ignore the changes needed in our local churches to make the church central to, or at least a part of, the public education of our children. I do not suggest we should ignore the former for the latter. We should do both. But because we rarely discern concretely in our local churches the problems of sending our own children to public schools, we miss the immediate Christian concern. We can only then respond through broader policy initiatives as determined by democratic terms. We miss asking what the role of the local church should be in educating her children in relation to public schools. We therefore "give away" justice to the determining factors of democracy and capitalism. We do not see what real education is or for that matter what other policy problems like health care can really mean because we do not engage in these concrete discernments in the local church.

So evangelicals have increased their work for social justice over the past thirty years. Yet it is a social justice that is not based in the justice of Christ as worked out in our local congregations. It is most often a justice defined by democratic and capitalist concerns and the languages that define them. We do not have a language of Christ's justice. We therefore tend to "give away" our justice in Christ to the cultural sources we have become accustomed to.

Recovering the Language of God's Righteousness

New Testament theologian James Dunn, in his co-authored book The Justice of God, teaches us how to speak about justice in the scriptural language of "righteousness." Drawing on the Hebrew Scriptures, Dunn expounds a justice that is faithful to God's work in Israel and Jesus Christ. He says, "In Hebrew thought righteousness is a concept of relation. In Hebrew thought righteousness is something one has precisely in one's relationships as a social being. That is to say, righteousness is not something which an individual has on his or her own, independent of anyone else-as could be the case with the Greco-Roman concept.'146

Dunn draws on the prophets (Ezek. 18:5-9; Isa. 58:3-7; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 3) to describe how being in a right relationship with God vertically was inseparable from being in right relationship with one another in the Hebrew Old Testament context.47 God's righteousness is prior to any human righteousness because human righteousness is a response to God's righteous actions toward human beings. More basic than any form of justice based in the metaphor of the law court is the justice founded in one's covenantal relationship and the ongoing sustaining of that relationship through difficult circumstances, through forgiveness and healing. In other words, for the Christian, God's righteousness is something worked out among a people of God, and it is first and foremost a response to his righteousness.

Dunn argues against the over-Lutheranizing of the doctrine of justification where justification became individualized and defined as the isolated individual's legal status before God. Evangelicals are particularly prone to this. Dunn, however, describes how our justification in Christ not of the individual standing before a law court so much as it is to be invited into the work of God's righteousness through Jesus Christ in a continuation of the covenant relationship with Israel. Justification is not an individual possession as much as it is the offer from God to participate in his work of salvation and righteousness. It is therefore a righteousness of both a restored relationship with God and the concomitant response to that relationship with the righteousness established in the covenant people of God.

Dunn explains that "God's righteousness is his acting out of that obligation which he took upon himself in creating the world and choosing Israel to be his people. And it consists primarily in drawing human persons into the appropriate relationship with himself and in sustaining them in that relationship."43 The conclusion then is, as Dunn states, "The biblical understanding of justification/justice/righteousness is all of one piece. In particular, it involves two important aspects: righteousness as essentially individual involving relationships; and righteousness, as both horizontal and vertical, as involving responsibility to one's neighbor as part and parcel of one's responsibility towards God."49 Unless these two are held together, justification and justice can get distorted.

For Dunn then, it is a mistake to individualize justification in a way that separates that justification from the work of God's righteousness in a people. Evangelicals err when they separate personal salvation from its outworking as righteousness among a people of God. The doctrine of justification by faith alone is part and parcel of an entire cosmological work of God to work righteousness in a people and through this people to the world.50 Therefore evangelicals err scripturally when they over-individualize salvation to the extent it becomes a possession and a commodity. Instead, we should maintain salvation as God's work in establishing a righteous relationship between himself and his people and then manifesting that righteousness horizontally as the inextricable tension of that new relationship.

James Dunn helps us see then what justice looks like as it has been revealed to the people of Israel and culminated in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He uncovers that there is righteousness in Christ that fulfills the justice of God in Israel and surpasses any justice that democracy or capitalism can give us. He helps us see that the all-engulfing righteousness of God should be the only real justice we Christians are interested in. Dunn shows that there is a justice in Christ that is thicker, less individuated, and more compelling that the church should not relinquish as we engage society. Dunn challenges us to reacquire such a language for justice in the church. Using this language, we will not be able to claim that we are participating in Christ's justice by merely providing financial physical relief to people external to the church. We will not be able to claim as justice some sort of structural change that offers equal opportunity in a democratic society unless it reflects the already existing change in the society of Christ.

Likewise, the work of this justice will not be done until the relationships one with another and with God have been restored in the way God himself calls us to be with himself. Justice then is never just about money; it is also about stewardship, never just about equal opportunity; it is about restored whole political relationships. It is never just about aid to dependent mothers; it is about a healing and restoration of the broken down and a restoration to their place in a renewed people. It is about the work of God for a new humanity and the restoration of that humanity into relationships not governed out of the ontology of violence upon which democracy is built but gifted out of our mutual participation in the body of Christ. It is about a restored and redeemed economics.

This kind of justice can only begin in the church of Christ. This kind of justice supersedes all other kinds of procedural justice in America and cannot be done in complicity with the terms laid down for us by the powers of democracy and capitalism. It must be done first as the work of God in his church through Jesus Christ from which we then display it to the world, engage the foreign injustices with it, and ultimately invite the victims and the victimizers out of the agonistic society to sit as one with us at the Table of the kingdom of God.

Community in but Not of Capitalism

The work of James Dunn challenges our evangelical churches to manifest a justice among ourselves that displays the kind of righteousness that can only be God's. This has never been more important as society fragments into its multiple justices and communities. But this has also rarely been more difficult as late capitalism extends its dominion over all manifestations of North American life. Capitalism intrudes upon every living space. North American society imposes enormous capitalist pressures on its inhabitants that impede this kind of community. So our congregations must work incessantly, paying off larger credit card hills and mortgages on bigger homes. Capitalist competitiveness and consumerism as well as liberal individualism shape us into being wealth accumulators, consumers, and parents who must take every possible produced advantage for our child's growth and development. There is little time for our people to be the body, and so the local church often is educed to being the distributor of religious goods and services. When we do come together, we come shaped as we are out of capitalism as individuals protecting our interests. We do not come determined first by our citizenship in Christ.

As a result, instead of being communities of God's redeemed economics, many evangelical churches take on the communal characteristics of capitalism in strange ways. In the way evangelical churches organize, we curiously choose elders who are more successful as businessmen and accumulators of wealth than they are capable of giving wisdom and Christ-centered shepherding to the local congregation- We project budgets based upon how many people are actually "giving units" in the church. Our people walk and look like capitalists. When anyone is in need or going through rough economic times, we do not talk about it because we are ashamed. It is a shame to be poor or unsuccessful in capitalism. We do not look upon each other with "unlimited liability" one toward another. We surprisingly get our identities more from our jobs than our life in a Christian community pursuing God's kingdom on earth. And we treat our money as our own. We live in fear that to give up our possessions will leave us alone and destitute when our time of need comes. The last thing our people will talk about in church is how much money we make or our investments at the bank. Our imbedded individualism hurts us as we hoard our money, keep private our personal finances, and die a slow death of the soul as we never learn how to truly live, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). All of this makes practicing the justice of Christ in the local church more difficult.

Evangelical churches therefore face a significant challenge in being the church without withdrawing in toto from capitalism. How can we be a community of Christ in which the righteousness and justice of God are worked out among us without being determined by forces of democracy and capitalism? How do we eat, live, and have jobs in capitalism and yet not become driven by the emotions and desires of "consumeritis," career success, and the protection of our financial security? How do we see justice as more than leveling the economic playing field or providing the basics necessary to give someone an opportunity to be successful in democratic capitalistic society? Community in capitalism is so difficult because consumerism is always making us ask, Are we meeting your needs? But we do not need another pseudo community that gathers to support its members in each other's striving for self-fulfillment and career advancement. For we will again blend in to the all-pervasive forces that make justice about getting more of what I want out of capitalism and democracy. Instead, God calls us in Christ to a righteousness of another kind. How do we live as community in him not of capitalism (John 17:14-18)? How do we practice the redeemed economics born out of his righteousness? How do we practice justice as righteousness as a people in but not of capitalism?

The answer to this question for many has been to withdraw from capitalism entirely and become an intentional community. Intentional community, with no private ownership of property, is certainly an option. Yet is there another way we can still live in capitalism but not be of it? Can we live together in a manner in which we retain private ownership yet view that ownership so differently that it actually binds us together as members of a body as opposed to separating us by the fears of securing our own interests?

Ron Sider has expounded how private property was not so much the issue in the New Testament church. Rather the issue in the New Testament church was how each member was to see that all his or her property and money was a gift from God to be held in such a way that there was an unlimited call on that property to meet the needs and mission of the community. The determining factor on wealth was the koinonia in Christ, the common lordship of Christ over all things (including wealth) for the common living out of his righteousness. Roman Catholic traditions have also not excluded the right to own property but at the same time placed limits upon that ownership. According to some Roman traditions, to hold on to capital surplus in the presence of another's need was a violent act. In some canon law, to steal from another's surplus in time or mortal need was not a sin.54 Property was always held for the common good. According to Sider, an expression of that koinonia was financial responsibility one toward another as evident in Paul's agreements with the Jerusalem church and the sharing of the Gentile church in their need (Gal. 2:9-10).

As John Yoder has advocated and Ron Sider affirmed, the early church lived under the shadow of the Jubilee tradition that practiced the holding of property only for a limited period as a steward or manager of that property for the benefit of God and his people. At the end of every fifty years the ownership of land and property would be returned and equalized among the people (Lev. 25:10-24). The property was not to be owned in perpetuity; it was to be owned as a steward would manage the property for his master. God and God alone owned the land (Lev. 25:23). In many respects, the community described in Acts chapters 2 and 4 is a reflection of these principles.56 It was this attitude toward private ownership that governed the church. It is disputable whether or not the Year of Jubilee was literally carried nut either in the nation of Israel or for that matter in the early church.

But the principle provides a backdrop for how we are to live as the eschatological people of God called into living out his righteousness and justice one with another in but not of capitalism. Intentional community of one purse is not the only option to make this happen. As many such communities have discovered, becoming a community of one purse does not totally insulate the community from the influences and pervasive corrupting forces of capitalism. What does, however, make possible the living together in but not of capitalism is the fundamental disposition wherewith we hold our privately held property together, in "unlimited liability" one toward another and to God, recognizing that the property is not ours in the first place, just placed into our stewardship for a short time for the blessing of God's people. It is a disposition toward ownership that rejects capitalism's contention that it is something I have done that merits the ownership of my property and wealth. Instead, I hold property in the service of the King.

Whether intentional community of a common purse or whether we come together maintaining separate bank accounts, I contend that the development of this crucial disposition of stewardship and practices to live in that disposition are what shall enable us as evangelicals to carry out justice as a community in but not of capitalism. Similar to the early church, which lived with slavery as an economic reality hardly capable of displacement, so too we might have to live with capitalism as an economic reality not soon to be displaced. Nevertheless, as theologian Oliver O'Donovan has described, the early church carried the conviction that the church itself was a society without master or slave within it.59 And so likewise, the evangelical church must carry the conviction that the church itself is a society where no one holds goods and resources in private ownership, but as gifts from God for his faithful stewardship one to another for the pursuit of justice and righteousness in our midst and then to the world. It might then be necessary for us evangelical church members to maintain private ownership and bank accounts in order to live in capitalism, but as his church we shall not live as if there are any owners among us, only stewards of God's gifts for the benevolence of all under his lordship.

This kind of disposition toward wealth can only be formed inside the church community through the concrete practice of justice one situation at a time. Indeed, Christian justice begins with that woman who stands in the middle of the congregation and says, "I have cancer, I have no health insurance." (Note: this story opens this chapter in "The Great Giveaway") At this point we can neither argue about governmental health insurance policies nor write an easy check that will not hurt our bank accounts. Evangelicals may be prone to seeing this woman as derelict in her duty to work and be responsible for herself and his family. This is the justice of capitalism.

But it cannot be this easy when the woman stands up and speaks amidst the congregation. This woman must be heard and talked with. We must discover why she has no health insurance. We must examine her own life and ours as to why we allowed this to happen in the first place to someone who has been in our midst for three years. We must pray for her medical care and see that her family has sufficient support to make it through. We must serve this woman in such a way that not only is she taken care of medically but the overall status of this woman's relationship to God, her secular community, and her church community is restored. We must also ensure that the church somehow does not contribute to her dereliction in not having health insurance if there was in fact dereliction. We must in fact deal with everything that has to do with this woman being in righteous relationship to us her community and to God and to the world. The regular practice of such restoration forms the disposition of justice in the community.

Only after we have walked through this process can we see similar situations in the world and make comparable discernments as to what it means to restore such situations to righteousness in God outside the church. Only after we have been formed into the disposition of Christ's justice in community do we have the disposition necessary to carry out his justice in the world. Only after we have walked through this process with someone can we go to the government and propose broad solutions that can model the community of Christ in caring for the one left destitute without health insurance. When a woman comes forward in the middle of the congregation, we are tempted to give her money so that she will go away, or we are tempted to slough off her request as someone whose irresponsibility should not be rewarded. But because she is in the middle of us, we cannot treat this woman as the detached stranger who panhandles for change in the street. She is in the congregation of Christ and we must come into relationship with her. This practice of engaging her in our midst forges the new justice that is ours in Jesus Christ. It is the New Order coming into being in our midst. And it forms the basis for the justice of Christ to be worked out in the world.

Reinvigorating the Practice of the Benevolence Fund

Evangelicals therefore require a practice that counteracts the determining forces of capitalism upon the way we see justice and money in the local church body. We need a practice that spatializes the world for us in terms of the reconciliation we have in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. In theologian William Cavanaugh's terms, we need a practice "that organizes the very spaces into which we walk." Out of such a practice the local community should not only be formed into a disposition toward Christ's justice but be able to resist the alternative forces of capitalism that seek to form our imaginations in contrary ways.

I propose that the "benevolent fund" be such a practice that can form this kind of community in but not of capitalism.61 Simply put, at the time of the celebration of our oneness in Christ, around the reception of the gift of God in Christ, in the Lord's Supper; we must reinvigorate the practice of benevolence as the outgrowth of that time around the Lord's Table. Of course this may imply that most evangelicals recover the true depths of the Lord's Supper first before going on to benevolence. But here I wish to propose as well that the eucharistic practice be reinvigorated and extended to include the age-old practice of benevolence.

By this I do not mean that we simply collect a benevolence offering after celebrating the Lord's Supper. Rather, let us make the benevolent fund an intentional practice among us. Let us make visible verbally and ritualistically that we receive everything we are and have from the work of God in Christ and we return it to him as well. That as we are all one in Christ's body, we are mutually financially liable to one another. That as we have so bountifully received, we in return give with the same unlimited bounty. We do this in such a way that it is not a shame but an expectation that those who are in need will come forward to be ministered to. Once those in need have tome forward, this committee of benevolence sits with them around a meal and discerns their needs as well as issues of sin and then invites them into reconciliation, restoration, and righteousness through financial assistance and community restoration. This should be reported, to and supported by the local body. In this way, we should discern one's financial problems one person at a time with a deep sense of mutual accountability. In the process, this practice of benevolence orders the participants together into a new relation financially one with another, a new foretaste of a redeemed economy, in essence the body of Christ.

We must find ways to embody these things through rituals in front of the whole congregation. Each member, for instance, can write on a piece of paper what each one's total assets and annual income are and put it in the plate to be placed on the altar as a sign that all our assets are God's and are "on call" at the behest of the benevolence ministry and the body of Christ. And all this will be done as a direct outgrowth of our times around the Table where we are truly made one. We do these things here at the altar where Paul once chastised the Corinthian financial inequalities that were allowed around the Table of our Lord (1 Cor. 11:17-22).

Such a benevolence practice will require that we locate those among us who are gifted in discerning matters of financial justice and righteousness. Such a benevolence committee discerns both the needs of the member, his or her sins and victimization, what needs to be set right, and the communal claims on each member's property to meet the needs if the benevolence fund cannot. Such a committee signifies both the communal claim on each member's assets as well as the illegitimacy of any one individual's unilateral claim over another members assets. We must admit that such unilateral non-communal claims destroy community just as much as individuals privately hoarding wealth. Because when a Christian says to another Christian in the body, God has called me to pursue this goal and therefore you should support me, or I need a cancer operation and you should mortgage your house for my hospital bill, he or she makes a claim that can only be discerned within a community. Otherwise, anyone with a personal dream for ego aggrandizement can avoid work and baptize their personal dream in the name of the Lord's calling and make a unilateral claim on God's assets. Likewise, anyone with a medical bill can ignore what they must do out of obedience to Christ for their whole restoration. Unilateral behavior destroys community and sets the members up for abuse all in the name of the Lord. Without a local body to discern, members can abuse the body of Christ, leaving the community devastated. Therefore the benevolent fund committee that acts on behalf of the body to "discern the body" (1 Cor. 11:29) is an inextricable part of being a body of Christ in but not of capitalism.

Such discernments of the body often entail options other than distributing money to a person in need. Certainly, there are many times when distributing money is the only option that can meet a person's need in a given situation. But there may also be times when the gift of money alone may perpetrate injustice by encouraging the disadvantaged to be even more enmeshed in the consumerist ways of modem capitalism. Christian justice may require other more creative solutions involving the community. For example, if a member needs a car due to financial hardship, the congregation may organize to offer their cars on a rotating basis to the one in need. Instead of providing money for a car or worse yet, the means to acquire "car payments," the community provides an in-between arrangement that can forestall burdensome indebtedness, maintenance, and insurance costs. Such a solution would provide immediate transportation, create a communal basis for fellowship and restoration, and resist the potential for an unnecessary slavery to car ownership and loan indebtedness. Such a practice may be the means to resist captivity to the consumer capitalist forces that seek to further imprison the poor and make spiritual paupers of us all. A new communal simplicity can challenge every one of us. The benevolent fund committee therefore should be ready to engage in these types of discernments that resist the forces of consumer capitalism in order to yield a true justice of Christ that is in but not of capitalism.

Perhaps proposing an intensified practice of the benevolent fund seems ridiculous as the solution to the world's injustice. But perhaps this is the point. Our God in Christ has chosen in ridiculous fashion to come into the world at one location at one time and to start there for the redemption of the whole world. And so from God's work of justice in that one local body in that one person who is restored to righteousness, the church can then meet that one person outside the congregation who has succumbed to the same unrighteousness. We can then engage this one person on the same terms. One situation at a time, God's people mete out his justice. The hurting are engaged on all the levels of victimization, restoration, and personal obedience in relation to one's relationships and obligations as given by God and his people. This person will not be left outside the community to figure everything out on his or her own. He or she becomes one of us, invited into the new righteousness that is of Jesus Christ. The reclamation of one such person into God's righteousness here on earth is a glimpse of love, restitution, where we are all headed for eternity. The witness is powerful. From here we can go to government redemption, and make proposals that are undeniable in credibility because we are witnesses to what God can do among his people.

In the end, such simple and concrete workings out of God's righteousness make the church visible. Such a physical engaging of justice one person at a time through the practice of benevolence avoids making justice a private possession to be gotten on our own by secretly writing a check. Instead, it forms the beachhead from which more and more justice can flow into the world from the church. As we learn from William Cavanaugh's powerful depiction of the church in Pinochet's Chile, "if the church is to resist society's masquerades of justice, then it must be publicly visible as a body of Christ in the present time, not secreted away in the souls of believers or relegated to the distant historical past or future."65

So therefore, what starts with a woman standing in the midst of the congregation at the Table of our Lord, telling everyone, "I have cancer, I have no health insurance, I have three thousand dollars in bills this first week, and I need an operation," leads to those with the means to help, sitting in a room, asking her, "What do you need to make it to the next day, week, and month?" After the immediate relief, this committee asks more questions about her family and work history. There is no sloughing off this woman's life with an easy check. They may ask her why she hasn't had a job in ten years. They may inquire about her family history and why her finances are mismanaged. They may see the unfortunate cycle of victimization she has been caught up in well enough to thwart its repeat. They may discern what sin, if any, needs to be dealt with as well as in what way this woman needs forgiveness, restitution, and restoration. They will ask not only how to get her through her immediate financial need, but what needs to be done to restore her obligations to former bosses, her community, those she has gone into debt with, and her children and family. Together as a community we are mutually liable, together we see how she was left most vulnerable at the hardest time. When we minister love, restitution, redemption, restoration, and reconciliation to even one person, a truly revolutionary justice has taken place under the banner of Christ's justice.

So then comes the encounter outside with the homeless person and the same story is carried out except this person at the end is invited into the fellowship of Christ's righteousness in his body. We then think about self-insuring the whole church for medical costs and including those who need to be insured in our group. We then extend this new social justice to the poor all around us.66 We discern in the Spirit as a body what goes wrong and what goes right. We then go to the government with a proposal to make such medical insurance co-ops available to all just as has been done in the body of Christ. But the power of such a visible justice as this lies in the fact that we cannot be relegated to the status of just another competing lobbyist or special interest group. We have rejected the commodifying tendencies of capitalistic medical practices by living out an alternative righteousness under the lordship of Christ.

What therefore begins as a tiny concrete engagement for justice becomes a regular practice, extended from the Lord's Table, flowing into everyday life. Each local church becomes a subversive community undermining the injustices of capitalism, extending its reach into its daily contacts with the world. Its tiny presence undercuts the foundation or any false justices the world may seek to mete out. The one tiny victory in the restoration of a woman destroyed by hospital bills stands as a witness to that justice that is coming in the name of the Lord. And just as the regular Roman Catholic Church practice of the Eucharist bred a politic that slowly undermined the politics of torture and of a brutal dictatorship, as William Cavanaugh depicted for Chile,67 so also the extended practice of benevolence can perhaps breed a politic among evangelical churches that undermines the total determination of capitalism upon our relations in North America.

The practice of benevolence, of giving and submitting to one another financiallv, can de-spatialize us out of relationships determined by capitalism and order us into a new way of being in relation to one another economically. Through such a regular practice, churches can in fact participate in a redeemed economics that is already the ongoing work of God through Christ. We can imitate an economics that, through its physical practice, becomes the way we see all other economic transactions. The righteousness of God becomes visible through the regular practice of the benevolence fund, and thereby fundamentally threatens the way capitalism carries out justice. It is tiny in its beginning. It requires the real functioning of the body of Christ. But perhaps if North American evangelicals make the real practice of "the benevolence fund" central to being the body. perhaps if we make it an inseparable outgrowth of his Table, then his justice will be spread. It will undermine the imposters of justice in society, spread Christ's justice to the poor, and extend Christ's reign to the victimized until he returns.


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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2006