Harambe! Wal-Mart! Accountability!

18 Nov

Hey, I’m back! I didn’t die, actually. Close… I’ve been at seminary. (j/k). So the last few months have been nuts, and Sam and Kevin stopped harassing me to post again (they figured out that I was too lazy for their pleas to have an effect) and I’ve been pretty much AWOL from the Internet in general since I don’t have a connection directly to my computer anymore (I’m now using my roommate’s laptop). Not to mention that I briefly considered this week defecting to myspace after “discovering” this phenomenon for myself, for the first time. I knew it was big; I guess I didn’t realize how many people I knew were on it. I may defect eventually; as of now I don’t care enough to do so. A cancelled trip to Mexico, as part of a project for my “incarnation and mission” class (not completely cancelled, we’re leaving tomorrow at noon instead of earlier tonight), gave me the opportunity to finally post again, surely much to the delight of all. Tomorrow a group of friends and I will head to Tijuana and play with chicken-pox-infected orphans for a solid day. I couldn’t imagine a better use of my time. Seriously.

There have been lots of themes the past few weeks– the latest one being capitalism. In the last few years I’ve gone from being an implicit supporter of free-market capitalism (although I suppose all of us, regardless of where we stand, are implicit supporters by virtue of our patronage and received benefits of the capitalist system) to believing that capitalism itself is inherenly evil and is beyond the will of God, and that while we shouldn’t go forming separate societies or calling for a deposing of our government in favor of communism, I thought that Christians need to be taking the idea of shared resources as portrayed by the early church (see Acts 2) more seriously.

This week I think I’m coming to a more balanced perspective on capitalism, or as Rudy Gallescos (spelling of last name??!!), who works for the Harambe Center here in Pasadena and has been a national advisor and advocate for issues considering urban poverty (and, I might add, would fit in well at any emergent event you could think of) said, “Capitalism is merely in sync with the theological concept of ex nihilo.” (Referencing Barth and company? Now you have my attention.) He believes, as a Latin-American male who has worked with and among urban poor for over two decades, that seeing capitalism as bad is only half the story; captialism has the ability to empower people, to show people that they have the capability to create a living for themselves, to give definition to one’s own self-perception, as created in the image of God (it’s difficult to stay hopeful amidst desperate conditions if you do not believe that there is indeed a way out, that isn’t dependent on what someone can give you. Capitalism, when properly applied, provides the opportunity for economic hope, which in turn provides education, food, health care, and ultimately dignity.). Rudy likes the words from one of Bush’s speeches referencing “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Can we hold the poor to a high standard? Rudy admits this is difficult, especially for the kind of the people he was lecturing to on Monday, namely, people who were primarily of Anglo-American descent, who have largely come from affluent backgrounds. Yet there must be a standard up to which the poor must rise, he said. True empowerment is not found in handouts and cash; it is found with increased accountability. Using the system as an excuse for one’s misfortunes often becomes another form of racism or bigotry in itself, keeping the poor outside of the range of self-sufficiency and making them increasingly dependent.

It’s difficult to argue with a man with such experience with working with the poor, from a minority perspective. Especially since my accumulated knowledge of economic theory is distressingly sparse. (He recommended a book called “The Mystery of Capital” by De Soto. I haven’t read it, but I plan to. Y’all should check it out, too, and lemme know your thoughts.) Keep in mind that he was defending capitalism to a room full of people that he knew, when they heard the very word “capitalism” they instantly conjured up pictures in their mind of guys in black suits and ties with little horns coming out of their heads and dollar signs for eyeballs and rolling around in greenbacks like a pig in the mud. This included myself. Yet he was merely attempting to present another side to an issue that is mainly polarized into “good” and “evil” categories to a particular audience (I imagine that if he was speaking at Liberty University he would have sounded like a flaming liberal!) Because of this, I found his honesty and bluntness refreshing and hopeful, even though I don’t think I can share his views completely. (Maybe. I dunno. )

This is where I am right now: Capitalism is not inherently evil. It’s not an evil structure in and of itself. It has immense power. This power can be harnassed for much good, and also for much evil. The issue, for both the common people and for the management of MNC’s and other businesses, is accountability: People in allowing their religious beliefs and morals to dictate their spending habits and financial activities (not separating the two worlds) and in believing that they have inherent worth in the eyes of God and in that finding the strength to use the gifts that they’ve been given; MNC’s in creating jobs and opportunities for all people and families in their community, and to submit to necessary regulation and control by the government. My theological response is this: Human beings are created in the likeness of God, but for some reason also we all have this tendency to do selfish and bad things, which the church calls sin. This tendency we can’t get away from, whether we like it or not. Furthermore, when a bunch of humans get together for the sake of self-promotion, evil can become systemic and compounded, and can create oppressive situations such as poverty, despair and dysfunction for those who are left in the wake of such a group’s greed. This must be controlled somehow. Unrestricted capitalism is not the epitome of the American dream. There is, as the Bible teaches, such thing as “too much of a good thing;” especially when it comes at the expense of others. Christians, however, have been transformed and renewed in their sin by the Holy Spirit. Even though we haven’t lost that tendency completely, when we join together as a group, somehow the image of God, in which we were all created individually, becomes better defined (assuming that the Holy Spirit is being actively discerned.) The church-the communally-incarnated body of Christ, therefore, should be at the forefront at insisting accountability for both the poor and the rich, petitioning the Christians within each group to take heed of the call of the Spirit.

In closing, I watched the Wal-Mart documentary tonight. (It’s not so much a documentary as an all-out frontal assault on the world’s largest MNC. Quick SAT analogy: “Farenheit 9-11” is to W what “The High Cost of Low Price” is to W-M.) Propoganda? Absolutely. Biased? Quite. Inaccurate? Perhaps in parts. Important? You betcha. Go get a copy.
This is no two-bit indie-doc; this is quality stuff. I don’t doubt its one-sidedness in the least, but it’s real hard to argue with the numbers (over half of Wal-Mart employee’s children are on government assistance??!- gt and petition your government officials to change this!) and the plethora of personal testimonies that the movie boasts. We demand accountability to our governments because they are powerful and have the ability to dominate, which we all believe is against human freedom. This is why we have democracy, and checks and balances. Wal-Mart has an annual net revenue that exceeds the combined GNP of many nations, and has the lives of millions of employees worldwide in its pocket–so why is it seemingly “Un-American” to demand regulation? Why do conservatives give more credit (and freedom) to our business leaders than our leaders of government? I’m not asking for Wal-Mart to perish (that would cause even more job loss and eventual poverty at this point), merely to be held accountable in being ethical about its business practices, and not being allowed to have a free pass anymore. Christians should and must take front-row seats in this “calling-out”.

Now, I’m out.

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Posted by on November 18, 2005 in Muffins


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