Greed? ...or Good?In one of the great dichotomies of all time, the church has spent much of the last millennium in a love/hate relationship with wealth and commerce.

On the one hand, you have the “hate” side. This includes:

  • leaders taking vows of poverty, often as a way to demonstrate their own abandonment of self-interest. As a group, Christians love people for this and often elevate them to, well, sainthood. Somehow their poverty makes them seem spiritually very deep and worthy of emulation.
  • vilifying the business world and the wealthy for their perceived (and actual) excesses. This ranges from a vague distrust of anyone perceived as more fortunate all the way to strongly urging believers to avoid the greedy world of commerce, citing the Biblical mandate to, “…come out from among them and be separate.”
  • channeling the energies of the eager into volunteerism and altruistic pursuits, and discouraging them from doing anything to advance their careers or produce economic value. Often, this is accompanied by a perspective that views earning a living as a necessary evil.

In contrast, we have the “love” side of the relationship, which involves (among other things):

  • constantly seeking handouts from (and benefiting from the generosity of) the wealthy, often to build bigger, fancier buildings “to glorify God” and display His majesty. 
  • spending vast sums on everything from missions and aid to television air time and political lobbying in an effort to express the love of Christ to those in need, evangelize the world, and pursue power & influence.
  • creating a counter-culture of “Christian” products, from message-centric items like Bibles, books, music, and films all the way to bizarre items like breath mints (presumably so your breath can smell like Jesus’?)

A quick side note on fundraising, which (ironically) we’ve turned into a substantial industry: to be fair, the church (with all of its para-church organizations) has also laid claim on donations from the not-so-wealthy. But just for kicks, try sending a sizable donation to just about any given ministry and watch the subsequent bombardment of appeal letters that follows. It’s a little like watching sharks feed. And in further pursuit of fairness, behind all this fundraising you’ll find people who are sincere and practical, others who are complete frauds, and everything in between. I’d like to believe that most fall somewhere near the former end of the spectrum, but that could be a bit of my inner idealist coming out.

My point in bringing all of this up is quite simple: it’s no wonder that Christian business people feel a little like the red-headed step-children of the family.

When it comes to issues around money, the church is like someone suffering from a personality disorder. We can’t seem to decide what we think about it. So we take issue with those whose lives seem focused around it, while simultaneously insisting that they use it to fund programs.

Is business all about greed? Or is there more to the story?

As a business person, what do you say?

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