Welcome to the club, Pope Francis! I’m sure it’s not the first time this servant of Christ has caught flak for preaching about money. But having been elected to the most prestigious pulpit of any religion on earth brings the burden of sharper, more powerful critics, many of whom he stirred up after incisively connecting the dots between wealth, economic systems and poverty. A Georgia columnist even stated that nobody except radical Muslims were advocating what this humble man of God suggested.
Those who preach about money are like those aerialists who seed the clouds with silver nitrate — they might produce rain, but they’re never sure whether it will be a drizzle or a violent thunderstorm. Church members who borrow megabucks to buy houses and who sign multi-year contracts for their smart phone get amazingly crabby, cautious and defensive when invited to pledge to the building fund or support the annual budget. Though pastors speaking about money may appear quite calm in the pulpit, first they’ve probably taken ten deep breaths to nerve them Or maybe something stronger.
One does not stop addressing greed and generosity just because there is going to be pushback. Our materialistic, wealth-blinded society (How much did we spend on ourselves this Christmas?) resists hearing about mammon, 2 copper pennies, camels, the eyes of needles and the impossibility of wealthy people inheriting the Kingdom. But preach one must, trusting that some of God’s seed will fall into the fertile soil and take root.
So, the Pope had some tough things to say about capitalism. He is neither the first preacher to do so, nor will he be the last. He’s trying to straighten out the Vatican’s own financial house these days, too, and probably taking plenty of heat for that as well. But in the meantime, I’m glad he’s got time to warn the rest of us about the connection between economic systems and poverty.
Frankly those sermons are never going to get preached in the local church. We’re raising money to send foreign and local mission teams, repairing leaky roofs and paying church bills. Sometimes in the local church the expenses get overwhelming. Capitalism and it’s linkage with poverty is simply not a subject for study in the local church. Maybe one church in a hundred would offer such a study group, overjoyed if 3-5 people attended
So who’s going to address world leaders about the evils inherent in every economic system and how to respond? Dare we leave it to the Republicans, the Democrats, the big investment bankers or even (heaven help us!) Occupy Wall Street? I am grateful that some leaders in the faith community are willing to take their lumps (one radio hothead accused Pope Francis of Marxism) to make their point
Keep on speaking, Pope Francis. The world needs prophets, even if it may feel at times like you are a voice in the wilderness crying.
Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.