I have been listening to all of the conversations about the stock market, the U.S. economy, government spending, taxes, and the like. Everyone seems to be tense about money, about their budgets, about the economic future, and even about church budgets. Without overlooking the tough economic times that many people are experiencing, I want to offer this observation: There really are two ways to look at this issue. One is the perspective of Accumulation/Scarcity, and the other is the perspective of Abundance/Responsibility.
The “accumulation” perspective is really all about scarcity, believing that the resources of life are limited, and working hard to make sure one gets their own share before someone else gets it. Even when people are trying to accumulate more and more possessions, that effort is really driven by a belief in scarcity. Most of the talk about the “wealthy” and our desire to tax them more is really a belief in scarcity, that somehow if the wealthy get more money, then the rest of us will get less – because (the thinking goes even if unspoken) there is only so much wealth to go around, so we must limit the wealth or else there won’t be enough left for me.
It is not a surprise that most polls show that the majority of people in America believe that the way to solve our nation’s economic problems is to tax the wealthy more – even though statistics show that the wealthy in the U.S. pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than any other group. Studies also show that even if we tax the wealthy at 100% (take every dollar they earn) that will not make a dent in our national debt or balance the national budget. Given those mathematical realities, why is there such anger against the wealthy? Certainly some wealthy persons have misused their wealth, but many are extremely generous persons. Why the anger? I think it is based upon a scarcity/accumulation model which says that “I want to accumulate more, so that means others – especially the wealthy – need to have their accumulation reduced.”
The other way to look at money is the “abundance” model which says that God has abundantly provided for all of us, so my task is not to accumulate but to be a responsible steward of all God’s resources. The “abundance” model understands that we are responsible stewards of the riches with which God has blessed our world. I don’t need to compete jealously with others to get a bigger share of the scarce resources; I can trust that God’s provisions are abundant and I can work to ensure justice for everyone.
I confess that during my years of pastoral ministry I too often operated out of a “scarcity/accumulation” model, even when I was “successful” in raising funds to meet our church budget. I focused too much on fund-raising, and not enough on stewardship education. Our fund-raising was based upon convincing people to give money to the church budget, instead of giving those funds to some other cause. It was a scarcity model, without my even realizing it. Oh yes, I called it a “stewardship” drive or campaign, but honestly it was a sales pitch to get more money for our church budget. It was based upon an accumulation/scarcity model in which the church budget had to be “sold” to convince people to give their limited resources to meet our church’s needs. It worked in the short term, but it was not effective teaching about stewardship for the long term.
So, I am taking this opportunity to remind us all to try to live in an “abundance” mentality in which we focus upon God’s abundant love, grace, and resources and our responsibility to use those resources wisely. We can’t out-give God, and we don’t need to seek a bigger share of God’s gifts, or to be jealous of the gifts given to others.
It is not easy to maintain an “abundance" model during tough economic times. It is easy to surrender to fear, jealousy, and competition. But the Gospel reminds us to live with gratitude, responsibility, and justice.