Minister’s Forum: With economic power comes responsibility
August 5, 2008
I recently heard Mark MacDonald, national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, preach. He reminded us that we are blessed. Most of you reading this are relatively wealthy, even though you may have some financial worries. You have clean water to drink and enough food to eat. MacDonald said that with great wealth comes great responsibility and great spiritual risk.
It is our responsibility to share what we have with the powerless and those who have much less than we. In order to do this effectively, we need to hear the stories of the powerless, so that we understand their perspective. Our own spiritual welfare depends upon how we act, how we use our wealth and power. Those with wealth need to regard themselves as trustees; we have been given control of something that belongs to others. Our wealth is to be used for the betterment of society. Through listening to the stories of the powerless and the poor, can we know how to improve society?
When we forget that we are trustees, when we allow ourselves to become overly focused on preserving our wealth, then we are in great spiritual danger. We are in danger of replacing God with the idol of wealth or power. As Christians, we must guard against the temptation to jealously guard our wealth, and instead must learn to listen to the powerless so that we can discover how to best use the wealth entrusted to us.
MacDonald said we need a spiritual revolution to nonpossessiveness. Indigenous people resist the commodification of land, air, water, etc. We all need to remember that God has given us this world. He said that Maslow is wrong, spiritual things should not come last; rather, we can only survive if we put God first. When we put something other than God into God’s place, we create misery through our idolatry.
MacDonald recommended to us the following principles, which were first put forth by Gandhi:
— Reduce wants to a minimum.
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— Your earnings must be free of dishonesty.
— Renounce greed-motivated speculation.
— Your living place should be in keeping with your new mode of life.
— When you have accomplished the above five, proclaim this way of life to others.
Related to the above principles also are three important attitudes:
— View wealth as a trusteeship. A reasonable amount should be used for personal and family needs, and the rest used for the good of society.
— The attainment of wealth makes us guardians of the poor.
— The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the cooperation of the poor.
If we can begin to apply these principles and attitudes in our own lives, we can positively influence our world to make it a better place to live for all creatures.
– The Rev. Elizabeth Tattersall is a priest at St. John’s in the Wilderness Episcopal Church.