It would be the height of naivety to suggest that money is irrelevant in the church. Any stewardship expert or parish treasurer will correct you very quickly if you make that suggestion, and rightly so. There have to be resources to pay the bills and there have to be resources to support people who need it. Money matters.
The same is true in our broader society. For policy makers, economic indicators matter. Those indicators are one of the few empirical ways to measure how society is doing. In the same way that it would be irresponsible to ignore the relation of church expenses and income, it would be irresponsible to ignore changes to GDP, tax revenue, and government expenses.
But what about other indicators? What about fulfillment? What about virtue? Can a rich country with high average incomes and a balanced budget say that it is successful? Can a parish with lots of money to pay the bills say that it is faithful?
I suspect you, like me, would be uncomfortable saying an unqualified yes to those last two questions. To people of faith (and a great many others!) virtue and fulfillment matter.
It’s probably easier for us to imagine what a faithful parish looks like than a successful country. But as disciples of Jesus called to participate in God’s work of transformation in the world, the state of our country is an important question for us. It’s important to ask whether our country is one of compassion, justice, mercy, and love. Put in different terms, it’s important to ask how we’re defining the common good, and whether more than economic terms are part of that definition.
This is not about imposing our practice of religion on our neighbours. I don’t ever want to live in a theocratic state. State power and religion don’t belong together.
What it is about is broadening what defines the common good. We can still take seriously economic indicators while taking seriously compassion, justice, mercy, and love. Taking all those concerns seriously may in fact be a moral imperative. The tricky bit is the balance of all those various pieces. Deciding what is most important and in what circumstances is not always easy. The relationship of justice to mercy and love to economics is not always simple. That relationship, however, may be the place where the Christian community has a role in the public discourse. That is, to suggest a particular ordering of what’s most important when it comes to defining the common good.
This may all be pretty obvious. Certainly, many people have been saying this sort of thing for a long time. Thanks for taking the time to read this and think about it, nonetheless.