Economic Discipleship According to Pope Francis

By Alex Haney

Pope Francis has been very popular in the news for his seemingly radical statements and behavior since he became pope last year. He’s gotten a lot of attention from politicians left and right, and made his way even to my sheltered Presbyterian radar screen several times in the past months. Since December he’s made the news for some remarks on economic systems and the poor and I believe in what critics are calling an attack on global capitalism he is simply calling Christians to live out the same message of economic discipleship we teach at BFJN.

Too bad he’s the Pope, he’d be great on BFJN staff! We can’t hire him, so we’ll just have to listen to him and follow his example.

He recently spoke at the World Economic Forum on the subject, yet much of his opinions on economics are written in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (or Joy of the Gospel) which outlines many ways he wants Christians to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Economics is mentioned briefly in the second of four chapters of the 224 page document which can be found here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html. I think this chapter 2 excerpt sums up economic discipleship according to the Lazarus at the Gate curriculum.

53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

The Lazarus curriculum exposes participants to our connection to the global poor and has them examine specific aspects of lifestyle change that allow us to spend our money more justly to support businesses that take care of the poor, widows, orphans, and those in need, and also to spend less so that we can more effectively and generously give to organizations building up the poor in the world. It starts with a personal change.

I see the Him saying that capitalism can only work for the poor if the generosity or, “the goodness of those wielding economic power” builds up poor. I think the Pope is calling Christians who have wealth and economic power (which on a global scale is U.S. Christians like you and me) to avoid sitting idly and waiting for the capitalist system help the poor but to do this work ourselves, personally. He observes repeatedly that the current system is not working for many of the world’s poor, and our consumer-driven society keeps us hidden from our impact on the poor. Capitalism can only take care of the poor if it works correctly and the wealthy share their wealth, and that is what Pope Francis is asking us as Christians to do. Share our wealth with the poor. A message we’ve heard since the old testament.

58…The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.

Here are two others’ opinions for further reading.

An article claiming Pope Francis is wrong: http://reason.com/blog/2013/11/26/ahistoric-unscientific-papal-prejudice-i

An article defending the Pope Francis’ claim: http://catholicexchange.com/pope-francis-economy

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