Question: Wealth

The idea of donor fundraising has always been a sore subject, but my visceral reaction to a recent development conference I attended surprised even me.

Because I lead a women’s organization that depends on donations, fundraising is a constant concern and the part of my job that I least enjoy. I thought I hated conversations about money because I don’t have much of it and because I was unable to fully grasp how finance works. But, the more I engage in financial matters, the more I realize that I do, in fact, understand it. My distaste for money talk is rooted in my fury about the economic system itself. 

Our system works like this: those who have money are asked to share it with those who lack it. Sounds simple enough—but look into the weeds of the way this works. If you “have,” you are privileged to decide who is worthy and who is not of receiving your generosity. You can choose how much or how little to give. If the recipient of those gifts does not respond in a way that benefits you, you can withhold donations in the future.

Those who “have not” must learn how to stroke donor egos: tell compelling stories, write brilliant thank you letters, dance a jig, and walk humbly before the giver all at once. With wills of steel, they must rebound from personal blows in short order so they can set out again with the next story and request.

How can anyone be happy with this system? I know a number of good, generous wealthy people who never intend to demean the “have nots.” I wonder what they think about all the fundraising efforts spent to placate the donor’s ego. If I were wealthy, this kind of approach would make me sad. I don’t believe most wealthy donors need or want this kind of patronizing. I wonder how they would feel about the fundraising conference I attended.

MW USA’s new initiative, Choosing Sisterhood, invites women to begin dismantling societal divides by finding a sister very different from themselves and walking with her. The goal of Choosing Sisterhood is to build strong relationships that will help us enter into different cultures and find common ground and God’s love. The hope is that, over time, the unjust systems of racial, ethnic, and gender inequality will begin to fall.

When it comes to our economic system, I’m more impatient. Look at Leviticus 25 and see the kind of economic system God establishes. When you study God’s model with the year of Jubilee, you’ll see that God’s way ensured that generational poverty or wealth would be kept in check. In contrast, the wealth gap in the country is out of control and only getting worse. The system is designed so that the wealthy can easily acquire more, and those with scarce resources are locked outside the system altogether. Very few people actually change their economic status over the course of their lifetime; a person is either generationally wealthy or generationally poor.

I don’t think we have time to build bridges carefully; the inequalities in our financial system are killing too many people and communities. We need to make drastic shifts soon. This doesn’t mean I’m not aware that dramatic changes are tough. I knew from the start that the protest movement Occupy Wall Street was going to fizzle. When you start messing with people’s money or perceived economic interests, they react and often overreact.

My biggest concern has to do with the church, the people of God. Biblical mandates on how to respond to economic disparity are clear. God’s people are not to store up earthly riches (Matthew 6:19-21); we are to leave a generous portion of our income for others (Deuteronomy 15:11); we are not supposed to charge interest (Exodus 22:25-27). . . . The list goes on.

The Bible is filled with lifegiving instructions about how to manage our wealth. Why, then, has the church in the U.S. largely abandoned them? We willingly lament societal ills and debate the biblical response to them, but when it comes to our behavior regarding wealth, the church is silent. Either we are ignoring Scripture, or we are not comprehending that most of us are the wealthy ones to whom God gives so much instruction.

I am looking for women who want to tear down the system! I am thinking along the lines of the Montgomery bus boycott during the Civil Rights movement. We need people who are willing to lose their profits in order for others to gain their basic human dignity. We need people who will forfeit a return on their investments for the sake of forcing systemic change.

Even as I say this, I am aware that our current system is designed so that investors will not or cannot withdraw money from it. I know that funds are supposedly locked up for the investor’s own good, but I’m convinced that this monetary incarceration is really to prop up a system that is sinister to the core. Worst of all, those at the economic controls have convinced us that the system is at minimum, necessary, and in most cases generous, democratic, and benevolent.

We need lending institutions that don’t charge the poor interest and provide safety nets for small businesses and other efforts bettering the lives of women, people of color, and those in generational poverty. I envision the creation of financial institutions whose stated goal is not to be a means by which the wealthy obtain more wealth but rather to move individuals, families, and communities to economic stability.

You see it, right? I know that I must be a pawn in the game for now, but this is only for a while. I need women young and old, wealthy and poor, to stand up and say NO MORE. Let’s begin now to dismantle a system designed for a select few. Let us start now to create a new system that reflects the Scripture we hold so dear.

Are you already working in a church or ministry with a vision for systemic change in our economic system? I would love to know about it. I don’t have the answers, but I am convinced that if we work together and are willing to sacrifice, we could dismantle economic injustice in our country. The system continues to churn only because we all join in its elitist and patronizing game.

6 thoughts on “Question: Wealth

  1. Eldon Epp on said:

    Thanks, Cyneatha, for a provocative challenging document. I wonder- how much retirement savings is enough? Granted, I’m one of the ‘haves’ who can ask that question. Keep helping me to ask further!

    • Cyneatha Millsaps on said:

      Eldon, I think most of us are asking those same questions. I am wondering why we have abandoned the ideas of extended family living? Multiple generations in one home, or on the same property, sharing responsibilities and cost would make a huge difference to what we need now and later in life. Young families would benefit from having grandparents living in the same home or one the same property. We consider our later years as individuals instead of as part of a larger family. I wish the culture would shift to a family and community centered model. Thank you for you response.

  2. David Miller on said:

    Cyneatha – thank you for the provocative column (as in the KJV rendering of Heb 10:24 – “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds…”). As I read it, I was reminded that throughout history (beginning with the earliest days of the church), significant spiritual renewal movements always included economic reforms.

    • Cyneatha Millsaps on said:

      Thanks David for your thoughts. Economic reform is vital, yet we seem to shy away from conversations publically about money. How do we provoke one another to love and good deeds if we do not talk about it? The church needs to begin real conversations about economics, wealth, poverty, etc. Who is doing work in this area?

  3. Krista Dutt on said:

    Thanks Cyneatha. I read this on the perfect day. I have been working on our giving plan and budget for the new church and it is so hard to know how to “sell” this to others. Your words are so helpful to give language to the yuck.

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