Global Capitalism, Part 2: How Capitalism Killed American Christianity

This post first appeared at Mennonite World Review.

Capitalism is killing Christianity. When a seminary friend first suggested this theory to me a year ago, I thought it was overblown. I have no affinity for capitalism as an economic system. I’m as much an Acts 2 socialist as the next millennial. But it seemed far-fetched to blame an economic system for church attendance.

Until I began to notice the patterns in my own congregation. About a third of the teenagers in the youth group are employed; they regularly turn down youth trips and even Sunday school because of work. The freelancing and part-timing adults do it too, running to their service-based jobs early on Sunday mornings or right after church. At the same time, I watch families walk into the sanctuary with Starbucks coffee; Dunkin Donuts; bagels; pastries. They duck out before Sunday school to catch an early lunch with friends and out-of-town relatives.

We’re familiar with the statistics: automation and free trade has shifted the North American economy from manufacturing-based industry to a service-dominated industry. Service industry doesn’t pay; college graduates are filling their pockets with tip money to pay rent. But few churches are doing the theological or missional analysis to make sense of this new economy.

The new capitalism relies on convenience. It relies on the premise that money never rests. And Christians have the audacity to complain that church attendance is declining while they stop for their Sunday morning coffee. What of the half-dozen baristas who arrived at 6 a.m. to open this one store? What of the servers who pick up extra hours because $7 on a weekday lunch shift doesn’t make ends meet?

Christians undermine our own values every time we shop on a Sunday. Christians fall into the myth that Sunday is not a day of rest; it’s a day of bonus consumption. Capitalism, as it exists currently in North America, relies on the assumption that consumption runs the economy, and tight communities make bad consumers. Neighbors who share snowblowers are bad consumers. Church members who swap cars or give away garden produce are bad consumers. The endless-growth premise of capitalism relies on breaking down communities in order to create better consumers.

I try not to fingerpoint. I’m as guilty as any of us of the after-church lunch rush. But I’m also more and more convinced the most radical thing Christians can do is honor the Sabbath. Claim a day of rest. Insist the consumer economy rest. Refuse to go out to eat. Stay home. Eat lunch at home.

And I’m convinced the second most radical thing Christians can do is tip their servers 28 percent. Christians are notoriously bad tippers. Remember the “I-give-Jesus-10-percent-why-should-I-give-you-18-percent” social media scandal of 2013? No? The server at your next restaurant does. And I guarantee it made that server less likely to go to church. The answer to “Why should I give you 18 percent when Jesus gets 10?” is that Jesus doesn’t pay rent. Your server does, and often works so hard to pay it that going to church isn’t an option. Sunday is a workday. My server friends tell me the minimum tip now is 20 percent. That’s the minimum. Regardless of wait time, size of party, quality of restaurant. When I go out with servers, they often put me to shame, tipping 25 to 30 percent. They know that even at that percentage, the hourly wage rarely passes $14.

Provide for the widow and the orphan and the alien.” It appears over and over in the Bible. “Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy.” It’s one of the Ten Commandments. This is what it means to live in Jesus’ economy.

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