Faith Lived Out: 2+2=4


During the Cold War, there was a joke that circulated among Polish lovers of freedom:

Party Boss: “How much is 2 + 2?”
Worker: “How much would you like it to be?”

This grim humor reminded all that oppressive state power often claimed to define truth itself. When the Solidarity Movement began to resist communist presumption, a mysterious sign popped up around the cities. It read: “For Poland to be Poland, 2 + 2 must always = 4.”

In short, freedom demanded the unvarnished truth. This message was applauded by those in the West. Surely “free” markets would guarantee honesty. There was certainly no denying the abuse among Soviet-style economic planning. The state set the agenda, and everything (as well as everyone) was measured against totalitarian goals. Those who did not contribute to intended outcomes mattered little. Even truth was measured by the end desired.

Many would have us believe that the end of the Cold War corrected such abuse.

It did not. While truth may have won the Cold War, it became a casualty of the peace.

Section IV of our church’s Social Principles engages economic issues. Many choose to read these convictions through the lens of left/right or state/private economic ideologies. I suggest we consider these reflections as a gospel issue. This means the truth is more important than agendas. For starters, our church embraces the idea that “all economic systems” are “under the judgment of God.” Moreover, “We believe that persons come before profits.”

These notions can support the idea that our wider community is best served by a free exchange of goods and services, but they do not support the idea that a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few is honorable. We in the West have gloated about the downfall of socialism for more than twenty years, but we ought to be careful. Truth is a ruthless critic, and our society seems more committed to a narrative about economic systems than to the people who thrive or suffer within those systems. Once the value of people is measured by whether or not they confirm this narrative, we are back to the old quandary. Those who matter are those who reinforce foregone conclusions (and established economic power).

Our repetitive practice of running away from truth can be traced to many, often competing visions. Among academic discourse (especially on the left), “truth” has become yesterday’s concern. If there is no truth or at least no reason to pursue truth, how does one determine principle? On the right, despite arrogant lip service given to truth, there is nothing more arbitrary and unprincipled than crony capitalism. Let’s just say some forms of “postmodernism” and economic exploitation are a match made in – well, certainly not heaven.

That is why the church’s economic witness is so difficult and at the same time so necessary. Try as some might to fit the gospel into preconceived beliefs about left or right economic ideologies, the real issue is that of truth. We won’t always know the truth with unqualified clarity, but we can trust that God knows. Most of all, we can appreciate that God designs something both high and profound for human beings. That is the truth about people. They are intended to be so much more than tools for someone else’s economic agenda.

That is also why caution is in order when applying the language and desires of business to church life. Faith communities should explore a range of issues. Yet one is overwhelmed these days with “training” events on how to be “effective” at this or that. God help us in this fixation upon warmed-over workshops regarding “best practices” and other institutional management concerns. We can do better. We must do better. Instead of measuring ourselves against an ever-increasing litany of desired goals, we should devote energy to naming the truth about God’s love and our call to share that love. We just may find that the world is craving something beyond the calculus of “how-to” thinking.

“Consequentialism” is a fancy term for the view that everything derives its value from the benefits provided to those with privilege. We are living in the consequentialist age – an era so corrupt it will only grant value to those who advance the expectations of the powerful. There is little room for real truth in such a culture. For this reason, we may not have advanced much beyond the scenario lampooned by long-suffering members of Poland’s Solidarity Movement.

Chris Momany, UMR Columnist

Chris Momany

Chris Momany has been chaplain and director of church relations at Adrian College since 1996 and has taught in the Department of Philosophy/Religion since 1998. He is an ordained United Methodist minister, and a graduate of Adrian College, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Drew University. His academic interests focus on Christian ethics and philosophy. He has been published in the Christian Century, the Wesleyan Theological Journal, The Asbury Theological Journal, the Circuit Rider magazine, the United Methodist Reporter, and other venues. Chris also writes for the Daily Bible Study curriculum of the United Methodist Publishing House and for MinistryMatters, an online ministry resource. His book on the Wesleyan ethic of love and justice bears the title, Doing Good: A Grace-Filled Approach to Holiness. Chris has led many conferences, workshops, and continuing education events. For several years he has combined his research and teaching with a focus on human trafficking. Today it is estimated that 27 million people are held as slaves throughout the world. Chris has been a national leader among college and church professionals in confronting this issue.

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