Theory, Practice and Education
Edited by Mohamed Ariff and Munawar Iqbal
Chapter 13: Tensions in Christian Financial Ethics: An Historical Overview
Ibrahim Abraham 1.0 INTRODUCTION In his study of faith and finance ‘in a world without redemption’, Taylor (2004: 122) observes that ‘[i]n their long and tangled histories, it is often impossible to know whether money represents God or God represents money’. Semantics aside, what this observation points to is the long and tangled history of finance and faith in Christianity, a religion founded on the teachings of an impoverished Jewish preacher who once instructed a wealthy man to ‘sell what you own, and give the money to the poor . . . then come, follow me’ (Mark 10:21), that proclaims ‘the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Timothy 6:10). Rather than attempting to conclusively untangle this difficult relationship, this chapter will illustrate that the tension evident in Taylor’s statement is a recurrent theme in Christian approaches to money and financial ethics from the pages of the Bible, through to the early church, the Reformation and today. As in other religions, Christian approaches to financial ethics are diverse. Taken as a whole, Christian financial ethics is a quarrelsome and contradictory body of thought. However, one can distinguish distinct approaches and recurrent tensions in this area, especially in the contemporary context wherein Christian financial ethics is embedded within the broader field of Christian approaches to capitalism and its attendant political and cultural forces. To understand the various vectors of this discussion, let me use the contemporary example of the so-called ‘sub-prime crisis’, the most significant financial...