Monday, February 25, 2008

IT'S THE ECONOMY, FATHER: A Friendly Response to Dr. Peter Toon

[Virtue Online] 25 Feb 2008--For many years I have followed Dr. Peter Toon's commentary on the American religious scene with the greatest interest and respect. As a young priest his depiction of "the religious supermarket" opened my eyes to the inner dynamic of parish ministry as I was coming to know it. I saw that, in the American free market system, people "buy" the brand of Christianity that suits their particular "demand" much the way they buy anything else. The peculiar gospel of Episcopalians was, Have it your way! -- high church or low, catholic or charismatic, hot country gospel or cool urban activist. The professional minister had to "market" whatever "product" he could create a demand for, based upon his own entrepreneurial skill. "Ministry" was the hallowed name we gave to servicing our "buying customers" -- our "share of the market".

At first I felt the language of economics to be demeaning to the saving activity of the church and recoiled against it. This was convenient, because it permitted me to overlook my failures as a religious entrepreneur. It was expedient for a young professional used to functioning in a setting insulated from the world of real problems and solutions. It reflected the earlier prejudice of my college years that economic self-interest was simply another name for greed. By contrast the parroted slogans of radical economics were exhilarating and prophetic, relieving the conscience of spoiled middle class kids like me who wanted the "good life" without the guilt.

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