Communication Studies

Department Spotlight

This article, written by '97 Whitworth alumna Aimee Moiso, was published in the January/February 2003 issue of Presbyterians Today, the general-interest magazine of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Put Your Money Where Your Faith Is

Under the "Enough for Everyone" banner Presbyterians are learning to go--
Beyond the offering plate

By Aimee Moiso

Sandwiched somewhere between the Lord's Prayer and the closing hymn comes the Sunday morning offering--a staple of Presbyterian worship. The organ plays or the choir sings while faithful churchgoers pass plates, baskets or bowls row by row, offering back a portion of God's gracious gifts. The money received keeps the bulletins printed, the heat on, the staff paid, and denominational operations funded. It helps run soup kitchens and food pantries, bolster community projects, and support overseas mission.

But is that all there is to Christian stewardship? Just toss a few dollars into the plate on Sunday and we're off the hook for the rest of the week? Not according to Scripture. Even if we tithe, God also cares what we do with the other 90 percent of our income--as well as with the time, possessions and resources we can't drop into an offering plate. That is because our daily decisions about how we use money have far-reaching results. Seemingly ordinary choices--about which brand of coffee to buy, what kind of car to drive, or where to invest the family savings--have the potential to help or hurt people around the world.

The psalmist writes, "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it" (Psalm 24:1), acknowledging that the earth and its resources are gifts to us from a loving Creator. God expects that these will be used humbly, justly and equitably. The prophets rebuke rulers and nations who "rob the poor" (Isaiah 10:2) and misuse their resources and power.

In Matthew 23:23 Jesus condemns the religious leaders who meticulously give the requisite 10 percent to the temple treasury but fail to show compassion to those in need. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" he says. "For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith."

Jesus calls us to try to use all of our money and possessions in ways that help people in need and preserve the environment. This kind of global stewardship can seem tremendously complicated in a world where the richest countries gobble up a hugely disproportionate slice of the world's resource pie. The United Nations Development Programme reports that the 20 percent of the world's population in the highest-income countries (including the United States) consume 86 percent of the world's resources. Contrast this with the measly 1.3 percent of global resources used by the planet's poorest 20 percent.

Our neighbors in developing countries struggle for basic subsistence. According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people around the world are malnourished; 177 million of them are children. Of the 6 billion people in today's world, 1.2 billion live on less than $1 a day.

Can our small acts of stewardship possibly have any impact in the face of such dire statistics? Yes, small steps do matter, insists Melanie Hardison, coordinator of "Enough for Everyone", a year-old "global discipleship" emphasis that is gathering steam throughout the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). "Enough for Everyone" proponents say seeking justice can be as simple as looking more carefully at the products we buy.

"The choices we make every day affect our sisters and brothers around the world who are impoverished," Hardison says. "Faithful stewardship means looking at how our purchases, our investments and our use of resources affect the people around us."

"Enough for Everyone" suggests four areas in which Presbyterians can broaden their understanding of stewardship by putting their money where their faith is:

1. Good coffee for a good cause"

The poor we seek to serve are no farther away than the cup of coffee that we hold in our hands, that we share in fellowship each Sunday," says Erbin Crowell, director of the Interfaith Program of the fair trade organization Equal Exchange. "For many of us coffee is an essential part of community: a warm, invigorating beverage to share in the company of friends and neighbors. But it is also a vital source of income for thousands of small farmers and their families in some of the poorest countries in the world."

Many farmers who grow and harvest coffee are paid extremely low wages, often not enough for basic necessities like food and shelter. Equal Exchange is making life better for some of these struggling coffee growers. It buys directly from small-farmer cooperatives, eliminating middlemen so that more of the money from coffee sales reaches the farmers themselves. Equal Exchange also commits to paying farmers a fair price for the coffee--currently more than double the market price--so that farmers can provide for their families.

The PCUSA has joined forces with Equal Exchange to create the Presbyterian Coffee Project. Congregations participate by purchasing "fairly traded" coffee from Equal Exchange, thus supporting fair wages for coffee farmers and investing in the farming communities.

"As communities of faith we struggle every day with how we can do justice in our lives, in our work, and in the world around us," says Crowell. "This cup of coffee can be a simple tool for doing justice, sharing love with our global neighbor, and building a better world."

GET INVOLVED: Fair trade offers a means of survival for farmers who otherwise might make as little as 15 to 20 cents a pound for their coffee. To find out how your church can buy coffee through the Presbyterian Coffee Project visit www.pcusa.org/coffee. Also check out www.equalexchange.com or send a note to interfaith@equalexchange.com.

2. Sweat-free Ts

These T-shirts don't keep you from perspiring--but they do keep your money from bolstering the harsh system of sweatshop labor that produces much of the clothing bought by U.S. citizens. Christians can support decent working conditions for workers in the developing world, especially those in clothing manufacturing, by buying sweatshop-free products.

"Sweatshops" are factories in which workers are employed for long hours at low wages under unhealthy conditions. According to a report from the human rights organization Global Exchange, workers at Nike and Adidas factories in Indonesia make as little as $2 a day for full-time work. Some sweatshops regularly employ children. Others pollute the soil, water and air near their factories, creating unhealthy and dangerous living conditions for the community. Most workers do not have such benefits as health care or vacation or family or sick leave. Many are forced to work with hazardous chemicals or machinery without proper protection. Workers are often afraid to unionize or speak out for fear they will be fired, jailed or physically assaulted.

"Enough for Everyone" encourages congregations and individuals to purchase products from companies that produce their goods in ways that respect the dignity and rights of workers. By purchasing sweat-free T-shirts and other goods Christians can use their buying power to send a message to corporations that employ unfair labor practices.

Send a message: Is your congregation designing matching shirts for the youth fellowship or choir or men's group? Visit www.pcusa.org/sweatfree for information about sweatshops and a list of companies that supply sweat-free T-shirts. Print a "Sweat-Free T" emblem on your shirts as a sign of your commitment (contact enough@ctr.pcusa.org for the emblem).

3. Electric stewardship: plug into conservation

Churches can become "Electric Steward Congregations" by caring for God's creation and conserving natural resources. It may be as easy as changing a few light bulbs.

Members of Solana Beach (California) Presbyterian Church replaced more than 850 lamps and light bulbs around their church building with energy-efficient ones. As a result the church reduced its energy consumption by more than 25,000 kilowatt hours per year. The non-profit Center for a New American Dream estimates that replacing four regular incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which use 75 percent less electricity, will save $100 in bulb and electricity costs over the lives of the bulbs.

An "energy audit," often provided as a free service from local electric or gas utilities, can help congregations identify other ways of conserving energy, such as replacing old appliances or lowering thermostats at night.

For several decades General Assemblies have called for Presbyterians to be responsible energy consumers. Conserving energy fights global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. About one-third of U.S. emissions come from electricity generated in homes and other buildings. Energy efficiency saves the church money by decreasing energy bills, thus freeing up resources for mission.

Churches have found a variety of ways of using their resources to preserve the environment:

  • recycling paper, cans and other products
  • printing bulletins and other items on recycled paper
  • using ceramic mugs rather than Styrofoam cups for coffee
  • using renewable power, such as solar or wind energy, to generate electricity

These small acts combined with the action of thousands of other congregations across the country can make a big difference in the preservation of the world's natural resources.

Take action: Need help tracking how much energy you have saved by installing compact fluorescent light bulbs and other energy-saving devices? Visit www.newdream.org/turnthetide or call (877) 683-7326. For more information about Electric Stewardship visit www.pcusa.org/energy.

4. Investing to overcome poverty

Besides producing money for the investor, well-placed investments can make a real difference in the lives of people around the world. By investing $1,000 or more in Oikocredit, an international Christian credit organization, churches and individuals can open doors from poverty to self-sufficiency.

Funds invested with Oikocredit are loaned to cooperatives and microcredit banks in poor countries. The cooperatives and banks in turn offer low-interest loans to borrowers too poor to get loans otherwise. Recipients use the loans to finance income-generating projects, such as purchasing tools or seed for farming or machinery for a sewing business. Terry Provance, Oikocredit's executive director, says these projects may seem insignificant, but they empower workers by enabling them to participate in their own economy, make decisions about their work, and manage their finances.

Investing in Oikocredit will not make you rich. Investments earn up to 2 percent a year. But Provance says the social benefit--both to the recipient and to the donor as a partner in development--far outweighs any financial disadvantage. "God calls us to ... eliminate this tremendous gulf between rich and poor .... God's priority is to the hungry, thirsty, poor person in the room. It is therefore an obstacle to our faith to not address the needs of the world's poor."

The PCUSA is currently the second largest investor in Oikocredit (the largest is the Church of Sweden). Presbyterian investors include entities such as Presbyterian Women and the Presbyterian Foundation, as well as congregations such as East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which has invested half a million dollars in Oikocredit shares.

Make a difference: Find out how you or your congregation can help lift aspiring entrepreneurs out of poverty with an investment of $1,000 or more. Visit www.oikocredit.com or send a note to info@oikocredit.org. You may also call Terry Provance in Oikocredit's U.S. office at (202) 265-0607.

Investments that strengthen communities, purchases that honor the rights and dignity of workers, and choices that protect the earth--all these are as much a part of faithful stewardship as putting money in the offering plate. As Hardison puts it, "The choices we make do have consequences."

Aimee Moiso, a free-lance writer from Portland, Ore., is a student at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

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