Wednesday, February 08, 2006

For love or money

Working as a lawyer has been a wonderful and fruitful opportunity for me, all in all, even though I feared it for years. One of the best and worst parts is the in-your-face exposure to people's actual ideas of how the world (and God, if they think he's a part of it) works. By ideas, I'm talking about the ones we actually act upon, the conscious and subconcious conclusions about reality we pick up or make up that we use to choose and navigate our jobs, our schedules, what we do for entertainment and why, what excites us and how often, what threatens us, and how threats should be handled. In my experience, when it comes to business and money, if the gospels are the gospels, then most (American) Christians are not Christians, at least if we use the word to mean "little Christs."

One of the things I'm supposed to teach in my Biz Law class (from a Christian Theistic Worldview) is dispute/conflict resolution. So during our coverage of contracts last week, I brought up the facts of a current case of mine in which an elderly couple has invested their home equity with a guy and he's way, way late on returning it. Issues of even criminal theft/fraud are legitimately in play. All parties identify themselves as Christians. A student asks me, "Why don't you call the police and report him?" I respond with my own set of questions that begin with, "Can anyone give me a reason from Scripture--a story, a teaching--particularly from the New Testament, that might give my clients a reason or desire not to pursue criminal sanctions?"

The discussion that insued began with a vague reference to forgiveness and then turning the other cheek. I took the "turning the other cheek" verse and gave some of the surrounding verses and some similar teachings (including doing good to your enemies, and loaning your money to enemies without expectation of return), and also brought Jesus' personal example into play and then asked my question again for other relevant passages. With no takers (but a growing sense of interest and nervousness in the room), I gave a few more love your enemies examples and teachings. Then I asked someone to give me a reason, from the New Testament's teachings or examples, that would lead my clients to call the police and/or file suit, if there were any. At this point they were pretty disturbed. "I don't think Jesus wants us to be a doormat." It's funny, I've heard that in sermons. But it doesn't really answer the question, so I said that, and again I asked for a teaching or example from the NT, or an argument by analogy. One student offered the turning over the tables story. Without getting into the specifics of it, it gave us a couple of bricks, but no house.

I then offered to my class the following ideas and I invited them to disagree with me (and invite anyone, really), using some example or teaching from the NT: 1. All of Jesus' teachings and his personal example seem to form a clear direction (as opposed to a 'law') that show us how he thinks we should deal with evil people, generally speaking. 2. His way has more to do with the innocent party's blood (or money) than that of the evil person. 3. Jesus is in the business of winning enemies to his/God's side, and this "voluntarily giving them even more than they ask for/take" seems to be the settled method.

Now, it was interesting to me the level of shock in the room at these suggestions. I wasn't really surprised, but I was, after all, standing in a Christian university, in a junior-level class. It just showed me how we have made Jesus in our image. We don't want him messing with our business, literally.

Where is the theology of the cross? We have made it into a teaching that only deals with God and his need to punish sin; it (supposedly) has little to do with our sins against each other. It reconciles us to God and . . . well, that's it. What exactly is "our cross" that we have to pick up in order to follow him? Does his loving us and dying for us while we were still his enemies give us an example to follow? How exactly does a "little-Christ" treat his debtors? How do you show a culture, or better, a specific person, who is willing to hurt you in order to get money, that they are trusting, seeking, serving the wrong thing?

The answer, according to Jesus' teachings and life seems to be: You let evil people have what they want, and then some; you love them more than "it." ("It" being your stuff, of course, while trusting the real king to take care of you). I share this episode of my life because the fact that this was a shocker to my junior-level class at a Christian university (and to many of my adult Christian clients) , despite its obviousness from scripture, makes me want to talk explicitly about the way in which money fosters loyalty to itself over and against God and his son. Of course, Jesus talked about that too--it's part of his attempt to save us, his former enemies.