In our last post we detailed the impact of the “Friedman Doctrine” on America’s economy and business philosophies and values. We argued that its singular focus on profits forever changed America. In this article we will speculate how embracing Friedman’s ideas filtered down and impacted the local church.
Admittedly, there are many factors that influenced the value shifts we’ve seen over the last 50 years, and many if not most of these shifts may have occurred without the Friedman Doctrine. But, there is little doubt that at the very least Friedman’s philosophies served as a catalyst and accelerant to these cultural changes. And, the church has not been immune to these changes.
How the Friedman Doctrine Changed the Local Church
- Many of implications of the Friedman Doctrine experienced by churches were financial. Some of these include:
- With the rise of the wealthy class Church Capital Campaign’s shifted emphasis from getting every member to give something to a focus on high capacity givers. Subsequently, pastors had to develop skills in relating to and asking for donations from wealthy church members if campaign goals were to be reached.
- With the singular focus on profits came the dissolution of pensions. Business executives who sat on Church Personnel and Finance Committees increasingly led churches to move away from the standard 10% church staff retirement contribution.
- Similarly, as the business world embraced the philosophy of employee’s sharing in the costs of health insurance, churches began requiring staff to shoulder more and more of their health insurance costs.
- The decline of the working class and the shipment of jobs overseas contributed to the shuttering or a loss of members and decreased budgets of churches in hard hit communities.
- The stock market rise fueled a one third growth in charitable giving and a commensurate growth in the budgets of churches who had members wealthy enough to participate in the stock market.
- Record low interest rates dramatically reduced the income of retirees, hurting the budgets of churches with high concentrations of retired individuals living on a fixed income. Conversely, it boosted the ability of churches to borrow money for capital expenditures and church debt increased to record levels.
- The housing boom, fueled by low interest rates, contributed to the rise of suburbia and the arrival of the mega church at the expense of inner city neighborhoods and churches.
- The focus on the short term – shortermism – changed the way churches planned, moving from 5 and 10 year long-term planning to quarterly and yearly planning. More importantly, the emphasis on quick growth fueled the prioritization of worship attendance and the deemphasizing of long term slow growth discipleship strategies.
- The emphasis on growth and profit caused the business world to become increasingly data driven. In response, the church too became more numbers focused, sometimes to a fault.
- With the increase in poverty and loss of jobs churches experienced a demand and opportunity for more social ministries directed to the poor and homeless.
- Similarly, the poverty and loss of jobs fueled a dramatic increase in addictions and created a demand and opportunity for church based ministries addressing addictions of all types.
- The Friedman Doctrine gave little voice to workers, customers and the community and established the CEO as the primary voice of the organization and the agent charged with increasing profits. The primacy of the CEO movement promoted the view of the Pastor as CEO. Subsequently, churches saw the rise of top down leadership and authoritarianism.
- Constantine started the movement of the church away from the powerless and towards the powerful, but since the Friedman Doctrine Evangelicals have increasingly supported the Republican Party and its pro wealthy platform.
- The Friedman Doctrine emphasis on the primacy of the shareholder carried over into the church with a view that the church existed for its stakeholders (members). Church hopping became the norm as church attendees prioritized the benefits a church offered for them and their families.
- The increase in financial, ethnic and political polarization resulting from the Friedman Doctrine policies contributed to a loss of unity and diversity in many churches. Today, Pastors are in wide agreement that one of their biggest challenges is maintaining church unity.
Implications and Applications for Today
Five decades after the Friedman Doctrine several conclusions and applications for the church have emerged. First, the effect of culture on the church has never been greater, nor has the challenge for Christians to be “in the world, but not of the world.” Secondly, Christ’s counter cultural movement is just as counter cultural today as it was 2000 years ago. Love your enemy, love your neighbor as yourself, turn the other cheek, unity and tolerance, compassion for the “least of these,” slowness to anger, meekness instead of arrogance, alignment with the down and out rather than the up and in, frugality rather than extravagance, mercy instead of judgment, generosity rather than hoarding are values still in short supply today. Lastly, while these values have slowly eroded in our culture the church’s voice offering the counter cultural values of Jesus as an alternative has been non-existent, drowned out, or worse, rarely modeled.
Now more than ever churches and Christians must give heed to the prevailing cry of the culture toward Christians; that they don’t have a problem with our Jesus, but they do have a problem with us not modeling his values. That the problem isn’t that we are different from the world, but that we aren’t different enough.
The Friedman induced obsession with maximizing profits for shareholders has fueled terrible economic, racial and health inequalities and the catastrophe of climate change. It’s no wonder that so many young people now believe that capitalism can’t deliver the equal, inclusive, sustainable future they want. The church now has an unparalleled opportunity to regain its counter cultural voice while the emerging generations are open to a different set of values than those of their parents and grandparents. I can’t help but wonder if a relatively unknown economist’s philosophies and values can have such a profound impact, how much more could the philosophies and values of the Son of God have if they were promoted and embraced to the same degree.
Posted on February 9, 2021