Stewardism (Not Capitalism or Socialism)

By David Gill, reprinted from The 313.

Beware the “isms”! OK, some uses of this word ending (suffix) may be helpful to describe a movement or sensibility, like feminism or environmentalism. A term like racism or militarism describes a movement or sensibility we repudiate. The adjectives that accompany these nouns are often loosely thrown out to categorize others (or ourselves): feminist, environmentalist, racist, militarist. Dictionaries describe “ism” as an indicator of a “state of being” but also as a doctrine, system or ideology. An ism can represent a dominating philosophy of values and life, almost like a religion or theology. Everything can be interpreted from the perspective of race or gender or (these days) being “woke” (“wokism”).

No doubt some isms remain useful descriptors but we should be careful both about embracing them for ourselves or using them to categorize (and dismiss) others. In the arena of work and economic theory, for example, “capitalism” and “socialism” are more confusing and misleading than illuminating. Free (and fair, we should add) enterprise initiative, responsibility, and trade are things virtually all of us support and want to encourage. But a ”capitalism” that lifts private property (capital) to the throne in a way that threatens the place of God, people, and planet is not acceptable. Concern for people and for a government that provides basic infrastructure and protection for the common good is also something virtually all of us support and want to encourage. But a “socialism” that pushes for government management of the whole of people’s lives and work is a horrible assault on human freedom.

When God directly inspired an economic system for ancient Israel it had plenty of room for free enterprise but also rules and regulation for fairness and systematic redistribution of wealth at least every seventh (Sabbath) year. It was not a system dependent only on the “moral sentiments” of individual “capitalists.”  The plentiful warnings against laziness in Scripture are more than matched by the warnings against selfish greed, money worship, and economic injustice by all authors in both the Old and New Testaments.

The overarching and foundational economic message of the Bible is that God is the owner of everything. “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Psalm 24:1; I Corinthians 10:26). We human beings are the “stewards” of what belongs to God. God created man and woman to tend his garden, to cultivate and protect it (Genesis 1 and 2). God owns our business, the physical environment, our co-workers, and our houses (whether technically we own or rent or borrow), and our calling is to treat it all as such. It doesn’t matter whether we live in the USA or Sweden or China or Venezuela, this is always true, and our calling is to care for everything that comes our way as God’s property. We don’t slack off because we are just renters, for example, or if the state insists that it owns everything. We do whatever we can to walk in the ways of the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer in our work lives. To the extent we can affect the policy of our business or government we promote freedom and responsibility for individuals, and care for the common good, with special care for the widow, orphan, stranger and poor.

So if we embrace any “ism,” let it be “steward-ism” in service of God and our neighbor.

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