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Synod School keynoter: Christianity and capitalism don’t get us to the same place

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the PC(USA)’s advocacy director, takes attendees on a walk down both paths

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Giorgio Trovato via Unsplash

STORM LAKE, Iowa — “Y’all responded a little better than I thought you would yesterday,” the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins told Synod School attendees Thursday morning, referring to a talk he delivered Wednesday on whether some symbols belong in church. “So today I thought I’d talk about Christianity and capitalism.”

All this week, Hawkins, the PC(USA)’s advocacy director for both the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations in New York City and the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., has been speaking to more than 500 people attending the 69th Synod School at Buena Vista University. Hawkins’ initial scriptural source for his Thursday talk was Luke 12:15: “And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’”

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins has been convocation speaker this week at the 69th Synod School. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

“We say little about capitalism,” Hawkins said, “for indeed it is a sacred cow. The evidence is scarce that the Christian voice in this country is on the side of the poor.”

The goal of capitalism is, of course, to make money. The goal of Christianity, Hawkins pointed out, is to enhance people’s lives. “One calls for acquisition,” he said, “while the other calls for sacrifice.”

Jesus was not a capitalist, Hawkins noted. Many of the Lord’s parables deal with wealth inequality. “We are to be very much in touch with the systems around us and how they impact people,” Hawkins said. “People are suffering, and they don’t see a way out. Many of our politicians don’t give voice to their needs.” Especially in the nation’s capital, Hawkins’ home base, “It’s all about staying in office.”

The 118th Congress includes 28 Presbyterians, “and we have very little relationship with most of them,” Hawkins said, with a few exceptions.

Young people especially “are sick of hearing about ‘thoughts and prayers,’” Hawkins said. Instead, their message to those in office is, “Do something about gun violence!”

Pointing to the research he did ahead his time at Synod School, Hawkins asserted that “the label ‘Christian capitalist’ is a contradiction in terms.” As he did Wednesday, Hawkins spent some time with how Christians observe Christmas, concluding that “the biggest threat to the integrity of Christmas is capitalism” and reminding attendees what he said on Wednesday: “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Hawkins also took aim at those who preach the prosperity gospel, preachers who often take to the airwaves to tell people health and wealth are sure signs that God is pleased with them.

“They preach that God has a reward system, health and wealth for the faithful who are granted access to wealth and gain spiritual power through belief in Jesus Christ,” Hawkins said. “In the Black community, it has taken over … It’s heresy, and it’s not what Jesus promised us. God is not an [automatic teller machine].”

“We’ve got to step it up, y’all,” Hawkins said. “We aren’t called to give so that God will give to us. We give because God has been gracious to us.”

“If God has blessed you, you are called to be a blessing to other people in order that people’s suffering might end,” he said.

Turning to Matthew 6:19-21 and verse 24, Hawkins asserted that “the powerful part of being a Christian is it enhances every part of your life.” Hawkins said he’s a better father, husband, friend and preacher “because I am a Christian. God has brought me a mighty long way, my friends.”

“Jesus loves us where we are,” he said, “but he’s determined not to leave us where we are.”

While he’s heard sermons from those preaching the prosperity gospel on the psalms and other Old Testament books, “I have never heard prosperity gospel preachers preach on the gospel,” Hawkins said. “I’m not picking on people who are wealthy, but I am talking to you.”

Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall

Presbyterians are among the wealthiest denominations in the United States, he said, and we do well to consider carefully which organizations we remember in our last will and testament.

“When we’re gone,” Hawkins said, “we want to leave a legacy.”

Synod School Dean Mac Stanfield announced Thursday that the convocation speaker for the 70th Synod School, set for July 21-26, 2024, will be Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, Deputy Executive for Vision & Innovation at the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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