by Harvey Bluedorn. Copyright 2001. All rights reserved.
In Favor of Religious Discrimination
We are commanded, whenever we have an appropriate occasion, to work what is good toward all kinds of men – rich and poor, acquaintances and strangers, friends and enemies – yet we are to show preference to those who live in our "household of faith" – those who join with us in holding close to the Christian religion and who therefore inhabit our philosophical neighborhood. Fellow servants of the Lord must come first.
Why? Because family is our first responsibility, and the only family which can take precedence over the natural family is the spiritual family. (Matthew 10:37) If we were to prefer the world above our own family, then we would promote the world over our family, and we would strengthen the world against our family. Likewise, when we prefer the world above the saints, then we promote the world over the saints, and we strengthen the world against the saints.
But someone may ask, “Doesn’t this promote the Publican's preference?”
Jesus does not declare, "Love your enemies instead of your friends." The Pharisees were characterized as only helping their kind. Christians should be characterized as going beyond helping only their kind. Yet they should never neglect their kind in preference for others. When Jesus declares, "What do ye more than others," this is not meant to cancel out preference to the brethren, but only to point to the need of extending goodness beyond the brethren.
So the Scriptures condemn us if we do not first provide for our own.
Yes, we are to do good to all men, including unbelievers.
And though this may primarily refer to works of charity, it does not exclude matters of business. But how will our good works shine if we do not do them first to our own people? Even infidels recognize that a failure to care first for our own people is evil! “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (First Thessalonians 5:22) And if we do not do good first to our own people, then we will not have the abundant resources to do good to people who are outside of the faith. The Lord will honor those who first honor Him and His. As the Lord prospers us with abundance in the way of first honoring Him and His, then we will be enabled to use that prosperity to bring our goods to others.
Against Spiritual Egalitarianism
Where are we going with all of this? We are arguing against spiritual egalitarianism – making all religious faiths equal.
It works this way in the world. If we build up our own economic neighborhood – do business within our own circles as much as we are able, then we will prosper, and with our prosperity we will then be enabled to be most generous toward others, bringing them into our economic neighborhood as they comply with our ways. But if we give our substance to outsiders – to other gods with other worldviews and worldly ways, then we will not prosper, and everyone will avoid us, and we will not be enabled to show much generosity.
Such was the case with the nation Israel.
The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow. And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the LORD thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them: And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: . . . The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee very high; and thou shalt come down very low. He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him: he shall be the head, and thou shalt be the tail.
— Deuteronomy 28:12-15,43,44
When Israel traded within their own philosophical neighborhood, thereby building up the godly, they prospered, and their abundance attracted other nations to their ways. But when they went after other gods, thereby building up the ungodly, they became the prey of their enemies. We are by no means claiming that the case with Israel was purely economic mechanics. It was much more than this – the Lord providentially blessed them as they honored Him first in all their ways. Nevertheless, the economic mechanics entered into play as they honored those who honored the Lord.
Let’s look at a non-religious example. Imagine that we live in a small community, and we own a hardware store next to a car dealership. When the car dealer needs hardware, he comes to our store. When we need a car, we go to his dealership. Now imagine that a new Super Discount car dealership opens up in the big city twenty miles down the road. If we went there, then we could pay a little less for our new car. But then who would be built up? Not our neighbor, who shares our values and our local allegiances, but his competitor. Furthermore, when we don't buy from our neighbor, he makes less money, and he can buy less from us. So, indirectly, but inevitably, our own business would begin to suffer from our buying outside of our own neighborhood. Furthermore, others would begin to follow our example, and eventually our neighbor, the car dealer, would be driven out of business, and all of the money which he made from selling cars, which formerly would have been spent in our community, would now be in the hands of the Super Discount car dealer, to spend in his own community. Our own community would begin to suffer. Others would then be further tempted to do business outside of the community just to cut corners – not realizing the hidden cost of going non-local. They would begin to go to the Super Discount hardware store twenty miles away. Guess who would eventually be driven out of business? Guess whose community would begin to die? And, in the final analysis, guess whose values and allegiances would be promoted and whose would not?
Now, we realize that this is a very simplistic model. There are often many other issues and factors involved. Our purpose is only to illustrate a simple underlying principle which is most often overlooked: When you do business with someone, you necessarily – though indirectly – promote the prosperity of all of his connections, and you necessarily do not promote the prosperity of those with whom he is not connected. In other words, you promote his “neighborhood.” This simply cannot be avoided.
What about “Free-Trade?”
If this sounds like an argument against so-called "free trade," that's only because it is. So-called “free-traders” argue that the greatest economic good is the highest possible quality at the lowest possible price, and that only unrestricted international trade will accomplish this good. To translate this to the local level, the Super Discount car dealership and the Super Discount hardware store along with the communities which they support are the only businesses which deserve to survive. Unrestricted trade provides the necessary economic cleansing which insures progress toward the greatest economic good.
To begin with, 1) if high quality and cheap price were the greatest good, and 2) if all other things were equal, then 3) unrestricted trade may serve this end. But quality and price are not always measured in material and monetary terms, and there is an economic good which is more important than this, namely, promoting godly standards. Doing business with a like-minded business man carries with it the hidden value of promoting his world-view.
Second, all other things are not equal. For example, totalitarian slave labor can produce things much cheaper – economically speaking – than free market labor. If we buy the slave labor products, then we may actually improve the slaves’ conditions slightly, but we will undeniably lend credit and strength to the totalitarian government while undermining our own credit and strength. Economic trade policy is often war carried on by other means, and a material war is a spiritual war which has spilled over into the material world. If we adopt and promote the values of materialist economics, then materialism wins. If we promote their pagan worldview, then we short-change our own.
Third, unrestricted trade may serve – but does not necessarily serve – the goal of high quality products at cheap prices. But unrestricted trade may actually undermine this by removing the economic prosperity of an industry which funds research and experimentation within a free society. High quality products at cheap prices may also be accomplished by internal competition and restricted trade. Freedom promotes economic prosperity, but economic prosperity may fund anything. In a free society, it funds freedom. In a socialist society, it funds social slavery. In the end, your trade will always promote the philosophy of the one with whom you trade.
Yes, but, you say, if the enemy trades with us, then our philosophy is promoted among them. Yes, but our philosophy is changed the moment we open trade. If you have a container of pure water, and a container of yeast, and you mix the two, then who wins? The yeast, of course. Initially, the yeast will be at half strength, but within a short while, it will multiply to its original strength. How will you ever be able to recover the pure water? Only by a very tedious separation process.
(Besides all of this argument, it is never actually unrestricted “free” trade that is practiced anyway. It is always a trade which secures the interests of international traders – worldwide corporate protectionism – mercantilism on a global level – which is actually the opposite of “free trade.” The illusion of “free trade” serves the interests of the protected international merchants at the expense of national interests. But this is a separate issue from the one which we are addressing here.)
We are not talking against healthy competition. Other things being equal, friendly competition serves to apply pressure for improving product and service.
We are not talking in favor of price-gouging cartels. Taking undue advantage of others is evil.
We are not talking about some absolute rule to be narrowly applied, but only about a general principle which must be moderated to fit all of the specific circumstances.
What we are talking about is a philosophy of honoring those who honor God, who walk in God’s ways, who frame their view of the world according to the order of reality as it is described in God’s Word. This philosophy does not ignore showing mercy and goodness toward those outside the faith. This philosophy does not deny the need to do business with those outside the faith. As Paul said, we would have to go out of the world were we to avoid such.
The Hidden Costs
Some Christians prefer to buy their gas at the clean gas station for a penny or two more, than to buy it at the dirty discount gas station which sells pornography and lottery tickets. Yet they turn right around and buy their books at a secular web site bookstore which also promotes child pornography and anti-Christian literature, rather than buy their books from a Christian homeschooler who works to promote the faith, homeschooling, and good literature. From a narrow perspective, both places have the particular book he wants at the moment, and the only difference is the discount. After all, it would be bad stewardship to spend more money than is necessary, wouldn’t it? Well, why didn't that apply at the gas station? From where does this inconsistency in behavior come? Because we see the "hidden" price at the dirty discount gas station, but we do not see the "hidden" price at the secular web site bookstore. Here are some of the hidden prices:
1. The secular book discounter becomes better funded to promote his own worldview. His worldview regards Christianity as just another market – like sports fans, perverts, and environmentalists. His bottom line is to make the most money. He doesn’t promote anything Christian unless it makes him plenty of money – money which he uses to expand his business, including his pervert business.
2. The Christian book dealer has less funds to research, publish, and promote the kind of books which build the Christian worldview. The Christian worldview loses.
3. If this continues, the Christian book dealer eventually goes out of business. Suddenly, the choices in literature become limited to whatever the secular book discounter decides to sell. His choices are based on his worldview, with the bottom line being what sells the most.
4. There are fewer and fewer booksellers left who truly understand and are sympathetic to Christian or homeschool interests, who will serve those interests and promote those interests, and who are thoroughly familiar with materials and can explain them to customers.
5. Options as to available literature will eventually be reduced to the lowest common denominator. The whole Christian literature market will become depleted in value.
6. The sports fans, perverts and environmentalists will grow in importance, while the Christian worldview is reduced in influence, being represented only by what items are allowable by the discounter’s worldview and what he sells the most.
Building up the Faithful
The Christian would be a far better steward of his money if he did business within his own philosophical neighborhood and built up others who would likewise build up that neighborhood. Trading within our philosophical neighborhood can be compared to damming a river. The dam reduces the rate at which the water – the economic activity – flows downstream, but only until the water level rises to fill the economic reservoir. After that, the water flows downstream past the dam at the same rate which it did before. But in the mean time, a great and useful reservoir has been built behind the dam which brings economic prosperity to the community. Everyone behind the dam prospers. The philosophical neighborhood prospers from the resources created by trading within the community. Others see the value of complying with their ways so that they can share in their economic prosperity. Open that dam and drain that reservoir, and the community will lose its resources – including its charitable resources, and its influence upon others, and it will eventually return merely to the water supplied by the stream.
If we build up our own philosophical neighborhood – those with whom we share the faith – then we will be prospered to a level where we can afford to be most generous to those outside of our neighborhood – on our own terms. But if we break down our dam and give our substance to outsiders, then we as a community will not prosper, and we will not be enabled to show much generosity – even to our own.
Economic practices may be destructive to the community of faith and harmful to the souls of individuals. For Christians, the bottom line should be: Put your money where your faith and values are. Support what you believe. The world understands and practices this same principle.
. . . for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.