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Whose Face is on the Coin? Economic Justice and Political Theology

“Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him. (Mark 12:16-17, NRSV)

The preaching of Jesus is inherently political and directly concerned with the day-to-day economic survival of his followers, focused as it is on lending and borrowing (Luke 6:34), the stewardship of gifts (Matthew 25:14-20), the value of hired labor (Matthew 20:1-16), the status of beggars (Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35), and the virtue of giving (Mark 12:41-44). Nevertheless, Christianity is often characterized as a world-denying spirituality concerned with the life to come to the detriment of material suffering here and now. Inevitably, these matters bring the community of faith into conflict with the governing authorities, leaving believers confused and divided.

On the one hand, the apostle Paul commends the rule of law and demands obedience to the state: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1, NRSV). On the other, the apostle Peter cautions, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29, NRSV). Jesus himself, when questioned about the morality of paying taxes to the Roman emperor, seems to commend submission to the state…or does he?

Five leading political theologians who have written recent books exploring the relationship of economics, politics, and theology, reexamine the questions what belongs to Caesar, what belongs to God, and what is due to each?

Devin Singh, author of Divine Currency: The Theological Power of Money in the West (Stanford University Press, 2018), begins the symposium by challenging assumptions about what Jesus meant when he commanded us to render onto Caesar. Marcia Pally, author of Commonwealth and Covenant: Economics, Politics, and Theologies of Relationality (Eerdmans Publishing, 2016), turns to a Trinitarian understanding of relationally as the foundation for just economic relations, while Pentecostal theologian Nimi Wariboko, author of The Split Economy: Saint Paul Goes to Wall Street (SUNY Press, 2020), critiques the fracture between economy and finance that perpetuates economic injustice. Ethicist Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, author of The Problem of Wealth: A Christian Response to a Culture of Affluence (Orbis Books, 2017), focuses her analysis on the implications of the COVID-19 global pandemic for both the economy and our political life together. Finally, Jennifer Quigley, author of Divine Accounting: Theo-Economics in the Letter to the Philippians (forthcoming from Yale University Press), explores the economic and political implications of Christian fellowship (koinōnia).

The term economy, from the Greek words οίκος (“household”) and νέμoμαι (“to manage”), has its roots in the most fundamental of familial relationships and concerns itself with the most mundane of material needs. This symposium challenges preconceptions about what it means to live as Christians within a global economic order by providing a Christian political theology that empowers us to critique the excesses of free market capitalism while working toward a more just economic order.

Symposium Essays

Defaced Coins in a Utopian Market

Rendering to God what was God’s meant offering our lives as living sacrifices of worship to God, as one would offer coins as tax and tribute to one’s sovereign. The human was theologically monetized—or coined—in the name of dedication to God.

Economics, Politics, and Theologies of Relationality

A second expression of relationality is covenant. It is a bond between distinct parties where each gives for the flourishing of the other. Unlike contract, which protects interests, covenant protects relationship.

Whose Face is on the Coin? The Split Economy and Political Theology

I have argued that economic theology should lead to political praxis and change. Economic theology has to open a space for emancipatory politics that resists the capitalist future.

A New Economic Playbook—The Economic Crisis Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic is Far More than a Financial Game

Before the COVID pandemic, low-wage workers were already living in precarious circumstances because these jobs often lack benefits necessary to provide for health care and additional income necessary to build things like emergency savings and retirement funds.

Assembling New Possibilities from the Christ Collectives in Philippi

It is important to notice the ways in which economic language seeps into theology and to be attentive to the ways in which interpretations of scripture can either reinscribe exploitative harm or help imagine alternative possibilities for human flourishing.