Economics of Jesus
October 16, 2004
As an economist and a business professor I spend much of my time teaching students about the virtues of capitalism, the profit-maximizing firm, and the benefits that accrue to society when individuals are given the freedom to own property and use that property and their skills in their own best interest.
I also try to teach my students that God calls them to actively love others, to use the unique skills that they acquire as business students at OBU in volunteering with non-profit organizations that better their communities. Habitat for Humanity calls this the “economics of Jesus:”
When people give without seeking profit or interest, God can magnify the effects of their efforts and improve the quality of life in their community. Together, the donated labor of construction volunteers, the support of partner organizations and the homeowners’ “sweat equity” make Habitat’s house-building possible. (Habitat website)
I have had the opportunity to serve on the board of directors for the Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Shawnee during the last three years. Currently, I serve as board president. Habitat for Humanity is an ecumenical Christian organization dedicated to eliminating poverty housing and homelessness around the world.
Let me correct a couple of common misperceptions about Habitat for Humanity. First, former President Jimmy Carter did not start Habitat for Humanity, but rather he has been a great friend of Habitat for Humanity for many years and still participates in building houses. Millard Fuller and his wife founded Habitat for Humanity in 1976 in Americus, Georgia, and to date the organization has built 150,000 houses in 87 countries.
Second, Habitat does not give away houses. “Habitat partner families” buy their homes through a combination of sweat equity and repayment of an interest-free loan. Habitat homeowners become partners, working on the construction of their own house and houses for other families. The Habitat for Humanity logo, two people joining and uplifting hands, symbolizes the combination of partnership and self-help opportunities that are gained.
The concept of partnership extends to the international character of Habitat for Humanity. Local affiliates in the United States and other countries contribute a tithe that goes toward international efforts. Habitat also partners with both local and national businesses. These businesses provide funds, volunteers, and material. As a Christian organization, it partners with local churches that provide funds, volunteers, and most importantly prayer support.
The Apostle John reminds us to “not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). “What does the Lord require of you?” asks the Prophet Micah. “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). These verses call us to action, to be proactive in loving others and in doing justice. One way to take that action is to help a family experience the dignity of a decent, affordable home.
Many experiences provide testimony to the opportunity Habitat has provided for me. For example, I met a man who worked more than 40 hours a week, evenings and all day Saturday, to provide a decent home for his wife and two sons; a single mother so thankful that she and her son now have a home; and volunteers dedicated to Christ and to the goal of using their talents to make their community a better place to live.
Charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity have constant need for financial, management, and marketing skills that a business professional can offer. As I discuss with OBU students, if God blesses you with these skills then they are the talents you can use to actively love others. The charity and volunteer organizations that make our world a better place to live cannot exist without the hard work of volunteers. What I communicate to students is that giving back to the community through volunteer and charity work is part of being a respected business person, and, more pointedly, integral to being a business person who embraces the Gospel. God may place students in the impoverished community of Rio Bravo, or in the corporate offices of Lockheed Martin. No matter where he has placed you, the economics are the same: actively love others as Christ has loved us.