The Methodist Church has launched a campaign for Lent entitled ‘Buy Less: Live More’ and this campaign has got me thinking.
Here’s how it works. You get a pink credit-card shaped card and, rather than being embossed with a credit-card number, it’s embossed with the scriptural reference: ‘Mark 10:17-27,’ the story often entitled ‘The Rich Young Man’. The idea is that you place this card in your wallet in front of your credit cards and that during Lent you think twice before buying any unnecessary item.
In my view, this is campaign is a good idea but I think that there are two big issues about money from a Christian perspective that could be communicated in a stronger way.
The first issue is that of the growing use of credit cards and of consumer debt. If you work in retail, it’s a common sight to see young people buying luxury items on credit. Increasingly in our society, borrowing and credit cards are seen as ‘a right’ and retailers often encourage consumers to borrow money for non-essential purchases. For many people, there seems to be no idea of saving to buy something in the future and we are constantly bombarded with advertisements for expensive loans and advertisements to buy now and pay later.
The ‘Buy Less, Live More’ campaign wants to encourage Christians to opt out of the consumer culture and that can only be a good thing. But I believe that Christians can also help people to understand the consequences of borrowing money and the heavy financial burdens that this can place on families. It may very well be that borrowing on credit is to our generation what excess consumption of alcohol was to earlier generations. One of the issues surrounding alcohol consumption in the past was the effect it had on the family finances; credit abuse may be equally harmful to the family purse!
The other issue that could be more strongly communicated is the economic divide between rich countries and poor countries. Unlike cutting back on borrowing which we have direct control over, this might seem a more difficult issue for individuals to tackle. But there are things we can do. We can continue to support Fair Trade and work for its expansion. We can continue to support ‘Drop the Debt’ campaigns. We can write to our MPs and oppose international trade initiatives that favour heavily-subsidised imports from rich countries over self-sufficiency in the developing world. And, of course, we can continue to pray for trade justice.
The story of the ‘Rich Young Man’ often gets spiritualised in Christian circles, but I think that Jesus did mean to say something about riches, even if his comments were made in a somewhat overstated way. The message that we can ‘Live More’ if we ‘Buy Less’ is certainly a message that has become counter-cultural, but it seems to be one that Jesus would have agreed with.
Information on the ‘Live More, Buy Less’ campaign can be found on: www.buylesslivemore.co.uk. The cards can be ordered free from Methodist Publishing House in packs of ten with a £1.50 fee for postage and handling (Methodist Publishing House, 4 John Wesley Road, Werrington, Peterborough PE4 6ZP; or at www.mph.org.uk)