The Common Good

If I Had a Million Dollars ...

Play along with me. If you had $1 million to spend to help stimulate the economy, what would you do? What would I do?

Option 1: 

Give the money to a billionaire, in the blind hope that the billionaire will pass along that million to his employees in some form. Or that he’ll spend it on a nice luxury product that (hopefully) will be an American product. Or that he won’t exercise the many loopholes that still exist and he’ll give that whole amount back to the U.S. government to spend. And of course, pray that the money won’t go into an offshore investment account somewhere in the Caribbean or Switzerland.

But what would Jesus do? What investments would Jesus make that I would want to make as well?

Option 2: 

I’d like to invest a small part of that $1 million to provide food stamps for a struggling family. I’d want the 9-year-old in that family to have access to a healthy meal that could mean the difference between performing well in school and dropping out of school. Along the same lines, I’d want to invest a small part of that $1 million to make sure that my local school has free breakfast and free lunch for families in need. A student that has breakfast in the morning will outperform the student that goes hungry. A small investment for the future. Probably won’t pay off with rising housing prices before a president’s four-year term is up.

I’d like to invest a small part of that $1 million in one of my students and give him a Pell Grant or a federally subsidized student loan so that he can continue to pastor his inner city church while getting an education that will strengthen his ministry. As his ministry grows in impact, he will continue to raise more leaders from his inner city youth group. Those young leaders will impact the future of that inner city neighborhood. It is a long bet. But I know that my student’s long-term impact on his community can be strengthened with a solid education.

I’m even willing to invest a small part of that $1 million in a “foreign” investment. I would like to make sure that food and medical supplies are sent to places throughout the world that encounter catastrophic disasters. But not just investing in disaster, I’d like to invest in community development efforts that bring fresh water, sanitation, and hygiene. In the long run, this investment might prove to be a more shrewd investment than increasing the size of the military. If it came down to it, it would seem like an easy choice: a destroyers/fighter jets or food/medicine.

I’d like to invest a small part of that $1 million to make sure that my 80-year-old mother continues to get her prescription medication benefit. This investment is not for the future. But given all that she has done to secure my future, I can’t imagine denying her this small return on her immense contribution.

So my investment strategy is a diverse portfolio rather than betting it all on one fat cat. I would love to believe that the $1 million investment in the billionaire’s benevolence would result in a deep and wide dispersion of that investment into many sectors of the American economy. But I am also a student of history and know where that story has taken us before.

The myth of trickle-down economics is that a rising tide lifts all boats. That’s true for those with luxury yachts and even sailboats. But the poorest of our communities and the very least of our brothers and sisters drown without safety nets. And I seem to remember my Bible telling me that whatever I’ve done to the very least of my brothers and sisters, I’ve done to Christ.

Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah is the Milton B. Engebretson associate professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago and the author of The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (IVP Books, 2009) and Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church (Moody, 2010). Read more from him at www.profrah.com.

Photo: Cash, Denis Opolja / Shutterstock.com

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