After interviewing Walter Brueggemann we at Faith+Finance have an emerging theory of change, of what a Post Covid-19 version of God’s economy could look like. To start with, it is based on interdependence for our mutual survival, rather than focused on the creation of wealth for an individual family. One thing the pandemic and the death of George Floyd has taught at least some of us, I think, is that we depend on each other for our mutual survival. You wearing a mask keeps me safe. Acting as if black lives matter changes who I am as an older white man. Rugged individualism can kill us. Others, like James Perry in the UK have reached the same conclusion.
From that stance of interdependence as foundational, this reimagined economy has to work on behalf of the poor rather than urban elites. From Edgar Villanueva and Jed Emerson I am adopting the framework that white Christians need to both understand their racist history before they try to change the economy, and that our actions and new, faith influenced investment vehicles need to work to repair the structural wealth gap our racism has created. Reparations has to be foundational along with interdependence.
From Eve Poole’s F+F webinar, I take the tenet that conversion of the economy has start with personal action by church members, which in investment terms means the investment vehicles have to be open to ordinary people, not just wealthy “accredited investors” who have a couple of million dollars in assets.
From the webinar with David Robinson Sr and Junior and Ross Baird, on investing in deep, local transformative change as the place where people of faith can have the deepest long term impact
From those foundational stepping stones, I am looking for ways that people are creating initiatives that are in line with being things average individuals can get involved in, that understand that the post pandemic economy needs to be interdependent rather than selfish and individual and that it needs to repair our racist heritage.
I am finding several projects, some of which I am personally involved with, others I am just staying in touch with and writing about. For instance, with the Francesco Economy, a Catholic group inspired by Pope Francis’ economic encyclical calling for an economy based on cooperatives and mutual ownership, we are exploring a faith based credit union with micro chapters in parishes. With Nikishka Iyengar, a young woman of color we are looking a community investment trust to preserve African American houses and businesses from the coming land grab by private equity in Atlanta, where individual people could invest $10 in a building modeled after a CIT in Portland.
In Portland and San Francisco work is being done on a faith based credit union network with micro chapters in each parish, as part of the economy of Francesco.
In my hometown of Asheville, NC, a credit union, a community development finance institution (CDFI) a black run Community Development Corporation (CDC) the local living wage coalition and the local retail alliance are looking at a holding company to invest to preserve downtowns with local ownership, with a bias toward employee ownership and businesses run by women and people of color. we are working on in Asheville. In Minneapolis we are making progress on Star Financial Solutions, a housing coop that creates usury free faith compliant home ownership for observant Muslims through neighbors investing in neighbors.
There is a common thread in this approach that you could call an emerging theory of change, and an economic theology that’s heavily influenced by the journalism I’ve been doing through Faith+Finance. I am not suggesting this theory of change has not been discovered by others before, it’s just its emerging in my understanding, and gives me a guiding approach to how I do my reporting on all the new innovations arising in what can be broadly called inclusive finance, viewed from a faith based lens.
I am looking for and interested in investment vehicles that are for unaccredited investors, ordinary people, that accredited investors could invest in while preserving community control rather than ceding it to wealthy investors or foundations. They create community wealth and give capital to people who don’t typically get it. By their nature they create new stories and relationships of trust across neighborhoods and communities that often don’t know each other and often carry toxic stories of each other.
And the exchange of value is mutual beyond that. It can be seen in improved school performance because Somali teenage girls have a bedroom to do their homework rather than sharing a kitchen table with four or five siblings. The new value created has city- wide benefits that people in affluent neighborhoods will benefit from beyond being paid back for doing good, including lowering social service costs and increased sales and property taxes from the preservation of ownership by people of color and higher economic development scores. At the same time, they create financial assets in neighborhoods that often don’t have household assets, as the Runway Project which I co founded but am no longer involved in, has done, which can be transformative on every level.
These vehicles definancialize the economy, keep assets local rather than becoming something that’s traded on Wall Street. They enhance connections and change stories across races, ethnicities and neighborhoods beyond philanthropy, but provided reciprocal relations, where investors from affluent neighborhoods get paid back an appropriate return over time.
These investing vehicles, by creating relationships of reciprocal return rather than charity, that tap into the bootstrap story to get support from white neighborhood-scale investors, as we did with Habitat for Humanity in Jackson, Mississippi do more. They change the toxic stories white people have in their heads about people of color as being frightening, dependent and needy. The stories white people have in their heads eventually create situations where unarmed black men can be shot because their lives are not seen as being as valuable as those of white people.
Investing from an economic theology of interdependence, realizing that white Christians need to repair the damage we have done, and where individuals can take action for change, can change the stories and the economic outcome for everyone. It’s reimagining God’s economy, post pandemic. Connected, interdependent, realizing racism as baked into our habits of thinking and acting and as something that needs to be consciously overcome by designing the economy so it works for all.