Producers, Consumers and Communers

Cross-posted on New Wine.

By Paul Louis Metzger

There is a great deal of talk about production and consumption in American society today. Such talk is found inside the American church as well. In fact, a noted pastor has called on men to be real men by moving from being consumers to being producers. Whether we are talking about men or women, we need to move beyond thinking of humans as mere producers and consumers and approach human identity and the church in communal terms. So, instead of separating people into classes such as producers and consumers, we must encourage everyone to move toward being “communers.”

Of course, we consume even as we produce, and everyone produces and consumes in some manner. However, we must never reduce our communal identity as humans and as the church to acts of production and consumption. Why? I maintain that the Bible teaches that we are created in the image of the triune God who creates us as an overflow of holy, loving communion; God’s purpose is to create and, after the fall, to transform us so that we can share in the glory of this loving, holy communion in the divine life for all eternity (Gen. 1:26-27; Jn. 17). Creation and production are not the ultimate categories. They point beyond themselves to something even more profound—communion with God and one another.

Another reason why we must speak in more communal terms rather than reductionistic terms involving mere production and consumption is that the latter categorization scheme leads to a bifurcation of humanity. When we move from communer categories to producer and consumer divisions we destroy the possibility of experiencing profound relationality. Relationality always involves reciprocity and mutuality. It is never unidirectional.

I will offer three examples of how this bifurcation affects us. If, for example, we define noble people as those who produce, it leads to a devaluing of those who consume their products. Related to this point, don’t producers need consumers to consume what they produce? Does that not entail the need for fostering at least two classes of people? The producers—the elect or naturally selected by their own survival instincts—will “enslave” or at least corral others to be consumers so that they can make their own election or natural selection sure. In the church culture today, there is at times a tendency to identify entrepreneurial creativity with a greater sense of personal worth and identity. Many Evangelicals rightly challenge consumerist tendencies and greed, but our production proclivities can still enforce an “us” and “them” mindset: those who produce the best justice packages for those in need of food and other necessities should not be seen as having the most worth; as important as these justice entrepreneurs are, we all have worth as we share life and resources with one another. We all have something to offer when we view matters relationally. Those who have the least “stuff” often have the most to teach us relationally, for they have learned the secret of the meaning to life: the fullness of life is experienced not in the abundance of possessions, but in the abundance of communal presence.

Besides noting the problem of enforcing and reinforcing two classes of people by way of productivity, we can easily move in the opposite direction by promoting a state of affairs where those who consume the most win. This problem often has economic as well as ethnic dimensions. The developed world—which generally is very white—consumes an inordinate percentage of the world’s resources, while the non-white developing world with its human and natural resources is used increasingly as the field to produce the goods for these enlightened, developed world consumers.

Beyond considering class and race issues, we must also account for matters of gender. If women stay home, that does not mean they aren’t producing. While husbands may be the breadwinners in some homes, they are not alone in cultivating family life. To many people, housewives and househusbands do not appear to contribute to the bottom line, if we think simply in production and consumption categories. But when we think communally, we find that breadwinners in families are not the only ones producing. It is much more constructive to think in terms of sharing. From the standpoint of sharing, everyone is needed—husbands, wives, and children. Everyone matters because everyone shares in communal life together.

We do not exist because we think, produce, or consume. We exist ultimately because we are loved by God. God calls us to be communers—to respond to God’s love by loving God and others in return (Mk. 12:30-31). As we move toward viewing life and people in communal terms, it will have a profound bearing on how we approach a variety of subjects. Most importantly, it will help us move from treating other people as objects, and see them as human subjects who really matter.

7 Responses to “Producers, Consumers and Communers”

  1. chris laird Says:

    Great article Paul. The following op-ed pieces represents some concrete examples of the ethical difficulties which we face in this consumer/producer society. Thanks again for your thought-provoking article.

  2. Loren Sickles Says:

    At the risk of sounding trite & cliche, you hit this one out of the park. I have become increasingly concerned with the use of economic terms, both within the church and without, as the primary means of evaluating an individual’s worth in society.

  3. Paul Louis Metzger Says:

    Chris, I appreciated what you said via email the other day regarding this subject: “The producer/consumer is not a symbiotic relationship of mutual edification but is rather characterized by fierce competition. Capitalism requires that producers and consumers compete for ‘profits’ and ‘deals.’” A good reflection.

    Loren, I share your concern, as you know. How then do we move forward in encouraging the evaluation of worth and identity in the church in communal terms? Modeling these values is certainly essential. I welcome your and others’ suggestions. Thank you for your note.

  4. Joe Enlet Says:

    Paul, this is a great post. I think you address some key issues that are plaguing many churches today including some of the Micronesian churches in my circles. The dehumanizing effects of these consumeristic attitudes are what erode our ability to be the church. It fosters competition, hate, racism etc. For us who are minorities, the consumer/producer talk is oppressive. It creates confusion and a misunderstanding of the gospel that ought to liberate. This consumeristic rhetoric is utilized from the very pulpits that preach freedom in Christ. And yet, the consumer/producer bifurcation presents Christ as a cosmic CEO of the world rather than its savior and redeemer. These are very problematic and yet, I as a member of the church must first start by loving my neighbor and repenting of my own consumeristic and unloving attitudes towards others.

  5. Paul Louis Metzger Says:

    Joe, many thanks for your insightful comments. I am especially struck by your statement, “This consumeristic rhetoric is utilized from the very pulpits that preach freedom in Christ….” It leads me to make the following connection:

    Alec Baldwin plays the character Blake in Glenngary Glenn Ross. In a discussion with John Lussier and others, John pointed out Baldwin’s character’s use of Christian imagery in his sales pitch propaganda. Could it be that our Christian witness is viewed by the movie’s maker and by many others as a Baldwinian sales pitch (albeit a more sanitized version)? A scary possibility. We must always be asking: What are we communicating in what we are saying and doing? We need to make sure that we are promoting communion with Christ, not the commodification of Christ and others.

  6. johannes Lorin Says:

    I enjoyed this post alot! What spoke to me the most was the last paragraph in which you stated that “We do not exist because we think, produce, or consume. We exist ultimately because we are loved by God. ” It boils down, I guess to a question of identity, and the question of what constitutes human worth in the first place. One of the many ways in which this consumer attitude affect our ministries is that when we fall pray to it, and frame our identities by way of what we produce and not what we are, we are not going to be able to relate to the downtrodden, sick and weak, that the gospel urges us to. I we are what we procude, why bother spending time with those that have no market value? Ironically for me, it is when I realize that I am not loved because I produce, that I produce the most. Thanks for your insights as relating to this! And dont forget: “always be closing!” // johannes

  7. theauthor Says:

    Mitt Romney’s recent views about poverty in America have been boiled down by the press into one very simple statement: “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” Here we have the roles of the producers (is it the 1%??) contrasted with that of the consumers (some subset of the 99%).

    Would this (admittedly simplified) synopsis of what Mitt had to say square with the views of one Jesus of Nazareth? The answer is not quite as straight-forward as one might think.

    For more on this up-to-date skirmish on the roles of the haves and have-nots:

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