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.