- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

The nation's theology students are being taught to distrust corporations and market economics, a new study shows.
Officials at nine in 10 Christian seminaries said that corporations will abuse power if not regulated, and six in 10 say only government redistribution of wealth brings social justice, according to a sample of theological schools.
"Religious leaders are given a lot of credence when they speak on political and economic policy, but that is where they are least qualified," said Kevin Schmiesing, a historian with the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., which conducted the survey. The institute researches the relationship between religion and a free-market system.
Clergy have had little opportunity to study economics in relation to their faith, said Mr. Schmiesing, who conducted the study with political scientist John Green.
"We found very little in seminary courses on economic theory or principles," Mr. Schmiesing said.
Six in 10 schools said they emphasize moral principles, which are most often gleaned from Bible texts rather than theological or policy writings, the study found. Forty percent of the schools taught both moral and economic principles.
Bible stories are moral guides, Mr. Schmiesing said, but must be interpreted for a complex market economy.
The Rev. William J. Byron, an economist and former president of Catholic University of America, was not surprised by the study's outcome.
"There is very little seminary training even in how to manage a parish," said Father Byron, who has offered a seminary course on "the economic dimension of society."
Seminary officials at 251 schools of all denominations were sent the questionnaire. Fifty-three percent of the officials from mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox institutions responded.
Theology schools that have equated Christianity with socialism have cited the Old Testament's forgiving of debt, Jesus criticizing the rich and the common purse of the early church, said Mr. Schmiesing.
But even with the historic failure of communist economics, theology schools are not assessing the benefits of democratic capitalism, Mr. Schmiesing said.
"The friendliness [of theology] to Marxism or socialism has pretty much gone by the wayside," he said. "But there remains a lot of skepticism toward the ability of the market to be an instrument of social justice."
Seventy-three percent of seminary responses said the U.S. government should raise taxes to spend more on welfare.
Bruce Birch, academic dean at the Washington, D.C., Wesley Theological Seminary, said it hopes to remedy this blind spot with a new course on "Christian faith and economics." It will be taught by an economics professor who studied theology. "We're not interested in promoting distrust of corporations," said Mr. Birch. "But we do want to promote values that keeps the communitarian ethic with the individualistic ethic."
The two social justice topics that received a "great deal" of attention in theology schools were race and sex discrimination, said Mr. Schmiesing.

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