What are the most important financial habits and practices of a Christ follower?

Newer believers taking part in their first church-based financial workshop may get the impression that it’s primarily about living debt-free. Long-time Christians may believe it’s mostly about giving generously to Christ-centered organizations.

Apparently, many others haven’t even given it much thought.

According to an article in The Christian Post, the American Bible Society’s 2016 "State of the Bible" report found that just 16% of all American adults (46% of practicing Protestants, 20% of practicing Catholics) say the Bible has “a lot” of influence on how they make financial decisions.

More specifically, just 8% of all American adults (26% of practicing Protestants, 9% of practicing Catholics) say the Bible has a lot of influence on what they buy.

Which raises the question, “How should our faith influence our spending?”

Is it all about getting a good deal?

It’s easy to make the assumption that frugality is a mark of a Christian. Keeping our spending in check is one way to free up resources to live generously.

However, the lowest-cost product may not actually be the best value. If it is cheaply made, it probably won’t last very long. So, perhaps it's best to pay more for quality and keep items longer.

One more step down this path leads to a far more complex series of questions:

  • Where was the product made?
  • Who actually made the product?
  • What are the working conditions for those who made the product?
  • Are the workers being paid a fair wage?
  • Do they work in safe conditions?
  • Do the factories that made the product employ children?

After all, the Bible teaches:

“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” – Proverbs 14:31

None of us would knowingly oppress the poor. But what about the companies whose products we buy?

Measuring 'cost' differently

I’ve been thinking about these issues more deeply since watching a documentary called The True Cost, which is about the enormous human rights and other societal costs involved in generating some of today’s most fashionable low-cost clothing (“fast fashion”).

I came across the movie innocently enough. My wife, who loves to sew and hopes to create a ministry-minded business around her talents and passion in this area, asked me to watch it with her. I had no idea what I was in for.

The movie left me feeling both convicted and inspired. It made me want to learn more about how the companies I buy products from on a regular basis treat their workers. But I quickly discovered how difficult that is. (Have you seen the movie? What was your reaction?)

How much responsibility is enough?

While an increasing number of companies post “supplier responsibility” or similar statements on their websites, even companies lauded for their efforts in these areas may fall short of standards we’re comfortable with.

Take Patagonia, for example. Right on its website, it says,

"Do children make your clothes? Our workplace Code of Conduct requires contractors to comply with local laws. But even if local laws allow it, we will not work with any factory that employs workers under age 15–the minimum age acceptable to the International Labor Organization."

Is it okay with you if a 15-year-old factory worker half a world away made your shirt?

On Apple’s website, it proclaims, “Workers’ rights are human rights.” And yet, news organizations have painted a different picture.

No easy answers

So, what’s a well-meaning Christian to do?

Perhaps a decent starting point is to at least acknowledge that good stewardship is not just a matter of getting the lowest price. Nor is it even about getting the best value. Ideally, it would also be about avoiding products made by companies that oppress their workers and directing our dollars toward those that don't.

But how do we put that principle into practice? After all, I know of no simple way to see how any company we want to do business with is dealing with these issues (The True Cost movie website has a small list of recommended companies). And companies that treat workers well incur higher labor costs than those that don’t, which means they need to charge higher prices for their products.

What are your thoughts on this issue?