Stewards of the Kingdom: Christianity and Neoliberalism

Joshua Tuttle

Major Professor: Johanna Bockman, PhD, Global Affairs Program

Committee Members: Nancy Hanrahan, Shannon Davis, John Tuner

Fenwick Library, #4008
April 17, 2019, 10:00 AM to 01:00 PM

Abstract:

How has neoliberalism spread through Christianity? Neoliberalism is essentially a secular concept, yet neoliberalism emerged in the 1970s with the powerful Evangelical movement. I investigate the correlation of neoliberalism and Evangelical Christianity with three sources of evidence: the General Social Survey (GSS), a historical analysis of Southern Baptist Annuals and newspapers, and a sociological analysis of pastoral and imperial power during Roman antiquity. The evidence demonstrates that Evangelical Protestants have supported neoliberalism more than Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, and unaffiliated populations. Evangelical Protestants and especially Southern Baptists have supported neoliberalism because it resonates with the doctrine of Christian stewardship. Pastors of the SBC began to promote this concept during the early 20th century when the denomination experienced serious economic troubles. They promote this concept along with encouraging personal responsibility, private economic management, and generous charity for the church. Thus, the stewardship of Southern Baptists resonated with a developing neoliberalism. The resonance of stewardship and neoliberalism is much older than the Evangelical movement. As a form of governmentality, neoliberalism grew from a combination of pastoral power and imperial power in the ancient Roman world. During the 4th century CE, the ancient pastorate governed local populations through the administration of justice and salvation. Their government allowed the Roman state to maintain social order with minimal state presence. The pastors described their government as an oikonomia psuchōn, or “economy of souls.” They used economic models and principles to govern Christians, and these models and principles were rationalized through crises and contests of power in the Church. The doctrine of stewardship derives from the ancient concept of oikonomia. Thus, stewardship and neoliberalism share a historical and religious origin.