I took a seminary course titled The Theology of Money. It fulfilled a required credit that I needed to graduate, and I was curious about the topic since I have an MBA. We learned basic macroeconomics, researched Scripture about money, and read both conservative and liberal Christian economic theology. When one researches Scripture quotes about money, there are both praises and condemnations. One overall theme does stand out: love of money is a sin. Scripture does not condemn money per se as it serves a useful purpose. Scripture does condemn individuals who worship money and hoard it. Jesus taught this in Matthew’s account of the rich young man:
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22, NRSV)
A few months ago, I received an email from a European trader who served with me on a committee. He recommended a book about bitcoin, the digital currency (cryptocurrency): Thank God for Bitcoin: The Creation, Corruption and Redemption of Money (Robert Breedlove et al, Bitcoin and Bible Group, 2020). He also sent me a link to a podcast interview featuring Jimmy Song, one of the eight authors. I knew little about bitcoin and wanted to understand the Bitcoin and Bible Group’s theology. The book is filled with Scripture references on money and justice.
The authors condemn fiat money which is when governments increase the money supply and dilute their currency. This contributes to price inflation. This “is taxation without representation, or theft from the community by the government.” (page 31) This practice has been implemented for many years; the M2 money stock has increased an annualized average of 7% since 1959. (page 33) “Fiat money creates an environment where people want something for nothing. It is money that encourages wealth redistribution instead of wealth creation.” (page 69) How does this happen? Those with wealth are able to invest in higher yielding investments with lower expenses (scale effects). Those with low incomes and little wealth see their purchasing power reduced without owning the appreciating assets. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, thus the increasing wealth disparity over time between the higher and lower incomes.
The authors believe that bitcoin solves this problem because “there will only ever be 21 million Bitcoins in existence.” (page 100) The money supply cannot be increased, and bitcoins are not controlled by a government. Rana Foroohar recently wrote a secular bitcoin editorial in the Financial Times (Bitcoin’s rise reflects America’s decline: Cryptocurrencies have a place in a new world order where the dollar has less of a starring role, February 14, 2021). “Crypto advocates including technology leaders such as Tesla’s Elon Musk, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey believe that digital currencies are better suited to this more multipolar world. They are largely unregulated and thus less subject to political forces.”
So, there are advocates for bitcoin outside of religious groups. However, I am not supportive (and neither is Foroohar: “None of this makes me want to buy bitcoin.”) First, the current bitcoin price is $47,708. Over the last year, bitcoin prices ranged between $4,106 and $48,876. This is obviously not a stable currency. Second, the reason the US dollar is used as a benchmark currency is due to faith in the US government. Foroohar speculates that the recent support for bitcoin is “interpreted as an early signal of a new world order in which the US and the dollar will play a less important role.” But who controls bitcoin’s computers and who will protect its integrity? If hackers can breach government security systems, surely cryptocurrency can be manipulated. And third, bitcoin does not police itself. It is a well-known fact that criminals launder their illegal financial assets through bitcoin since there is no governmental oversight. This increases injustice and decreases faith in the currency.
I do not know the authors and admire them for seeking alternatives to currencies that governments debase through manipulation. I strongly believe that individuals and governments should be financially prudent by spending within means, saving for future needs, and sharing generously. However, the trader within me is concerned with promoting a limited currency that the authors may own. The more individuals and groups buy bitcoins, the higher the bitcoin price—simple supply and demand. The existing bitcoin owners may benefit through self-serving promotion, which may include these authors.
It would be far better to pass legislation that limits the money supply (stopping fiat money) and balancing the federal budget. This would ensure that all benefit within a just financial system, rather than the few. It brings integrity back to the US dollar and allows US regulators to prosecute illegal financial activities such as money laundering. The authors desire to take politics out of money and I agree. In my view, ‘We the People’ can fix it through our democracy. Scripture demands it and within a just system, all benefit.