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Buzzfeed News - December 12, 2019

"Jubilee believes that truly following Jesus’s teachings, especially in the contemporary, capitalist world, requires a radical reconsideration of wealth and work and power. It means working toward revolution: political, economic, and social."

Every Wednesday night, right around 7 p.m., thousands of Bible studies are starting in churches across the country. The lighting is generally bad, the coffee weak, and the furniture aging. Everyone’s tired from the workday, and not necessarily ready for a close study of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. But the midweek Bible study is a standard of contemporary American Christianity, a spiritual and community check-in.

On Wednesday night at Jubilee Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a group sits around the same sort of rickety conference table you’d find in churches all over the town, the state, the country. In the cabinets behind them, there are old Baptist tracts and stacks of New Testaments with covers declaring GOOD NEWS AMERICA, GOD LOVES YOU. But no one’s reading Galatians tonight. They’re reading Karl Marx.

“Let’s go around and introduce ourselves,” says Joe Stapleton, the high school English teacher leading the class. “Names, pronouns, how you’re feeling.”

Everyone opens their handouts — a section of Marx’s Capital, with handy summaries and annotations. They work slowly through the idea of use value versus exchange value and commodity fetishism. It’s most people’s first time with the material, and it’s admittedly a slog. At one point, after a particularly theoretical passage, someone exclaimed, “What the hell did I just read?”

But Stapleton is a clear and patient teacher. On “deskilling,” he explains: “It makes it so that any worker can be plugged into any job, so that if you want to unionize, they can say, ‘Oh, fuck off.’” On the way we talk about “the economy,” as if it were a natural force, he elaborates: “People make it sound like it’s some monster living in the woods that you have to make sacrifices to, but the economy is just us. How am I doing? That’s how the economy is really doing.”

When he says that the way capital works in our lives is outside our individual control, but not our collective control, there’s a soft shout from across the room: “Someone should say an amen!”

The room explodes in laughter, but it’s a reminder: This class all comes back to church. At various points, John Thornton Jr., one of the co-pastors of Jubilee, asks, “So why is this important to us, as Christians?”

The intro to the Marx reading packet — cheekily called “Financial Literacy Class” — makes it explicit. “At Jubilee, we know our Christian faith has something to say about our whole lives,” it reads. “God cares about our race, gender, sexuality and class. God wants us to live full lives with each other, to provide for one another and to struggle together, bearing one another’s burdens. Because our lives depend so heavily on money and our money comes from our jobs, we think we should have a good understanding of how our economy works and who it works for.”

That’s one of several straightforward ideas at the heart of Jubilee, a church guided by the overarching premise that if God does, indeed, care about our daily lives, then he also cares about the ways that we currently suffer in them. And the way so many of us suffer has to do with money, and debt, and all sorts of intersecting forms of oppression. To ignore these things is to abdicate the church’s role in society — and cede its place in daily life. The leaders of Jubilee — Thornton and his two co-pastors, Heather Folliard and Kevin Georgas — are determined not to let that happen. ...
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