KTF Press
Shake the Dust
Economic Justice for Your Neighborhood with Rev. José Humphreys and Dr. Adam Gustine

Economic Justice for Your Neighborhood with Rev. José Humphreys and Dr. Adam Gustine

Season 3, episode 2

Today, we’re speaking with Rev. José Humphreys and Dr. Adam Gustine about their book, Ecosystems of Jubilee: Economic Ethics for the Neighborhood. We cover how God’s vision for the Hebrew people’s society gives us a framework for imagining neighborhood flourishing, how our scarcity mindset negates God’s abundant provision, how churches can decenter themselves in community life in order to spread good economic news, and a lot more! It’s a really good one that you don’t want to miss!

Shake the Dust is a podcast of KTF Press. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Subscribe to get our newsletter and bonus episodes at KTFPress.com. Transcripts of every episode are available at KTFPress.com/s/transcripts.


Jonathan Walton – follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Sy Hoekstra – follow him on Twitter.

Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra – listen to the whole song on Spotify.

Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam – follow her and see her other work on Instagram.

Production and editing by Sy Hoekstra.

Transcript by Joyce Ambale and Sy Hoekstra.

Questions about anything you heard on the show? Write to shakethedust@ktfpress.com and we may answer your question on a future episode.


[An acoustic guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending — F#, B, F#, E, D#, B — with a keyboard pad playing the note B in the background. Both fade out as Jonathan Walton says “This is a KTF Press podcast.”]

José Humphreys: See, when we talk about liberation, like Dr. James Cone said, we're also talking about salvation. If liberation was just about the soul, God would've left the people of Israel in Egypt. Your souls are saved, continue to make bricks without straw. But he saves them and God saves them in body, mind, soul, and spirit, and they go and celebrate. So this idea of economic liberation, this goes down to the nuts and bolts, the daily fabric of our work days.

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]

Jonathan Walton: Welcome to Shake the Dust: Leaving Colonized Faith for the Kingdom of God. I'm Jonathan Walton.

Sy Hoekstra: And I'm Sy Hoekstra. We are very excited today to be talking about economic justice and the ways that Christians and churches can participate in neighborhood flourishing with two incredible guests who Jonathan will introduce in one second. Before we get started on that, just a quick reminder for everybody to go to KTFPress.com and consider becoming a subscriber to our Substack, that gets you the bonus episodes of this show. It supports everything we do on this show. It gets you our weekly newsletter where Jonathan and I curate media highlights to help you in discipleship and political education. It supports the work we do with books and articles and everything else, centering and elevating marginalized voices as we leave colonized faith.

And we would really appreciate it if you would go there and considering signing up as a paid subscriber. Jonathan, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, please tell the people who we have with us this afternoon… Well, I can't say this afternoon because I don't know when you're listening. But Jonathan, please tell the people who we have with us.

Jonathan: Our guests today are Reverend José Humphreys and Dr. Adam Gustine, the authors of the book, Ecosystems of Jubilee: Economic Ethics for the Neighborhood. Reverend Humphreys is a native New Yorker, ordained minister and co-founder of Metro Hope Church, a multi-ethnic and multicultural church in the amazing neighborhood, East Harlem in New York City. He's also a social worker, consultant, and author of the award-winning book, Seeing Jesus in East Harlem: What Happens When Churches Show Up and Stay Put. Reverend José participates in shalom making and trauma-informed healing work through facilitating conversations across social, economic, racial, and religious boundaries. Amen. Dr. Adam Gustine is an assistant director of the University of Notre Dame Center for Social Concerns, focused on justice education and research for the common good.

He has worked in a wide variety of church, nonprofit, denominational, and educational context, and has a doctor of ministry degree from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He's also the author of Becoming a Just Church: Cultivating Communities of God's Shalom. It's a 2019 IVP Readers’ Choice Award in Christian practice. They are qualified to have this conversation, that's what all that means [laughter]. Thank you all so, so much [laughs] for being here today. And so we'd love just to start off with a big picture question. This book is trying to teach us about biblical economic justice by looking at laws from the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures about gleaning, Sabbath and Jubilee. I think a lot of Christians have a hard time understanding the relevance of these things especially these laws that we no longer follow, and they come from portions of the Torah that often seem like the most difficult to understand. And so, can you tell us why these particular aspects of the law are a good starting point for us to jump into economic justice to apply today?

José: Sure. I'll jump right in there Jon. Thank you so much, and thanks for having me. Thanks for having us. Grateful to be here and have this conversation. So it's interesting, like I'm a career Christian, right? I grew up in the church [laughs]. And we did tend to avoid the Levitical laws and all these other just like, yeah, let's skip over Chronicles [laughter] and those other seminal books in the Bible. But what we found when we started talking about this idea of economics within the larger ecosystem we found out there was some wisdom in the Old Testament that we could actually glean from. I think our greater question wasn't so much how do we apply this and make it relevant? We wanted to kind of meet the Old Testament on its own terms and ask the question, what was God perhaps intending in having these laws, like a Sabbath, a gleaning and a jubilee, cyclical laws that would address matters of land, labor, ownership and slavery.

And it was almost, it almost popped out of the page for us when we're reading the text. It was just like, oh, God is creating these laws of justice that were cyclical in nature, of course going by the agrarian culture, right? But it really spoke to this larger thing about, hey, we need to revisit the life of society because left to its own devices, left alone, even when we do have policies, there are unintended consequences. And society is not neutral, meaning that all of the benefits, all of the goods can end up in the hands of a few. So in here, so when we're looking at the Old Testament, we were saying, “Oh, wow,” there was something very corrective, restorative if you want, about what God was creating in this society, this pattern of justice, this pattern of restoration and restitution. And then we thought, “Hey,” I think this is something that we could, as we had the conversation, Adam and I said, “Hey,” this is something that could actually meet our current moment when we see the disparities that we see in our society.

Adam Gustine: So I think the other piece of that is that if you look at the start of Jesus' ministry, particularly in Luke 4, where he enters the temple, and he reads from the prophet Isaiah, and he says that I've come to in a sense declare the year of the Lord's favor, is the quote that he reads from Isaiah is a direct reference to the year of Jubilee. And I think that's the thing that sort of animates our imagination as well. As José says, all of these Old Testament laws were descriptions of God's ideal society and a way of like recalibrating something that naturally gets off track. But if Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God, come in me, is an expression of the year of Jubilee, then it's not just a cycle anymore, it's the way that it ought to be. That the kingdom of God operates by this sort of ethos.

These ethics are now part of the tapestry of the way that we are meant to live all the time. Christians everywhere are trying to think through like, what does it mean to live out the ethics of the kingdom of God in real time and place? And Jesus is saying…our argument is Jesus is saying, well, economically speaking, it should look like that. And so you may not be able to apply it. Not everybody has a field to leave the edges of for people to glean from [Sy laughs], but what are the ways in which we can as José said, have a moral imagination to animate a way of life that's sort of undergirded by these ethical principles. And so I think that's really what it comes to for us, is to live in the kingdom of God means to embrace this.

Sy: I think I'm realizing we should probably just briefly say for the audience what these laws entail, right? So the gleaning you just mentioned is when people have crops in a field leaving the corners for people to harvest themselves who don't own land or who are poor, and then not going over the field a second time to get whatever you missed. That was a command for anyone who was working land to do that. And then obviously Sabbath is daily time to rest, and then every seven years is it forgiving debts every seven years? That's what happens. Am I correct?

Jonathan: Mmhmm, yes.

Sy: Right. And then jubilees every 50 years returning land to the people, to the families who originally owned it as set out by God when they reached the Promised Land. And then setting people free who were in debt bondage and a few other things. But those are kind of the basics of those laws. So taking those laws as a framework for how we ought to engage with economics today, I think is a helpful way to look at it, rather than just trying to figure out, inspire your imagination, not just figure out a bunch of do's and don'ts, I think is a helpful way to look at it.

And so you two talk about in the book the scarcity mindset as being antithetical to the biblical justice of God. And the scarcity mindset leads to what you call the three E’s of economic injustice, which are exclusion, extraction, and exploitation. Can you just describe for us what you mean by a scarcity mindset and why it's so harmful?

Adam: Sure. No, and I think that's well put in terms of the overall summary that I do think is the framework. And the framework is meant to help us resist those three E's. That really, as you say, is sort of rooted in that notion of scarcity. I think a real basic summary is the fear of not enough. Scarcity is the fear of not enough. And the scarcity mindset is a way of living in the world that's animated by that sense of fear. And I think anytime we think that there's not enough, then we are less likely to be open handed and much more likely to be closed fisted. And economically speaking, of course we're talking about our assets, and if I'm closed fisted with my assets in a world that I believe does not have enough for everyone including myself, then my neighbors are no longer people who share space with me, people who I’m meant to flourish with.

My neighbors become opponents, and my neighbors become enemies.  And if you take that, that to its logical end, then the fear of scarcity becomes a form of vulnerability. And by that I mean that when we are enmeshed in that fear, when we are animated by that fear, when we're locked up in the fear that there is not enough, then we are prone to be taken advantage of by those who would seek to capitalize on that fear in society. And so in the book, we talk about a lot of different historical examples of legislation that is passed that enacts economic injustice, that preys on the fear of scarcity that's rooted in like the dominant culture. So like the rich and wealthy are afraid there's not enough, and those fears are preyed upon to justify things like economic exclusion and economic extraction and economic exploitation of the poor and the vulnerable.

And so it's really kind of an insidious thing that of course, that's something that's interpersonal between me and my neighbor, but that's also something that comes out in like anti-immigration laws and those kinds of things, that really exploit people. So I don't know if José, if you want to chime in there, but those are the kinds of things that we're thinking about.

José: Sure. I couldn't help but think about this also from just the framework of discipleship. So we're swimming in the waters of capitalism, and that determines the patterns and practices of how we spend money, we use resources, and even our relationship to our stuff in a consumer different society. I heard someone recently say that money is our most unconscious agreement. In other words, capitalism in many ways, and consumerism creates the pathways for how we use it. And to think like if we have a scarcity mentality or if we just have, we critically engage, uncritically engage our consumerism, we're not thinking about new patterns and practices. In other words, a scarcity mentality will dullen the imagination for something different. How is it that I could use my money more creatively? How is it that I can own differently?

Alright, We're going to own, that's the world we live in. I have this second house… well, not me, literally. I wish [laughter]. But I have this, how is it that I can share that, put it back into God's ecosystem of shared economy, of open handedness that would allow this to maybe be a blessing for others. So I think part of economic discipleship, or the practice of economics of solidarity is to have folks really think about what they do have, even when they don't have much. And people in lower socioeconomic runs are more creative[laughs] are more generous.

Jonathan: Have to be.

José : The data proves it. I think what happens is the more you get, the more you amass, the more you're afraid to lose.

Jonathan: As you all are talking, like we talk about the abundant provision as the basis for a lot of your thinking about economic injustice. But we've heard about or been a part of churches that often weaponize the idea of abundance as a tool to extract wealth from their congregations via the prosperity gospel or just other similar theologies that hang out in that space. Did you think about the ways that churches misapply the idea of abundance or some of the ideas you're bringing up, and what are some of the guardrails against those misapplications in your way of thinking?

Adam: I mean, I think that's a great question, and I guess maybe to get at that, let me just give two quick examples that we use from the book that are both from scripture. But I think point at the way that I think about that question. I think ultimately, it's a question of what we do with God's abundance. And I think there's two moves that I see. One is Old Testament in the journey through the wilderness. The people are provided the manna and quail in the wilderness. In that sense, it’s abundant in the sense of it's God's enough, there's more than enough for everyone, and that's sort of our working definition of God's abundance is more than enough for everyone. But the question is, what do the people do in the face of God's abundance?

Their response is to hoard, and it’s a pretty individualistic way of thinking about it, but confronted with God's abundance, it triggers that sense of scarcity and I start to hoard for myself. And of course in that story, when people hoard God's abundance, it actually corrupts God's abundance. It's the very thing that turns it, the food actually goes bad because they hoard God's abundance. The flip side of that is in the New Testament, the classic story of the loaves and fishes. What looks like a scarce amount in the hands of Jesus becomes an abundance that actually flows out to all the people that are there. No one hoards, it's an overflowing to others. And I think that's really the difference and the examples that you're talking about of when confronted with God's abundance, we weaponize it, is that we use God's abundance to prey on people's fear that there's not enough for themselves.

And in most cases where churches or pastors enrich themselves along those lines, they're enriching themselves by preying on the fear, by saying, if you do this, there’ll be more for you on the backside of it. And I think a lot of the examples that we're trying to tease out in the book of the alternative of that is a recognition that because this is from God, because this is God's, it's not mine to hoard, it's meant to overflow out from my community to others. And I really think that's a big piece of the difference there.

Sy: One interesting thing I think about the example of the manna from heaven is the instinct to hoard there, actually with the loaves and the fishes too. The instinct to hoard there from the perspective of those people makes a very logical sense [laughs] from the perspective of not like, not from a kingdom-minded perspective, right? These are people who were just slaves for hundreds of years who have come out into the desert where there's not a lot of food and they're getting some food. So you might as well save it because you don't know when your next meal is coming, right? Or like the boy who just has this lunch, it's like, if I give up this lunch, what am I going to eat [laughs]?These things, I feel like from the perspective of the people actually in the story would be very logical.

And so, I think it also from that angle kind of helps us see how it's really easy not to trust it, how counterintuitive the idea of God's abundance is and how trying to live just your own life, let alone the whole economic life of a neighborhood from the idea of abundance is extremely challenging.

José: Yeah, one of the one of the interesting things that comes out of Leviticus is God making this statement, the land belongs to Yahweh. And in many ways that was kind of the framing reality. “Alright, I'm the landlord. What you have actually belongs to me.” So it even will influence a landowner's stewardship of the land. If they're actually walking in line with that divine logic that whatever it is that I have, the check that I get in the mail, yeah, it might have my boss's signature, but at the end, Yahweh is providing for this. And if it doesn't belong to me, then how is it that I resubmit this check that has come through a specific system? How do I now resubmit it into God's ecosystem of grace? So now what we're doing is we're creating an alternative system of exchange.

We're saying, oh, we're not exchanging tender here, we're actually giving gifts. And that's when we're talking about that larger economy of grace, the “greater economy,” as Wendell Berry defines it. So now I have, if I'm thinking about it like this, then perhaps I have a different relationship to my money. And so we bring up different examples in the book, like anything from what about the money in your pocket? You think about it as this gleaning concept. Maybe it's not just extra change. I have $5 in my pocket, a true story last Sunday. I'm on my way to church rushing to preach as someone standing in front of the restaurant saying, “Hey, could you buy me something to eat?” And I'm like, I got to preach a sermon. I got to go, and I don't even know if I have cash.

I take a few steps past him, something tells me, “You know what, go back and go buy him a meal.” And when I just listen to that kind of internal voice in my mind, in my heart I realized in that time it wasn't really just buying him a meal. The money facilitated an interaction where that man could be seen and acknowledged for who he is, a human being created an God's image, a child of God. Not just some random person asking for money. So I changed, for me, the nature of the agreement had changed in that moment. And I think that yeah, the purpose of the book is just that, helping people's moral imagination to be opened and challenged in a way that they can think about their resources and those everyday exchanges that we're making.

How much money do I want to spend in one month in my neighborhood versus going outside to the usual folks, the big box development where the flow of resources don't find their way back into my community. And to begin with that question, Jon, even that's what you were saying with the prosperity Gospel, the flow of dollars in those mega churches stays within that mega church for the most part, you know what I mean? To finance the operation. It's like, little shop of horrors, feed the beast. “Feed me, Seymour.”


And it's just to say, okay, but how much is actually like going out into the ecosystem we call our neighborhood in order so that our neighborhood could flourish?

Sy: So you just mentioned Feeding the Beast, and there's a point in the book where one of the practical tips that you give is the idea of a church benevolence fund for the neighborhood. So taking something that the church normally does for its own congregants and doing it for everybody around them. And that's kind of when it struck me, is that a lot of your book is actually suggesting that, is suggesting treating the neighborhood around the church the way that congregants of a church are often used to treating each other. And so I'm wondering why you think we end up thinking in that kind of insular way about our money and our close-knit group within the church, and how we can sort of expand our thinking outward more

José: The church in America, as we know it tends to move into neighborhoods, or sometimes I think just like fly in from neighborhoods and just land there.


Just like, where did that come from? It's like, “Where did that Whole Foods come from?” And it'll often follow the corporate model. And it's maybe this unconscious corporate model. We are going to become the flagship of this neighborhood, maybe even a one-stop shop. You can get it all here. Not realizing that in their very neighborhood, the very things that they're trying to do are actually the services, the care are actually located in different organizations in their ecology. So they become this one-stop shop and they become the flagship of the community instead of becoming a part of the fellowship of the community. And I think that that's where ecosystems thinking really can feed our imagination, or even what some people would call biomimicry. Realizing that look at the way trees cooperate in a forest.

Their roots are actually entangled underneath the surface and they're sending nutrients to the tree that's in distress right now because they're not getting enough sun, or for whatever reason, or the elder tree that has its last act, gasping its last breath, metaphorically, is now sending out its own nutrients for the benefit of those trees that are just beginning. And there's just this beautiful exchange that's happening under the ground. And I think we have so many different systems in our neighborhoods. Political systems, housing systems, economic systems, everything that we considered a part of the commons. And I think that that's where the discipleship comes in, where what happens if a church actually dissenters itself and then begins to realize like, “Oh, I’m not supposed to be at the center of something. I'm supposed to be a part of it.”

And it's in this beautiful collaborative exchange that actually Christian witness can happen in relationship. But it really is like a revolution in the church's own self-concept in place.

Adam: One of the really big imaginative challenges in this is that very question that you're talking about of getting all of us collectively to see ourselves as part of the neighborhoods and the communities that we're for. And I think that many of the challenges of work in the fields that we're talking about here get down to this barrier of the church seeing themselves as in a, like an us versus them sort of way as it relates to the community. And like for generations, Christians and churches in the United States have been fed a steady diet of “The culture is against us. The culture is out to get us. The culture is the enemy.” And at the end of the day, the imagination of the church in America at large, particularly like majority culture churches really tend to see the culture as the enemy and the church as a haven from that something that should be protected.

And if that's the case, it actually doesn't take too much of a leap to then go to the scriptures and find examples of the church or the people of God actually as sort of being oppressed by the larger culture around them. And so it's pretty easy to then read ourselves into that story. And so if you think about Old Testament, the church is an exile the people of God, sorry, are an exile in Babylon. Well, what are those people thinking? What are they feeling? I think it's not too hard for us to imagine what they're thinking and feeling when they're in exile in Babylon. And I think about a psalm like Psalm 137, which is one of those classic ones where they say like the Psalms are pretty violent because here's the psalmist saying we should dash the babies of Babylon's heads on rocks.

It's like, well, actually that's written when they're in exile in Babylon. And that's exactly what we would expect the people to be thinking when they're in exile in Babylon. And it's pretty easy to see ways that the church today sort of adopts that posture towards the wider world. But the interesting thing to me is that it's into that emotion that God interjects Jeremiah 29 where it says, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city that I've sent you and pray for it, because if the city prospers, you will prosper.” Meaning your fortunes are tied up together with the city. No, not dash their heads on the rocks. Instead, seek the peace in the flourishing of the community. And see, to me, I think that's the imaginative shift is that God is always inviting the people into that space.

And the temptation for us is always to try and cordon ourselves off from society. That's really the fundamental tension, the imaginative shift that I think we need to be making.

Jonathan: [slowly] Oh… Okay... Yes. Question then [laughter].

Sy: You just made Jonathan think 18 different things at once [laughs].

Jonathan: I did. So what you're saying is good news, right? Like what you're saying is good news, period, full stop. But when Jesus is arrested, Peter pulls out the sword, chops off the dude's ear because the coming of the kingdom, as Peter interprets it, is actually not good news, because he wants different news. When the angel shows up to, like in the Christmas story, like I bring you good tides with great joy, they weren't looking for that. It wasn't something that they were set up for. It's something they were aware of, a story they knew about, but like, that's not what liberation looks like for them or what they would've been looking for, but it's definitely good news in the liberation of Jesus. And so in the book, you're claiming that, and I believe that the idea of Jubilee and the modern economy is good news.

Like in our present day, that's good news, but it might not feel like good news to rich and poor people. Because if I grew up in material poverty, the answer to my material poverty sounds like material wealth. That's why I'm on this performance treadmill in the capitalistic society that we're in, right? But it is good news and it does produce positive outcomes for rich and poor people. So can you explain the differences there and how this is good news for the rich and the poor and maybe the unintuitive ways that economic justice liberates wealthy people? as we're moneyed up right now [laughter}.

José: Man, that's a complex question and Sy was right. You had about 18 different things just floating through your mind all at once [Sy laughs]. Everything everywhere, all at once.

Jonathan: I'm so sorry. I’m so sorry.

José: So the interesting thing, let's continue your thread on the offensiveness of this all [laughs]. So Luke chapter four, Jesus goes into his hood, opens up the scroll as his custom, reads Isaiah 61, everybody's impressed. But then, and then it was also like the whole Shane Claiborne thing, it was almost like, I'm announcing my candidacy. I'm going to liberate the oppressed, set the captive free, declare the year of jubilee. Everybody was impressed until he described how this jubilee plan would also be for the Romans and also for the Gentiles. Then he almost got thrown off a cliff, right? That's what the scripture recalled, right? And so we see that here is Jesus being of offense to the exiles and the diaspora. People that were waiting for that liberating Messiah. People that were waiting for Roman rule to be overthrown.

And that kind of messed with me too even as a man of color, afro-Latino in our society, just like, okay, what does progress look like for me? People of Israel were like, “What does progress look like for us?” What does liberation actually look like for us? And I think that that's the part we need to wrestle with. It is those complexities. So me as a person of color who didn't grow up with means have had to wrestle with, in Jesus's jubilee plan, what does upward mobility look like for me, and how do I engage that in a way that doesn't necessarily give all of the honor due to Caesar that Caesar wants? Meaning just like Jesus tells the sons of Zebedee, “I know you want to be on my left, I know you want to be on my right politically, but really the Gentiles are about that stuff.”

But here in God's economy, the resources that you're given, the education that you're given, all of that, those things that give you opportunity for ownership in the world are going to be used for different means and you're going to have a different relationship to it. And that's the hard part, you know what I mean? Dr. King said, “I can't be everything you can be until you are everything that you can be.” That was “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” So this is recognition that this idea of abundance, God's abundance in my own life or in anybody's life, cannot be understood within the construct of individualism. It's not mine, it's not siloed. I don't hoard it. It's my house, my car. But I am now living in the ecology of God's grace, so I'm holding onto these things differently.

I am being, so instead of being shaped by capitalism, per se, and career paths and tracks, there's something going on there that's leaving me in a constant tension as a person of color. I'm not talking about rich people, maybe that's something else. Maybe Adam can cover that side of the spectrum. But I'm talking about folks who are on the come up, so to speak. What does that mean? I think in minority communities, exile communities, diaspora communities, we have to ask ourselves what does it mean to get on a just path where you are not repeating the patterns and the practices of the empire. But you are coming at this from a consistent place of tension. And I think that's the key word there, Jon, that I am in. Even when I do get something, I'm in tension with it. I'm not just settled in it.

 And I think that that's the Christian call to be in tension with your resources, to be intention with culture. Have a peace about it, yeah. There's a blessing to it, but I always got to be asking myself, “Who's not eating? Who's not represented at this table?” And I won't be totally settled in my own quote unquote “success” until I see Jonathan succeed as well. And I think that's a real, a qualitatively different approach to economics in an ecosystem as a Christian.

Adam: One of the things that José and I started thinking about a little bit in the book, and have certainly been talking about a lot, is this idea of a solidarity economy, which is not new to us. But an economy of solidarity takes into account people's starting points where you start in the world frames the way you enter this new space where we're saying we are in an economy that's marked by solidarity. And I think that one of the things that that necessitates is that we recognize that the upwardly mobile or the rich or the wealthy in our society, they are not the exemplar. We're not trying to get everybody to that place, that indeed the rich are enslaved to wealth, enslaved by wealth as well. And I think the real tragedy is the way that wealth confuses us into confuses into thinking that our enslavement is actually pride of place. That it's actually a privilege.

And, when Jesus came and he said, “If I've set you free, you'll be free indeed,” the people that he said that to got mad. Like, “What are you talking about? We're not enslaved to anything. Why are you going to set us free?” And I think that's the same thing that's going on. It's like Jesus came to liberate us from our oppression to economics, from our own enslavement to wealth. And rich people the world over are like, “What are you talking about? I'm living the dream.” And I think for us to really lean into the kinds of ecosystems that we're talking about, the neighborhoods and the communities where we are authentically all in it together, that there's a real work of I guess I would call it repentance on the part of the wealthy to say, “No, I need to be set free.”

And that that's going to be accompanied by tangible acts of divestment, of restitution, of reparation. Those kinds of things. And I think that those kinds of actions begin to say, what I had was an enslavement. What we can create together is much more reflective of God's abundance and freedom than what I had before on my own.

Sy: And then what so many people perceive as, “Oh you're just trying to punish me because I'm rich by getting me to give my money to other people,” is actually reframed as liberation.

Adam: Right, I think as long as we frame divestment as an act of charity whether forced or philanthropic, we won't get very far. I think if we see it as a surrender to the need to be liberated by God and a response of faithfulness to God, then we might be able to get somewhere.

Jonathan: Jesus desires to liberate us from the supremacy. He is supreme, we are not. And there is something, I think there's a false empowerment that comes from charity. And then there's a false repentance that comes from like, going back and looking, like John D. Rockefeller, and these other people that invented the modern philanthropic movement, it's like this is a false confession, a false repentance. It is nowhere near enough, nor is it true to the living king, but, this type of inadequate absolution basically for what they were trying to do and have done. And we live in the downstream legacy of that. And so I'm very much looking forward to people who read the book, taking the path of Liberation, not Liberty.

People who prayerfully will have prosperity redefined and generosity sparked as their imaginations begin to engage with the idea that maybe the story that we're living in is not the one we should be in. Even sitting in our congregations and looking at our budgets and looking at our endowments and how the church is going to be sustainable and all those kinds of things. And so, may it be so as people dive into what it looks like to reflect the beloved community that King talks about and the economy that Jesus called us to.

José: Amen.

Sy: [laughs]. Jonathan, you want to ask about hope?

Jonathan: Oh! Yes, I do. Sorry. I was thinking. I was like, “Can. We. Do. this [laughter]? And so…

Sy: Jonathan wants to get like a planning committee together. He doesn't want to ask any more questions [laughs].

Jonathan: Man, I've got, because I mean, the chapters in my book like five, six, and seven are about democracy, generosity, prosperity, and then we have to redefine what it means to be rich because Jesus does. He just does that.

Sy: Yeah.

Adam: Yeah.

Jonathan: We have to redefine what it means to be generous because Jesus does. And we see those questions of people pop up all the time to question God's generosity. So the parable of being in the vineyard, Jesus decides, or the purveyor of the vineyard decides, I'm going to give the same wage to everybody. And we see that pop up today when people are like, “Well, what do you mean they're going to get paid more money?” Because we have this tender that goes back and forth and there are some people more invested in the flourishing of the folks downstream of their stewardship as opposed to the radical exploitation that's before them. So anyway, Jesus come.

José: Yeah, [laughs]. But what you're talking about is just it rails against this idea of meritocracy. I gained, I earned, I got, and here God's math and God's economy is turning our current system upside down. And I think, I just think about just the average Christian in America. If this is offensive, then this idea that you're bringing, that we need to look at what generosity means. We got to look at what enough means. If these things bring tension to you, then I say good, because chances are we, I'll put myself in there. We have been discipled by the ideology of capitalism, and just by the fact that we're not having this conversation. I think one of the disservices that's happening in justice circles—mainly in the church, because sometimes I feel like other folks get more expansive in their engagement to justice—how race and class are tied. And something Adam mentioned earlier, inextricably tied. You can't talk about one without talking about the other. And I think that, so even in our justice initiatives, if we're not looking at, yeah, how is it that people have benefited economically from impoverished schools? Well, yeah. There's a lack of opportunity now for a whole community that doesn't, resources are not going somewhere else, right? Or school to prison pipeline, who's benefiting off of that? What companies are benefiting off of creating these prisons? So if we don't see the economics behind these things and actually look at that in serious ways, then we're not maybe going to be able topple the machine, but we could sure frustrate the machine and throw some dust in its gears. That's the way I look at it, know what I'm saying? Like Ewok resistance.


Jonathan: So in all that, it can be hard to think about enacting this. We're having this conversation, and I think all of us want to see strong neighborhoods and are actively working towards that with the influence and stuff that we have. So, but it can feel like nebulous at best and impossible at worst. To achieve, given how huge, complex and greedy, like you said, the waters that we're swimming in are. And so what gives you all hope as you're consistently involved in this work? And we're still on this side of heaven.

Adam: Well, I think the first thing that I would say is, I’m with you. I hear you. And that frustration is real. I think staving off despair is a consistent part of the discipleship work of anybody that cares about justice and the kingdom of God. You have to see the cultivation of hope as something that's primarily an eschatological reality that animates my day today. I got a good friend David, who says, “Yeah, I'm hopeful, but I'm not optimistic.” I think that that little play is kind of like a way of walking through life. I think that's true. And then I would say this, that everything that we're writing about in the stories and the people that we're talking about in this book are folks that are trying, we're trying our level best to take the kingdom of God seriously.

To take the way of Jesus seriously, and allow that to animate our imagination. And so to that end, Jesus said things like the kingdom of God is a little bit more like yeast, in that it slowly works its way through. There is a sense in which the parables that Jesus told are like whispers of the kingdom of God. And so if we're doing this work, the stories we tell I think are like parables. They're not, the global economy is not changing because of Pastor Semmeal in Detroit. But is Brightmoor changing because of Pastor Semmeal in Detroit, that neighborhood? Absolutely. That is true, and I think that that is ultimately a primary characteristic of the kingdom of God is that it is often unassuming. And yet there's some sort of power that I don't fully get because I'm so trained to think that power happens top down and there's something kind of organic and grassroots about the way the kingdom of God works. And so I try to allow that to sort of fuel my sense of hope, if not optimism along the way.

Jonathan: Amen.

José: Yeah. Just to jump off of Adam, and the use of startup metaphors, that Jesus did. The mustard seed, starter bread, right, Starter dough, the things that are unassuming but then can take root and form a movement and… or even Jesus' commissioning, go into the world, start here in Jerusalem, then Samaria folks you got to reconcile with, and beyond. So when I look at place-based initiatives, hyper localized initiatives, it gives me great hope. Adrienne Maree Brown, who’s a strategist, writer. She says, “Small is all.” What are the small mustard seed fractal movements that can create ripples and patterns that can reverberate out to our larger world? And I've seen that for example in the book we mentioned the Land Back movement. People returning land to native indigenous folks.

And now we're seeing that more churches, United Methodist Church in particular giving back like 10 acres of land to the Wyandot nation under some agreement. And that's maybe on this kind of macro level. On this middle tier, what we call meso, churches canceling debt. And then as we mentioned in the book, Jubilee is also celebration. The church gets together with the folks and they burn the debt and then they just celebrate. Because just imagine what it feels to be free now and to be able to use that money as discretionary money in a different area? And I think when we talk about liberation, like Dr. James Cone said, we're also talking about salvation. This is like literal salvation. You are saving me from the economic misery that I was facing. My back, as Dr. Howard Thurman says, was on the wall, but your gospel had something to say about that.

And I think that in this, what we're finding is that hope is like, yeah, if liberation was just about the soul, and I had said this last Sunday, God would've left the people of Israel in Egypt. Your souls are saved, and continue to make bricks without straw. But he saves them and God saves them in body, mind, soul, and spirit and they go and celebrate. And so there's this, so this idea of economic liberation, this idea of revisiting labor, seriously, this goes down to the nuts and bolts, the daily fabric of our workdays. How are bosses, business owners really thinking about the labor force? Is there a Sabbath? Is there a time for rest? Is there a time to let things grow fallow because we believe that God is going to take care of the work that we do?

So I think micro, macro, meso, what excites me about the book is that we give some conversation starters around how this stuff can permeate every system and every level of society. And I would just say, go buy the book, y’all. Go buy the book.


Sy: Other than obviously going and buying the book, Ecosystems of Jubilee, is there anywhere else that you want people to follow you or any other work of yours that you want people to go check out?

Adam: José and I were just talking about this beforehand. I mean, I think that we've been trying to say that the sort of individualist approach to life doesn't work economically speaking. And so we would love to find ways to read this book in community and imagine things differently. And so one of the things we're trying to do is like, hey, if there's a group that wants to read the book, we'll jump on Zoom and join you for it. And so if anybody's interested in that, you can find us on our socials, but we would love to do that work in community and not just say, “Hey, read it and you're on your own.” We would love to be able to make that available to folks if they're thinking about like, “Oh, there's a group that would benefit from this conversation.”

Sy: Oh, cool! So can people just get on Twitter and DM you if they want to have you come do that?

Adam: Absolutely. Yep.

Sy: Great.

Jonathan: Amen.

Sy: We really appreciate the two of you being here. Thank you. Thank you so much for coming on.

Adam: Our pleasure. It was great. Great conversation. Thanks so much.

José: Thanks for having us, man.

Sy: Yeah, of course. So before we leave, just a reminder in addition to going and checking out the book and DMing these two, check out KTFPress.com. Consider becoming a subscriber and get the bonus episodes of this show in our newsletter every week. Support everything that we do at KTF Press. Our theme song, as always is “Citizens” by John Guerra. Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam, and we will see everyone in two weeks.

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]

Jonathan: Well, our guests today, are Reverend José Humphreys and Dr. Adam Gustine… I said that right, didn't I? Jesus… now I'm conscious about it. My bad. This is a blooper. We got it out of the way.


KTF Press
Shake the Dust
Seeking Jesus, confronting injustice–Shake the Dust features candid interviews and informed discussions that guide us as we resist the idols of America.