The Value of Gold

I heard a surprising story the other day.

A pastor preaching his Sunday sermon on the topic of wealth illustrated his lesson with some stories about the toxic legacy of gold mining. He had traveled to the Philippines a year earlier and met people living downstream from a gold mining district. Hearing their experiences of poisoned rivers and abject poverty affected him emotionally and motivated him to share their story.

After the Sunday service was over, one of the elders of the congregation approached the pastor and held out his hand. In it, he held a pair of gold wedding bands. The elder had found them in the collection plate. The pastor was stunned and then realized that one of the married couples in his congregation must have taken his words to heart and decided that their gold rings could be put to better use. He was speechless.

Few of us are able to translate our learnings into action as quickly as this. We struggle with change, talking ourselves into comfortable complacency and turning away when we can’t quite reconcile our beliefs and actions.

You may not have spent much time reflecting on the place of gold in our society. But gold continues to hold great power over people. We seem to accord it a special, almost religious, reverence. While the gold standard was abandoned decades ago as the underpinning of our currency, we continue to mine gold, trade it, invest with it and almost worship it. Most Canadians continue to exchange gold rings during wedding ceremonies. It appears in some of our religious symbols. Our top athletes are given gold when they beat out all their competition.

When we think about the harm done to the planet in the name of mining for gold, it’s hard not to cringe. After all, there is enough previously mined gold above the Earth’s surface to satisfy all the functional needs and industrial applications where gold is required today. Unlike oil, once gold has been extracted, it stays in circulation forever.

Yet humans continue to be entranced with  gold. We still assign great value to it. Over $1,400 (U.S.) per ounce, the last time I checked. Most of the world’s gold is locked away in bank vaults and jewelry collections. Gold mining persist today but is driven primarily by the conspicuous consumption of those who display it, and as a “safe haven” in turbulent economic times for those who trade it.

Isn’t it time that we re-examined the role of gold in our lives and our churches? This is not about being puritanical. I’m asking what we truly value in our lives, and whether we can create positive change in the world by reflecting our values in our decision-making.

Eschewing gold can be a deeply spiritual act.

We need to ask ourselves some tough questions about gold. Is it ethical to invest in gold mining activity? Should we continue to incorporate gold in our religious symbols? Is it ethical to exchange gold bands at weddings? These are questions we should struggle with as Christians.

This Lent season, I will be reflecting on the ways that gold is a part of my life, everything from the wedding band I wear to the investments in my church pension fund. This will involve some challenging conversations, both within my own family and within the broader church community. I hope that by examining my relationship with gold, I can begin to act in solidarity with communities who are opposing destructive gold mining projects in the developing world. Gold mining is unnecessary in this day and age. It will only end when enough of us stop buying into the golden dream.

Filed in: Ecological Justice, Spirited Reflections


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