E14: Religion and Wealth with Pastor Michael McBride

Justice is about having a consciousness that there are systems in this world that literally exploit the weak and the vulnerable among us."

- Pastor Michael McBride

Episode Summary:

A commonly used narrative centers around the idea that God loves the poor, and therefore, by amassing wealth, you are taking yourself further away from him. While it’s true that God loves the poor, the belief that He doesn’t love the wealthy is unfounded, and in today’s episode, I’m joined by Pastor Michael McBride (one of my favorite people in the world!) Who is going to shed some light on this issue. He is the Lead Pastor of The Way Christian Center in West Berkeley. Pastor Mike is also heavily involved with several organizations working towards racial justice and black liberation. 

Our discussion covers the topics of poverty, injustice, and how entrepreneurial endeavors have the power to alleviate these burdens, which people of color too often carry. The system we are a part of isn’t important, what matters is the outcomes, and by using our entrepreneurial skills and knowledge, combined with a faith-based understanding of fairness and equity, we have the power to create better results for ourselves, as well as society as a whole. 

What You’ll Learn On This Episode:

  • [05:04] Problems with the way we have been taught to relate to money
  • [06:32] God’s love for someone does not depend on how much money they have
  • [07:12] Why God hates poverty 
  • [08:35] The importance of differentiating between poverty and the poor
  • [11:26] Principles to ensure we aren’t contributing to the problem of poverty while we are creating our wealth
  • [14:34] Factors that determine a particular economic system
  • [15:59] The importance of exercising discernment
  • [18:45] Fulfilling the dreams and aspirations of our ancestors
  • [19:37] How entrepreneurship can help to reduce injustices
  • [22:56] Using entrepreneurial skills for the betterment of society
  • [25:35] How Jesus has been misrepresented, and the responsibility we have to get to the heart of his teachings 

Resources Mentioned:

Connect With Us: 

Connect with Pastor Mike:



MM: I think, you know, we should make lots of distinctions along the way too. You know, one of the great biblical principles is about discernment, right? Kind of like equity, the conversation about equity, it doesn’t mean equal application, it means, what is the most appropriate application that levels the playing field related to injustice, exploitation or kind of historic exclusion? I do think we should always, you know, have great discernment and nuance when we’re talking about, you know, small businesses versus like, Fortune 500, you know 5th generation billionaires, right? I think entrepreneurs, someone who is just starting off, will likely never get to that level of wealth.”




[0:00:52.0] AW: You’re listening to the Transcend Podcast. I’m your host, Asha Wilkerson, an attorney by training and an educator at heart. This podcast is all about empowering you to build a business and leave a legacy. Here’s the thing, the wealth gap in America is consistently increasing and while full-time entrepreneurship is not for everyone, even a side hustle could change your financial landscape if you’re intentional about using your business to build wealth. I’ve run my own law firm for over 10 years, and in that time, I’ve helped countless California businesses go from idea to six figures. On this podcast, we talk about what it truly takes to build a sustainable business and find financial freedom. Let’s dive in.


[0:01:38.5] AW: Oh my goodness, I am so excited for today’s podcast guest. Pastor Michael McBride, is one of my favorite humans on the planet. I’ve been going to his church since I was a second-year law student way back in 2007, we have a long standing relationship and I know that he was going to be the perfect person for me to ask these questions about the intersection of faith and business, entrepreneurship, social justice, politics and all of that stuff.


Let me give you a little quick intro to who Pastor Mike is. Pastor Michael McBride, known as Pastor Mike is a native of San Francisco and has been active in ministry for over 20 years. Pastor Mike’s commitment to holistic ministry can be seen through his leadership roles in both the church and community organizations, a graduate of Duke University’s divinity school with a master of divinity and an emphasis in epics and public policy, Pastor Mike founded The Way Christian Center in West Berkeley where he presently serves as the lead pastor.


Regarded as a national faith leader, active in the Ferguson uprisings and many subsequent uprisings, he helps bridge, train and support millennials and religious institutions working on racial justice and black liberation. Pastor McBride has served on a number of local and national task forces with the Whitehouse and the Department of Justice regarding gun violence prevention, boys and men of color and police community relationships.


IN 2016, he was appointed as an advisor on president Obama’s faith-based advisory council for faith based and neighborhood partnerships. He has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, The Huffington Post and many other media outlets, providing commentary on issues related to faith and racial justice. It is my honor and my pleasure to introduce you all to Pastor Michael McBride.




[0:03:27.8] AW: All right, one of my favorite people, Pastor Mike, welcome to the podcast, how are you doing?


[0:03:33.2] MM: Yo, the great Asha Wilkerson. I am honored to be in your presence and thank you for the opportunity to just holler with you for a second.


[0:03:43.6] AW: Well, I appreciate it. I know that you are a busy, busy, busy human being and so I appreciate the few minutes that you are able to jump on and spend with us so I’ll just get right to it just so we can get right to the point. As you know, this platform is for black and brown business owners, entrepreneurs, looking to build a business and leave a legacy and the reason why I find it important is that we just need to bolster our economic status in this country, right?


You gotta have some money, participate in the systems to change the systems, to create your own future and have some self-determination. As I have been working with entrepreneurs more and more and even just diving into my own story, we all have some kind of understanding about money, about finances, about what we are entitled to receive and if we get too much, then maybe we’re getting further and further away from that good human being, that good Christian, that good religious person.


I just wanted to shed some light on that conversation so we can begin to talk about some of the beliefs that maybe we’ve held for a while that are no longer serving us and maybe incorrect or unusual interpretations from our foundation. That’s my long intro, welcome to the conversation.


[0:04:58.9] MM: Yeah and it’s certainly an important one. I think much of what you said is totally right, we have been taught a way of engaging with money, with resources, with creation, the ecosystem that has literally contributed to, if not, our death, literally, it has certainly caused us to not have the ability to thrive. This is a great conversation and I’m glad to offer my bootleg preacher, [inaudible 0:05:30.0].


[0:05:33.4] AW: Nothing bootleg about it, very real and very practical, a great marriage of faith and practice as you like to say. I was telling my podcast editors about my idea for this episode and she said, you know, she grew up in east San Jose and she said she grew up poor and she said one of the things that she would hear in church is that God loves the poor and that the first shall be last and the last shall be first and she said now that she is running her own businesses and trying to amass some wealth and secure her financial future, she’s thinking subconsciously, “Does God still love me if I’m no longer poor?”


I thought, “Wow, that’s a really good question,” because a lot of times, we hear messages that support us in our situation and then we start to move beyond that and the message doesn’t change. What is your take or what is your understanding about being a good Christian or God loving you more when you don’t have money versus when you do have money?


[0:06:32.2] MM: Well, it’s clear that at least to me and I hope it’s clear to everyone who is listening that God’s love for all of creation, certainly for human beings, is not predicated on the amount of money you have or don’t have. This idea that God loves the poor is true but it is not connected to you being poor, it is connected to you being created in the image of God, right?


God loves the poor but God despises poverty because poverty is a created kind of condition. It’s a created system within, again if we’re just talking within kind of a theological framework, poverty is a created condition within a system of abundance that God creates the world with enough for everyone to have what they need and a whole lot to be left over.


Poverty is a result of a very few, small number of people using greed and exploitation to create the conditions for the enough to become scarce. When the scripture says, “God loves the poor,” it is an affirmation of the inherent value of those who are being victimized by the greedy among us. It is not the sense that God is consigning a whole group of people to poverty for their whole life and that is then their lot in order to be loved by God.


[0:08:01.6] AW: Right, I really appreciate that and I think that’s important to hear because you know, black and brown folks, our economic status is still tied so much and interwoven with race. And dominant ideologies will keep a certain group at the bottom, right? Capitalism for instance or just the way things are run in this country, but that is not where we have to stay in order to be good people or good followers of Christ or good religious people in general, right?


[0:08:35.0] MM: Absolutely. I think it’s important to keep making a real emphasis or distinction between the idea that poverty and the poor are not the same thing. The scripture is attempting to describe to its readers the values of the creator, it is about reminding us that the earth, everything that’s created in the earth is the Lord’s. It is an act of abundance and generosity and that we who are human beings must reflect our own kind of stewardship of those same resources, right?


As being generous and sharing and not being exploitative and I think that that, for black and brown folks who have often been at the – in the position of exploitation, we are often not fully appreciative of the ways in which the systems of this world, greedy and the elite forces have created a literally a multigenerational kind of ceiling of poverty and I think the scripture is always good news to the readers and so the good news is that our value is not connected to our bank account and yet, we are also told to be good stewards of everything we have, which means that we should be stewarding all of creation, which is in and of itself, wealthy, right?


Enough, abundant. I think it’s really important to eschew or to shed some of those, I will call them bad theological teachings, around money and et cetera.


[0:10:15.8] AW: Yeah, I agree, I like that. You mentioned abundance, where is the line between having abundance and enough and having too much because – we’ve gotten past, okay, we don’t have to be impoverished to be connected to God, right? That’s a system, that’s a structure that is designed and we don’t have to stay there but now, if we’re thinking about, “Okay, we are no longer in this position, we’re growing and we’re trying to build a business and trying to amass wealth,” what is the guidance between doing too much and being a good steward to where your finances can grow and you can leave this legacy for the generations that come after you?


[0:10:58.7] MM: That’s a fascinating and very – I would say, kind of complicated question. I don’t know that there’s one answer to it. I think we, who are followers of Jesus or people who are attempting to be more religious centered, compassionate folks literally have to spend the rest of our lives wrestling with this question.


I think there are some general principles though that we could use as markers along the way. I think the first thing we ought to always say to ourselves is that greed and exploitation must never be a part of our business model, right? That we should have values that are cooked and baked into how we are amassing wealth. I think that there are also some clear kind of questions we should ask, the kind of economic systems that are deeply informing the way in which we are amassing wealth.


I don’t believe that any of the economic systems that we talk about are inherently more Christian than others, right? I don’t think capitalism is more inherently Christian or biblical than socialism or Marxism or social democracy blah-blah-blah-blah but I do think all of these systems should be interrogated for the outcomes they produce.


If we are participating in a capitalistic economy, the question for us is, “How can our participation in this economy afford us the opportunity to not amass wealth in ways that actually create the conditions for the systems of poverty?” Right?


I do believe that there are some ways for us to think about how do we ensure that we are paying fair wages? How do we assure that we are extending to the workers those same benefits that we ourselves would like to have? What does it mean for us to ensure that we are following labor laws and not trying to get out of taxes and all of these different kinds of things?


I think they are questions we have to ask ourselves. I think it’s kind of hard to participate in a capitalistic economy that is inherently, at least in this country, predatory and then not wrestle with these questions about how do we build our businesses in ways that both can exist in this system but not be over determined by the system, does that make sense?


[0:13:30.4] AW: Right, it does, it makes perfect sense.


[0:13:32.7] MM: I think all of us, and no matter what profession you’re in, we all have to ask ourselves, even me, as a pastor, I can make a conscious choice to preach a prosperity message because that is kind of like one way Christianity unfortunately, in this country, shows up, reflective of a predatory capitalistic economy or I can say. That’s probably not the most faithful expression of Christian preaching.


I’m going to attempt to teach something that actually has some more justice impulses embedded in it. It doesn’t take me off the hook though of having just to wrestle with the tug and pull of both of those things and I will say the same thing to business owners and entrepreneurs. How you build your business will greatly determine the kind of outcomes that reflect the values that you hold.


[0:14:21.9] AW: Right, I love that. Also, just as a reminder to folks, we get confused because it’s all matched together; capitalism, religion, poverty structures, that these things, the system in it of itself is not inherently good or bad. Capitalism is not good or bad, it’s just a system, right?


The way that you are – or the way that people are participating in the system can lead to results or does lead to results that are “good or bad” but by participating in capitalism doesn’t make you inherently a bad person. You can use capitalism to produce good results and a good friend of mine said, “Don’t forget, there’s a difference between capitalism and brutal capitalism.” A lot of times, we’re talking about every election and there’s, you know, something on the ballot about taxes and the folks who aren’t benefiting from the big corporate tax breaks are looking at these big businesses mostly led by white men and going, “This is terrible,” right?


Those same tax benefits and breaks are available to any entrepreneur, any corporation and it’s not, without getting into whether the tax break is good or bad, it is available, we just don’t all know about it. It’s not the tax break itself that’s necessarily the problem, it’s how it’s applied, I think.


[0:15:44.2] MM: Yeah, I think we should make lots of distinctions along the way too. One of the great biblical principles is about discernment, right? Kind of like equity, the conversation about equity doesn’t mean equal application. It means what is the most appropriate application that levels the playing field related to injustice, exploitation or kind of historic exclusion. I do think we should always have great discernment and nuance when we’re talking about small businesses versus Fortune 500, fifth generation billionaires, right?


I think an entrepreneur, someone who is just starting off, will likely never get to that level of wealth and so I’m not going to act with these kinds of broad brush kind of approaches. I think we should take care and be very intentional about continuously interrogating the ways in which we are amassing wealth, reminding ourselves that the participation in the American capitalistic machine does have international implications that we may or may not be aware of.


All of these things then require us to kind of have discernment about, “So if I participate in this way, how do I ensure that I’m acting with charity and justice in this way so I’m able to at least balance out or compensate some of these realities?” Right? I do think it’s really, really important for us as we’re studying all of these ways to amass wealth that we don’t do it all in a vacuum or a silo.


The interconnectedness of creation, of human beings, of economic systems, of nations, of governments, of the ecosystem, all of these is something that we should be mindful of. It’s probably irresponsible to suggest to entrepreneurs to hold the weight of that by themselves but you just want to be mindful of it and not be willfully obtuse about it.


[0:17:50.8] AW: Yeah, I like that as well. In connection to that, you do a lot of work around social justice, a lot of messaging around social justice and community organizing and I believe that entrepreneurship is one of the tools we can use as social justice warriors to create a more just society for the people who are marginalized and left out.


In your work as a community organizer and meeting with different pockets of folks across the nation, can you identify some ways that black owned, Latinx owned, you know, underrepresented entrepreneurs can affect directly the communities that they are in to merge this, “I’m taking care of myself and helping my family and myself but also I’m having an impact on the community that is also good and just and serving a purpose.”


[0:18:42.4] MM: Such a great question and so I think it’s always important for us to remember particularly folks black or brown coming from historically disenfranchised, the marginalized communities that we are literally standing on the shoulders of the people who came before us that those who were picking cotton or laboring in the fields were literally doing so with us in mind, right?


They were hoping that there would be a time where we could move without as much restriction so we could secure a future for our families and our communities and allow us to not be dependent upon the good will of the political and economic white elite system. And so if all of that is true and Icertainly believe it is true, then I do believe that as we fight for justice there is always an economic component to that justice fight.


I think it is often underappreciated, the amount of folks who are able, particularly with criminal convictions and criminal records, who are able to get hired by black and brown entrepreneur groups because we all appreciate the journey that most have had to make in the last 30 or 40 years since the war on drugs ravished our communities and put so many of our loved ones under the surveillance of the state, you know, through incarceration and electronic monitoring, et cetera.


What does it mean to intentionally create business and a sector that allows there to be this on-ramping from a tech perspective, from a service perspective, from a mental health perspective, from a legal perspective, et cetera, et cetera, financial service perspective, what does it mean for us to create these pathways to employment that afford at least an entry level position or even a career-long pathway for individuals in our communities who are likely not going to get the similar kind of opportunity?


Right now, we are super committed in pulling down about five billion dollars from the federal government to support the public health responses to gun violence and mass incarceration and so there’s whole sectors, a multibillion dollar sector of work that will need folks who are able to do art and able to do financial management and teaching classes, able to do therapeutic and mental health support and drug and alcohol addiction and coding and legal services and on and on, targeting this particular population, right?


I do think folks in the entrepreneurial space should think about, “How can my business model have a portion of it that draws down on the kind of social justice or social entrepreneurship models, so as I am kind of stabilizing my own say “nuclear family” I am also stabilizing my whole community at the same time?”


[0:21:42.3] AW: Right, yeah. I think it’s really important though often times, we feel that – I’ll speak from my own experience, when I graduated law school it’s like, “Oh do I go back and work in the community at this non-profit organization that is only going to pay $50,000 a year and do good work but in the struggle?” And then my dad told me, he was like, “If you don’t figure out how to take care of yourself, you’re going to need the services like everybody else you try to serve.”


I was like, “You know, you might have a point,” right? Oftentimes, we have this rub, this internal conflict as folks of color, do we leave “the community” to secure our wellbeing and to meet our immediate needs or do we stay in and fight, which is a good fight but then unfortunately, we’re asked to give up economic stability. If we are able to create those systems, those businesses that have an eye towards empowering the community, creating more jobs, hiring the disenfranchised, we will no longer have to make that choice to leave outside of the community and find financial stability versus staying in and forgoing financial stability.


[0:22:55.5] MM: Yeah and I think there are multiple ways to help provide that kind of stability that doesn’t necessarily require you, in your kind of infancy phase, to feel the financial burden, right? The skill set most entrepreneurs have would be a blessing to the social justice sector by serving on boards or by volunteering or by doing free trainings, and you do a lot of that, right? You know people need skills, people need to be exposed to knowledge and information.


I certainly think that creating business is certainly one way but business is a result of knowledge, right? It’s a result of skills and talents and passions and so I would encourage folks to think beyond just the kind of nuts and bolts of nickels and dimes, right? It is about, how do we use our businesses, our entrepreneurship kind of sensibilities, our intellectual rigor, how do we use all of that to create an ecosystem of stability and knowledge transfer that produces and multiplies wealth?


I think that is another way perhaps folks can think about plugging into some of the fights that are happening. You can donate, you can advocate or you can participate, right? [Inaudible 24:19], there’s three ways and so you can do all of that at the same time.


[0:24:23.5] AW: Yeah, that’s important, right? Because again, that rub seems to be just a dichotomy, “You can do either this or that,” but there are so many more options to participate and to make an impact that don’t require – they don’t have to be self-sacrificial, which is what we’re taught often times that they have to be.


All right moving into the third area, let’s talk about the political context right now and the idea that Jesus was this pacifist and if we are good believers and faithful people that we don’t participate in this political realm and we just try and keep the peace. You know, from my understanding, Jesus was quite revolutionary and spoke out against the empire and stood on behalf of the poor and the under resourced and the marginalized and was very clear about the message about things that were unjust. How do we reconcile this modern day Jesus with what your understanding of the historical Jesus was?


[0:25:28.4] MM: Well, this is such a fascinating conversation to have because I think Jesus is arguably one of the most misrepresented figures in history in the western kind of civilization. I’m going to start with me personally and then try to make the connection to how I think Jesus should be understood.

As a pastor, I have to provide spiritual leadership and support to hundreds of individuals who I tell regularly I love them, I care for them, I want to see them thrive and safe and healthy, et cetera. When members of my congregation come and share with me that their son is being unfairly singled out in school and expelled or their daughter is being victimized by sexism or misogyny or their father is being brutalized by the police or their auntie is getting constantly raided by ICE looking for her husband who may not be documented, as someone who says I love these folks I cannot just sit there and not respond to them. My response is an act of love, it’s an act of compassion.


It is an act of my responsibility to the people that I feel called to serve. Well, Jesus literally was born in an empire that had his people at the bottom of the social ladder and they were constantly experiencing violence by the hands of the police of their day, they were constantly experiencing violence at the hands of the political systems of their day. They certainly did not have the ability to fully live into their God-given dignity, et cetera.


Jesus comes, certainly as a divine figure, but certainly in a human context and approaches people at the place of their need and speaks directly to both their spiritual and their human reality. I think it’s very difficult in the western church where too often, particularly after 1600s or so, the scriptures have been used to make a moral cover for imperialism and genocide and domination for folks to fully understand or appreciate that Jesus is not just the Prince of Peace during Christmas time, right?


You know, it didn’t say, “And He shall be called the Prince of Peace during Christmas.” No, it’s like a lifelong eternal description of the ways of Jesus. The western church, which has unfortunately been privy and complicit to so much of the kind of war mongering et cetera, imperializing of the world, the western church has turned Jesus into the lord of war, right? I think it is really important for us to imagine that the work of Jesus across time, across place but particularly in His particular human life was reflecting a need to care for the people that he will call the least of these.


That is what justice is about. It is about having a consciousness that there are systems in this world that literally exploit the weak and the vulnerable among us. Some of the weak and vulnerable among us are socially placed in this way not because of something they’ve done wrong themselves or because they’ve been born into a poverish situation or they have too much melanin in their skin or they are gendered differently in a context where power is ascribed and bequeathed to others and not all.


I do believe it’s really important for us to again keep interrogating how we understand Jesus and I would say any religious faith, I do think it’s really, really important for us to remember that the best that our religious traditions have to offer us are always about fairness and justice and inclusion and equity. It speaks very clearly against the greed and the violence and the theft of the wealthy and the rich and we ought to make sure we do not find ourselves named in those kinds of categories.


[0:29:58.0] AW: Yeah, absolutely. If you were listening today and you had some questions about how your faith can intermingle, intermix with your desire to create generational wealth, I hope that this conversation has shed some clarity on that that there is nothing wrong with being a believer in Christ and building a business. There’s also ways that you can carry out missions of social justice and access and fairness through your business without having to sacrifice your own financial gain.


There are ways to participate in the system that are representative of the tenants of faith that talk about justice, that talk about access, that talk about reaching the poor, that talk about just being good stewards of what we are given and the ability to grow, and to have more because there is abundance in this world. There is enough for all of us. I would always say, switch that scarcity mindset to that abundance mindset. There is enough. And you as an entrepreneur, especially black, brown, bipoc, queer entrepreneur have so much opportunity to make your impact on the world whether it just with the clients you serve in your neighborhood, in your state, in your nation or in the world so go forward and do what you do.


Let us know if you have any questions, need some support, we will be happy to support you. Pastor Mike, if they want to check into you a little bit more and find out where you hang out, can you tell them where to find you?


[0:31:23.7] MM: Sure, you can go to my website, pastormikemcbride.com, and it has all the links to the church, our church in the Bay area, The Way Berkeley, the national campaigns we lead called The Live for USA campaign, The Black-Brown Peace Consortium and The Black Church PAC. You can go to pastormikemcbride.com and you’ll get plugged in. I am on all the social media channels. My handle is @iampastormike_ and yeah, follow me. You’ll hear all kind of ongoing radical rants from the bootleg preacher.


[0:32:01.3] AW: The messages that we need to hear to empower us and to meet us right where we are. I appreciate you Pastor Mike, thank you so much.


[0:32:08.0] MM: All love Asha, you are the bomb diggity. Thanks for all you do for the world.


[0:32:12.3] AW: Thank you.




[0:32:16.9] AW: If you want to learn more about how you could build a business and leave a legacy, check out our online community, where we dive deeper into these concepts and I literally pull back the curtain to show you how I help entrepreneurs just like you build a sustainable business that leads to financial freedom. You can find out more at the wiklersonlawoffice.com.



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