Alum Explores Walmart, Faith, & Consumer Culture

February 5, 2014


For Christy Newton (MDiv ‘00), a trip to the store means a lot more than just picking up bread and milk.

“What you’re surrounded by affects who you are, and what you believe your options to be limits your imagination of what is possible,” she said. “When everything else is gone, and our only choice - particularly for low-income people - is to shop at WalMart… what is offered, what is supplied becomes what we demand.”

This is the basis for her dissertation, soon-to-be published by Baylor University Press, “Saving at WalMart: A Theological Analysis of Relationships in Consumer Culture”.

But Newton sees this as more than just an issue for academics or people who are against corporate homogenization – it’s also for religious leaders.

“I’m concerned with helping ministers [and] other lay people interested in how the church operates as part of a consumer culture,” she said. “Some people are very resistant to considering that consumer culture affects the church at all. In my experience and research, I find that they are inextricably related.”

Newton’s path to exploring the connections between social ethics & theology started when she answered her call to be a pastor, and began seminary at PSR.

“I always felt called to the bigger questions and helping people live in those questions,” she said. “Not to necessarily answer them, but to live into them. To find meaning and power in just being with those questions and thinking about something bigger and greater than ourselves.”

It was her time at PSR that also eventually led her to GTU for her PhD, which brought together liberation & practical theologies, globalization studies, and studies of consumerism.

“I just assumed… that people came to seminary because they were going to go into ministry in some way. That that wasn’t the case was surprising, but it [was also] eye-opening.”

Since receiving her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in 2011, Newton has shared her time between pastoring, and teaching. Currently, she is with a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation in Vallejo that she was drawn to because they are, “very interested in consumerism, social justice, living the gospel in the world in very practical ways.”

She is also in her third year of teaching her course “Wells of Living Water: Spiritual Practices for the Journey of Life” with PSR’s Theological Education for Leadership program (TEL). The course has been about what it means to nurture our spirituality when we’re pulled in many directions, something Newton has been experiencing anew since becoming a parent.

In terms of what she sees as the future for PSR, Newton said, “I would love to see a PSR that continues to thrive and offer [the] full range of theological studies that I experienced when I was there[, and] I love that it has the center of lesbian and gay studies… that supports that important work and ministry.”