The Economic Crisis
Here are posts
beginning with Oct. 10, 2008.
– could there be method in this madness?
A comment from Gene Te Selle, former Witherspoon Issues
The joblessness report issued on August 6
turned out to be downbeat, with job creation slow and
unemployment rising slightly.
On the other hand, we keep hearing reports
that corporations have plenty of money - both profits
distributed to stockholders and cash kept in the bank - but are
not spending it to hire more employees. (Click
here for the Washington Post report.) This is not
necessarily from lack of work to do.
many corporations have
discovered that they can put their existing employees under
increased pressure, with more overtime and less in the way of
benefits. To have a job these
days is not to be exempt from pressure and anxiety
("squeezed" and "hammered" are
metaphors that workers often use). Small business is,
as usual, a more reliable source of job creation.
The slow economy means, in turn, fewer
consumer sales and therefore lower tax collections by states and
localities. The result is massive layoffs of government
employees across the country. Those who disdain public employees
and their unions think this is a good thing. Those who rely on
public services of many kinds are finding that these services
are simply not available, or have a long turnaround time.
The low level of corporate spending may not be
accidental. It may not even be a narrow matter of corporate
prudence or the "fiduciary responsibility" to make money for
stockholders, directors, and CEOs. An important motive may be to
influence public policy by making the economy (and a Democratic
president and Congress) look bad as we move toward the November
They may be looking for a "favorable investment climate" and
what we call in the South a "disciplined work force."
But there is more. Even if there should be an
increase in Republicans elected to Congress, we should not
expect the economy to turn around in November. It is only after
the November 2 elections that Congress will have the freedom of
movement to tackle major policy issues - the Bush tax cuts, the
inheritance tax, and the report of the "deficit commission" on
how to deal with the national debt, currently around $8.6
trillion in publicly held debt and $4.5 trillion in
intragovernmental debt, what the Treasury owes Social Security
and other trust funds. The argument will be that all debt
(except for the military budget) is
indiscriminately bad, that Keynesianism is wrong in trying to
stimulate the economy by directing more money to consumers who
will spend it quickly, and that the solution is to put more
money in the hands of the wealthy, who alone have the right to
direct the economy, and who alone have a track record of
expertise and effectiveness (the collapse of the economy in 2008
will not get much attention, except as an unfortunate and
Once these key policy issues are voted on by a
lame-duck Congress (and they have to be voted on before the end
of 2010), we could find a change. The economy could suddenly
improve after January with a new flow of investment money and
job creation, proving to those who have a short memory that the
Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party were on the right
track all along.
Perhaps we could keep these possibilities in
mind during the next three months as we move toward the November
2 elections. I hope that I am wrong. But events just might play
out this way, unless commentators and voters are too smart to be
manipulated by short-term statistics.
Chamber of Commerce calls for less taxes, less regulation –
to create more jobs???
This week the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce released its economic recovery plan,
with the goal of creating 20 million jobs in ten years.
Immediate goals that the Chamber set before the President and
|extension of all the tax relief passed in
the last decade and a reduction in corporate tax rates,|
|generating additional federal revenues
through oil, gas, and shale leases on public lands and
off our shores, and opening all national forests to
|passing the pending trade agreements with
Colombia, Panama, and Korea, on the theory that they will
expand trade and protect jobs, and|
|modernizing all forms of infrastructure
(transportation, power generation, communications) by
opening them all -- including transportation and "water
means water for consumers, all of us) to
Some of these will cause readers to do an
instant "double take" in the summer of 2010. Most of them lack
any mention of regulatory safeguards to protect health, safety,
and our common future; but of course the declared purpose is to
bury regulation, not improve it. All in all, the statement is a
dramatic example of the ideology of "neo-liberal economics"
condemned in the Accra Declaration of the World Alliance of
Reformed Churches in 2004.
Thanks to Gene TeSelle,
former Witherspoon Issues Analyst
SEC lawsuit of
Goldman Sachs overdue and welcomed by Illinois People’s Action
posted reports and commentary last November on a demonstration
at the Goldman Sachs office in Chicago by an Illinois
grass-roots citizens’ group, Illinois Public Action. They issued
the following press release today, commenting on the recent SEC
announcement of a suit again Goldman Sachs.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of the Federal
Government announced over the weekend it is suing Goldman Sachs
for its role in the financial market meltdown due to its role in
predatory mortgage lending practices.
Illinois People’s Action (IPA/ciop) says it’s about time. “Last
November about 200 IPA/ciop leaders went to Goldman Sachs in the
Chicago loop,” said IPA leader, Jack Porter. “We called them out
for their major role in the economic catastrophe we’re all going
through. Now our judgment has been confirmed by the SEC.”
week after the Chicago action, IPA leaders joined with other
grassroots groups from around the country to march on Goldman
Sachs in Washington D.C. When Goldman Sachs CEO, Lloyd Blankfein,
claimed Sachs was doing God’s work, IPA Board President, Rev.
Tony Pierce, stood before a crowd of hundreds, decrying
Blankfein’s claim. Pierce received international press coverage
for his comments. Both the Chicago and Washington demonstrations
against Goldman Sachs were organized by National People’s
IPA/ciop has been organizing on predatory lending since it saw a
2043% increase in foreclosures in central Illinois from 1993 to
1999. IPA noted that the increase in foreclosures was positively
correlated with subprime and predatory mortgage lending and
sounded the bullhorn that unless predatory lending was stopped,
it could bring down the entire market. While IPA believes the
SEC should have listened to warnings and taken action years ago,
it is encouraged to see the SEC taking action now.
“Fortunately, our United States government is willing to back
the people and deal with fraudulent activities in the business
world. We are glad to see them stepping up at this time and hope
they will look further at other big banks that have done the
same,” said Rev. Charlotte Dotts, IPA leader and pastor at Word
of Life Church in Bloomington. Many of Rev. Dotts parishioners
have been negatively affected by predatory lending.
IPA is joining its affiliates across the country to demand
accountability by the big banks and government. It held a
Showdown on Foreclosures in Peoria last week that was attended
by over 300 community leaders and the U.S. Department of
Treasury. It held a similar meeting in Decatur last August that
was attended by 500. It plans to take its case to D.C. again in
IPA is a faith-based organization whose membership is comprised
of 40 churches and grassroots community groups across the state.
For more information on IPA’s campaigns, go to
The religious case for moving your money where your heart is
A week ago we posted a bit of
Ariana Huffington’s call for
people who are concerned about the power and apparent
irresponsibility of the nation’s super-sized banks to show their
resistance by moving their own money to smaller, more local or
Now the Rev. Paul Raushenbush, who is the
Religion Editor for the Huffington Post and the Associate Dean
of Religious Life and the Chapel at Princeton University, offers
an explicitly religious/theological/ethical perspective on the
same proposal. He concludes:
It may be time for us as individuals and
as churches, synagogues and mosques to move our money to
smaller banks that are connected and responsible to our
I encourage you in your congregation to
consider the following question regarding where you keep
How does my religious tradition view
money? What purpose does money serve in the ideal society
envisioned by my tradition? Does it matter how our money is
made? What is the best way to make my money serve the
ethical mandates of my tradition? Does my bank reflect the
values that I hold regarding money?
Each of us has many ways to live out our
religious convictions. One of those ways is to be conscious
and have a conscience about how we make, spend and where we
save our money. If you are interested in learning more go to
His full essay >>
|A Happy New Year
suggestion: move your money to a small bank
We received this note from a
Witherspoon/Voices member on New Year’s Eve:
"Happy New Year" I'm sending this to wish us
all a 2010 that has US citizens expressing "we the people" more
effectively. Consider what Arianna Huffington and her gang
suggest. I don't have any account in one of the BIG banks but I
can at least suggest YOU
read this amazing idea! which may by the grace of God plant
other seeds for IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE in 2010!
Mary Louise Ellenberger
A few snippets from Huffington’s article:
Too-big-to-fail banks are profiting from bailout
dollars and government guarantees, and growing bigger. ...
The big banks on Wall Street, propped up by
taxpayer money and government guarantees, have had a record year,
making record profits while returning to the highly leveraged
activities that brought our economy to the brink of disaster. In a
slap in the face to taxpayers, they have also cut back on the money
they are lending, even though the need to get credit flowing again
was one of the main points used in selling the public the bank
Meanwhile, America's Main Street community banks –
the vast majority of which avoided the banquet of greed and
corruption that created the toxic economic swamp we are still
fighting to get ourselves out of – are struggling. ... As a result,
a system which was already dangerously concentrated at the top has
only become more so. ...
Our money has been
used to make the system worse -- what if we used it to make the
system better? ...
The idea is simple: If enough people who have
money in one of the big four banks move it into smaller, more local,
more traditional community banks, then collectively we, the people,
will have taken a big step toward re-rigging the financial system so
it becomes again the productive, stable engine for growth it's meant
to be. It's neither Left nor Right – it's populism at its best. ...
Think of the message it will send to Wall Street –
and to the White House. JP Morgan/Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank
of America may be "too big to fail" – but they are not too big to
feel the impact of hundreds of thousands of people taking action to
change a broken financial and political system. Let them gamble with
their own money, not yours. Let's turn big banks into smaller banks.
We'll all be better off – and safer – as a result.
Make it your New Year's resolution to move your
money. We can't think of a better way to start 2010.
For Huffington's full article >>
For more info, go to:
it possible to reinvigorate our communities in the midst of a global
Here’s one intriguing
note: We’ve had no direction connection with this movement, but
we’d like to hear an experiences or impressions you have.
Please send a note, to be shared here!
Fear and isolation often prevent us from seeing ways
to make our economy work for everyone. But there are alternatives.
People are creating communities of support and mutual aid around the
pain and fear of this moment, and in doing so they are quietly
building a new economy.
One example of this sort of community organizing
Common Security Club,
a simple model which combines mutual aid, a support group, and a
venue for social action. Common Security Clubs are springing up
around the country. In churches, unions and workplaces, unassuming
groups of 20-25 people meet to share their troubles, try to make
sense of this moment in our economic history, and plan action
A network of
religious and community organizers has developed a number of free
tools to help start-up clubs, including a five-session curriculum.
The program covers the origins of the economic crisis and how to
take social action towards a more just economy. It also encourages
mutual aid among members, such as skill-swaps, potlucks and
cooperative child-care, in many cases the norm for our grandparents’
The strength of the
approach seems to lie largely in simply facing common problems
together, listening to one another, and the relief of breaking down
barriers through open discussion about finances.
One group in suburban
Washington describes themselves as a “Reality Club,” determined to
keep reminding each other that there’s no going back to the old
self-protective economy based on phantom wealth. In one Boston club,
members are taking turns bringing in their household budgets for
“makeovers”: sharing their financial quandaries to the group and
receiving its collective wisdom on ways to either cut costs or
enhance income. Other groups have formed “Get Out of Debt Club,” to
reduce expenses, and have created bartering networks and skill banks
– exchanges of work and skills without money changing hands.
Common Security Clubs
are also a place for people to get organized to assert people power
over the economy. Groups organize meetings with their congressional
representatives, fight cuts in local services, and agree to keep
their spending dollars local. Many group members find themselves
inspired to engage politically again, after years of discouragement.
While the pundits
rant, the politicians flounder and the CEOs make out like bandits,
life in the real economy goes on with a reassuring tenacity. We can
remember what the good life was, in simpler times, and we can
recreate it from the bottom up.
helps coordinate common security clubs in the Northeast. For more
information, visit www.commonsecurityclub.org.
were active in protests at ABA meeting in Chicago
The American Bankers Association's annual convention in Chicago,
October 25 - 27, was the scene for a widely-reported series of major
protests. Dubbed "the
Showdown in Chicago,"
the protest included groups like the National
People's Action, the Service Employees International Union,
Americans For Financial Reform and the AFL-CIO. Sen. Richard Durbin
(D - Illinois) addressed the protesters on Sunday evening, while on
the “inside,” conference speakers included Newt Gingrich,
conservative columnist George Will and FDIC chairman Sheila Bair. (Bair
also spoke to the protesters, adding her support to the movement
by decrying bailouts and the notion of "too big to fail"
Among the group of some 200 protesters from Central
Illinois, members of the Central
Illinois Organizing Project (CIOP), was Witherspoon
member Jack Porter, of Bloomington, who has been sending us a
variety of news reports of Presbyterians and others who took part.
There were four
busloads from Central Illinois, including groups from First
Presbyterian Church of Normal, IL, and New Covenant Community of
Normal, which is affiliated with PCUSA, UCC, and Disciples. First
Presbyterian Church of Springfield, IL, which has been active in
helping the creation of Homeless United for Change (HUC), which
participated in the Chicago action, and First Presbyterian Church of
Decatur, were also involved in the organizing for the event.
How did this all get started?
A little background:
Greider wrote in The Nation (August 25, 2009)
Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s ability to charm the nation
and the media – right, left, and center – into trusting him to deal
with the financial crisis when in fact he was ignoring many of the
most dangerous developments in the banking system. But then Greider
mentioned one exception:
While the big media led
cheers for Bernanke's reappointment, I was out in Decatur, Illinois,
with a group of ordinary citizens who confronted the Fed for its
failure to address the real pain and loss people are suffering. The
Central Illinois Organizing Project brought together 500 people on a
Saturday morning to deliver their own demands to the three Fed
officials in attendance (Bernanke was invited but did not show).
Among the propositions was a brilliant challenge to the central
bank: the Fed should use its awesome influence (and maybe some of
its money) to organize an investment consortium of banks to finance
some real-life development projects in Peoria and Pekin. This could
be a pilot project that demonstrates how this venerable institution
can reform itself by serving the broader public interest.
That August meeting
in Decatur was a crucial step toward the “Showdown in Chicago” event
in October. CIOP was deeply involved in that meeting of 500 people
with representatives of the Federal Reserve. As Jack Porter notes,
“that gathering of 500, with all the preparation involved, directly
led to our participation in Chicago. It helped to frame the issues
and to empower our relatively conservative Central Illinois folk to
get into the streets.”
According to Don
Carlson, executive director of CIOP, the themes of the CIOP
participants in the Chicago event were "Break up the big banks!", "Stop foreclosures, use
bank bonuses to keep families in homes!", and "Reclaim America!"
Rev. Eugene Barnes of
the CIOP opened one evening session by saying: "Welcome to the
Showdown in Chicago. We have come together to reclaim America and
hold Wall Street accountable. Imagine a story as terrible as this:
the same financial institutions that created the crisis, sent the
economy into a tailspin, handed out bonuses on top of bonuses, and
needed hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayers money, are back
in business as usual."
A number of high
school youth from the churches were part of the group. One of them,
Catherine Holland, wrote this in reflecting on her experience:
As a 15 year old,
I attended the Showdown in Chicago because I wanted to be a part
of change in America. I wanted to observe it, learn from it and
participate in it. There is more to a person’s education than
books and this was an opportunity for me to get connected with
the real issues at hand. When I got on that CIOP bus
Sunday afternoon, I knew that banking in America was defective,
however, I didn’t understand to what extent. In less than 48
hours of being a part of this protest I learned of the misuse of
bailout money given to the banks, housing foreclosure being
widespread (every 13 seconds a home is foreclosed) and that,
although Wall Street is trying to set the reforming agenda, we
must not let this happen. As a citizen of America I feel it is
my duty to speak out against what is unjust, that is why I
attended the Showdown in Chicago.
Huffington Post provides a varied sampling of brief reports and
videos of the event, including protesters gathering in the Chicago
offices of Wells Fargo.
Access to safe, affordable credit
must be part of financial reform
Information received from
PICO National Network
National People’s Action
Action and the PICO National Network applaud the Obama
administration’s focus on protecting consumers. The creation of the
Consumer Financial Protections Agency (CFPA) could be a positive
step in the right direction. Real regulatory reform, however, must
include an expansion of the Community Reinvestment Act and the Home
Mortgage Disclosure Act to ensure fair and equal access to credit
for all Americans.
“What led us into
this economic crisis was a deregulated system that allowed risky
loan products into our communities. Holding financial institutions
accountable through a strengthened CRA is critical to ensuring
history does not repeat itself,” said George Goehl, executive
director, National People’s Action who with Gordon Whitman of PICO
National Network is in attendance at today’s announcement from the
Yesterday, faith and
community leaders from PICO National Network and National People's
Action reiterated our support in a letter to President Obama urging
him to make strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and
Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) a part of the financial reform
plan. The strengthening and modernization of these elements has been
part of our discussions with the Administration for some time.
plan to reform the financial regulatory system needs to include
better protections for consumers, especially against [the] toxic
mortgage and other predatory loan products responsible for our
current crisis,” said Rev. Lucy Kolin, spokesperson for the PICO
National Network, a coalition of 52 faith-based community
organizations representing 1,000 congregations in 17 states.
Action, a network of state and community organizations from across
the country, led the national campaign for passage of HMDA in 1975
and CRA in 1977. The Community Reinvestment Act has brought over one
trillion dollars of reinvestment into low- and moderate-income
communities, helping to breathe new life into once devastated
neighborhoods and to lift families out of poverty.
Mortgages made under
Community Reinvestment Act regulations have avoided the high default
and foreclosure rates that continue to plague our economy, but the
law currently regulates banks and not mortgage companies or bank
activities outside of areas in which they have local branches. This
exception was widely exploited in the current crisis. The Federal
Reserve Bank and other studies show that mortgage companies not
subject to the Community Reinvestment Act made over two-thirds of
the loans that went into foreclosure, most of which were predatory.
recovery and growth depends on having good and affordable credit
available to families and businesses, including those in low- and
moderate-income communities,” said Marilyn Evans, spokesperson for
National People’s Action. “The foreclosure crisis would have been
less severe if mortgage companies had been regulated under CRA.”
Community Reinvestment Act to include all financial institutions
with measurable standards and to require institutions to meet all
credit needs with proactive plans would provide access to safe and
fair credit to all Americans. Real regulation and community
reinvestment will protect struggling communities from the kind of
practices that led to millions of foreclosures and neighborhood
deterioration in cities and suburbs alike.
To build support for
modernizing CRA and HMDA, PICO and NPA will hold a series of Federal
Reserve community meetings in ten hard-hit communities across the
country this summer. This first hearing took place last week in
Richmond, CA, where ten percent of homes have been foreclosed.
Additional hearings will take place in New York City, Boston, Kansas
City, Chicago, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Des Moines, and Decatur (IL).
The Editor’s Spot
How shall we
respond to this time of crisis?
by Doug King
[published in the Winter
2009 issue of Network News, and posted here on 4-20-09]
living in interesting times, aren’t we? A time of crisis,
it’s been called. We’ve heard about hope and fear and much
more. Too much, maybe. But I’d like to invite you to think
now about how we as a church, as part of the people of God
in the world, might respond to this time.
John F. Kennedy
is frequently quoted as saying, “When written in Chinese,
the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters – one
represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”
The election of our new President seems to many of us to
open a new time of opportunity – for change, for
truthfulness, for greater hope for justice for our people,
for greater hope for peace for the world.
In this issue
of Network News,
theologian Doug Ottati
offers his thoughts on the state of the union, and the
state of the church. (See p. 12 ff.) He offers great
insights on both, but I’d like to look a little more
specifically at how we might live and act in this crisis
time – both in our church and in our society.
should start with facing our fears and naming our anxieties.
Many of us are threatened very directly with unemployment,
illness for which we can’t afford treatment, loss of our
homes, decay of our communities, and the radical shrinkage
of our savings and investments. For many of us – including
those who have felt secure and comfortable – the future
looks bleak and frighteningly uncertain.
we’ve always had things to worry about, and perhaps this
makes a nice change from our worries about Marxists, and now
“terrorists” and Muslims and migrants.
is that raises our anxiety level, we tend to react by
protecting ourselves – defending our homes, our loved ones,
our way of life. And one of the most reassuring ways we do
that is by building walls. Whatever the threat, we try to
shut it out. In many cases that makes good sense. Sometimes
it even works.
happens when we build walls? We may shut out the threats –
the strangers, the enemies – but we pay a price. Recently I
heard a meditation on walls,
given in a Lenten worship service in a Mennonite fellowship
that my wife and I happened to attend. I think it offers
thoughts about walls far better than mine, so I’ll share it
here, with the kind permission of the authors.
In a time of
crisis, when the threats loom so large and so close, what
can we as people of faith offer to our churches and our
communities? Hope, of course! Hope is the answer, right?
But what can
we do or say that will offer authentic hope and not just
platitudes or nice sentiments?
Doug Ottati in his essay
reminds us that “Ours is a time of hope. But, especially in
the church, we ought to remember that hope in things that
are seen is not hope, and that, if we hope for what we do
not see, we also wait for it with patience (cf. Romans
8:24-25). Moreover, we should also recognize that no person,
community, or nation brings in the kingdom.” His thoughts
have led me to pay more careful attention to the
proclamations of hope that we have been hearing from
President Obama, and there’s a very interesting difference.
In his first
address to a joint session of Congress, on February 24,
Obama used the word ‘hope’ just three times, by my count.
(Well, four if you include one use of ‘hopeless.’) At just
one point he addressed the meaning of hope explicitly,
warning that in these very difficult times we may easily
give in to cynicism and pettiness. “But,” he went on, “in my
life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely
places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the
most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations
of Americans who are anything but ordinary.”
Then he told
his concluding stories of people who have demonstrated that
kind of practical hope: the bank president from Miami who
took his $60 million bonus and shared it with over 400
people who had worked for him; the town Greensburg, Kansas,
that is rebuilding from the devastation of a tornado, aiming
to rely on clean energy – and so to provide a model for
others; and of course he introduced Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the
girl from Dillon, South Carolina, who attends an
impoverished, decaying school, and who took the trouble to
write a letter to Congress asking for help. She and her
fellow students, she wrote, simply want to “make a change to
not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We
are not quitters.”
the hope? Our Reformed theological perspective warns us
(rightly!) against putting our hope in persons or
institutions. But our new President is calling us to
recognize that it is,
after all, human beings, one by one and together in
communities small and large, who do make change happen.
So if we in
our own communities of faith are to offer anything to our
troubled nation in these hard times, it may be in holding
together the Reformed and the pragmatic in our own actions:
finding concrete ways to enact the divine calling to being
good neighbors, while never putting all our hopes in what we
think we’re doing for the world.
must be, or we’ll be merely hearers of the Word and not
doers, clanging gongs and crashing cymbals, not partners in
God’s work to make the world a better, fairer place.
And many of
you who read this little journal are doing things already,
as you’ve been “doing” for years. But what do we need to be
doing in these days?
about this! Here on our website, on
our Facebook page where chatting is even easier and more
direct, or by
sending a note to your editor to be shared in the next
issue of Network News and on our website as well – however
you do it, please let us know what you’re doing (or what’s
been done in your city or neighborhood even if you’re not
directly involved in it) so we can help each other find our
way through these hard times.
And if you’re
looking for ideas, you might scroll down through the rest of
this page, and look at our
earlier posts as well.
The State of our
Church in a Time of Hope
A regular column by
Dr. Douglas F. Ottati,
Distinguished Professor of Reformed Theology and Justice Ministry at
Davidson College, Davidson, N.C.
[published in the
Winter 2009 issue of Network
News, and posted here on 4-20-09]
The state of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or indeed of any church, can be
difficult to get hold of. Important matters of polity and
worship occupy our various communities and structures, e.g.
questions concerning gay ordination and marriage, and the
frequency and scope of participation in the Lord’s Supper. The
state of any church, and particularly of one with a strongly
participatory heritage such as ours, is also intertwined with
wider cultures and societies, their current possibilities,
patterns, and limits. And then, of course, there is the
perennial and also decisive question of the gospel and our
faithful witness to it.
Some Matters before the Church
and structures of the PC (USA) face no shortage of important,
often contentious issues. The recent General Assembly took some
significant actions – voting to eliminate old authoritative
interpretations of G.60106b, sending an amendment of same to the
presbyteries, calling for a new and more accurate translation of
the Heidelberg Catechism. These actions all but ensure that our
church will continue to face the question of what counts as
normative human sexuality. It is true, of course, that some of
those who favor the amendment theologically and in principle
believe now is not the time for our church to decide the
theological question of what counts as normative sexuality, and
therefore urge no action on overtures to amend. (To date,
interestingly, the amendment has done surprisingly well in many
presbyteries.) In any case, it seems certain that the basic
issue is not
At the same time,
the PC (USA) faces other important questions. Consider the
frequency and also the scope of participation in the Lord’s
Supper. How shall congregations prepare their members to receive
the Supper? How shall they educate persons into its deep
realities, mysteries, and meanings? Shall participation be
restricted to baptized and confirmed members, or opened to all
who are baptized and profess the faith? Shall it be opened to
all the baptized or perhaps even simply to all people? There is
also the question of a faithful Christian estimate of other
religions. Shall we view other faiths as false and pernicious
or, perhaps, as false and benign? Shall we look upon them as
alternative wisdoms having to do with God, the world, and
ourselves that we also know and approve as true? Shall we look
upon them as other avenues that may
also be true? How, in the light of the way we resolve these
questions, shall we understand Christian missions?
Then, of course,
there are issues and challenges before us that have emerged from
our wider cultural, social, and political circumstance. Among
these are questions surrounding patterns of human activity and
the health of natural environments, questions about immigration,
the availability of good quality health care, retirement and
social insurance. There can be little doubt, moreover, at least
in the near term, that our society’s responses to these and
other matters will be shaped in part by the current economic
crisis – something that itself will need to be addressed and, if
possible, also ameliorated with effectiveness, justice, and
compassion. And then, there are also the deadly serious matters
of widespread poverty, starvation, and disease, two wars, and
the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. Not
to mention the question of how to deal with failed states,
genocidal conflicts, and the prospects for humanitarian military
interventions, the strengthening of tolerably equitable and
effective international structures for cooperation, the question
of nuclear proliferation, and so on.
A Time of Hope
daunting cumulative effect, we should also note, I think, that
our church faces these questions and more at a particular point
in history which, for many in our society and elsewhere, can
only be described as a time of hope.
The dynamics are extraordinarily complicated. Even so, we can
point to a comparatively simple and symbolically articulate
fact. The citizens of the United States
of America, the world’s most powerful nation, have elected Barak
Hussein Obama President.
At least two
things about this seem especially significant.
• Consider the President’s name. At a
time when some say we are engaged in a clash of civilizations,
it has unmistakably Muslim overtones. After hundreds of years of
slavery, oppression, and discrimination, it is the name of a
mixed race man of color who is the son of a black man from
Kenya. It is the first name of a President-elect of the United
States to end in a vowel. These are only some of the more
obvious ways in which the name of the President signals an
apparent broadening of American attitudes and horizons, perhaps
even a down payment on the enfranchisement of historically
oppressed and marginalized persons and communities as fuller
participants in American civil society.
• President Obama often speaks publicly,
as he did in his victory speech at Grant Park, of being a
president for all Americans. Nothing particularly new there
until we hear him mention Hispanic Americans, Black Americans,
white Americans, and (importantly) also gay and lesbian
Americans as the people he intends to be President of. He
invokes the idea of a changed society in which there will be
greater attention to national service and also better access to
education and health care. He tries to articulate a new stance
for the nation that combines a resolute commitment to resist
enemies with a renewed preference for international diplomacy
and cooperation. In short, he seems to promise a more inclusive
sort of politics.
these things, of course, we also do well to remind ourselves of
their anticipatory, provisional, contingent, vulnerable, and
certainly unfinished character. Ours is a time of hope. But,
especially in the church, we ought to remember that hope in
things that are seen is not hope, and that, if we hope for what
we do not see, we also wait for it with patience (cf. Romans
8:24-25). Moreover, should also we recognize that no person,
community, or nation brings in the kingdom. All fall short of
the kingdom and its glory. All are at present and shall also
remain subject to criticism in the light of what remains
corrupted and unfulfilled.
The Gospel of Grace
We can meet the
issues and matters before us with integrity and we can meet them
as we participate faithfully in a time of hope, if we are clear
about the most important single question before us, namely, the
question of the gospel.
Gospel means good
news and glad tidings. It is the message of grace that moves the
Apostle Paul to say “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say
rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). We might summarize the Gospel by saying
that Jesus Christ reveals the true God to be the faithful God of
grace. But perhaps we do better to stick with the Apostle who,
in Romans 5, links Adam and Christ. “For if the many died
through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace
of God and the free gift in the grace of the man, Jesus Christ,
abounded for the many” (Rom. 5:15). And then, famously straining
toward a good and universal
hope for all, “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to
condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to
justification and life for all” (Rom. 5:18).
Again, as Paul says in Romans 5:8, “But God
proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners
Christ died for us.” John Calvin took this and similar verses to
summarize the word of faith. He took them to indicate that God
always already is faithful and that, in Jesus Christ, the divine
faithfulness is decisively impressed upon us. There not only may
be, but surely are, additional angles of vision on the gospel
besides this one. For example, there is also the perspective of
the Anabaptist wing of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th
century that emphasizes the new law in Jesus, a reign of Christ
that opposes all earthly powers and that calls for a radical and
pacifist discipleship. But for those of us who stand in the
Reformed tradition the bottom line and the fundamental point of
the Gospel is this. God is faithful.
The Gospel therefore is a word of grace founded on the
apprehension that, in Jesus Christ, the true God is the faithful
God of grace.
tired of pointing out that this same message also permeates the
law and the religion of Israel. God elects Israel by free grace
alone, and in demonstration of free grace and faithfulness, God
blesses all the people of the earth in Abraham, and brings up
Israel out of Egypt (not to mention, as Amos does, the
Ethiopians, the Philistines, and the Arameans). We don’t have
time to dwell on all of this here. Suffice it to say that, for
Calvin, there is one covenant of grace in two dispensations, and
this one covenant finally extends all the way back through
Abraham and even to Adam. The Gospel is a word of grace, and
there never was a time when God was not the God of grace.
theology that emerges from this can be outlined easily enough in
a few broad strokes. The great God of glory who creates and
bears all things in nature and in history is the good God of
grace who redeems. Thus, we begin by noting that God is both
Creator and Redeemer. As Redeemer, the faithful God reconciles
and renews by grace alone and thus bestows new life. But, of
course, redemption implies, presupposes, and points toward a
difficulty, a fault that needs to be set right. This is where
sin comes in and it is also where God as Judge comes in. So, we
obtain an outline of a basic theology.
• God = Creator, Judge, and Redeemer.
• Humanity = good, capable and limited
creature; corrupted good who suffers consequences of sin; and
beneficiary of reconciliation and renewal.
Each of these
affirmations is keyed, in turn, to the fundamental apprehension
in Jesus Christ that God is faithful or that the true God is the
God of grace. This means that, as Creator, the God of grace
freely gives and bestows the good gifts of creation, existence,
and life. Creation, then, is an act of grace. As Judge, God
turns persons and communities away from corrupted loyalties,
loves, and patterns toward new possibilities. (Thus, Calvin
understood repentance as mortification + vivification, a turning
away from evil and a turning toward good, or the death of the
old person and the emergence of the new. In
A Christmas Carol,
Scrooge – literally an old man made new – is blessed with the
right nightmares.) Judgment therefore is not simple destruction.
To judge is not to vaporize, but to turn recalcitrant persons
and communities. As Judge, the God of grace bestows the
grace of repentance.
Finally, as Redeemer, the God of grace bestows reconciliation or
forgiveness and renewal or new life. (Justification and
sanctification, as Calvin says, are “a double grace.”)
One feature of
this theology and its typical human reception within and also
beyond the church that bears mentioning here is this.
Much of the time we find the news both too good
and too bad.
If the true God
who always already stands in relation to all as Creator, Judge,
and Redeemer is the faithful and good God of grace, then God is
faithful and gracious to all. But much of the time, we find this
news too good to be true, and also too good to accord with our
cherished devotions to ourselves and to our own in-groups.
Therefore, we try to diminish it. We say that the faithful and
good God of grace disclosed in Jesus Christ is faithful and
gracious only to some. We claim that God is faithful and
gracious only to those whose righteous behavior merits or
deserves divine favor. Or, perhaps we claim that God is faithful
and gracious only to those who hold correct beliefs. Perhaps we
will even maintain that the faithful God of grace is only
faithful and gracious to us. But the point is always the same.
The good news of the Gospel of the God of grace is too good.
Of course, it
follows, too, that if God is faithful and gracious to all, then
all must stand in need of grace and redemption. All must be
mired in a difficulty from which they cannot escape. All stand
in need of help. The Gospel of the God of grace therefore
presupposes and points to a radical and universal human fault.
It presupposes that all fall short and that none is righteous,
no not one. Sin is persistent, radical, and universal. Persons
and communities cannot overcome it either by their own wisdom or
their own efforts. Therefore, human agents and communities, and
indeed the entire human project, are unavoidably skewed. But
much of the time, we find this news too bad and too difficult to
bear. So we qualify it. We tailor it to our most cherished
devotions and commitments. We maintain that, while many may be
corrupted, some are not; some are not sinners and are not
skewed. Perhaps we claim that the best people, the best
communities, the best movements, or the best institutions are
without fault. Perhaps we say that the true politics or the true
church is without sin. Perhaps – like a parishioner offended at
having to say a corporate prayer of confession – we may even
maintain that, while there are many nefarious and chronic
sinners in the world, we are not among them. Or perhaps we shall
claim that there really is no radical and persistent human fault
at all; there is only misguided immaturity followed by dynamic
growth toward goodness.
By contrast, to
hold together the too good and too bad – grace alone and
abounding as well as a human fault that is radical and universal
– is to adopt a posture or stance I call
Hopeful realism refuses both easy optimisms and cynical
pessimisms. It suggests that we do not really know ourselves
when we concentrate on our abilities apart from our limits and
our faults. However, it also claims that we do not truly know
ourselves when we consider our limits and our faults apart from
our created abilities and apart from the traces of grace and
renewal we find in God’s world. Hopeful realists recognize the
chronic constriction of human spirit and its destructive, even
death-dealing consequences, and they know that it calls for
strategies of restraint. They accept what others find too bad.
At the same time, however, they also remain at the ready for
possibilities for truer life and renewal. They also affirm what
others find too good.
Our Church’s Witness in a Time of Hope
If this is
correct, then clarity about the Gospel of the God of grace does
not immediately resolve the many issues and challenges before
us. Instead, a commitment to witness in word and in deed to the
faithful God of grace lends us a basic orientation or posture.
us toward the many issues and challenges in certain ways.
Being clear about
the Gospel of grace does not immediately tell us which
particular energy policy is best. It does not tell us which
agricultural practices are most helpful, and it does not tell us
how to go about urban planning. But it does tell us that
environmental questions have to do with our stewardship of God’s
good gift of creation, and so it disposes us to take these
questions very seriously. Indeed, when we look at it
theologically, we recognize that God’s good creation is not
simply all about us humans. Clarity about the Gospel therefore
also disposes us to recognize that, when it comes to the natural
environment, human welfare is not the only good at stake.
Clarity about the
Gospel of grace does not, in and of itself, formulate an
appropriate immigration policy. It does not tell us whether and
how to combine a documented worker program with amnesty and / or
paths to citizenship. Again, clarity about the Gospel does not
tell us just how to formulate international agreements about
human rights or how to structure and oversee fair courts and
tribunals. It does not immediately tell us just who should and
should not be afforded the status of prisoners of war. But, as
the Gospel insists that all persons have worth in relation to
the God of grace, a faithful witness to it disposes us to treat
the immigrant with hospitality and fairness, and also to take
seriously the question of how we treat prisoners. It encourages
us to recognize that we have duties toward the strangers within
our gates and even toward our enemies. It tells us that
oppression and torture are simply wrong.
When we turn to
questions of ordination and marriage, a faithful witness to the
Gospel of the God of grace does not tell us precisely how to
write our rule books. It does not furnish a detailed reading of
the sensibilities, possibilities and limits of Presbyterians in
America in 2009, and so neither does it specify which practical
and political strategies are likely to be most effective in our
present particular circumstance. But it does anchor an
unshakably strong bias toward inclusion and toward a capacious
and generous church that recognizes the needs and talents of all
and that also invites their faithful contributions to the church
and its leadership.
We can make a
similar point about the question of world religions. You and I
may ask what we must do and / or believe in order to be saved.
We may ask whether one or another person, group, or community
can be saved. What if we behave badly? What if they believe
differently and do not confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
Can other religions be saving? What about secular and even
atheistic philosophies? These are important questions,
particularly in a time when some speak of a “clash of
civilizations,” and when some Americans mimic the earlier
rhetoric of Christian crusades against the infidel. But the
apprehension of a gracious God cuts against the grain of all of
them. Now the question is no longer whether human actions and
beliefs (our own or anyone else’s) can be saving. Now it is
simply about the God of grace. How far do the faithfulness of
the faithful God and the grace of the gracious God extend? The
classical answer is even to the sinner, even to the betrayer. If
we believe this, then we have little reason to exclude ourselves
or anyone else from the scope of God’s grace and redemption.
There are also
implications for worship and prayer. Here, again, clarity about
the Gospel of the God of grace does not gives us detailed
directions so much as an orientation and disposition. Take
prayer. While we remain alive to its many forms and functions,
theologically speaking, we will be disposed to view it much as
the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism did, namely as an effort
at communion with God undertaken fundamentally out of gratitude
and thanks. We will understand baptism, at least in part, as a
sacramental acknowledgement of what is always already the case,
namely, that persons are children of God, participants in the
one covenant of grace. We will be disposed to look upon the
Lord’s Supper as a remembrance of Jesus Christ, his sacrifice,
last supper, and table fellowship that is also a sacrament of
spiritual presence, nourishment and empowerment for true life.
And, I believe, we will be inclined to open it to all without
qualification, and so ensure that it enacts sacramentally the
reality of being swept up into a single community before the
faithful God of grace who always stands in relation to all. (As
Jonathan Edwards’ father-in-law, Solomon Stoddard, once
maintained, the Lord’s Supper is not a gift only to the
faithful, but “a converting ordinance” to be shared with all.)
With respect to
participating faithfully or both constructively and critically
in the present time of hope, clarity about the Gospel will help
to render us – indirectly by our sacramental practice, efforts
at an inclusive polity, and our estimate of the question of
world religions, and directly by our disposition toward
immigration, health-care, the treatment of prisoners, etc. –
supportive of the hopeful rhetoric and politics of inclusion and
diplomacy. At the same time, it will dispose us to be realistic
about the domestic and international challenges of the present
age, to recognize that, of necessity, many of the most important
steps will be piecemeal compromises. It will also dispose us to
acknowledge the continuing importance – with respect both to
defense and to humanitarian interventions – of a well-trained
military that is responsive to civilian leadership and to
about the Gospel of grace should dispose us to say to American
progressives some of the same things we also should have been
saying to neo-conservatives. The danger of naïve idealism is
that, attending too little to constraining realities, it
underestimates the extent to which relevant outcomes depend on
factors (including our own interests and the interests of
others) that remain largely beyond our control, and so it
overestimates our capacities to enact moral goals and ideals.
Overly idealist and ideologically-committed political leadership
is therefore especially prone to miscalculate consequences. A
second danger of naïve idealism is that it sometimes tempts
those who occupy positions of leadership to believe that they do
so as the result of their own virtue. It tempts people to
self-righteousness. But, in the light of the Gospel, all persons
and political movements need to be reminded that they fall short
of true righteousness and that much depends on accident,
fortune, grace, and providence. This is true not only of social
and political conservatives, but also of American progressives
who now find themselves nearer the seats of power than they have
been for some time.
The World’s Witness in a Time of Hope
Let me make one
further point. When estimating the state of the church it is
almost never enough to discuss the church’s witness to the
Gospel; it is often also necessary to mention the strange
testimony of the world on behalf of the Gospel. I say strange
because, so often, we think of witnessing to the Gospel as
something that the church does. But it is also possible for the
world to witness to the Gospel and to do so even over against
It has happened
before. Diverse communities and groups in the world have
sometimes and quite justifiably criticized inordinately partial
loyalties, visions, practices, and prejudices that have
captivated and corrupted the church. One thinks of churches in
America and elsewhere finally relinquishing the ideal of a state
church in favor of a politics more tolerant of religious
diversity. Again, one thinks of churches in this country and the
issue of slavery. More recently, one thinks of Protestant
churches that finally altered long-standing traditions which
excluded women from ordained leadership. These were changes that
accord with the Gospel of grace, and they were made, at least
partly, in response to broader cultural, social, and political
pressures and currents.
Now, it may be
that the rhetoric and the politics of inclusion during this time
of hope will inspire a new “culture-Protestantism.” It may be
that a new cultural climate will press our often altogether too
reluctant church finally to take some decisive steps. In our own
time, there really is no place for a Christian exceptionalism
that continues to regard all other faiths as false and perhaps
even pernicious. In fact, such a stance can only have the most
highly destructive consequences in a pluralist society of
Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others. It also corrodes
whatever fragile prospects we may have for a more stable and
responsible community of nations. Perhaps, during this time of
hope, the wider culture will push us to clarify and to change
some of the more destructive positions we sometimes take. I
should also not be surprised if we experience increasing
cultural pressures on the question of ordination. And so, among
other things, in this time of hope I hope that the world’s
strange witness will help to make our church more faithful. I
hope that it will help us to avoid the studied irrelevance we
too often embrace, and I hope that it will drive us toward a
more profound appreciation for the Gospel of grace.
A Meditation on Walls
Saint Paul Mennonite
Fellowship, March 8, 2009
Composed and led by Lisa Pierce
and Karen Abshier
[published in the
Winter 2009 issue of Network
News, and posted here on 4-20-09]
This Lent, we will reflect together on Jesus
nature as “The Other.” What is so fascinating to me about Jesus’
otherness is that he both claimed it and transcended it. He cast
himself outside the walls of power and providence, yet transcended
the dividing walls, sitting at tables with prostitutes and tax
collectors alike. In the end, he transcended even the walls of his
Israel is building a “Separation Wall,” reportedly
to protect Israelis from Palestinians, although some argue that it
serves primarily as an annexation of disputed territory into
The construction of the nearly 450-mile-long wall
will cost approximately four billion dollars.
It consists of a series of 25-foot-tall concrete
slabs, trenches, barbed wire buffer zones, electrified fencing,
watch towers, thermal imaging video cameras, sniper towers, and
roads for patrol vehicles.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made
both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is,
the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2:14)
Friendship Park, between Imperial Beach in
California and Tijuana in Mexico, was dedicated by Patricia Nixon,
then first lady, in the early 1970s, and has long been a popular
meeting and picnic spot.
Although a chain-link fence divides the space
along the border, the barrier allows people on either side, often
those separated by immigration status, to have contact, share food,
talk and kiss.
But the U.S. Border Patrol has ordered that the
area be permanently closed to the public and a secondary, solid
border fence be erected north of the existing fence stretching out
to the Pacific Ocean.
Isn’t it interesting how the walls that we build
to protect ourselves so often become our prisons?
The Roman Empire built walls, including Hadrian’s
Wall, to protect Roman Britain from the Pictish tribes of ancient
Scotland, making the northern British border the most heavily
fortified in the Roman Empire.
The Ming Wall in China, part of the Great Wall,
stretches over 4,160 miles and was once guarded by more than one
Some estimate that two to three million Chinese
died as part of the project of building the Great Wall.
You shall call your walls Salvation.
The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall
or the Kotel, is located in the Old City of Jerusalem. Just over
half the wall was constructed around 19 BCE by Herod the Great. The
remaining layers were added from the 7th century onward.
Jews regard the wall as the sole remnant of the
Holy Temple and practice prayer at the wall, sometimes placing slips
of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the wall.
Muslims also claim the wall as a holy site, saying
it is referred to in stories about Muhammad and is part of the al-Aqsa
The wall is one of the most disputed sites in
It was now about noon, and darkness came over
the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light
failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
Good fences make good neighbors.
The Berlin Wall was erected in the night of August
13, 1961. It was a weekend and most Berliners slept while the East
German government began to close the border. In the early morning of
that Sunday, most of the initial work was complete: the border to
West Berlin was closed. The East German troops had begun to tear up
streets and to install barbed wire entanglement and fences through
Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev,
tear down this wall! (President Ronald
The people raised a great shout and the wall
fell flat. (Joshua 6:20)
Sometimes walls are as invisible and impenetrable
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, originally designed
as a student project by Maya Lin at Yale University’s School of
Architecture in 1981, has become a symbol that has served to unify
and reconcile a nation sorely divided by a foreign entanglement.
Lin envisioned a black granite wall, in the shape
of a V, on which the names of the American military dead and missing
would be inscribed.
The architect hoped that “these names, seemingly
infinite in number, [would] convey the sense of overwhelming
numbers, while unifying these individuals into a whole.”
Early on the first day of the week, while it
was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the
stone had been removed. (John 20, verse 1)
Without walls, there is no shelter.
Truth is, we all need boundaries. We all need some
sort of wall or fence.
The trouble comes when there are no boundaries and
others come and go, taking what they need without regard for
But the trouble also comes when the boundaries are
too rigid, when we won’t let anyone in and we won’t let anyone or
The best walls have doors and windows.
The best fences have gates.
“I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be
saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
(John 10, verse 9)
|World Council of
Churches leaders: G20 must deal with 'greed' of financial system
Geneva (Ecumenical News International) – 30 March
2009 – The world's biggest grouping of churches has urged a "drastic
transformation" of financial institutions, claimed that greed has
become the basis for economic growth, and said that G20 leaders must
build a new system based on ethical principles.
"What we need are brave and new measures to
correct this unjust and unethical system in order to prevent such a
crisis from occurring once again," said the general secretary of the
World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, ahead of a 2 April
summit in London of leaders from the Group of 20 leading economies.
"The need of the hour is to construct a system in
which market forces are checked [not only] through ethical
regulations and oversight but also by a framework of common values
that sets clear limits to excessive and irresponsible actions based
on greed," Kobia said in a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon
Brown made public on 30 March.
Kobia urged G20 leaders, "to go beyond short-term
financial bail out actions and to seek long-term transformation
based on sound ethical and moral principles".
The WCC gathers 349 churches – principally
Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox – from 110 countries.
In his letter to Brown, Kobia highlighted 12
proposals for the G20 leaders. These included mechanisms to deter
currency speculation and to control capital flows; the eradication
of financial speculation on commodities such as food and energy; the
dismantling of tax havens; a system of global taxes to finance
public needs; and debt cancellation.
Kobia said he welcomed moves by Dutch Prime
Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
for a global charter for sustainable economic activity.
Still, said Kobia, who is a Methodist from Kenya,
such a charter should be formulated on a "participatory basis" that
involved all U.N. countries.
"More importantly," the WCC secretary general
added, "the churches believe that fighting global poverty, the food
crisis and climate change should be given the same attention as
salvaging the financial meltdown."
Separately, religious leaders in Britain have
urged G20 leaders not to forget promises made to the world's poor,
nor commitments to tackle climate change.
"Even in these difficult times, we strongly urge
the leaders of the G20 to hold fast to the commitments they have
made to the world's poorest people," said leaders drawn from the
Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths in a
joint statement. "Morally binding commitments to cut carbon
emissions and so to slow the devastating effects of man-made climate
change have been made in recent years. They should not be forgotten
Signatories included the Archbishop of Canterbury,
Rowan Williams, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion;
Mohammed Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of
Britain; Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor; and Chief Rabbi Sir
They stated, "Some aspects of this crisis will
require technical economic solutions. However, those solutions alone
will not be enough to address all the questions that we face. At the
roots of this crisis lie important moral issues."
WCC proposals for
the G20 meeting and United Nations general assembly in May 2009:
1. That this crisis is an opportunity for the
international community to create a new financial architecture to be
developed under the aegis of the United Nations where broad
participation of all countries and the civil society could take
place. The G20 discussion should therefore prepare the way for a
fuller discussion at the May U.N General Assembly debate on the
2. Set a process for democratisation of all global
finance and trade institutions.
3. Deter destabilising currency speculation by
transforming and strengthening regulatory institutions.
4. Develop a practice of ethics and social justice
that can guide financial markets in the world.
5. Establish international, permanent and binding
mechanisms of control over capital flows and capital flight.
6. Implement an international monetary system
based on a new system of reserves, including the creation of
regional reserve currencies in order to end the current supremacy of
the U.S. dollar, and to ensure international financial stability.
7. Prohibit hedge funds and over-the-counter
markets, where derivatives and other toxic products are exchanged
without public control.
8. Eradicate speculation on commodities, primarily
on food and energy, by creating public mechanisms that will monitor
9. Dismantle tax havens, bring the users to
justice (individuals, companies, banks and financial
intermediaries), and create an international tax organization to
combat tax competition and evasion.
10. Establish a new international system of
wealth-sharing by creating a system of global taxes (on financial
transactions, polluting activities and high income) to finance
global public goods.
11. Cancel illegitimate debt and address
unsustainable debts of impoverished countries, and establish a
system of democratic, accountable, fair sovereign borrowing and
lending that serves sustainable and equitable development.
12. Ensure that this crisis will not lead to the
reduction of the Official Development Aid to poor countries, nor
adversely affect the Millennium Development Goals.
Kobia's letter >>
For more news from
Ecumenical News International >>
are congregations responding to the urgent needs of people in this
time of economic crisis?
assistant editor and Web editor of The Christian Century,
contributes a brief blog to the Century’s “Theolog” in which
he raises the question and mentions a few responses. You may want to
check in on the conversation and add ideas and experiences of your
|An alternative view of
globalization as it seems to unravel
A report on the
World Social Forum: Is Another World Possible?
The Nation magazine carries a report by Tim
Costello and Brendan Smith, that begins:
The recently concluded World Social Forum is a
good gauge for assessing the state of the world's alternative
social, economic and political movements. Organized in 2001 as a
counterpoint to the World an emerging globalization from below.
It's a massive affair--this year more than 100,000 people
gathered here for the five-day event. Part political convention,
part carnival, part countercultural happening, the WSF serves as
the center of gravity for the global justice movement that
emerged in the late 1990s to contest corporate globalization.
The question on the minds of many was how to
respond to what some call the "crisis of crises"--the economic,
climate, political and cultural catastrophes that have engulfed
the planet--and whether social movements can provide a unifying
alternative vision for a better world. Economist Walden Bello of
Focus on the Global South summed it up: "There is a sense of
urgency and seriousness combining both pragmatism and principle.
There is much less rhetoric. Things are taking place very fast
outstripping what many predicted. There is a clear collapse of
neo-liberalism. We have been triumphant over Davos.... Now we
need alternatives and must get down to the hard work of creating
full article >>
|We have money problems, right?
Let’s look to the military (budget) for help
Rep. Barney Frank (D - Mass.) urges looking to the
military budget as a source of funds for health care and more
Frank’s article, published in The Nation,
I am a great believer in freedom of expression
and am proud of those times when I have been one of a few
members of Congress to oppose censorship. I still hold close to
an absolutist position, but I have been tempted recently to make
an exception, not by banning speech but by requiring it. I
would be very happy if there was some way to make it a
misdemeanor for people to talk about reducing the budget deficit
without including a recommendation that we substantially cut
Sadly, self-described centrist and even
liberal organizations often talk about the need to curtail
deficits by cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and
other programs that have a benign social purpose, but they fail
to talk about one area where substantial budget reductions would
have the doubly beneficial effect of cutting the deficit and
diminishing expenditures that often do more harm than good.
Obviously people should be concerned about the $700 billion
Congress voted for this past fall to deal with the credit
crisis. But even if none of that money were to be paid back –
and most of it will be – it would involve a smaller drain on
taxpayer dollars than the Iraq War will have cost us by the time
it is concluded, and it is roughly equivalent to the $651
billion we will spend on all defense in this fiscal year.
Faith leaders call for raising
Wage events link MLK dream to end poverty wages
by Jerry L. Van
Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE ― January
9, 2009 — With the U.S. economic crisis deepening and unemployment
soaring, a group of 11 denominational and religious organization
leaders are among the inaugural signers of a call to raise the
federal minimum wage to $10 in 2010.
The signers include
the Rev. Gradye Parsons, General Assembly stated clerk of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Nearly 400 faith leaders from all 50
states have already endorsed “$10 in 2010,” a campaign led by
Let Justice Roll, and
more are signing on each day.
Let Justice Roll, a
national coalition of faith, community, labor and business
organizations, will hold Living Wage events this weekend and on the
Martin Luther King holiday weekend as part of the “$10 in 2010”
campaign and in support of state and local living wage campaigns.
“Well before the
recession, growing numbers of employed men and women sought help at
food banks and homeless shelters because they could not live on
poverty wages,” said Rev. Steve Copley, chair of Let Justice Roll.
economists, when the federal minimum wage increased to $6.55 an hour
last July, it still left workers with less buying power than they
had in 1997 ― the start of the longest period without a raise since
the minimum wage was enacted in1938.
“Our economy wouldn't
be in such a mess if wages had not fallen so far behind the cost of
living and income inequality had not grown to levels last seen on
the eve of the Great Depression,” said Holly Sklar, senior policy
adviser for Let Justice Roll and co-author of A Just Minimum Wage:
Good for Workers, Business and Our Future. “As we are seeing so
painfully, an economy fueled by rising debt rather than rising wages
is a house of cards,” she added.
U.S. Department of
Labor analysts say it would take about $10 to match the buying power
of the 1968 minimum wage.
“It is immoral that
the minimum wage is worth less now than it was in 1968, the year Dr.
Martin Luther King was killed while fighting for living wages for
sanitation workers,” Copley said. “It’s also bad for the economy.
Minimum wage dollars go right back to local business through
spending on food, healthcare and other necessities.”
Most of the 27 states
with minimum wages higher than the federal level have unemployment
rates that are lower than the federal level, Let Justice Roll says.
organizations in states such as Tennessee, Georgia, New Hampshire,
New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California
and Colorado will hold living wage services and events this month.
Nashville, TN, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Unitarian services will
be part of a campaign for a citywide living wage ordinance, and the
interfaith coalition will march in the annual Martin Luther King Day
parade with signs that say “Living Wage Was Part of His Dream” and
“Let Justice Roll.”
• In Nashua,
NH, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the
Rev. William G. Sinkford, will preach at a living wage service.
In addition to the
“$10 in 2010” campaign, Let Justice Roll is currently organizing to
raise state and local minimum wages in Georgia, Kansas, New Jersey,
Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
A recent campaign in
Kansas City, KS successfully doubled that city’s lowest in the U.S.
minimum wage of $2.645 an hour.
Most of the ten
occupations projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to have the
largest employment growth during 2006-2016 ― such as retail
salespersons, fast food workers, home health aides and janitors ―
have disproportionate numbers of minimum wage workers.
“A job should keep
you out of poverty, not keep you in it, said Sklar. “The minimum
wage sets the wage floor, and we cannot build a strong economy on
downwardly mobile wages and rising poverty, inequality and
insecurity. As President Roosevelt understood, we have to raise the
floor to lift the economy.”
In addition to
Pasrons, Copley and Sinkford, inaugural signers of the “$10 in 2010”
call are the the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary, National
Council of Churches USA; the Rev. Sharon Watkins, general minister
and president, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in US &
Canada; the Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president,
United Church of Christ; Rabbi David Saperstein, director, Religious
Action Center of Reform Judaism; Mary Ellen McNish, general
secretary, American Friends Service Committee; Sister Simone
Campbell, executive director, NETWORK: A National Catholic Social
Justice Lobby; James Winkler, general secretary, United Methodist
General Board of Church & Society; the Rev. Alexander Sharp,
executive director, Protestants for the Common Good; and the Rev.
Kim Bobo, executive director, Interfaith Worker Justice.
about “$10 in 2010” is available on the
Let Justice Roll Web site.
Information for this story furnished by Betsy Leonder-Wright of Let
|Interfaith Worker Justice provides
A congregational toolkit for helping unemployed workers
Friday's grim news that 524,000 jobs were lost in December and
that the unemployment rate hit 7.2 percent starkly underscores the
need for all sectors of our society to support unemployed workers
and to encourage employers to treat all workers justly in times of
Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) has recently
to help unemployed workers. Available free of charge
from the IWJ Web site, the toolkit outlines what resources are
available to unemployed workers, suggests how to establish support
groups for unemployed workers, and offers worship aids for lifting
up unemployed workers and employers in this time of crisis.
always stood by unemployed workers in times of struggle," said
Bishop Gabino Zavala, Co-President of IWJ's Board of Directors.
"These congregational tools help us fulfill our mission of serving
Interfaith Worker Justice
Click here for
the Toolkit >>
About the financial crisis:
Subprime loans are
not always a bad thing
The current financial
crisis apparently stems largely from the vast amount of subprime
lending and subprime borrowers over the past few years.
In a recent
Daniel Gross argues that “Many ethical subprime lenders still manage
to make plenty of money.” But note that funny little word “ethical”
Gene TeSelle, out of
his own involvement with affordable housing efforts in Nashville,
TN, over the past few years, supports the Newsweek article:
I've been on the
boards of two nonprofit providers (and lenders) for affordable
housing. In the late 1990s, Ed Latimer of Affordable Housing
Resources was commenting that HUD, in response to the Conference
of Mayors, was enhancing its Nehemiah and Ameridream programs,
going to minimal or no down payment. This worked if home
purchase was tied to prepurchase counseling. (I can remember
going to a conference in Atlanta in the Eighties where they
focused on "post-mortgage debt," which was no surprise to those
who already had experience with housing counseling.)
The problem, as
some saw eight years ago, was that this was bypassed by the
"private sector" – mortgage companies that were not even
regulated, as the banks and former S&Ls were, and, in addition,
paid no attention to prepurchase counseling. They were working
with the big homebuilding firms, which got into the "affordable
housing" market once they saw the opportunity for a high volume
of sales on these terms.
So the housing
problem resulted from three things, all of them evident years
ago – unregulated mortgage companies, lack of prepurchase
counseling, and the ready availability of new homes. In all
three ways they undercut the role of nonprofit developers,
counselors, and lending intermediaries, which quickly saw their
clients going through these "easier" channels.
It's not a
surprise to people who were working in the field. They were in a
position to warn about what was happening. But the ethos in
Washington was one of encouraging the housing bubble, and doing
nothing that might harm the reputation of the private
CRISIS AND THE CHURCHES' MESSAGE
by Gene TeSelle
recent weeks we have seen the U.S. government, and then all the
governments of the world's leading economies (the "G-8"), develop a
series of "bail-out" or "rescue" measures to counteract the failure
of investment banks, a massive slide in stock prices, and a
continuing reluctance to be either a lender or a borrower.
Some legislators (usually located at the right and the left ends of
the political spectrum) decried these measures on various grounds:
that they rescued the very companies and executives that had created
the mess, that they did little for ordinary people, or that basic
principles about the relation between business and government were
first the rescue measures took the form of loan guarantees, which
would become repayable loans if they were used. When these were not
enough, government took an "ownership" or "equity" position, though
debate still continued whether this should include voting rights in
the affected corporations. (If voting rights are not included, the
corporations could more easily delay making loans or refuse to
restructure mortgages.) Government officials said at press
conferences that they disliked taking these measures but that they
were necessary to shore up a collapsing stock and credit market.
Many who had vigorously opposed government regulation and
intervention as a matter of principle, talking as though "free
market capitalism" were prescribed by the U.S. Constitution, now
indulged in socialism for the rich. Their karma had run over their
Commentators like Robert Reich and Paul Krugman have been wondering
whether these measures mark the end of an era. Those who want to
deny that it does are in good company. President Bush said on
October 15 that these measures are designed not to replace
the free market but to save it. Nevertheless, those who have
professed that the market will always correct and regulate itself
are now contradicting themselves. By doing what they have condemned
as not only unjust but unfeasible, they find that their own
principles have circled around and bit them.
Reactions from an international perspective have been even sharper.
Countries all over the world have been forced to adopt "structural
adjustment programs" (SAPs) as a condition for receiving loans —
privatization of industry, education, health care, even water;
deregulation of the economy; and elimination of "trade barriers," to
the extent of letting corporations sue local, state, and national
governments before the secret tribunals of the World Trade
Organization. Now they see the U.S. and the other leading powers
playing fast and loose with those principles in order to save their
own economies. From their perspective, the arrogance of power has
now been supplemented by massive hypocrisy.
lectionary readings for October 19, 2008, include Matt. 22:15-22, in
which the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking about paying
tribute. His answer is, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's." As F.C.
Grant liked to paraphrase it, "Give Caesar his old denarius, it's
not much." But then he goes on, "Give to God what is God's,"
presumably one's entire self which is in the image of God. And this
also involves, if we can skip ahead a few chapters, ministering to
the hungry and thirsty, the naked and homeless, the sick and
imprisoned (Matt. 25:41-46).
Yes, it may not be out of place to pay taxes to whom taxes are due,
even to "bail out" or "rescue" Wall Street and the managers of our
tax-deferred retirement funds. These are aspects of our shared life
together. But when it comes down to a decision about our basic
orientation, this is not the last word.
2004 the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) issued the
so-called Accra Declaration, a statement entitled "Covenanting for
Justice in the Economy and the Earth." In language that many
observers in the U.S. considered far too extreme, it condemned
This expression turned out to be puzzling to many lay people, so we
need to explain. Neoliberalism is not the bad liberalism
condemned by Bush I and II, John McCain, and Sarah Palin, and waved
off by Barack Obama and most Democrats when the term is used to
characterize their own approach.
Neoliberalism, as used in current parlance, is something good. It designates the laissez faire
doctrine that was popularized by Milton Friedman, politicized by
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, triangulated by Bill Clinton
and key advisers like Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin, promoted by
pundits as the "Washington Consensus," and imposed upon the
developing economies by the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund when they made "structural adjustment plans" a key
condition for receiving loans.
Accra Declaration characterized neoliberal economics as based on the
unrestrained competition, consumerism, and the unlimited economic
growth and accumulation of wealth is the best for the whole world;
the ownership of private property has no social obligation;
capital speculation, liberalization and deregulation of the market,
privatization of public utilities and national resources,
unrestricted access for foreign investments and imports, lower
taxes, and the unrestricted movement of capital will achieve wealth
social obligations, protection of the poor and the weak, trade
unions, and relationships between people, are subordinate to the
processes of economic growth and capital accumulation.
Declaration, using the language of "we believe" and "we reject" that
was pioneered at Barmen, criticizes the motivations, the
consequences, and the ideological justifications of this
policy — its indifference to the poor, its spirit of consumerism and
greed, its unregulated accumulation and unlimited growth, its
indifference to and misuse of the natural world. It even uses the
word "empire," by which it means "the coming together of economic,
cultural, political and military power that constitutes a system of
domination led by powerful nations to protect and defend their own
this sounds relevant to the current situation, it is.
one thing, the criticisms of neoliberalism's effects on the global
economy turn out to be applicable to the U.S. itself. Such policies
not only victimize the rest of the world; they victimize the U.S.,
too — its own people and the economic relationships that affect them
in such important ways. We may have been able to turn a blind eye to
the effects of these policies on others in the past, but when those
same effects are seen here at home it concentrates our attention in
addition, all of this should remind us of a dimension of the current
financial crisis that has received almost no coverage in the U.S.
media — its consequences for the less industrialized countries of
the world. Even the economies of the G-8 countries have not yet been
"rescued," and we may wait a long time to see what kind of recovery
there will be and which sectors of their population will be the
beneficiaries. But we have not heard many analyses of the
consequences for the developing countries, many of which have
already been devastated by privatization, deregulation, and
elimination of trade barriers, often working in league with
political corruption and "crony capitalism" which these measures
have done little to correct.
There will be a need, then, to reinvent not only our own economy but
the global economy. The same old inequities, the same old "empire,"
might continue to prevail. But it could be that the bursting of the
credit bubble will bring more careful consideration of those aspects
of the economy that are genuinely productive. If so, we must be sure
that there will be benefits not only to the working people of the
developed economies but to the hewers of wood and drawers of water
(cf. Deut. 29:11, Josh. 9:21-27) in our increasingly unequal global
talk about "energy independence," which now seems to be a bipartisan
consensus, may offer a start, since global inequality is often
linked with extractive industries, of which oil is the most
lucrative. In addition, concern about immigration might lead
lawmakers to help make the economies of other countries more viable,
not simply to exploit them. And then the outsourcing of jobs has had
mixed results, especially with the costs of transportation rising,
and there may be readiness to focus on genuine job creation, not
only in our own country but in others. If it is genuine
job-creation, it will include the labor and environmental
protections that the Clinton and Bush administrations have cynically
left out of international trade agreements. It will also mean that
U.S. embassies pay attention to labor and environmental issues, not
simply corporate investments and military liaisons.
And with the new attention that has been given to
irresponsible financial practices, we might broaden our concern to
include tax havens and the many forms of international
money-laundering. The crisis has also focused much-needed attention
on the huge salaries that go to corporate executives in many fields,
and not just in finance and banking. This massive income inequality
has created a new class system in America and distorts the life of
the church itself. In these and other ways the current economic
crisis might move our thinking in new and fairer directions.
We welcome your comments,
or suggestions of other items that might be posted, as we all
struggle to deal with the economic crisis.
send a note,
to be shared here.
|Responses from the
global South to the world economic crisis
October 16th 2008, by Various Authors
The International Conference on Political Economy:
Responses from the South to the World Economic Crisis took place in
Caracas, Venezuela from October 8-11, 2008, and was attended by
academics and researchers from Argentina, Australia, Belgium,
Canada, Chile, China, South Korea, Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, the United
States, the Philippines, France, England, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and
The conference promoted a broad debate about the
current economic and financial situation of the world, and about the
new perspectives and challenges of the governments of southern
peoples in the face of the international crisis.
The situation has worsened in the last few weeks.
After repeated crises in the financial markets of a few central
countries, it has quickly converted into an international crisis of
enormous proportions. This places the countries of the South in a
The crisis threatens the real economy. If
energetic, effective, and immediate actions are not taken, it could
bring overwhelming punishments upon the people of the world,
particularly the sectors that are already the most vulnerable and
Today, the vulnerability of currencies, financial
imbalances, and grave recessions reveal the neo-liberal myth about
the benefits of market deregulation and the solidity and
trustworthiness of the existing financial institutions, and they
seriously put into question the foundation of the capitalist system.
The contributions presented during this conference
have put into perspective the process of the crisis as it unraveled
since August 2007, and the failure of the concessions, bailout
packages, and bribes by way of state intervention in developed
capitalist countries, measures which aim to save the remnants of an
already dislocated world financial system.
We denounce the pretension to take on our
shoulders the cost of financial bailout packages on the collective
world system, which would worsen the situation of poverty,
unemployment, and exploitation of workers and the people of the
Neither the gigantic state intervention that we
have observed in the last few weeks to save disarticulated entities
emptied by speculation, nor the massive increase in the public debt
are plausible alternatives to solve the crisis. The current dynamic
encourages a new round of concentration of capital, and if firm
opposition from the people does not exist, the perverse
restructuring which saves only the privileged sectors will be
emphasized even more.
That could also bring the return of the dangerous
authoritarian tendencies in the functioning of capitalism, a
regressive sign of which is already apparent in the increase in
discrimination and racism toward the immigrant population from
southern countries in countries of the North.
If we maintain the current policies for
restructuring the capitalist system, there will be enormous
productive and social costs that could threaten environmental
sustainability even more.
The need to re-construct the international
economic and financial architecture is unavoidable today. With this
perspective, the need for a post-capitalist outlet is evident, and
Venezuela has named it Socialism of the Twenty-First Century.
In a critical moment such as this, national and
regional policies should give priority to social spending and
protect natural and productive resources. Governments should
introduce urgent financial regulation measures to protect savings,
stimulate production, and place immediate controls on currency
exchange and the movement of capital.
The rest of
the report >>
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!