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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Making the Message Plain on Health Care

Here is a short video made for TV that makes the key point about why the public option is so critical. A single-payer system would be even better, but a public option will address the key problem of uninsured people and rising costs by creating a different playing field for selling health insurance plans.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Asking for Too Little on Health Reform

I have been a fan of the single-payer approach to funding health care since the 80s. When the possibilities for reform in the 90s went corporate, then crashed, I was disappointed. Ever since, what has happened is the consolidation of Big Health and more and more interference with our health care decisions.

I have had to change primary physicians three times since the mid-1990s, even though I have stayed on the same health insurance plan. I am having all kinds of trouble getting my daughter an appointment with a doctor of her choice now that she has grown out of her pediatrics practice. The current system does not allow us to choose our own doctors. Bureaucrats in corporate offices tell us who to see.

My primary care physician changed practices last year, and my wife's primary care physician followed him a few months later because the big behemoth health provider in our town was giving them too many regulations and rules on how to practice and to whom they could make referrals. Now their new practice has joined a "health management" firm, and I can already feel the regimentation squeezing me when I go for an appointment.

When the Presidential campaigns were promoting health care reform, which everyone knows we need, the head honcho of my insurance provider started funding a media disinformation campaign to make sure that his high-profit non-profit could prevent competition that might bring down our costs. This disinformation is now widespread, and Big Health is winning the battle.

An article by Jeff Cohen at truthout got me thinking. I was campaigning for the "public option" as a form of competition to reduce health care funding and improve services. Yet I keep hearing people say, "I believe in the single-payer plan, but since that is not going to pass . . . ." Well maybe it is not going to pass, but it is the best solution. Why not ask for the best, and see how close to it the policy debate will move? To provide for more people, to reduce overhead and paperwork, to end profiteering by excluding the sick, to stop proliferation of unnecessary procedures, to make sure no one loses access to health care, we need a single-payer system. As my friend Steve Bumgardner keeps telling me, the Medicare system works and is already in place. As Cohen says, "Medicare for All" is the solution. Tell your Congressional Representatives to support HR 676, the Expanded Medicare for All Act.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Making Killing a Habit: "Kill, Kill, Kill Without Mercy"

Research after World War II provided the U. S. military with troubling information. Although the research methods and data have been questioned, a very high rate of soldiers in WWII and previous wars seem to have been unwilling to fire weapons in a lethal manner at the enemy. In other words, they would either not shoot at all, or would shoot to intentionally miss the other soldiers.

In order to overcome this "weakness," the process of basic training took on a number of features to overcome what seems to be a natural unwillingness to kill others. One strategy is the use of mantras such as "Kill, kill, kill without mercy," as part of basic training.

A series of articles in the Colorado Springs Gazette, written by Dave Phillips, describes the high level of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its violent consequences that have affected soldiers of the U. S. Army Infantry assigned to Fort Carson. These soldiers have been sent into some of the most violent and deadly warfare in Iraq. They have come back to commit murder in the U. S. at a rate 20 times their similar age cohort, which is already the most violent age group in the U. S. Their rate of committing murder in comparison to the full population of Colorado Springs is 114 times as great. These statistics are only for murder, but these soldiers are also committing other violent crimes, including domestic violence, and are caught up in substance abuse at dramatically high rates.

Much of my study and research includes trying to learn how to form Christians toward virtues of love, non-violence, peacemaking, patience, kindness, hunger for righteousness, justice, mercy, humility, etc. Here we see that such virtues are a hindrance to the military objectives of the state. The state-sponsored machine of violence teaches a different set of virtues: among them "Kill, kill, kill without mercy."

Economic Recovery for All 8: Faith Perspectives, Pt 4

This entry completes the statement on the economy released on July 22, 2009, in Durham, NC. There are eight entries. For the full current list of endorsers as of this posting, see the first entry.

A Working Paper for North Carolina United Power
from an Interchange Among Theological Educators
July 2009

III. Faith Perspectives on Responding to the Crisis

B. Biblical, Theological, and Ethical Principles Guiding NCUP Actions and Campaigns in Response to the Economic Crisis

8. Shared economic risks and benefits

All societies become accustomed to doing things a certain way; however, there are many possibilities for organizing a flourishing economy. The predominant systems of investment and borrowing may be familiar, but that does not mean there might not be other, perhaps better, ways to invest, produce, and prosper. Rather than shifting almost all the economic risks toward the borrower, especially toward small borrowers, and the assured benefits primarily to the lender, there should be a way for risks and benefits to be shared more equitably.

Why should a family that has toiled for many years, paying bills and paying down a mortgage, be financially devastated by a change of fortune, when a financial institution prefers to write off their mortgage as a loss rather than work out a means of mutual and equitable benefit? As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop (1 Cor. 9:10). Martin Luther wrote, "If you would have interest in my profits, you must also have an interest in my losses. . . . The owners of income, who will not put up with that, are just as pious as robbers and murderers, and wrest from the poor man his property and his living" ("A Treatise on Usury").

C. Conclusions

Too often, people imagine that the economy is a competition over scarce resources. Yet while creation is finite there is no fixed limit on the prosperity that humanity can share. Unlimited acquisition and idiosyncratic use of possessions fall off of the path to human flourishing. Such hoarding of goods is theft, and it begs for divine judgment.

Rather than hoarding, sharing our blessings sets the tone of biblical economics. We are blessed that we might bless others. All that we have comes by God’s grace, and we must be gracious toward one another.

Without standards against usury, the massive transfer of wealth from the middle class workers to a wealthy elite will continue. As long as a powerful few have freedom to do as they please concerning the consumer credit of the many, the economic system will not serve the common good. No magical hidden hand will correct economic oppression.

To get out of the current mess, we will need an economic reform which acknowledges our mutual dependence and obligations and turns aside from the way of selfish individualism and competition for status and conspicuous wealth.

What kind of an economic recovery leaves giant banks standing while the average worker’s life gets harder and harder? It is not an economic recovery when billions can bail out executive jobs but nothing can bail out the rest of the jobs. There is not justice when everyone’s tax dollars can pay off banks’ bad debts, but the average taxpaying citizens are left on their own to drown in their debts. Debt relief for millionaires and homelessness for working people—that’s not the kind of economy we believe in.

Economic justice is not merely a fantasy or impossible ideal. There are practical ways to put it into practice. Communities of faith have demonstrated these possibilities in the past and present. Justice need not be limited to small economic experiments. Making real steps toward justice is fully compatible with rational and pragmatic economics. It is time for people of faith to speak this truth to power.

Economic Recovery for All 7: Faith Perspectives, Pt 3

A Working Paper for North Carolina United Power
from an Interchange Among Theological Educators
July 2009

III. Faith Perspectives on Responding to the Crisis

B. Biblical, Theological, and Ethical Principles Guiding NCUP Actions and Campaigns in Response to the Economic Crisis

5. Economic value tied to real, material goods and services, not ephemeral financial machinations

The practice of making money off of money was strictly limited and often prohibited throughout the history of the Christian church. Citing Exodus 22:25, which states, "If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them, " Thomas Aquinas, wrote that "To take usury for money lent is unjust in itself, because this is to sell what does not exist, and this evidently leads to inequality which is contrary to justice" (Summa Theologica, IIa IIae. Art. 1, Q. 78). One of the critical problems that created the economic recession was the fact that mortgage-backed securities and other financial products were sold and resold for values that had lost touch with the actual homes and real estate that stood behind them. Credit default swaps were another form of betting on the paper assets of others, using more money than anyone can afford to risk. Playing this imaginary game of finance puts the entire economy at risk.

6. Transparency and honesty in exchanges and business dealings

The current practices of consumer credit and the recent "creative financing" of mortgages fall under the condemnation of the biblical view of usury. High-powered marketing campaigns promise easy access to money, with the details of excessive interest rates, charges, and penalties often relegated to the fine print. Offering low "minimum payments" and changing the terms of a credit agreement are deceptive practices that often saddle the unsuspecting borrower with accruing debt accompanied by unforeseen and undisclosed rate hikes.

These practices strongly parallel the devious ways of Zacchaeus, the tax collector mentioned in Luke 19, whom Jesus admonished to rethink his business tactics. Zacchaeus' repentance leads him to repay those he has cheated fourfold, an act of obedience to Jesus that comes into full view when contrasted to a story from the previous chapter of Luke. There one sees the failure of the rich young ruler who could not bring himself to sell what he had and distribute it to the poor in order to follow Christ. There is a clear message here that Jesus' followers must turn from lives of economic exploitation toward lives of generosity and just and honest business activity.

7. The dignity of work and the opportunity to contribute to the material and spiritual common good

In a biblical economics, work has dignity as the creative activity of those made in the image of God. Thus, human beings work as for the Lord and not for human masters (Col. 3:23). Even so, this work done unto God also serves the divine purpose of doing good for all. Paul encouraged the Philippian Christians to emulate the ways of Christ when he wrote, "Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others" (Phlp. 2:4).

All work which serves the common good has dignity as part of God's purpose for creation. When market economies become distorted by wealth, greed, and inequity, the work of some earns status and wealth, while other essential work receives disdain and very low compensation. Although financial institutions are resisting limits on wages of executives because they fear a "talent drain," they consistently oppose better wages and benefits for the average worker. The shocking fact is that many of these so-called “talented” executives played games with other people's wealth, took undue risks, promoted questionable mortgages and remained blind to the housing bubble.

Why aren't average workers considered "talent?" Workers are the assets that make careers for executives possible. A long-range view of business and the economy aims to reward and keep talented, hard-working people. Only shortsighted greed leads some members of a corporation to pursue their own self-interest at the expense of the interests of those responsible for creating the value, through goods and services, that sustains the corporations and the common good. "The laborer deserves to be paid" (1 Tim. 5:18).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Economic Recovery for All 6: Faith Perspectives, Pt 3

A Working Paper for North Carolina United Power
from an Interchange Among Theological Educators
July 2009

III. Faith Perspectives on Responding to the Crisis

B. Biblical, Theological, and Ethical Principles Guiding NCUP Actions and Campaigns in Response to the Economic Crisis

3. No permanent debtor class; no propertyless, hopeless poor

If there is to be a new beginning, a second chance, then the community must make a way to deal with debilitating debt and generational, propertyless poverty. The Lord's Prayer makes it plain that the Jubilee formula is the norm--we must forgive our debtors. In Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant, the wealthy king says to the hypocritical man who had received mercy but refused to pass it on to his debtor, "I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?" (Matt. 18:33-34). Mercy demands that past misfortunes, mistakes, and failures ought not determine the entire future of any member of the community. Augustine of Hippo wrote, "From those things that God gave you, take that which you need, but the rest, which to you are superfluous, are necessary to others. The superfluous goods of the rich are necessary to the poor, and when you possess the superfluous you possess what is not yours" (quoted in Justo Gonzalez, Faith and Wealth, 216).

When economic prosperity shifts too far toward the benefit of a few, the ensuing shift in power allows the fortunate to maintain their advantage through a variety of means: low wages which prevent economic improvement of the wage-earners, high interest charged on loans, and systems of tenancy or share-cropping style arrangements. In such systems, the landlord claims first right to the products of the tenant's work. The landlord, or factory owner, can exploit the unequal power by "balancing the accounts" in such a way that prevent the tenant from making enough to get ahead. A just economic system would allow them to work and accrue sufficient income, so that they might eventually regain their land and livelihood rather than remain in perpetual peonage.

Families falling on hard times may have to sell their land to a wealthy neighbor and become tenants or share-laborers. Justice entails finding ways to make it possible for all who become impoverished to recover from an economic crisis. The words of the spiritual song say, "I'm so glad trouble don't last always." If God's compassion and justice can inspire this kind of hope among slaves, then God's people must learn to share in the divine mission of hope for the downtrodden. We ought to make this song's affirmation a reality. The community's responsibility includes sustaining the conditions for opportunity and flourishing for all of its people.

4. Limitation on interest charged—prohibition of usury

Biblical economics prohibit charging "points," or advance interest, and charging long-term interest to those who must borrow to eat, find shelter, and survive. Those practices perpetuate a permanent debtor class. Biblical teaching consistently condemns usury—the practice of charging exorbitant interest. When the poor are desperate, the power of the lender may coerce them to accept disadvantageous terms for a loan. Under such conditions, they may never be able to reduce the debt. A just system of lending recognizes the dangers to an economy when a permanent underclass is forced to pay their entire livelihood to a small class of wealthy lenders.

Usury, sometimes taken to mean any interest charged on a loan, is more usually understood as excessive or predatory interest. Many of the references to usury in the Jewish and Christian scriptures come in the context of how one treats the poor. Jean Calvin concluded that the Scriptures do not condemn all possible charging of interest, but that equity and justice require reasonable limits. He wrote in a letter to a friend, "[U]sury almost always travels with two inseparable companions: tyrannical cruelty and the art of deception. . . . [N]o one should take interest from the poor, and no one, destitute by virtue of indigence or some affliction or calamity, should be forced into it. The second exception is that whoever lends should not be so preoccupied with gain so as to neglect his necessary duties, nor, wishing to protect his money, disdain his poor brothers and sisters" (Calvin's Ecclesiastical Advice, 140-142).

Economic Recovery for All 5: Faith Perspectives, Pt. 2

A Working Paper for North Carolina United Power
from an Interchange Among Theological Educators
July 2009

III. Faith Perspectives on Responding to the Crisis

B. Biblical, Theological, and Ethical Principles Guiding NCUP Actions and Campaigns in Response to the Economic Crisis

1. Interdependence of creation and humanity's birthright to share in God's gifts

Gratitude toward God, communal interdependence, and mutual accountability are at the core of a biblical understanding of economics, grounded in the Jewish scriptures and reaffirmed in the Christian scriptures. In the parable of the "rich fool," a man reaches the apex of prosperity because of bumper crops on his farm. He congratulates himself as if it were all his own doing, only to lose enjoyment of his success when he dies in his sleep (Luke 12:13-21). Human beings share a mutual obligation for the well-being of all. Cyprian of Carthage taught, "Whatever is of God is common in our use; nor is any one excluded from God's benefits and God's gifts, so as to prevent the whole human race from enjoying equally the divine goodness and liberality." One "who, as a possessor in the earth, shares his returns and his fruits with the brothers and sisters, while he is common and just in his gratuitous bounties, is an imitator of God" ("On the Unity of the Church," Ante-Nicene Fathers 5:25).

Indeed, if we are to flourish or even survive, we must act in love. We must receive what we need from others and we must share what they need from us. If we don’t receive from others, we will die. If we do not share what we have, then they will be less likely to share what we need from them; we both will die. We must act in love or face destruction.

According to Howard Thurman, “Human beings, all human beings, belong to each other, and anyone who shuts themselves away diminishes themselves, and anyone who shuts another away from themselves destroys themselves” (The Search for Common Ground, 104). Because of the way God created the world, our own, truest self-interest is inextricably tied to that of others. So, pursuing God’s kingdom, or righteousness, is to participate in and contribute to the great exchange, by which we all survive and flourish. It is to honor others by receiving their goods and virtues and, then, sharing our own goods and virtues vital to others. “We are,” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” ("Letter from Birmingham Jail").

2. The unconditional protection of those vulnerable to loss of food, shelter, clothing, and other basic goods of life

The divine plan for humanity's flourishing requires that societies and communities manage their wealth toward this end: "There shall be no one in need among you" (Deut. 15:4). In the story of the fledgling church after the Spirit of God moved at Pentecost, the writer states the budding fulfillment of this teaching, "There was not a needy person among them" (Acts 4:34). The teachings of Christian theologians through the ages have reinforced this view of wealth. Martin Luther wrote of Deut. 15:4, “Now if God gave this commandment in the Old Testament, how much more ought we Christians be bound not only to allow no one to suffer want or to beg” (“A Treatise on Usury”).

The Year of Release, also called the Jubilee, offered a new beginning, a second chance, and a path to keep the entire economy flourishing for the long term. There must be no irreversible poverty, no unlimited acquisition of houses and lands, goods that should be distributed among all the community. Houses give shelter; fields provide food. Both are essential to making a livelihood.

The prophet Isaiah condemned those "who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land!" (Isa. 5:8). The prophet Micah denounced those who “. . . covet fields and seize them, houses, and take them away . . . who cry “Peace” when they have something to eat and declare war against those who put nothing in their mouths” (Micah 2:2; 3:5). Nehemiah chastised the wealthy landowners who had accumulated numerous houses and fields because of the misfortunes of their neighbors, and he publicly denounced them for their selfish greed. The very identity of the people depended on their returning houses and lands to all the families in the community (Neh. 5:1-17). In that case, Nehemiah and the people managed to reverse the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Will people turn again toward the common good in our time? Will this society make a path for recovery to all classes of people who have suffered losses? Or will the economically powerful tighten their grip, leverage their advantages, and make recovery difficult or impossible for the unemployed, the foreclosed, and the uninsured? Basil of Caesarea preached, "If one who takes the clothing off another is called a thief, why give any other name to one who can clothe the naked and refuses to do so? The bread that you withhold belongs to the poor; the cape that you hide in your chest belongs to the naked; the shoes rotting in your house belong to those who must go unshod" (“Homily on Luke 12:18”).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Economic Recovery for All 4: Faith Perspectives, Pt 1

I want to acknowledge Andrew Mbuvi, Amanda Mbuvi, Dan Rhodes, and Eric Greaux, who brought their insight into editing meetings at various steps of producing this document.

A Working Paper for North Carolina United Power
from an Interchange Among Theological Educators
July 2009

III. Faith Perspectives on Responding to the Crisis

A. Introduction

Among the most cherished biblical texts in the Christian scriptures is Jesus' teaching to his disciples concerning prayer in Matthew 6. Verse 12 says, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The same Greek word in this passage has historically been translated by both the English words “debts” and “trespasses.” The first translation affirms an economic obligation; the second implies a broader, metaphorical one. While both are theologically significant, the first has been underemphasized.

The background of this economic obligation appears in Deuteronomy 24:10-13. A lender must not take away a borrower’s essential items for survival as a pledge for a loan. A loan must serve the good of the whole community, both borrower and lender. When a family member or neighbor is in dire economic straits, biblical economics deems it wrong for a relative or neighbor to make a profit on their misfortune. If someone needs assistance, the command of the Torah affirmed by Jesus is that our hands ought always to be open to help the poor (Deut. 7 and John 12). The Sabbath Year and Jubilee Year laws insist that there is a limit to what a lender can demand from those who have fallen on hard times. This kind of mutuality is what God blesses and it is to be the material and economic shape of our earthly lives if they are to reflect existence as it is in heaven.

However, far from taking reasonable steps to assure the safety and security of borrowers in need, many banks (and hence, many businessmen and women of faith) currently are forcing people out on the street, refusing to share the impact of the loss of real estate values. In contrast to this scenario, Biblical economic principles demand shared risks and as shared opportunities for lenders and borrowers as well as limitation on lending so as to prevent usury.

Economic Recovery for All 3: A Bailout for the Few that Did Not Trickle Down

I should mention, with thanks, the assistance of Stephen Boyd of Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem CHANGE. Steve carefully examined the earlier drafts of this document and suggested a reorganization of the material to make it more user-friendly for study.

A Working Paper for North Carolina United Power
from an Interchange Among Theological Educators
July 2009

II. The Initial Government Solution

A. Top-Down Bailout for Institutions "Too Big to Fail"
When the economic situation became too severe to ignore, government officials recommended a massive bailout of major financial institutions. With only a bare sketch of a plan, the engines of government shifted into high gear to authorize transferring hundreds of billions of dollars directly to banks and other financial institutions to prop up their endangered portfolios of assets. "Too big to fail" became a motto for saving the financial institutions that helped to create the collapse, as a way of assuring average citizens that their own economic future was bound up intimately with the success of these mega-banks.

B. Problems Remaining After the Bailout
The purpose of the bailout plan was to stabilize the financial system so that banks would be willing to lend money. Banks and other financial institutions were unwilling to lend money because they could not get a clear idea of the value of the ubiquitous securities intertwined with delinquent and "troubled" loans ("toxic assets"). By lending money, more people and businesses could buy goods and services and fuel economic recovery. However, the banks and financial institutions took the money and held it or used the money for self-aggrandizing purposes. Consequently, the bailout did not have the intended ripple effect on the economy, and it did not pump up the economy.

1. Foreclosures have increased unabated regardless of claims that programs would help people keep their homes.

2. A crisis in credit markets has led financial institutions to rewrite overnight the terms and conditions of credit cards, to the disadvantage and dismay of their customers.

3. Many have found themselves now holding more debt than they can possibly repay.

4. Bankruptcies have continued to increase resulting from credit card debt, mortgage debt, and debt arising from skyrocketing costs of health care and growing numbers of people without insurance.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Economic Recovery for All 2: Causes and Effects of the Current Crisis

A Working Paper for North Carolina United Power
from an Interchange Among Theological Educators
July 2009

I. The Economic Crisis 2008-2009: People are losing their homes. Banks are closing. Businesses are failing. Workers are losing jobs. Families are uprooted.

A. Causes
1. Artificial inflation of housing prices created an illusion of wealth.

2. Greed and irresponsibility made financial institutions eager to sell “creative” and high-risk investment products.

3. Government deregulation of financial markets allowed risky experimentation, gigantic financial conglomerates, and diminished consumer protection.

4. The complexity of financial instruments which divided, bundled, and resold mortgages again and again, led to confusion about their real value and to lack of accountability for following best practices in making loans.

5. Households overextended their debt as consumer acquisitions outpaced income.

6. Overinflated housing prices, the justifiers of high levels of debt and consumption, finally crashed (the "housing bubble" burst).

B. Effects
1. Many households faced foreclosure and the loss of shelter.

a. People owed more than their houses were worth.

b. Many people lost jobs in the weak economy and could not keep up payments.

c. Many households faced increased interest rates from Adjustable-Rate Mortgages (ARMs).

2. Growing numbers of foreclosures led to a crisis of solvency in the financial institutions holding these mortgage-backed securities.

3. The crisis in the financial institutions led to a crash in the stock market.

4. The value of pensions, homes, and investments lost value dramatically, affecting retirees, institutions depending on endowments, homeowners, investors, and the economy in general.

Economic Recovery for All 1: Launching "10% Is Enough"

For the past few days, I have had trouble thinking about much else than an organizing campaign that launched on Wednesday. The local organizing group I am part of through Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church, Durham CAN, joined with the other IAF affiliates in North Carolina, who go by the name NC UP (North Carolina United Power), to hold a press conference and action in Durham. On the same day, actions took place in the UK, in Boston, New York, Washington, and Chicago. The name of the joint campaign is "10% IS ENOUGH."

This campaign addresses a broad range of economic issues emerging in the current crisis. The first matter to be addressed is usury, the charging of exorbitant interest on loans, especially toward the poor. Our first target for action in North Carolina is the CEO of Bank of America. In the meantime, we are distributing a statement on the economy jointly released by over 20 professors from eight institutions of theological education in North Carolina. It will go to over 1000 churches and to banking leaders throughout our region, and beyond. I wrote about this statement earlier this spring when the project was just getting underway.

The statement is theological and ecumenical. It does not try to speak imperialistically as if Christians could speak for Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith. Yet our research showed us how much the Jewish and Muslim traditions share with Christianity, and how much we can learn from dialogue. NC UP also has examined a Muslim theological analysis of the issue of "riba," the Arabic word for the practice of usury. Moreover, we are aware that all of the theological schools in North Carolina are Protestant, and our statement (despite efforts to be broadly ecumenical) no doubt bears a Protestant perspective. Yet the Catholic church has outstanding resources for examining these economic issues in such documents and resources as the JustFaith program, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' statement on "Economic Justice for All," and Benedict XVI's recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate. We look forward to continued mutual learning among these communities of faith as we pursue common ends of economic justice.

I will post the text of "Theological Reflection on the Economy: A Working Paper for North Carolina United Power from an Interchange Among Theological Educators, July 2009" in several pieces. I hope readers will take opportunity to examine the ways that we believe the tradition of the gospel speaks to our times.

As of July 22, the following 22 professors have endorsed the document. We are awaiting replies from others who are traveling or out of the office, and we expect the list to grow.

Endorsing Professors Arranged by School Affiliation

Campbell University Divinity School, Buies Creek, NC
Dr. Cameron H. Jorgenson, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics

Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC
Dr. Kenneth L. Carder, Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry
Dr. J. Kameron Carter, Associate Professor in Theology and Black Church Studies
Dr. Curtis W. Freeman, Research Professor of Theology and Baptist Studies
Dr. Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Professor of Theology
Dr. Amy Laura Hall, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics
Dr. Willie J. Jennings, Associate Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies
Rev. Daniel P. Rhodes, Preceptor in Theological Studies
Dr. William C. Turner, Jr., Associate Professor of the Practice of Homiletics

Hood Theological Seminary, Salisbury, NC
Dr. Reginald D. Broadnax, Dean of Academic Affairs
Dr. Samuel V. Dansokho, Associate Professor of Religion and Society

Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, SC
Dr. Daniel M. Bell, Associate Professor of Theological Ethics
Dr. James R. Thomas, Associate Professor of Church and Ministry and Director of African American Studies

School for Conversion, Durham, NC
Prof. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Director

Shaw University Divinity School, Raleigh, NC
Dr. James P. Ashmore, Associate Professor of Old Testament
Dr. Mikael N. Broadway, Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics
Dr. Dumas A. Harshaw, Jr., Adjunct Professor of Theology and Ethics
Dr. Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, Professor of Theology, Ethics, and Women’s Studies
Dr. Andrew M. Mbuvi, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Hermeneutics
Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling

Union Theological Seminary-Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Charlotte, NC
Dr. Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., Associate Professor of Bible

Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Winston-Salem, NC
Dr. Douglas M. Bailey, Assistant Professor of Urban Ministry
Dr. Stephen B. Boyd, J. Allen Easley Professor of Religion and Chair Department of Religion
Dr. Bill J. Leonard, Dean and Professor of Church History

Winston Salem State University, Winston-Salem, NC, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Adjunct), Charlotte, NC
Dr. Eric J. Greaux, Sr., Assistant Professor of Religion, and Adjunct Professor of Greek

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bailout 17: AIG Strikes Again

Thanks to Bruce Prescott for bringing my attention to this news. AIG executives, as Bruce says, are outdoing the so-called "welfare queens" of the Ronald Reagan era, living off the taxpayers' money. Come on and get the point. Your jobs are not that important to the rest of usq

Why We Must Teach What We Know

My friend Alan Bean, one of the first activists to break the story of the Jena 6, has written a story about the struggle to continue to teach the Civil Rights Movement and civil rights advances in a generation which cannot remember how significant the small steps were in this struggle. In his article, "The Face of White Supremacy," Bean describes an actual argument going on in the development of history courses for public education. Old prejudices die slowly, even when people hardly ever say them out loud anymore. Those who remember must tell the story.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The "At-Will" Principle

One thing that gets in my craw is the way that people who may get excited about issues of justice and ending inequitable social arrangements can turn around and advocate for following the principle of "at-will" employment. This idea, couched in language of equality, is designed to shift the power of an employment agreement almost exclusively toward the employer. It is rooted in the reaction to social change after the end of the slavocracy, and it justified a way to keep the wealthy class in control over the landless, dependent worker.

And it is not a Christian idea by any stretch of the imagination. Christians who listen to our own heritage of faith will know that we share mutual obligations to one another. Employers must treat employees with kindness and justice. Employees must give good labor for their hire. And no one should be needy among us. As the Lott Cary Youth Seminar theme stated, we are "Called to Be a Blessing to the World." God has blessed us that we may be a blessing to others. What God gives us is not purely our own to use however we wish. That is part of the lie of the modern nation-state which justified racial stratification and treating people as property. Our material goods are "property" in its etymological sense--to be used for their "proper" purpose of the benefit of the entire community.

For more on the "at-will" principle, look at my discussion of why even if it is legal, that doesn't make it right.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Hagan Announces Support for Public Option

Thanks to Michael Westmoreland-White for finding this information. Talking Points Memo describes Hagan's press conference statement in support of the public insurance option. I know I did not make it happen with my letter and blog yesterday, but with the support of plenty of other folks, she saw the light. That's a big step in the right direction. Now we need to press on and get a bill passed without gutting it.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Where Does Hagan Stand on Health Reform?

I am trying to find out where Senator Hagan stands on health care reform. Here is the letter I sent her today.

Hello, Senator,

A while back I sent a letter asking you four questions about your position on health care reform.

We live in a difficult time for most people, and a major cause of our economic difficulties is the out-of-control health care system. On the one hand, the medical profession and hospitals operate as quasi-monopolies, keeping numbers of physicians low and buying up smaller practices to eliminate competition.

On the other hand, the business invokes the free market as justification for excessive charges, as if persons seeking medical care can shop around the way they do for a hamburger, a pair of shoes, or a gallon of milk. The powerful insurance companies and health care institutions already place severe limits on which doctors we can see, what treatments we can get, and even how long our doctors can talk to us. That is not a free market.

US costs double or triple the costs of excellent health care systems in other parts of the world. Something must be done to get this runaway train to stop.

That is why I support a public insurance option immediately for all people who want to choose it. The highest priority is to get rid of layer upon layer of administrative costs, all focused on keeping me from getting medical care paid for rather than focused on keeping me healthy.

So again, I want to know the answers to four questions.

1. Do you support a public healthcare option as part of reform?

2. Do you support a public healthcare option that is ready on day one?

3. Do you support a public healthcare option that is national, available everywhere, and accountable to our government?

4. Do you support a public healthcare option that has the clout to establish rates with providers and big drug companies?

Don't listen to the critics who say this will create long lines: we already cannot get an appointment to see a doctor without waiting months.

Don't listen to critics who say this will lead to bureaucrats making health decisions for us: we already have to put up with that from the insurance companies.

Don't listen to critics who say this will be unfair competition: they want to maintain their high executive salaries and focus on profit rather than trim their costs and organizations to make health care affordable.

Don't listen to critics who say this will make medicine less attractive for bright people to choose as a career: the insurance and health care management companies are already driving doctors out of the profession because of the regimentation and demand for shorter and shorter patient visits.

Stand with all of us for a better health care system. Stand for the public plan option.

David Goatley Writes on Youth and the Church

Rev. Dr. David Goatley put his own thoughts together on the Lott Carey Youth Seminar that was held last week at Shaw University's campus in Raleigh, NC. I read the article on EthicsDaily.com. This article reveals Dr. Goatley's insight and commitment to the right kinds of priorities for keeping the church from becoming a museum of our past. Those of us who work with young people should be encouraged to know of his perspective.

Down on Today's Youth? Try Spending a Week with 500 of Them
David Emmanuel Goatley
Thursday, July 2, 2009 6:04 am

People who believe that young people are hopeless should have been with me June 20-26 at the 55th annual Lott Carey Youth Seminar on the campus of Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C.

Nearly 500 youth and their advisors spent a week for missional learning, serving, worship and fellowship. One of the most beautiful sights in the world to me is coming across a bridge on campus in the evenings, seeing hundreds of young people who have gathered for this missional impact week in the quadrangle courtyard talking, playing and building relationships that sometimes last a lifetime. Each year I share with our youth seminar, I come away feeling that the world can be OK.

I remember feeling that way six or seven years ago when I was in Guyana with my then 10-year-old son. He accompanied my wife and me on one of my international mission assignments. He and two or three Guyanese youth went with me everywhere I went. They visited churches with me. They visited an Amerindian community that we had to reach via boat with me. They visited a Christian campground with me. They visited a hospital with me. They visited a rainforest with me. They worshipped God with me.

At the end of the assignment, I asked my son what was the difference between Guyanese and United States children. His response: "They play cricket, and we play baseball." I remember thinking, "Let's turn the world over to the kids who have not yet been corrupted by the grown-ups."

Our annual youth seminar is the major event in our International Youth Development work, where we help churches to nurture new generations of Christian leaders for the world. We believe that helping youth to learn through service is important to becoming a disciple of Jesus.

This year we included helping our young people to learn about advocacy – what it is, why it matters, why Christians must do advocacy along with ministries of mercy, and how they can make a difference. We included presentations from ONE, Genocide Intervention Network and NAACP College and Youth Division. We believe that connecting serving, learning, worship and fellowship is worth investing in for young people. It is hard work, but it is good work.

When my last youth director left to pursue other opportunities, we did not hire a replacement. The economy was rapidly turning downward, and we could not afford to pay someone fairly. Therefore, we divided the responsibilities, with me assuming my share of leadership.

I have had some of my colleagues look at me peculiarly because I am playing such an involved leadership role in our International Youth Development work. You see, I am the CEO. While I understand the arguments about good stewardship of time, why is it more important for the CEO to spend time with the adult leaders than with the youth leaders and youth leaders-in-the-making? Why should I spend time with potential donors and not with potential leaders?

Furthermore, I learn a lot from youth. How else can we learn to serve the present age unless adults take the time to listen and to seek understanding from youth? How else can we anticipate where the church needs to focus energy and invest resources unless we listen and learn from young people?

Last year, we arranged for many at our seminar to do some future planning for our organization. Wow! I had never heard adults dream how we can actually make a difference in any similar way. These young visionaries believe in the God who can do exceedingly abundantly beyond what we can ask or imagine.

Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention helps churches extend their Christian witness to the ends of the earth. Our youth seminar is the principle event in this area. It is worth serious personal investment of the CEO.

If we really believe that some of us plant, some of us water, and God gives the increase, perhaps more of our important leaders should invest more of our personal time and talent with the next generation of Christian leaders for the world. I do not know what the young people will get out of your time, but you will be better for it.

David Emmanuel Goatley is executive secretary-treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention.
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