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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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Sunday, July 26, 2009

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”).

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