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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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Monday, July 27, 2009

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).

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