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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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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Isaiah and Economic Justice 5: Forcing People from Their Homes

Isaiah 5:8-10

Ah, you 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!
The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
Surely many houses shall be desolate,
...large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath,
...and a homer of seed shall yield a mere ephah.

The foreclosure crisis in which we are wallowing in our time is not the first one ever to happen. Isaiah brings it up as one of the main issues of economic injustice in his day. We know how the system works. Some people who have control of large amounts of money finance home construction and offer homebuyers mortgage loans by which they can move into a house before they can pay for it. If all does not go according to plan, the homebuyer may lose everything, including the home. All the while, the creditor was making money hand over fist from the interest on a long-term loan.

Mortgage loans and interest are not inherently evil. In a prosperous economy they can give workers access to home ownership with enough time to earn the money and pay for a home. Yet when the economy is not so strong, the system can lead to disaster for the homeowner. Moreover, when an economy moves step-by-step down a path of greed and injustice, homeowners may be put at a great disadvantage, shifting more and more risk onto them.

For instance, in an economy in which health costs have risen rapidly and growing numbers of workers become uninsured or underinsured, one illness or injury can lead to loss of income, loss of job, enormous debt, mortgage foreclosure, and bankruptcy. The bank adds another house. In another case, when businesses export jobs overseas and leave entire towns and neighborhoods without opportunity for earning a wage, people lose their homes. The lender adds house to house. When industrial farms use their political influence and polluting ways to undercut hard-working farmers, old family homes, farms, and lands are lost. The wealthy add house to house and add field to field. Entire towns, neighborhoods, and subdivisions may be emptied of occupants, until the foreclosed homes occupy all the land and there is no room for anyone else. The wealthy financiers are left alone to live in the midst of the land.

So around Phoenix and Las Vegas, in Los Angeles and Seattle, in Florida, Ohio, and Michigan, surely many large and beautiful houses are without inhabitant. The gimmick in such a system is to "get mine, and get out." Many mortgage bankers believe they have done this. For insurance, they got the government to bail them out so that whatever they lost in the crash was reimbursed to them out of our pockets. But at some point, somebody has to bear the cost of getting mine and getting out. Isaiah says that the cost will ripple to the point that the productive economy will diminish to near nothing.

The point is to fix this before it gets so bad. Find a way to get people into homes and keep them there. An economic system can't stand on this kind of self-serving injustice.

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