The Common Good

A Pastoral Strategy for an Economic Crisis

Sojomail - October 9, 2008


First you kill me, then I'll sign it.

- Magdalana Domingo Ramirez Lopez, when asked to sign a deportation order as one of 330 suspected illegal immigrants arrested in the raid of a chicken processing plant in Greenville, South Carolina. Her sons — ages 4, 5 and 6 — were all born in the U.S. The youngest is recovering from surgery. "The whole time I was there with police, I cried. I kept thinking about my sons. That I wouldn't see them again," she said. (Source: Associated Press)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

A Pastoral Strategy for an Economic Crisis

As the polls and media pundits have pointed out, many Americans are angry about this financial crisis, angry about a rescue plan that seems to bail out Wall Street more than them, and frustrated with the lack of clear solutions being offered by politicians. But underneath the anger, there is a deeper level of fear in America right now. I am hearing that fear across the country. How will this affect me and my family? What will happen to my retirement funds, to the college account for my kids, to the value of my home? Am I going to lose my home or even my job? Last night on CNN, a financial consultant reported that some of her clients are already living in their cars! I could feel the fear gripping many Americans. A friend of mine, who is also a financial planner now engaged in intense conversations daily with his families, just left me a simple voicemail—"Pray for me."

It’s not often that most Americans are feeling the same thing at the same time, mostly talking about the same thing, and all worrying about the same thing. The last time might have been just after 9/11. But it is increasingly clear that most Americans are focused on the same thing right now. The collapse of Wall Street, the deepening economic recession (the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, everyone keeps saying), and the clear threat of another depression now looming have become the overriding foci of the election -- so much so that even the dirty politics of the final stages of this campaign seem not to be working. Every other issue than the economy is perceived as a distraction.

And for Christians, there is a second question, or maybe one that should be the first question: What is a Christian response to a deepening economic crisis like this? What should people of faith be thinking, saying, and doing? What is the responsibility of the churches to their own parishioners, to their communities, to the nation and the world? And where is God in all this?

What does the Bible say about all the issues now being raised? What does our theology tell us about money and possessions, wealth and power, credit and responsible financial choices, economic values vs. family values, lifestyle and stewardship, generosity and justice, and both personal and social responsibility? What can Christian economists tell us about economic philosophy, the role of the market, the role of government, the place of social regulation, the spiritual consequences of economic disparities, the moral health of an economy, and the criteria of the common good?

What do pastors, lay leaders, activists, and practitioners say about creative opportunities and new solutions that could come out of all of this: like the possibilities of mutual aid, congregational and community credit unions, and new cooperative strategies for solving problems like health care, housing, and even jobs? Pastors will need help with preaching resources for a time like this, and local congregations will need adult Sunday school curricula on money and all the related issues of this economic crisis.

And what about pastoral care in a time of economic crisis? How do we listen to people, just be present to them, comfort them, and perhaps help them to re-examine their assumptions, values, and practices? This is already a time of great anxiety for many. But how could it also be a time of prayerful self-evaluation, redirection, and even new relationships with others in our congregations and communities.

Sojourners is going to take up that challenge. We want to turn the God’s Politics blog, SojoMail, and our Web site into Christian forums for a wide-ranging discussion and collective discernment of the issues of this economic crisis. We are already planning cover stories and articles for Sojourners magazine and a new Sojourners study guide on all of the above issues. We will be doing wider media messaging, interviews in television and radio, and op-eds in newspapers, while also making the economic crisis a focus of my own writing and speaking.

We will be asking Christian economists to address the fundamental issues of economic philosophy and policy. We will be seeking the best thinking of many theologians on the biblical and moral issues at stake. And we will ask pastors about the realities now facing the members of their congregations and what Christian formation means in a moment like this. We will together seek a pastoral strategy for an economic crisis.

And we want to get our Sojourners constituency and wider community talking, praying, and acting in this time of challenge and opportunity. We want to hear your stories. Prophetic action will be called for, and pastoral care will be needed, so we will begin a far-ranging conversation with you on the shape of both.

Let’s start by making the God’s Politics blog a public Christian forum on how we, as people of faith, should respond to this historic crisis. With the wisdom we can gather from many voices, the practical support we can offer each other, the creative solutions we can help forge, the prophetic leadership we can offer, and the care for each other that we can provide, we will try to act in the best tradition of the extended community that has been Sojourners for more than three decades. So we invite you to join the discourse and the discernment. And let’s pray that we can learn together what it means to be faithful in a time such as this.

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We want to hear from you. All of us have been affected in some way or know friends and loved ones who have. Please post your responses on the blog, including your stories, questions, or ideas about the resources churches might need to formulate their response. Or if you prefer,
e-mail us at: (Due to the anticipated volume of responses, Sojourners staff will not be able to respond to all e-mails.)


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

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It’s happened again. With the recent memory of traumatic raids in Postville, Iowa, and Laurel, Mississippi, still lingering, federal agents invaded a chicken processing plant in Greenville, South Carolina, and have detained more than 300 suspected undocumented immigrants. Reports are trickling in from the scene, with stories of panicked workers running and screaming through the corridors of The House of Raeford plant during a daily shift change.

Social Security is Not Broken (by Elizabeth Palmberg)

Shame on Tom Brokaw for saying, during the recent presidential debate, that Social Security is broken, and that it forms (along with Medicare) “a big ticking time bomb that will eat us up maybe even more than the mortgage crisis.” The widespread claim that Social Security is broken, often repeated by the media and by politicians in both parties, is complete nonsense.

Just as You Did for the Middle Class, You Also Did For Me (by Adam Taylor)

In the all too familiar script of presidential elections and debates, these words have essentially replaced the words of Jesus. Candidates campaign on platforms based on a distorted remix of Mathew 25, replacing the all important middle class with Christ’s concern for the “least of these among you.” I listened carefully to the entire presidential debate last night, hoping that one of the candidates would have the foresight and courage to mention the poor in the context of our economic crisis and our foreign policy priorities.

A 'Call and Response' to End Modern Slavery (by Gareth Higgins)

It's something of a relief to say that another piece of cinematic propaganda goes on a national tour of movie theatres this weekend, one whose moral compass is something of an antidote to the arrogance and victim mentality of An American Carol and Religulous.

Injustice is Not Categorical (by Kaitlin Barker)

Near the Vatican in October 2001, Janice Sevre-Duszynska and fellow advocates hung a banner calling in seven different languages for the ordination of women. Almost seven years later, the fruit of that action and many others like it was realized. Janice's long-awaited and hard-fought ordination Mass took place Aug. 9, 2008, in Lexington, Kentucky.

Humpty Dumpty Falls off Wall Street (by Mary Nelson)

At best Humpty has been shattered, and we will have to carve out a new course. What an opportunity to check where our trust lies, what we treasure. The call to the early Christians was to a different set of values, to trust in God, not possessions or money.

Will Christians Lead or Follow on Questions of Diversity? (by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

Even as I was reporting Bart Campolo’s challenging questions on cross-cultural community last week, I had the beginnings of a response already drafted. It made sense to save it for a later post, and now that Jimmy McCarty—spontaneously and unsolicited—made one of my key points for me, I’m glad I waited a little. Hopefully other voices will add to the mix, regardless of their perspective and experience. We do want an honest conversation here.

Jubilee on Wall Street: Reimagining God's Vision in Action (by Shane Claiborne)

All the ruckus on Wall Street has created an incredible moment for the kingdom of God. Across the planet folks are asking questions like: "Can the world afford the American dream?" "Does God's vision for the world look like Wall Street's?" "Will the world ever be safe as long as masses live in poverty so that a handful can live however they wish?"

Cross-Cultural Intimacy Isn't 'Unrealistic' -- It's My Reality (by Jimmy McCarty)

Now, regarding the post by Bart Campolo. He makes some important arguments. As one who has spent considerable stretches of time living overseas in cross-cultural community, I can relate to the need to be “comfortable” in order to recharge my “reconciliation battery.” There is a reason missionaries go on furlough. So, he is correct in pointing out the need for time within our own culture. He is speaking as a missionary who lives outside of his culture. He is not talking about cheap friendships, but true reconciliation. He is wrong, however, in asserting that it is “unrealistic” to expect the same intimacy from those outside of your “culture of origin” as you do from those within it.

VP Debate's Blind Spots on Darfur (by Elizabeth Palmberg)

In last week's debate, Gwen Ifill, Sen. Biden, and Gov. Palin all got it part wrong on Darfur: they implied that stopping the genocide in Darfur would require an Iraq-war-like mobilization of “boots on the ground.” As I wrote earlier this year, what we need in Darfur is not a repeat of the Iraq debacle, but rather an updating of the Bush administration’s biggest African foreign policy victory: the combined international full-court press, economic and otherwise, which won a peace deal between Khartoum and southern Sudan in 2005.

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Saint Isaac of Syria said, "This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits." And at least one trader has exchanged the vanity of Wall Street for a life of penance and prayer. Perhaps the monastic discipline of holding loosely to the things of this world (if at all) is a good model in this time of crisis and uncertainty.

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Bart Campolo gave me a call recently about our ongoing blog conversation on New Monastics and race. I want to present his thoughts for response—even though I don't want to agree with all of what he said. Actually, it’s his idea that I write this post instead of him, so I can stand as a mediating filter between his jaded and crusty cynicism and the relative idealism of the New Monastics and friends. I also have Bart's permission to call him a jaded and crusty cynic.

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[Continued from part 1] I began to wonder what the TBN folks would think of me, a heavily tattooed Christian progressive from a liturgical denomination. How would people in their theological camp respond to my preaching? Would they think, as I do of them, that I misuse scripture? Would they be offended at the aesthetic in the community I serve? Would they dismiss my years of theological education as silly and unnecessary? When it comes right down to it, so many of my criticisms of TBN could go both ways, and if that’s true then could it also be true, despite us both, that God is at work in my community and in (gulp) TBN?

Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (Part 1) (by Nadia Bolz-Weber)

To say that Christian television is “not my thing” doesn’t even get close. Christian music, Christian bookstores, Christian television, pretty much any aspect of what some call “the Christian-Industrial Complex” is “not my thing.” Meanwhile, I have a blog called Sarcastic Lutheran, I am married to a Lutheran pastor, involved in the start of a new postmodern, urban Christian community and, God willing, will soon be ordained to the office of Word and Sacrament ministry in the Lutheran Church, all of which is to say, I’m pretty Christian. I’m not alone. Simply stated, there are two Christianities in America. (There are countless more Christianities in America that do not fit into the following categories, but humor me.)


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