Saturday, October 9, 2010


And he said to them, "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

~ Luke 12:15, RSV

The other day on the radio I heard Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and is now a professor at UC Berkeley, compare the current economic situation in the United States to the situation that led to the Great Depression. [1] Both in 1929 and in 2007 the top 1% of America took home about 23.5% of the nation’s income. Reich says on his blog at, “A record share of the nation’s income [is] going to the top, leaving the vast middle without enough purchasing power to get the economy moving.” [2] He said in the radio broadcast that wealthier people speculated in land, commodities, and stock. There was a lot more to it, and Mr. Reich explained it all much more clearly than I ever could, but it piqued my interest.

If you could look at our bank statement or income tax return it would be apparent that my spouse and I are far from wealthy. Still, though, we are fortunate to have good medical coverage, the means to pay our mortgage and meet our other financial responsibilities, and enough “discretionary income” to enjoy luxuries like cable t.v., movies, and dinner out. We have a little money in stocks for our retirement and a very small amount in savings. We are people who try to be faithful to our God; what, then, is an appropriate Christian attitude toward the economy?

Based on a concept laid out in Leviticus [3], in 1998 the National Council of Churches adopted the “Jubilee 2000” resolution which, among other things:

[Urged] the United States government to use its leadership in the international community to support and promote debt cancellation for impoverished countries that reduces poverty, and restores economic and environmental justice for people who have borne the major burden of their countries' indebtedness. [4]

I think Jesus would have approved; he did, after all, teach us to pray, “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” [5] While we sometimes interpret this line of the prayer as a metaphor, the word translated “debt” in this passage is the same as that used later in the parable about the servant who was forgiven what he owed.

Some would argue that people are entitled to accumulate wealth and shouldn’t be expected to “carry” those who haven’t worked as hard or are somehow otherwise not as wealthy. Never mind that we don’t have a level playing field; Jesus also told a parable about laborers who were hired throughout the day and all paid the same wage, even though some had worked longer hours than others. [6]

Finally, in the Acts of the Apostles we’re told, “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common.” [7]

Maybe these are stories we Christians need to remember, regardless of whether we are rich or poor or part of the rapidly-shrinking middle class.

[1] Robert Reich. October 1, 2010 at First Congregational Church of Berkeley. Broadcast October 6, 2010 on Letters to Washington, KPFK (Pacifica Radio).
[2] Robert Reich. “Another horrible jobs report – and why the great jobs recession continues.” October 8, 2010. Accessed October 8, 2010.
[3] Especially see Leviticus 25.
[4] National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. “Resolution on the Jubilee 2000 Campaign to Cancel the Unsustainable International Debt of Highly Indebted Poor Countries.” Adopted November 12, 1998. Accessed October 8, 2010.
[5] Matthew 6:12, RSV.
[6] Matthew 18:30, RSV.
[7] Acts 4:32, RSV.

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