A thought provoking column from David Waters in Newsweek back in September. Here's the link. Click here for this morning's email.
I've been waiting for a week for at least one major Christian denomination to help us gain some spiritual or even scriptural insight into Wall Street's moral failings, first brought to our attention by Brother Alan Greenspan in 2002.
"An infectious greed seemed to grip much of our business community," the then-Fed chairman told Congress. "It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously."
Since Wall Street began melting down last week, the only avenue of greed the major Christian denominations have felt called upon to inspect this has been the one that leads to their church pensions. Good news, clergy and lay employees of the United Methodist and Episcopal churches. Your pensions are safe. No word on how your parishioners are doing during the current housing/credit/debt crisis, and not a hint of rebuke for the free enterprise faithful who caused all of this grief, but your billions of investment dollars are being looked after.
"The greatest challenge is assuring participants that we have a disciplined process, that we're adhering to that process and that they should ignore short-term fluctuations in stock prices," said David Zellner, chief investment officer for the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits, which claims to be the largest faith-based investor in the U.S.
"In light of the recent market volatility, the Board and staff of the Church Pension Fund want to reassure participants in the Clergy Pension Plan that the Fund's financial condition remains very strong, with assets well in excess of liabilities," the Episcopal Clergy Pension Board reported.
Last time I checked, assets and liabilities were not how the church measured its work or worth. Greed is still one of the seven deadly sins. Covetousness hasn't been amended out of the Ten Commandments. Depending on your interpretation of scripture, Christianity either strongly cautions against or forbids charging interest and accumulating wealth and debt, not to mention gambling.
So why aren't the leaders of our major Christians denominations saying anything about the economy? They've had plenty to say during the past week about other pressing moral issues. Catholic bishops remain focused on abortion. Southern Baptist leaders continue to condemn abortion and defend Sarah Palin, and National Baptist Convention leaders fretting about aging congregations and applauded Michelle Obama. Presbyterian leaders expressed concern about gun violence, Assemblies of God about hurricane victims, Lutherans about poverty, United Church of Christ leaders about peace. None of them said anything about Wall Street.
Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did express some concern about how the economic crisis might be affecting the welfare of others, but only to remind LDS about the church's own welfare program "based on the principle of self-reliance."
"If you build self-reliance in people," Dennis Lifferth, managing director of the LDS welfare program, explained on the site, "everybody grows; it is the essence of the welfare plan. Lives can be changed by personal interest and attention."
Self-reliance. Personal interest. Everybody grows. Sounds like capitalism to me, but at least LDS is acknowledging the situation, and offering some guidance.
I'm not saying our religious leaders should threaten to withhold communion from the greedy sinners responsible for the economy's going to hell in a financial basket, because that might include just about all of us. I know I've taken advantage of lower interest rates, mortgage refinancing, home equity growth (remember that?), stock options and other little 'trickle-down' perks we get during the bubbles.
I'm not even saying our religious leaders should withhold endorsements from candidates whose policies, votes or views encourage the sort of risky business that blows parts of our economy into bubbles that burst all over us. Those are people we've all voted for.
I am saying that the best moral analysis of these financial failures shouldn't come from Alan Greenspan, who arguably is as responsible as anyone for our growing indebtedness.
Jesus said nothing about abortion, homosexuality or pension plans (although he did say not to worry about tomorrow). He had plenty to say about money and moneychangers, greed and wealth, and the root of all evil. He had good news for the poor, not for investors.
As "On Faith" panelist and nondenominational leader Jim Wallis wrote, "The behavior of too many on Wall Street is a violation of biblical ethics . . . It's time for the pulpit to speak -- for the religious community to bring the Word of God to bear on the moral issues of the American economy. The Bible speaks of such things from beginning to end, so why not our pastors and preachers?"
Tonight's topic at our Wednesday night adult Bible Study is the economy - specifically our faith and the economy. This column will certainly be at the center of the discussion.