The Common Good

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 sojo.net 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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