The Common Good

Diagnosing Our Economic Illness

Some might say that this is the worst possible time to have a Mobilization to End Poverty. A lot of people look at their retirement accounts and investment portfolios and feel that they're experiencing downward mobility -- so it's not a great time for them to help others experience upward mobility.

But many of us realize the fact that we have retirement accounts and investments means that we are among the most fortunate, and that, having been given much, much is expected from us.

And equally important, we understand our current economic crises to be a set of symptoms. Our symptoms are obvious, but the as-yet largely unanswered question is: What's the underlying disease that is creating our economic symptoms?

So our economy is in the emergency room, and the doctors are doing triage but they still haven't reached a full diagnosis of the disease -- or better said, the complex of diseases -- with which our economy is afflicted. We, as people of faith in the God who proclaims good news to the poor, have every reason to suspect that a key element in our as-yet undiagnosed economic disorder is a failure to properly care for the poor.

We, people who believe in the God who identifies with the least of these, have every reason to believe that if you want to check the health of the economy, you begin by checking the blood pressure of the poor. If you want to treat our economic illness, you begin with those most weakened by poverty. If you want to measure improving health, you check the vital signs of the poor.

Others, driven by a different theology (or lack thereof), are prone to ignore the poor and measure the vital signs of the most prosperous only. If that mentality wins the day, we'll end up treating high blood pressure with salt pills, or high blood sugar with candy bars, or lung cancer with cigarette smoke.

So ... seeing where our neglect of the poor and our preferential option for the rich have gotten us, now is the time to recall the biblical teaching of the Jubilee. Now is the time to realize that if there truly is a God who cares about Lazarus sitting in the gutter in front of the mansions of the millionaires, then people of faith need to advocate for the needs of the poor.

Because I am one of those people of faith, because I believe in God's preferential option for the poor, because I see the wisdom behind the biblical teaching of Jubilee, and because I believe that Jesus was speaking about economic justice in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, I'm honored to be part of the mobilization. I hope many, many more people will join us. There won't be a better time than this to lead our nation toward a wise and compassionate engagement with poverty, or to help our nation and world understand that the only sustainable economy is an economy in which the least of these are re-deemed -- or re-valued -- in light of the compassion of our common Creator.

And I can't think of a better time than now to reaffirm that our future must be better than our past when it comes to embodying the biblical call to do justice, show kindness, and walk humbly with the God who loves the poorest among us as much as the richest.

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again.

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