The Common Good

Live from New York: It's the New Conversation

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Last night at the historic Riverside Church, Jim Wallis, hosted by NY Faith & Justice, discussed his new book Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy. The night opened with powerful singer Joy Ike, spoken word by Christopher Mullen, and introductions by Lisa Sharon Harper (Executive Director of NY Faith & Justice) and Rev. Gabriel Salguero.

The room was full of over 400 diverse New Yorkers who were eager to hear this alternative economic crisis conversation. Rev. Wallis stated in his keynote address:

We have been asking the wrong question, which is when will the crisis end -- not how the crisis will end. I think the country is ready for a new conversation on values. Let's start the conversation at all levels: Wall Street, Main Street, and your street. If we go back to normal -- to business as usual -- all the suffering of places like my hometown, Detroit, and New York will have been in vain.

Rev. Wallis compared Jon Stewart's landmark interview with Mad Money host Jim Cramer to Jesus overturning the money tables. One of the most thought provoking comments of the night was when Rev. Wallis stated, "Let's stop trying to keep up with the Joneses and make sure the Joneses are alright."

As a native New Yorker I am all too familiar with how being the center of economic power causes us to devalue our time. I think many New Yorkers would benefit from considering the fact that, as stated by Rev. Wallis, "a calendar is a moral document." What does it mean for us to consider calendar keeping as a spiritual practice? There is a connection between an unregulated economy and unregulated calendar -- the results are hurt individuals, families, communities, and churches.

A lively panel responded to Rev. Wallis's book. The panel was moderated by Lisa Sharon Harper and included the following figures: Dr. Obery Hendricks Jr., theologian and author of The Politics of Jesus; Patrick Purcell Jr., Asst. to the President of UFCW Local 1500; Tom Rodman, Director/Client Adviser at Deutsche Bank; and Maya Wiley, Executive Director at the Center for Social Action. Dr. Hendricks spoke of the lack of regulatory protection and the disbanding of this protection by those who worship the market. Mr Purchell spoke to the decline of the labor movement as one of the causes of the crisis and the 30 years of anti-labor sentiment in our country. Ms. Wiley spoke to the complexity of systems that contributed to the crisis such as the sub-prime market, which is a new development. This was not only a class issue but a race issue. Black families making over $350,000 a year were more likely to receive a sub-prime mortgage. Black and Latino families make about 60 cents of the white dollar. Consider the sobering statistic that 25% of Black and Latino men between the ages of 18 and 25 are unemployed. Patrick Purcell, Jr. stated, "it's not about the ideological arguments between capitalism and communism, but about balance."

Questions from the audience brought up issues such as distributive justice, which led to a brief discussion that touched on social exclusion and the emerging green economy, what sector of society is responsible for resetting the moral compass of our country, and what type of mobilization can jump-start change.

Overall this was an engaging and thought-provoking night of dialogue and collaboration. This event was co-sponsored by the following groups: Coalition of Educational Justice, Judson Memorial Church, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Interfaith Center of New York, Latino Leadership Circle, Marble Collegiate Church, Metro Hope Church, New York Theological Seminary, NY Divinity School, Presbytery of New York City, The Harlem House, Radical Living, Rainbow Coalition-1000 Churches Initiative, Trinity Grace Church, Uth Turn, Voterbook Manhattan, and World Vision.

Questions to consider:

  1. What is good work from a biblical point of view?
  2. What would jubilee economics look like in our society?
  3. Is there a need for distributive justice? Does the Bible advocate for this type of justice?

Resource: To find out about banking alternatives visit www.moveyourmoney.info

portrait-onleilove-alstonOnleilove Alston is a student at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University School of Social Work. She organizes with NY Faith & Justice and the Poverty Initiative. During the summer of 2008 she served at Sojourners as a Beatitudes Society Fellow. You can visit her blog Esther's Call.

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