The Common Good
December 2008

A Pastoral Strategy for Hard Times

by Jim Wallis | December 2008

What is the responsibility of Christians?

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? As the immediate crisis turns into a longer and deeper recession, these questions will only increase. A continued rise in unemployment and foreclosures, along with shrinking investments and credit, will bring more pain to ordinary Americans.

Recently 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, a financial planner now engaged in intense daily conversations with his clients, left me a simple voicemail—“Pray for me.”

It’s not often that most Americans are worrying about the same thing at the same time. 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), and the clear threat of another depression have become the overriding foci of public conversation. Every other issue is perceived as a distraction.

For Christians, there are deeper questions that should be asked: 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 to the world? And where is God in all this?

WHAT DOES THE Bible say about 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 and family values, lifestyle and stewardship, generosity and justice, personal and social responsibility? What can Christian economists tell us about economic philosophy, the role of the market and its relationship to democracy, 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—such as the possibilities of mutual aid, con­gregational and com­munity credit unions, and new cooperative strategies for solving problems such as health care, housing, and jobs? How could creative church-based economic alternatives also serve the poor? 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, be present to them, comfort them, and perhaps help them to re-examine their assumptions, values, and practices? How do we attend in particular to the needs of people who are poor? For as always, the impact will likely hit them the hardest. 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 a new Sojourners study guide on the above issues. We will have a variety of articles in Sojourners magazine over the coming months, beginning in this issue with commentaries by pastor Adam Hamilton, author Diana Butler Bass, and our own Julie Polter. We will be doing wider media messaging, interviews in television and radio, and op-eds in newspapers, and I will be making the economic crisis a focus of my own writing and speaking.

We will be asking economists with a moral or religious perspective 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. God often has a way of bringing something new out of the ruins of the old. The narrow narrative of scarcity is already emerging—that the lack of resources will prevent us from doing anything important. Rather, we need to see how a time of crisis can also be one of opportunity and new directions that opens up whole new possibilities. Let’s discern together what a new way forward might be in this 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.

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.

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