The Common Good

The Parable of the Unmerciful Banker

Sojomail - December 17, 2009



QUOTE OF THE WEEK

If I kill a dog, I will get in trouble. If I kill you, I won’t get in any trouble. No one knows you are here. You don’t exist.

- Threats made by a human trafficker to Flor, a 37-year-old survivor of modern American slavery, who came to the U.S. to earn money after losing a child to starvation in Mexico. She was forced to work 17 to 19 hours a day for no pay in a sewing sweatshop. “People feel if you come in illegally, anything that happens to you is your fault,” said Lisette Arsuaga, with the Los Angeles-based Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking. “Slavery is not an immigration issue. It’s a civil rights issue. There’s no justification for making someone a slave.” (Source: Kansas City Star)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

The Parable of the Unmerciful Banker

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This week, I joined a press conference with People Improving Communities through Organizing and the Center for Responsible Lending on the steps of the United States Treasury. The first three speakers were not the usual Washington talking heads. Instead, they were American homeowners who were losing their homes to foreclosure—a terrible thing that now happens to another American family every 13 seconds (6,600 per day). And a rapidly increasing number of them are now due not to subprime mortgages, but to the loss of employment. That’s what had happened to those who told their stories on Monday in Washington D.C. across from the White House and just down the street from the huge Bank of America and PNC Bank buildings.

Mercy Martinez began to cry as she spoke. She had saved for years and put $100,000 down to buy her first condo. Choking back tears, she recalled her meeting with the Countrywide Financial mortgage broker. “I had enough money for a traditional, 30-year fixed rate loan; but the loan servicer unethically tricked me into an adjustable rate loan that could put me in foreclosure at any moment.” Now she waits for the “time bomb” of her loan to explode, and when it does she will join the millions of Americans facing foreclosure. Mercy is not alone: in 2006, 61 percent of subprime borrowers were forced into mortgages more expensive and riskier than what they qualified for.

Meanwhile, inside the White House, the heads of the nation’s biggest banks and financial institutions were meeting with the president. They were told that since the American people had bailed them out, they now needed to do something for the American people by beginning to lend again and to agree to loan modification plans enabling homeowners not to lose everything. But so far, those admonitions are falling on deaf ears. Indeed, I learned this week that the bonuses and extra compensation paid to the executives at the big banks are on track to exceed the 2007 level of $162 billion (even after some banks, like Goldman Sachs, have switched compensation packages away from cash and into stock bonuses). At the same time, the Center for Responsible Lending estimates that the bonus pool of just one of these big banks would have been enough money to prevent or significantly delay foreclosure for all 2.3 million people who lost their homes last year. And what about loan modifications to help homeowners stay in their homes? To date, Bank of America has agreed to fewer than 100 permanent home loan modifications. Amazing.

At the press conference, I pointed out the fundamental moral contradiction of this situation: Those whose behavior is most responsible for causing this economic crisis are being saved from failure and suffering by the American taxpayers, while those least responsible for causing this recession are now losing both jobs and homes — with no bailouts for them on the horizon. My friend Rev. Derrick Harkins made a point about “grace.” He suggested that in order to try to save the economy from a feared massive meltdown, some real grace was extended to the big banks; but they now seem unwilling to extend grace to anyone else. Does this sound like a gospel parable to you?

What it sounds like to me is a very bad morality play — one that I write about much more extensively in my new book Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street—A Moral Compass for the New Economy. The book says we need a new national conversation about all this, a return to some basic values, and a moral recovery to accompany an economic recovery. We cannot go back to normal this time; we need a new normal. It’s time to change the script of this play. That is the only way all this suffering and pain can be redeemed.

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INSIDE SOJOURNERS MAGAZINE

Morgan Spurlock Interview

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock takes filmmaking and turns it into social contradictory — most notably with the film, Super Size Me. Spurlock spoke with Sojourners editors Jim Wallis and Jeannie Choi about his newest project, The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D on Ice, and explains that though his projects be madness, there is method to them.

morgan-spurlock

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WAR AND PEACE

Obama's Peace Prize Speech

Jim Wallis initiated a blog dialogue this week on President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Here's Jim's post, and some of the commentary on the speech so far:

Obama’s Nobel Speech: Reflection and Response
by Jim Wallis

It was a more philosophical, and even theological, lecture than presidents normally give — and therefore worthy of some reflection and response.
+Click to continue

Violence and Nonviolence: Who’s Naïve? Who’s Realistic?
by Brian McLaren

Who is more naïve, I wondered -- those who believe violence can overcome violence, or those who believe violence always creates new and more complicated problems?
+Click to continue

What If?
by Jarrod McKenna

What if? What if Obama’s speech had not simply referenced Gandhi and King but followed them in following the way of Jesus?
+Click to continue

Nonviolence is the Strongest Weapon
by Johann Christoph Arnold

I was saddened by our president’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. He missed a chance to witness to courage and leadership.
+Click to continue

Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech and Just Peace Theory
by Valerie Elverton Dixon

If all we notice in President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Lecture is a justification of war, we will miss the 21st century import of his thinking and the hope of peace he called forth.
+Click to continue



ON THE GOD'S POLITICS BLOG

+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

'Stand up for Christmas'?!
by Eugene Cho

I'm sharing this not because I'm trying to throw Focus on the Family under the train. Believe it or not, I have a lot of respect for the big picture vision of their ministry. But when they miss the boat on occasions, they really miss the boat and I think this might be an occasion they missed the boat.
+ Click to continue

Why Climate Change Matters to the Lives of the Poor
by Tim Costello

World Vision is at the Copenhagen climate change talks because this is no longer an environmental crisis alone, but a deepening humanitarian crisis. Climate change is already affecting lives and livelihoods in the countries where we work, as described in graphic ways by so many in our national offices.
+ Click to continue

Climate Justice Clips: Archbishop Rowan Williams on 'Fashioning a Christian Response' to the Climate Crisis
by Jarrod McKenna

Many would have read reports of Rowan Williams's wonderful sermon in Copenhagen. Below are some of my favorite quotes. What some may have missed is this fantastic talk he gave. Pencil in sometime, make a cup of tea, and prayer-sit back as Rowan Williams outlines "The Climate Crisis: Fashioning a Christian Response."
+ Click to continue

Irrational Exuberance? You Got That Right!
by Chuck Gutenson

Of all the Delphic utterances of Alan Greenspan over the course of his time as Fed Chief, his observation that various market investment mechanisms might possibly be overvalued, and thus suggesting that folks might be motivated by an "irrational exuberance," was my favorite.
+ Click to continue

Cap-and-Trade's Bubble Trouble
by Elizabeth Palmberg

There's a lot of debate, in Copenhagen and elsewhere, about whether cap-and-trade is a good way to fend off the impending global-warming catastrophe. What most of that debate ignores is that, unless we set some rules for Wall Street, cap-and-trade is a recipe not for avoiding disaster, but for bringing it on -- twice over. It comes down to one word which is a lot scarier than it sounds: bubbles.
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Cheerful Books for the Bleak Midwinter
by LaVonne Neff

Mennonite is one of the few Christian religions I've never practiced (though it looks attractive, especially when POTUS starts talking about just war theory), but I still found this memoir hilarious.
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High Drama and Delicate Negotiations in Copenhagen
by Tim Costello

Yesterday was a day of high drama where Africa walked out, suspended talks, and then later in the day returned after the Danish facilitators took on some of their concerns. A large crowd of civil society supporters cheered their confrontation with the West, and made it clear they stood in solidarity with Africa.
+ Click to continue

Contemplating Feminine Incarnation
by Julie Clawson

Even as I reflected on the particular struggles Jesus would have faced if he had been born a girl, I couldn't help but also think about the positive outcomes it would have engendered. If the person we commit our lives to follow and who sacrificed herself on our behalf was a woman, I can't help but think that would have significantly impacted how we have perceived and treated women for the last 2,000 years.
+ Click to continue

Disney’s A Christmas Carol: A Missed Opportunity
by Jonathan Wright-Gray

This intends to be a more or less faithful retelling of a 19th century adult morality tale, with all the harsh realities of the original. Somewhere along the way, however, the desire to entertain overshadows the moral values and insight into human nature inherent in Dicken's story.
+ Click to continue

Faith, Hope, and the Advent of Health-care Reform
by Valerie Elverton Dixon

As the debate on health-care reform continues in the U.S. Senate, it seems that legislation to bring this nation closer to universal health care is bogged down in a political and procedural morass.
+ Click to continue

Climate Justice Clips: More of Tutu's Message to Copenhagen, 'Join the Winning Side'
by Jarrod McKenna

Let's not forget that we serve a God who turns our mourning in dancing. As Tutu puts it, if we "are on the side of peace, if we are on the side of climate justice, then we are on the side of the God of the universe!"
+ Click to continue

Drowning in a Rising Tide
by Neeraj Mehta

There is a great opportunity for us today as a country to heal not only the wounds of this most recent economic crisis, but also to heal the wounds of decades of racial disparities and injustice. If we look at some of the most popular universal programs coming out of the New Deal and World War II, it is plain to see that these programs by and large benefited whites disproportionately.
+ Click to continue

Video from Copenhagen: Worshipping and Marching with Desmond Tutu
by Tim Costello

A report from the cathedral where Desmond Tutu spoke, and a section from Tutu's speech to the crowd that marched through Copenhagen.
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A Day to Pray in Copenhagen
by Tim Costello

Creation care and stewardship have never been more important to recover as fundamental Christian responsibilities. Maybe this is why Copenhagen's traditionally deserted churches, this Sunday, were packed.
+ Click to continue

Paul Tells It Like It Is: 'Wake Up Gentlemen'
by Ernesto Tinajero

"Wake up, gentlemen." The tall prophet called out to the shocked onlookers. Rather than wearing the tunic and carrying a rod, like the biblical prophets of old, this prophet wore a business suit and carried the wisdom of years as a top economist. Paul Volcker, or "Tall Paul" as he is known, towered over many of the top bankers of the world this week.
+ Click to continue

Where are the Other Christian Voices Against Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill?
by Aaron Taylor

As a career missionary to Africa, I fear what would happen to me on judgment day if I didn't speak out against what is happening in Uganda right now in the name of Christ. I was in the middle of typing my monthly newsletter when I decided to check my e-mail. The subject line read, "Pastor Rick Warren condemns Uganda anti-homosexuality bill." Hurray for Rick Warren, but my question is where's everyone else?
+ Click to continue

U.S. Military Aid and the Paramilitaries Behind the Philippine Election Massacre
by Katrina Abarcar

The Maguindanao Massacre shows that human rights violations continue to rage throughout the Philippines, under the direction of the Arroyo administration. With election season in the Philippines upon us now, U.S. tax dollars to the Philippines in the form of military aid might be lighting the fuse on a pile of dynamite.
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Copenhagen: Three Global Factions and a Volatile Mix of Hope and Despair
by Tim Costello

In search of a global ethic and political will, in freezing weather and the most dispiriting cavernous building under cold grey Copenhagen skies, this search by 34,000 people with 3500 press observing, is a most extraordinary moment in time for humanity. There is a mix of aspiration – hoping against hope – and a fair dose of despair. It makes for a volatile psychological mix.
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Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill: A Betrayal of Christ's Teachings
by Jim Wallis

Reports from Uganda indicate that the harassment of homosexuals has already ramped up, and those who have not been targeted fear persecution. Whatever one's views on homosexuality, I would hope we can at least agree that legal, civil, and human rights must be honored, respected, and defended for all people. It's a question of justice.
+ Click to continue

Halliburton and the 'Resource Curse'
by Elizabeth Palmberg

Nigeria is sometimes cited as an example of the "resource curse," where a country's natural resources -- oil, in the case of Nigeria -- bring in a lot of money, but that money doesn't go to sustainable development or to reducing poverty. But of course, that "curse" isn't cast by magicians someplace, but by human interactions, including huge, huge amounts of money from wealthy corporations.
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SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS

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Top Stories:

Faith Leaders Defend Families Facing Foreclosure
The Christian Post
“Teachers, social workers, small business owners and our men and women in the armed services all know what it means to sacrifice for the good of our country in tough times, and they do so with pride,” said Jim Wallis, CEO of social justice ministry Sojourners and author of the forthcoming book, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street – A Moral Compass for a New Economy. “I refuse to believe that Wall Street is the one place in the country that is exempt.” The event denouncing Wall Street bonuses while calling for greater protection for homeowners was organized by PICO National Network, Faith in Public Life, Sojourners and the Center for Responsible Lending. +Click to continue


Gerald Britt Jr.: After the Justice Revival
The Dallas Morning News

Getting church leaders across denominational, theological, racial, geographic, class and ideological barriers to work together can be like getting cats to march in a parade. But that is the challenge in the aftermath of Dallas' Justice Revival. The Justice Revival is a concept introduced in the book The Great Awakening by Jim Wallis, the leader of the progressive Christian organization Sojourners. It harkens back to church revivals that resulted in spiritual conversions and social justice movements that helped bring about the abolition of slavery; produced child labor laws; and addressed issues of public health and poverty in northern slums area. Can churches still provide the spark that ignites a spiritual-based revival with social implications in Dallas?

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Greed (not America) gets the blame
On Faith

The Worst Week For Conservatives
Christianity Today blog

Rick Warren, Other Pastors Denounce Proposed Death Penalty for Gays in Uganda
Christianity Today blog

Urbana poverty tracks offer hands-on learning
Mission Network News

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way -- whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.



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