The Common Good

Elizabeth Warren and Goliath

Sojomail - February 11, 2010


It shows how frightened they are of their own people, when they cannot tolerate mothers who are holding a silent vigil and want accountability.

- Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, discussing the Mourning Mothers, an organization founded by women whose children were killed by government agents in the protests that broke out after the election in June. Every Saturday, the group sits quietly in a park in Tehran, and according to witnesses, are then arrested by the police, and taken to prison. (Source: The New York Times)

+ Sign up to receive "Verse and Voice" - our daily quote and Bible verse e-mail

Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Elizabeth Warren and Goliath

Get a free trial issue of Sojourners Get a free issue of Sojourners
Donate to Support Sojourners
Donate to support

I had a most instructive conversation this week with Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard economist who is also the Chair of the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel. Warren has a way of cutting through the jargon and confusion of many economists and of this economic crisis -- right to the moral core of the issues at stake. I knew her for her keen insights, but I didn’t know she was from, as she puts it, a “mixed marriage from Oklahoma” -- Baptist and Methodist -- and that she is a former Methodist Sunday school teacher. In the interview I did with her for Sojourners, her moral and even theological comments were as impressive as her economic analysis of our present crisis. She said the battle for financial regulatory reform is like the battle between David and Goliath. (You can read the interview in the April issue of Sojourners magazine, which comes out in early March.)

Warren’s narrative of the U.S. economy, and the banking industry in particular, was very clarifying. For most of U.S. history, our country went through repeated periods of boom and bust, with all the consequences of those cycles. But after the Great Depression, a number of new financial regulations -- rules for the road -- were put into place that were designed to protect average Americans in particular from the continued abuses of the big banks and the often terrible results in bad times for ordinary people. Two important examples were the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) to protect people’s savings and the Glass Steagall Act of 1933 to prevent banks from speculating with depositors' money. And the new rules worked for several decades, creating both prosperity and security for many American families and an emerging middle class. But starting in 1980, the rules were first watered down and gradually removed, and banks were free again to engage in both the abusive and very risky speculative behavior that helped to bring on the Great Depression, and resulted again in the current Great Recession.

She explained how credit card and mortgage application forms used to be only a page or two and were both clear and understandable to the average person -- even allowing people to easily compare and contrast the deals offered. But now, as all of us know, these forms have expanded to 30 pages or more with lots of complications, hard to comprehend provisions, and “fine print” that cleverly hides a long list or traps, tricks, and a myriad of both exploitive arrangements and outright abuses that greatly benefit banks at the expense of borrowers and card holders. In clear moral terms, Warren described the current behavior of our biggest banks as deliberately deceiving, entrapping, and cheating unsuspecting customers into very precarious and ultimately disastrous financial positions. And with no more rules of the road, the banks were leading their customers into the financial ditch. An economic crisis has been the result with massive suffering and pain for millions of Americans.

We are now living in a “lawless” economic environment, according to Warren, where our biggest banks have become our most dangerous predators -- and with no protections for the rest of us against the “law of the jungle,” as she puts it. The consequences for our economy, our culture, our families, and even our souls have been disastrous. This is not the way we should want to live, Warren says, and it is creating a world which we should not want our children to grow up in. She makes the urgent case for reform with the compelling analysis of a top economist, the family values of a grandmother, and the moral arguments of a person of faith. The sins of the financial world have become both a moral, and even religious, issue from the perspective of the Methodist tradition “which still shapes me.”

Warren is the “mother” of the idea for a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA),which is in the current financial reform bill recently passed by the House of Representatives, and is now slowly making its way through the U.S. Senate. But the big banks are aggressively fighting back, trying to prevent their own regulation only one year after the financial meltdown for which they were in large part responsible. There seems to be no remorse, let alone repentance, from the big banks -- only record new profits enabled by their taxpayer-funded bailouts, and enormous bonuses to the executives who made the very decisions that brought the economic system down on the heads and hearts of so many Americans. The biggest banks in America are giving shame a bad name.

Why are new rules, regulations, and protections necessary? Because of the human condition, the realities of human nature, and a biblically orthodox understanding of human sinfulness. Yes, the reasons we need the protections offered by a Consumer Financial Protection Agency are as theological as economic. And it is amazing to me how many of those who oppose any regulation of Wall Street also claim to be religious conservatives. They subscribe to what I label in my new book, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street — A Moral Compass for the New Economy, “the myth of the sinless market.” I am a conservative Christian too, conservative enough to have a healthy appreciation for human sins, human failings, and fallen-ness, and after witnessing the behavior of America’s biggest banks during this economic crisis, an old theological term called human depravity. It is simply bad theology to trust large corporations not to pollute our waters, poison our air, or cheat their unsuspecting customers. They have to be prevented from doing so for the sake of the common good. Good financial and economic rules reflect, not only good economics, but also good theology. And the free market fundamentalism of Wall Street’s defenders is, among other things, bad theology.

But as Elizabeth Warren, a good Methodist, warns, the banks are trying everything they can think of to kill financial reform. And we must not let them do that. In the name of a fairer economy, of family values, of moral values, and of sound biblical theology, the faith community must now make itself heard on the urgent issue of financial regulatory reform. We must hold our biggest banks accountable to the common good. So let our Senators not just hear from the bankers, but now also from pastors who see what such abusive banking behavior has done to their families and parishioners, to devastated communities with shuttered houses, to the prison of debt that more Americans find themselves in. People of faith across the land must now tell their elected representatives that we will be “watching and praying” to see what they will do about necessary financial reform. We don’t have the money in our financial coffers that the banks do to finance their political campaigns, but we do have our voice and our votes which will be turned against them if they vote against the best interests of our people and for the greed of the bankers. Jesus said it well -- choose this day who you will serve, God or Mammon (Money). Let’s now put that choice to our Senators, who need to hear from us this next week while they are in their district offices during the Presidents' Day recess. Critical decisions are being made for or against critical financial reform right now.

Jim Wallis' interview with Elizabeth Warren will be featured in the April issue of Sojourners magazine. Subscribe to Sojourners today.

E-mail E-mail this article to friends
Facebook Share this article on Facebook
Comment Comment on this article on the God's Politics Blog


Paint Your Faith

Against the gray of concrete and stone buildings, the vibrant colors of the Paint Your Faith mural on a wall of Metropolitan United Church in downtown Toronto can be seen from blocks away. Watch a video about the creation of the 30-foot by 60-foot mural on the Web exclusives page of Sojourners magazine.



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

Success, Seminars, and Salvation
by Aaron Taylor

After the wealthy stock trader pitched his course on how to get rich off the stock market, Peter Lowe gave a power point gospel presentation designed to convince the audience of their need for a savior.
+ Click to continue

Obama's Attempt at a Bipartisan Health-Care Summit
by Valerie Elverton Dixon

To keep trying for bipartisanship seems insane. However, I know that President Obama is not an insane man. He is no fool. Perhaps he is acting on faith, and very often faith looks foolish. I suspect that by having this meeting televised, President Obama is putting his faith in us, the American people. He trusts us to watch and asses the facts and the policy proposals according to what is good for the nation and not according to ideological idolatry.
+ Click to continue

Not Your Typical Valentine's Day-Type Love
by Nadia Bolz-Weber

This love has really nothing to do with feeling nice. It's actually not about feelings at all, it's about truth. It's about the truth of who we are through the eyes of a God who knows us fully. This love described by Paul isn't mushy and sentimental. It's tough and unwilling to yield.... Here's what is scary about this kind of love: you can't manipulate it. There is no amount of weight loss, piety, personality management, big smiles, or strained pretense that can affect this love.
+ Click to continue

The Bleeding Woman
by Julie Clawson

This past Sunday we focused on how Jesus embraced women and other marginalized people -- no matter who they were or what they had done, he offered them a place at his table. We told these stories from the point of view of those Jesus reached out to and included. It was a beautiful and emotional service, as we affirmed that all were welcome and loved by Jesus and at our church.
+ Click to continue

The Real Solution to Childhood Obesity
by Johann Christoph Arnold

With more than a third of our children now overweight and many already diabetic, Americans of all political colors should commend the First Lady for her recently-announced campaign against childhood obesity. But taking on such an enormous problem is going to require a lot more than praise. And it will require more than heart-healthy choices, limited TV, and "opportunities for exercise" -- buzzwords that public health experts have been tossing around for years with no apparent effect.
+ Click to continue

Encouraging Informed Freedom of Conscience on Questions of War
by Logan Laituri

Service members are torn between being told that they are "not paid to think" and yet to "disobey unlawful orders." It is difficult indeed to consider the illegality of any order without being afforded the opportunity to think?
+ Click to continue

A Haitian Church Engages Long-Term Needs in Port-au-Prince
by Jacqueline Klamer

Law student Sebastien Doussous currently manages the database on a needs-assessment survey administered, just days following the Jan. 12 earthquake, by members of his church, L'Église Communauté Evangélique d'Haïti. "Within these two square miles, we gathered information on the number of people in each family, whether they've lost their jobs or not, the damage to their house, percentage of belongings lost, and medical needs."
+ Click to continue

Fashion as a Social Justice Vehicle, Part 2
by Becky Garrison

Transformational and Missional are two words that are being thrown around a lot at the moment. They are the buzzwords of today that emerging and postmodern were a few years ago... however we haven't put much definition around those words. I wanted to do something that created more education around what we mean when we use the word Transformational.
+ Click to continue

Beyond a Predictable Script: Dialogue with Comments on My Israel/Palestine Posts
by Brian McLaren

It's one thing to go to the "Holy Land" and see where Jesus worked and walked in the past. It's another thing to combine that with seeing where the spirit of Jesus is working and walking in the present, teaching people to seek peace and reconciliation with God, neighbor, and enemy.
+ Click to continue

Victory for Haiti Debt Cancellation!
by Hayley Hathaway

For those of us who work for social justice, victory can seem elusive. But then there are times when we mobilize at the right time with the right message and our leaders cannot help but listen and respond. This weekend was one of those times.
+ Click to continue

Fashion as a Social Justice Vehicle
by Becky Garrison

Currently, fashion seems to be an industry that promotes an unsustainable empire where the haves keep getting richer and the have-nots continue to get abused in the negotiation for a lower bottom line price. But if this industry was re-routed down a road of creating opportunities for equality instead of oppression, the results could be significant. Transparent supply chains being demanded by educated consumers could create a ripple effect of real change.
+ Click to continue

One More Gun Death Too Many -- and Three Things You Can Do About It
by Shane Claiborne

At about midnight we heard the shots ring out. My friend ran to the door and I heard him yell, "Shane, a kid has been shot, come down." As we looked down the street we could see a young man staggering as he walked down our block. Then his knees gave out and he fell to the ground. We called for an ambulance and ran outside to be with the boy.
+ Click to continue

Book Sales, Best-Seller Lists, and Why They Matter
by Chuck Gutenson

Imagine all of us -- staffers, board members, constituents, friends, etc. -- standing shoulder to shoulder and straining to hold a speaker's platform as high as we can. We do this because we have a message to communicate, a set of commitments to share.
+ Click to continue

Tim Tebow's Pro-Life Super Bowl Ad Brouhaha
by Kathy Khang

You may fiercely disagree with the message of and the values (and pocketbook) behind the commercial, but as a woman I am a bit frustrated and disappointed. Critics point to the pro-life message as being inappropriate. Really? You may disagree with it, but how is it inappropriate? The commercial is running during a game in which very strong, grown men tackle each other, sometimes to the point of injury, while boisterous fans, some in various stages of inebriated behavior, scream encouraging words using colorful language while grown women wear clothing small enough for small girls shake their pom poms in order to create team spirit. Yes, let's talk about what is inappropriate and question where our values are.
+ Click to continue

The Injustice of an 800 Mile Wall
by John Carlos Frey

I was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and grew up in San Diego, California, only a few hundred yards from the actual borderline. As a kid, there were always border patrols around but I never felt like my birthplace offered any threat. A few years ago, though, I noticed a massive escalation of security infrastructure along the U.S.-Mexico border. I couldn't figure out what had changed. How had Mexico and our neighbors to the south become a threat? Did we really need to spend billions of dollars on fencing, technology, and thousands more border guards? And was any of it working? I decided to investigate, and to document my findings.
+ Click to continue

Faith Beyond Belief: Dogma Without Deeds is Dead
by César Baldelomar

When reading this list of "fundamentals" of the Christian faith, I was distraught not to see any mention of Jesus' message of love, compassion, and solidarity with the poor and marginalized. These aspects of Jesus' message are central to Christianity, and yet we see many fundamentalists elevating right belief about Jesus' body over obedience to Jesus' words, when both are important aspects of faith.
+ Click to continue

Is George W. Bush Pro-Life? Is Any Politician?
by John Gehring

Former President George W. Bush received a pro-life award from Legatus, an organization of Catholic business professionals. The honor raises an essential question that should challenge both political parties and underscores the limits of labels: What does it mean to be pro-life?
+ Click to continue

Tales of Two Capitalisms: Ayn Rand vs. Horatio Alger
by Ernesto Tinajero

The stories we tell and the stories we like reveal our values, which made me meditate on two novelists, both of whom were popular in their day as prophets of capitalism's benefit. One, Ayn Rand, is still as popular--or more so--today than when she first wrote her novels. The other, Horatio Alger, has been forgotten to all but historians, sociologists, and scholars. They both champion capitalism. Neither wrote great literature.
+ Click to continue


+ Sign up to receive our "Daily Digest" e-mail - the latest headlines on critical issues

Top Stories:

Faith Leaders Push For Immigration Reform
The Atlantic Politics
Several faith groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals, Faith in the Public Life, and the Sojourners announced a push today for comprehensive immigration reform, with local events and prayer vigils in February and March. +Click to continue

Political Advocay Tracker on Feb. 5
Christianity Today blog
According to Allison Johnson, campaign coordinator for Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR), more than 130 people from all across the country joined a "A Day of Witness and Action on Immigration Reform" events in Phoenix, Arizona. The event was sponsored by the Christian Community Development Association, Sojourners, and the National Association of Evangelicals. Similar events were also held in Denver, Santa Ana (Calif.), Chicago, Memphis, and Miami. +Click to continue

Faith Leaders: Immigration System Tears Families Apart
The Christian Post
“The faith community is ready to lead our nation’s return to a place of welcome and opportunity for everyone,” said the Rev. Jennifer Kottler, a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and director of policy and advocacy at Sojourners. “Let there be no question of where the faith community stands collectively on this issue: we stand on the side of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger among us.” +Click to continue

Will the Recession Change Us?
And when did we allow commerce to be defined primarily by debt-driven consumer spending, creating profits channeled only toward those already at the top of the heap? These are the questions evangelical author Jim Wallis asks in his new book, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street. Unlike the rest of us, Wallis is not asking when the recession will end. He wants to know instead how it will end. Or how it will change us, if at all. +Click to continue

Jim Wallis' Values and Wall Street
Spero Forum

Faith Equals Action
Christianity Today blog

"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.

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

VANCOUVER SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY: Take the next step in your journey at this year’s Summer School, July 5-16. Courses range from a Merton Retreat to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives. Click here for more information.

Order Strangers in the Land today, because greater justice leads to deeper faith. Take a six-week journey to get an in-depth look at immigration in relation to the church and the Bible. Click here.

New book from Jim Wallis - Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy. Order here and a portion of your purchase supports Sojourners.

Scared of being ‘left behind’? What does Revelation really teach us? Explore this question with Sojourners’ four-part study guide, Christians and the Apocalypse. Use it this Sunday with your small group - available online. Click here.

Stickers! Magnets! Buttons! Show your stuff with pithy statements from Sojourners. Order yours today.

Click Here!

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: | Advertising: | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.