Book Tour Diary: Riverside Church and Rock and Roll

By Jim Wallis 01-08-2010


Last night, at the historic Riverside Church, New York Faith & Justice hosted a lively conversation about morality and economic recovery with leaders representing finance, labor, social justice, and ethics. It was exciting to see so many young faces in the crowd, but it was also wonderful to see old friends and supporters who have been working for justice their entire lives.

After an opening act by a wonderful new artist, Joy Ike, a conversation ensued that has been needed for a long time. Using the analogy from my book of the canary in the mine as a metaphor for the poor, Pat Purcell, Director of Organizing and Policy of the United Food and Commercial Workers-Local 1500, reminded us that the "canaries have been dying for a long time" and we haven't been paying attention. And now the air is toxic for all of us. All agreed that for too long, we have ignored the signs of an economy that has lost a moral framework or foundation. I suggested that an economy that is not guided by values and a moral compass will not only devour the least of these -- it will devour itself.

Maya Wiley, Executive Director of the Center for Inclusion, one of my new favorite people, reminded us that feeling the effects of a market gone awry might be new for many of us, but in poor communities -- especially African-American communities -- people have been feeling the effects for a long time. It was especially poignant when she pointed out that an African-American family making $350,000 a year was more likely to be placed in a sub-prime mortgage than a white family earning $50,000. Maya talked about "exclusion" as key to this crisis and said the answer was deeper than just re-distribution; we need a new/old ethic of citizen participation and a democratic renewal if we are to shape the new economy together and find the "moral compass" I wrote about in the book.

Wall Street executive Tom Rodman of Deutsche Bank spoke of how excessive "risk" leads to crisis. Tom explained that between 2000 and 2008, the GDP grew from $10 trillion to $14 trillion without any jobs growth, solely by using leverage. Then along came the "fork" and popped the bubble.

Theologian Obery Hendricks called for public accountability though necessary social regulation to protect us all, and especially the poor. Obery pointed out that we ended up in this mess because the markets lacked controls and protection.

It was a lively discussion, moderated by my dear friend Lisa Sharon Harper, who is a whirling dervish of an organizer and movement builder. She and her committee, organizing an event during the tough holiday season, really pulled it off, as 400 people showed up for this Riverside "town meeting." The crowd was very diverse, young and old, and very enthusiastic about the evening. And after just four days on the road, I am more convinced than ever that the country not only needs a new conversation on economic values; it is now really ready to have it.

As we wrap up the week, I am doing a flurry of radio shows from every region of the country. And my favorite one this morning was with a rock station drive time host called "Bulldog," who said when it comes to a brand new values discussion, he and his listeners are ready to rock and roll!

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at

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