Seattle now has nine billionaires and 10,000 millionaires, according to a National Public Radio report a few weeks ago. A recent U.S. News cover story proclaimed, "The Rich Are Getting Richer." Housing prices in economic boom towns like San Francisco leave us in stunned disbelief, as do amazing news reports of investors who gain or lose $6 billion in one week’s stock market trading. Even the overused phrase "record breaking economy" seems old hat now when there are new milestones reached and records broken almost every day.
Clearly the "permanent boom" has done a lot of individual good for many people. But what will it mean for the common good? The same NPR report told of the ever-widening gap between rich and poor and the crumbling of public institutions such as schools. The rates of evictions and homelessness in San Francisco are also skyrocketing, and a very troubling moral picture is emerging. In the same news program, we hear that NASDAQ has reached an all-time high, then learn that new studies show alarming child-poverty rates. We learn that the number of U.S. millionaires has quadrupled from 2 million to 8 million in the last 10 years, but that 1.3 million people will become homeless sometime this year and 30 million people will experience "food scarcity," otherwise known as hunger. A recent New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story speaks of "The Invisible Poor," while a front page piece the same week in the Times explores the consequences of a new syndrome called "affluenza" on the children of the rich.
These gaping moral contradictions and growing spiritual concerns are beginning to awaken the churches, in particular, to their responsibilities and, indeed, to their prophetic vocation. For the first time in more than 100 years, churches from across the political spectrum are coming together on a social issue—poverty. The growing unity includes black churches, Catholics, mainline Protestants, and even conservative evangelicals who recently have been more known for their involvement in other social issues.