Economic Justice



Despite our best efforts, we’ve somehow missed it.

Even in the midst of our generous financial donations, volunteer hours, mission trips, and letter writing, we’ve failed to see what should have been glaringly obvious: the global poor lack the most basic ingredient for forward progression — personal security.

In their recently released book, The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen (founder of the International Justice Mission), and Victor Boutros (federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice) convincingly argue that all our best work to eradicate poverty — even while worthwhile, helpful, and well-intended — is for naught unless we concurrently address the epidemic of violence and fear facing the poor in the developing world. They write:

"...the forces of predatory violence will not simply go away... On the contrary, if the forces of violence are not restrained, it is the hope of the poor that will just keep going away...and there is nothing that our programs for feeding, teaching, housing, employing, and empowering the poor will be able to do about it."

The Editors 02-13-2014

As the federal minimum wage stagnates at $7.25 an hour, many states have taken the lead to raise wages on their own. Where does your state stand?


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, photo courtesy of the White House via Flickr. Via RNS.

Many of us believe skyrocketing income inequality is the most important economic, political, and moral issue confronting our nation. Everyone from members of Congress to Pope Francis has called for action — and now our president is leading by example.

In his State of the Union address, the president announced he would sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for a group of federally contracted workers. Recent research has revealed that the federal government is our nation’s leading low-wage job creator, creating more than 2 million jobs through federal contracts, loans, and grants. With this stroke of the pen, the president will begin to transform the lives of many of these Americans who are struggling to survive.

Unfortunately, many conservative commentators are criticizing the president’s action. They claim he is overstepping his legal authority and even violating his constitutional powers.

Gary Haugen 02-10-2014
Image via

Image via

Caleb is a father in Africa. He works hard as a night watchman, and he and his wife save from their small income with the dream of sending their daughter to college. But the family’s dreams are destroyed when the police arrest Caleb on a random sweep for a robbery he had nothing to do with. This is not to say that the evidence against him was flimsy; there is no evidence against him whatsoever. The police needed to show an arrest had been made, and Caleb was an easy target … because he was poor.

Once in police custody, Caleb is viciously beaten. He is shaken down for bribes. And then, he is thrown in jail and charged with a capital offense. He is given no indication of when he might have a chance to prove his innocence – and even if he were, Caleb can’t afford a lawyer to help him. His family struggles to hang on without him.

What is perhaps most stunning about Caleb’s story is not the brutality (though it certainly is brutal), the singular unfairness of it all (though it is dramatically and utterly unjust), the hopelessness (though the story is obviously devastating). No, what is most stunning is just how ordinary Caleb’s story is.

So what exactly is the problem with income inequality? Some think there is a theological problem. Jim Wallis has claimed—when calling for an increase in the minimum wage—“God hates inequality.”
Jim Wallis, President and CEO of Sojourners and author of "On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned about Serving the Common Good", joins Pete to discuss what it will take to finally win the "war on poverty".
Amanda Murphy 02-06-2014

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez. Photo courtesy McClure/Muntsinger Public Relations. Via RNS

Common Core, a set of educational standards that has faced criticism from religious groups, has found an ally in the largest organization of Hispanic Christians in the U.S.

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference’s endorsement of the program Wednesday buoys the Common Core initiative, which has drawn criticism from conservative Christians who say it reflects liberal values.

Some prominent religious leaders, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, have expressed support for the program, but the conference’s endorsement marks the first time a large Christian group has embraced the initiative, adopted by all but five states.

Over at Sojourners, Anna Hall dispels five common myths about raising minimum wage. And the city of Chicago is apparently listening, as there is reportedly some talk of raising minimum wage in the city to $15, reports Crain's Chicago Business.
Rev. Jim Wallis and former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson have endorsed a bipartisan approach to fighting poverty.
The only way to win the War on Poverty is for liberals and conservatives to make peace -- for the sake of the poor. That would be the best way to mark the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in his January 1964 State of the Union address. Making peace means replacing ideologies with solutions that actually solve the problems of poverty. With both Republicans and Democrats speaking out on poverty this week, and the recession slowly receding this should be an opportunity to find the focus, commitment, and strategies that could effectively reduce and ultimately eliminate the shameful facts of poverty in the world's richest nation.
It’s a tired trope that evangelicals only recently began caring about “social justice,” a buzzword that carries connotations of political activism and “the social gospel.” In fact, orthodox Christians have long recognized in Scripture a call to defend and uphold the dignity and well being of all persons, especially the poor and powerless. Take, for example, John Wesley, who led prison reform and abolitionists movements in 18th-century England. More recently, evangelical leaders like Ron Sider and Jim Wallis have promoted Christian engagement in anti-war, environmental, and immigration causes, while facing suspicion of falling prey to partisan politics. At the local church level, sex trafficking, fair trade, and clean water campaigns are trendy ways today for lay Christians to fight social ills, even if that means simply clicking a “Like” button.
"Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words" is a quote widely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It also seems to be the motto of Pope Francis. Instead of just talking about abstract doctrines, he consistently lives out his beliefs in public ways that have grabbed the world's attention. His example of humility, compassion, and authenticity resonate powerfully in Washington, where cynicism is rampant, pride remains even after the proverbial falls, and an ideology of extreme individualism has overtaken a significant faction within our politics.
Rosa Lee Harden 01-30-2014

Jesus was quite clear that our allegiance was to be with the POOR, not the barons of Wall Street.

God's laws are immutable Gravity. Aging. Those sorts of things. We cannot change them. But we DO know that mere humans MADE UP the laws of the market economy and we don't have to follow its rules. We can choose to, but it’s a choice.

The rules that run our capitalistic system were invented by us. And we really do not have to play by those rules.

Tom Ehrich 01-29-2014

A group of Jews are taken prisoner during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April 1943. Religion News Service File Photo.

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins took a beating by his former employer for likening today’s class warfare to the Holocaust, with the mega-wealthy 1 percent as victims of “Nazi” repression.

In what The Wall Street Journal obediently termed a “Progressive Kristallnacht,” the grand old man of Silicon Valley said those who criticize wealth inequality are like Nazis pursuing “class demonization.”

The firm he founded, known as Kleiner Perkins, immediately disavowed the 82-year-old Perkins, saying, “We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree.”

Jim Wallis 01-28-2014
Jim Wallis speaking at the World Economic Forum

Jim Wallis speaking at the World Economic Forum

"We are perhaps among the most included in this global economy. So how will the most included reach out to the most excluded this year?"

Editor’s Note: The following text and video is from Jim Wallis’ closing talk at the World Economic Forum in Davos, calling those in positions of leadership to implement values that benefit the common good.

In our opening session for this 2014 annual meeting, we heard a letter read to us from Pope Francis, a leader who has captured the attention of the world. He called us here to “deeper reflection” and to “reshaping the world.” He said something quite striking, “I ask you to insure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.”

So, to that deeper reflection: I believe that for many of us here at Davos, there was a moment — a remark from a session, a smaller discussion, a meal interaction, a personal conversation, or a walk in the snow — that made us think and feel some things we don’t normally focus on in our day-to-day environment back home. It could have been an insight, a new angle or framework, a challenge, or a reminder of things lost — something that struck you more deeply than just more talk and made an impact on you. Often these insightful moments are about our values, or challenge our values, or bring us back to a moral compass that we have, or would like to have, or miss from earlier in our lives.

Anna Hall 01-27-2014
Money in politics illustration, Elena Yakusheva /

Money in politics illustration, Elena Yakusheva /

Last week marked the fourth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 ruling, the court ruled that corporations are entitled to the same free speech rights as individual humans as guaranteed under the First Amendment.

The political repercussions of Citizens United include the rise of “Super PACs” — political action committees that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, independent of direct campaign contributions, to influence politics. The power yielded to such corporations, as well as indiscriminate spending allowance, has deleterious effects upon our democracy.

Because money talks, big money will talk a lot louder, drowning out the voices of average Americans trying to exercise their own civic rights. Politicians are undoubtedly more apt to respond to the requests of companies that shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars on supportive campaign politics than to the needs of a college graduate or working family who donated 10 bucks. Doesn’t exactly smack of sound democratic governance.

Christian Piatt 01-22-2014
Rich man drinking wine, ollyy /

Rich man drinking wine, ollyy /

A recent report by OXFAM offered some sobering data about both the concentration and flow of wealth in the world today. A few key points, also summarized by a new business article on The Atlantic website , include:

  • The richest 85 people in the world control as much wealth as the poorest 3,000,000,000 people;
  • Nineteen out of 20 “G20” countries are experiencing growing income inequality between rich and poor;
  • In the United States in particular, 95 percent of the post-financial-crisis capital growth has been amassed by the richest 1 percent of Americans;
  • While domestic income inequality continues to grow, the income tax rates for wealthiest Americans have steadily dropped.

My first reaction to seemingly immoral concentrations of wealth, and the systems that enable it, is anger and a compulsion to call them out, to change them and to distribute the world’s treasures evenly among all of God’s people.

But what if we need the insanely wealthy to realize a kingdom-inspired vision for our world?

Anna Hall 01-22-2014
Child sitting alone, Suzanne Tucker /

Child sitting alone, Suzanne Tucker /

Despite all the modern conveniences of the 21st century, our information-saturated culture, an exhaustive supply of self-help books, and giant advances in medical technology, doesn’t it seem like our society is more stressed, our anxiety higher, and more of our kids prescribed behavior modification drugs?

What if one of the reasons for our strung-out culture was the social, emotional, mental, and physiological outworking of the effects of poverty?

In the latest release of the Shriver Report, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder of the California Pacific Medical Center’s Bayview Child Health Center, has found through medical research and experiences of her patients that the stress of poverty can be manifested in alarming behaviors and predispositions.

Suzanne Ross 01-22-2014
By Nicholas Wang, derivative work by Poke2001, via Wikimedia Commons

By Nicholas Wang, derivative work by Poke2001, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s an absurd character in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who reveals more about our capacity for self-delusion than we might want to admit. He’s called the King and when it comes to desire, he is as deluded about his own power as we are about ours. The King’s delusion is this: he believes that the movements of the sun, moon, and stars are the result of his commands. That’s right – the sun rises and sets because the King commands it to be so. Our delusion is nearly identical: we believe that we are the source of our desires, that they arise and fall at our command. Because of our shared delusions, we and the King are quite out of touch with reality. Remarkably, the cure for us is also the same – spending some quality time with the Little Prince.

Lisa Sharon Harper 01-17-2014
Child alone in a tunnel,  hikrcn /

Child alone in a tunnel, hikrcn /

SNAP began in 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Food Stamp Act as part of his unconditional “War on Poverty.” In his remarks upon signing, Johnson said: “I believe the Food Stamp Act weds the best of the humanitarian instincts of the American people with the best of the free enterprise system. Instead of establishing a duplicate public system to distribute food surplus to the needy, this act permits us to use our highly efficient commercial food distribution system.”

Johnson continued: “It is one of many sensible and needed steps we have taken to apply the power of America's new abundance to the task of building a better life for every American.”

Imagine. Fifty years ago the Food Stamp Act was viewed not as charity, but rather as an ingenious utilization of American enterprise in order to help “build a better life for every American.”

And it is genius.