Billy Graham has always been a life-long learner, passionate about preaching the gospel but always ready to understand more about what that gospel means in the world. It was never surprising to me that this southern born and raised American evangelist decided early on to insist on preaching only to racially integrated coliseums and crusades, when many others just went along with their culture. Later, as a result of falling in love with the new congregations we was preaching too in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, had a "change of heart" on the nuclear arms race-which we featured in a cover interview with the evangelist in Sojourners magazine. Billy Graham has also been willing to admit his mistakes and grew from them, which is something all of us as "leaders" need to constantly learn from. And while a conservative evangelical all his life, Graham was never drawn to the hard edged and politicized fundamentalism of the "Religious Right" but instead often winced at them.
I always notice something when speaking to a mostly secular audience. Many people have been so hurt or rejected by the bad religion in which they were raised or have encountered elsewhere over the course of their lives, and, quite understandably, they are skeptical and wary of the faith community. But when someone looks like a faith leader (this is where the ecclesial robe helps ) and says things that are different from what they expect or are used to, their response is one of gratitude and the moment becomes an opportunity for healing.
After I spoke Sunday and joined the circle around the White House, person after person came up to me to express their thanks or simply to talk.
My favorite comment of the day came from a woman who quietly whispered in my ear, "You make me almost want to be a Christian."
If justice is only an implication, it can easily become optional and, especially in privileged churches, non-existent. In the New Testament, conversion happens in two movements: Repentance and following. Belief and obedience. Salvation and justice. Faith and discipleship.
Atonement-only theology and its churches are in most serious jeopardy of missing the vision of justice at the heart of the kingdom of God. The atonement-only gospel is simply too small, too narrow, too bifurcated, and ultimately too private.
Editor’s Note: In light of the recent protests at #OccupyWallStreet and around the world, we have revisited Jim Wallis’ 2010 book Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street and picked out some passages that are particularly pertinent to what we are seeing in our nation today.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
– John 2:13-17
Interestingly, in his turning over of tables, Jesus specifically targeted the merchants who were selling doves. Doves were the least expensive sacrifice permitted to be offered in the temple, and, therefore, were often bought by the poorest of the pilgrims.
It was a marketplace that took advantage of the poor, who had little other choice. It was a “subprime” marketplace in which a few accumulated great wealth for themselves at the expense of those who could least afford to pay. The money changers had taken a place reserved for the values of God, and used it to put their profits first. No doubt these money changers would have argued that they were only responding to a demand of the market, but Jesus didn’t seem to see it that way. What was happening in the marketplace was a spiritual and moral problem, not just an economic one…
[When Jesus turns over the tables] we see a man enraged at injustice and passionately confronting those who exploit the poor. We also learn that there are some things that we all should get angry about, that there are situations where the only appropriate response is confrontation…
First, we were sold a lie. We were sold an illusion that promised the American Dream was as close as our next purchase. That we could pursue our selfish interests without thought to the consequences, because the “invisible hand” would work it all out in the end. We were told that we did not need to work for wealth, that it would come if only we put our money in the hands of the right stock broker, mutual fund, or stock…
Second, the rules of the game failed. It was supposed to be simple. Work hard, get ahead, buy a home, and tuck some money away for the future in a 401(k). If you followed those rules, everything would work in your favor. But good jobs have disappeared, wages have been garnished, and 401(k) savings have disappeared. The rules of the game seem to have worked for those who set the rules, but not for those who played by them.
Third, our good was supposed to trickle down. We were promised that as the rich got richer, the rest of the country would prosper as well. If we handed our finances and ultimately our lives over to those who knew the market the best, it would benefit us all. If we took the virtues of the market and made them the virtues of our lives, we, too, would experience boundless prosperity. Fulfillment would come if we could just trust the market enough to work for us…
The market has become our “golden calf,” our idol of ultimate allegiance… This is when God—and then Moses—got angry. Why? Just because they built a golden calf? No. The calf could have been just a work of art, a statue to enjoy. What made the calf an idol was that the people gave the newly created calf the credit for leading them out of Egypt. They gave to the golden calf credit and attributes that belong only to God…
Today, instead of statues, we have hedge funds, mortgage- backed securities, 401(k)s, and mutual funds. We place blind faith in the hope that the stock indexes will just keep rising and real estate prices keep climbing. Market mechanisms were supposed to distribute risk so well that those who were reckless would never see the consequences of their actions. Trust, security, and hope in the future were all as close to us as the nearest financial planner’s office. Life and the world around us could all be explained with just the right market lens. These idols were supposed to make us happy and secure and provide for all our needs. Those who manage them became the leaders to whom we looked, not just for financial leadership, but direction for our entire lives. That is idolatry.
Rich and poor alike were sucked into making heroes out of those who seemed to be able to turn everything they touched into gold. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel lost virtually all of his personal wealth and his foundation’s, up to $37 million, to Bernie Madoffs Ponzi scheme. “We gave him everything, we thought he was God, we trusted everything in his hands.”‘
(All pictures are courtesy of Catholics United, who produced the ‘golden calf’. Extracts come from pages 19-29 of the hardcover edition of Rediscovering Values.)
Where is the compassion in our economy and our politics? It says much of the economic system that Sojourners even needs to campaign for a "moral budget." How do we, as Christians, challenge structures that allow billions of dollars to be wasted via tax loopholes while 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty?
Will we, as Sachs hopes,
Wall Street has been devastating Main Street for some time. And when the politicians -- most of them bought by Wall Street -- say nothing, it's called "responsible economics." But when somebody, anybody, complains about people suffering and that the political deck in official Washington has been stacked in favor of Wall Street, the accusation of class warfare quickly emerges. "Just who do these people think they are," they ask. The truth is that the people screaming about class warfare this week aren't really concerned about the warfare. They're just concerned that their class -- or the class that has bought and paid for their political careers -- continues to win the war.
So where is God in all of this? Is God into class warfare? No, of course not. God really does love us all, sinners and saints alike, rich and poor, mansion dwellers and ghetto dwellers. But the God of the Bible has a special concern for the poor and is openly suspicious of the rich. And if that is not clear in the Bible nothing is.
Sojourners has always tried to understand and advocate for "biblical politics." But what does that mean now, especially as we approach another major election?
I was talking the other day to a Christian leader who has given his life to working with the poor. His approach is very grassroots -- he lives in a poor, virtually all-minority community and provides basic services for low-income people. He said, "If you work with and for the poor, you inevitably run into injustice." In other words, poverty isn't caused by accident. There are unjust systems and structures that create and perpetuate poverty and human suffering. And service alone is never enough; working to change both the attitudes and institutional arrangements that cause poverty is required.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at home in Washington, D.C. getting ready to go to Sojourners' office. I was upstairs listening to the news on NPR when I heard the first confusing report of a plane crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center. I immediately called downstairs to Joy and asked her to turn on the television to see what was going on. Moments later, as we ate breakfast together with our three-year-old son Luke, we watched the second plane strike the north tower. I still remember my first response to Joy, "This is going to be bad, very bad," I said.
Of course, I meant more than just the damage to the Twin Towers and the lives lost, which became far greater than any of us imagined at first. Rather, my first and deepest concern was what something like this could do to our country and our nation's soul. I was afraid of how America would respond to a terrorist attack of this scope.
If you are a 12-year-old baseball player, it looks like a field of dreams. There are huge bleachers wrapped around home plate, and extending into left and right field. Behind home, there is a high official box where the game is announced, scores are kept, and reporters watch and write their stories. The field itself looks carefully tended with freshly cut green grass, and a flat-raked dirt infield without potholes, bumps, or ditches. And the beautiful grass of the outfield extends to actual fences, which each player hopes to reach as they gaze at the most perfect baseball diamond any of them have ever played on.
The markets are watching, the Republicans are watching, the Democrats are watching, the media are watching, the pollsters and pundits are watching. The public is watching and is disgusted with Washington, D.C.
When it comes to the bitter and ultra-partisan battles over the budget, the deficit, and the fast-approaching deadline for America defaulting on its financial commitments, the whole nation and even the world is watching.
But God is watching too.
Today is another intense day of politics at the White House. The debt default deadline is fast approaching. The stakes for the nation are high as politicians can't agree on how to resolve the ideological impasse on how to reduce the deficit before the nation defaults on its financial obligations.
Yesterday, before Congressional leaders were due at the White House for critical negotiations, I, along with 11 other national faith leaders, met with President Obama and senior White House staff for 40 minutes. We were representing the Circle of Protection, which formed in a commitment to defend the poor in the budget debates. Sitting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, we opened in prayer, grasping hands across the table, and read scripture together. We reminded ourselves that people of faith must evaluate big decisions on issues like a budget by how they impact the most vulnerable.
Since early this spring, Sojourners, with your invaluable help, has strongly advocated with the president and Congress, asking for a responsible plan to reduce our nation's deficit -- a plan that protects the poorest and most vulnerable. We have asked, "What Would Jesus Cut?" We have prayed and fasted, and now thousands of you have signed on to the Circle of Protection: a statement on why we need to protect programs for the poor.
The way you think and feel about the world is shaped by what you see when you get out of bed in the morning. I remember hearing this from civil rights activists. It simply means that perspective is hugely determined by place, context, and vantage point. This is profoundly true for me and most of the people I've ever met. You see the world from the place you live.
Part of the problem in the current budget impasse in Washington, D.C. is the perspectives of the politicians in the debate. Every morning they see and hear each other; the gladiator ring of national politics; the Washington media; their donors; their ideological base; and their latest poll ratings.
Our country is in the midst of a clash between two competing moral visions. It is not, as we have known in recent history, a traditional fight between Republicans and Democrats. It is a conflict between those who believe in the common good and those who believe individual good is the only good.
My iPhone died and I didn't even care. A cooler full of water and ice was dumped on my head, which soaked not only me, but also my phone. My older son Luke's Little League team, called the Nationals, had just won the Majors championship in Northwest Little League.