Values

From the Archives: November 1993

DESPITE APPEARANCES, economics is in essence a very personal and fundamentally moral discipline. It is nothing short of the web of our material relationships with one another and with the natural environment. Economic relationships have personalities and personal histories. Inescapably, these relationships physically manifest our social and spiritual values.

Our language expresses this duality. “Values” are both moral principles and economic measures. “Equity” is defined both as a financial interest in property and as fairness or justice. The root of “property” is also the root of “propriety.” But perception and practice often reflect a division between them.

Many of the economic problems confronting us can be understood as the result of neglected or broken relationships. Americans ... have a tendency to polarize public and private interests and, in our case, to mythologize the private sector and ignore the community as a genuine economic actor.

If it will, the church can play a critical role in healing these divisions. It has a unique contribution to make: philosophically, by drawing on its theology of creation, its understanding of the individual in community, and its preferential option for the poor; practically, because it is the largest and most widespread non-governmental institution and one of the few stable institutions in low-income communities. 

Chuck Matthei was president of Equity Trust when this article appeared.

Image: Sprouts planted in gold coins,  / Shutterstock 

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10 Personal Decisions for the Common Good

WE LIVE IN an age in which we are encouraged to make decisions that further our personal benefit. This attitude is so pervasive that it extends even to our spiritual lives.

There is a danger in making our faith so personal and inward, so focused on the first commandment to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, that we forget to keep the second commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Though our culture would tell us to look out for number one, Christ’s upside-down kingdom offers a different and subversive message: Lose your life and you’ll find it. The church was designed to display the “manifold wisdom of God” by creating a community full of people who, like Jesus, put others before themselves and seek the common good. Christian community is intended to be a living witness, to demonstrate and to anticipate the future of the world that has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ.

In other words, it’s impossible to keep the second commandment without loving God with everything we have, but it’s also impossible to keep the first without loving our neighbors as ourselves.

A thriving common good and the quality of our life together are deeply affected by the personal decisions we all make. The commons—those places we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space—will never be better than the quality of our own lives and households.

But what does that look like on a practical level? How can the choices we make as individuals reinforce the common good and promote human flourishing? As I’ve asked myself these questions, I’ve come up with 10 personal decisions we can make to further the common good.

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The Jesus Panel At ISFLC

5. The social justice movement and poverty The social justice movement is gaining popularity among young Christians today. In his most recent encyclical, Pope Francis critiqued the free market and attacked income inequality. Jim Wallis of Sojourners once argued for an increased minimum wage because he says “God hates inequality.” How should Christian libertarians respond to the social justice movement and the left’s concerns about poverty and economic justice?

The Moral Case For Immigration Reform

The moral case for reform as an alternative to an unacceptable status quo — a humanitarian crisis that is hurting untold numbers of people — has motivated many evangelicals to get involved in the push to fix the immigration system. And today, evangelical writer Jim Wallis makes that moral case by painting a vivid picture of the dilemma the country currently faces:

A Leap of Faith: Confessions from Davos

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.

A Global Call for a New Social Covenant

IN THE PAST 20 years, the world has witnessed the death of social contracts. We have seen a significant breakdown in trust between citizens, their economies, and their governments. In our own country, we can point to years of data painting a bleak picture of the confidence Americans have in any of our traditional institutions.

Former assumptions and shared notions about fairness, agreements, reciprocity, social values, and expected futures have all but disappeared. The collapse of financial structures and the economic crisis that followed not only caused instability, insecurity, and human pain; they have also produced a growing doubt and basic distrust in the way the system functions and how decisions are made.

This year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, we looked to the future and asked, "what now?" At a key session—"The Moral Economy: From Social Contract to Social Covenant"—a document was announced that kicks off a year-long global conversation about a new "social covenant" between citizens, governments, and businesses.

It is really a call for worldwide discussion about what values are needed to address the many difficult challenges the world is now facing. Inequality, austerity, retrenchment, maldistribution, conflicts over resources, and extreme poverty all raise questions about our values.

The introduction to the covenant says: "The choices made about each issue are determined by the values we hold—the values applied by government, business, civil society, and individuals. Those choices need to be self-conscious—not based merely upon the inertia of accumulated interests. This is not merely a philosophical enterprise; it is an urgent matter that requires moral courage. The stakes are high."

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What Does It Mean to Be on God's Side?

"My concern is not whether God is on our side...but to be on God's side."
"My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side." - Abraham Lincoln

I RECENTLY FINISHED a new book, which we launch on April 1, the day after Easter. The beginning of the Easter season is a liturgically appropriate moment for the introduction of a hopeful book in what many feel is a hopeless time.

I wanted to tell you, our faithful magazine readers, why I wrote this book, and why I called it On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving the Common Good.

This is not just another book for me. I wrote it during a three-month sabbatical that started in a monastery overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Every day started before sunrise with prayers, walks, yoga, and exercise, followed by writing the rest of the day. My other discipline was not to write or comment publicly on the news. I watched the nation's political discourse each night after a day of writing and found it more depressing than ever. It was an election year.

The resulting book is not about politics in the narrow sense, but about how to engage our personal and public lives with an ancient but timely idea and practice—the common good—that has long and deep historical roots across many religious faiths and secular notions of democracy. I sought to explore the biblical and theological roots of the idea, and then apply it to the most basic questions of economic trust, the role of government, civility, renewing democracy, globalization, conflict resolution in a violent world, and, of course, what our faith can contribute to the common good with the world as our parish. Most compelling, I found Jesus' call to love our neighbors to be the gospel foundation for serving the common good, and the excerpt in this issue, "A Gospel for the Common Good" (page 16), makes the case for that.

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Oscar Spirit: Faith, Values, and the 2013 Best Picture Nominees, Part 2

Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi

The fragility of life. The servanthood of love. The (im)morality of war. The fundamentals of mercy and justice. The power of grace and forgiveness. The oneness of creation. The personal (and spiritual) toll of climate change. The nature of God and faith. These are some of the spiritual themes explored in the mostly august field of nine contenders for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture — Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

This week, in the run-up to Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, we're taking a look at each of the Best Picture nominees, the stories they tell, and the spiritual questions (and answers) they offer. Today we turn our attention to Django Unchained, Les Miserables, and Life of Pi.

Oscar Spirit: Faith, Values, and the 2013 Best Picture Nominees

Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild

The fragility of life. The servanthood of love. The (im)morality of war. The fundamentals of mercy and justice. The power of grace and forgiveness. The oneness of creation. The personal (and spiritual) toll of climate change. The nature of God and faith.

These are some of the spiritual themes explored in the mostly august field of nine contenders for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture -- Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

2012 was an extraordinary year for film. This year's Best Picture field is perhaps stronger than it's been in recent memory, replete with nuance and substance, each film presenting a uniquely compelling and memorable tale that both informs and reflects our culture, sensibilities, and challenges.

A few of the nominated films employ overtly religious ideas and language (Life of Pi, Les Miserables, Lincoln), while others tackle daunting ethical issues that speak to our deepest identities and values (Argo, Djano Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty), or explore the sacred landscape of friendship, family, and unconditional love (Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Silver Linings Playbook.)

For the next three days, we'll look at each of the Best Picture nominees, the stories they tell, and the spiritual questions (and answers) they offer.

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