wealth

The Land of Gold and Blood

Congo
giulio napolitano / Shutterstock

THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC of Congo is one of the world’s poorest countries. In 2014, Congo ranked 186 out of 187 on the United Nations’ human development index—vying with Niger for the bottom of the list.

Yet Congo is extremely rich in soil, water, forests, and minerals. Diamonds, copper, gold, oil, uranium, and coltan are all mined, purchased, and traded from the DRC.    

Coltan is the ore used in electronic devices. The so call “war of coltan” in the mineral-rich eastern Congo has left millions dead and more than a million women raped. Transnational corporations are able to exert extreme pressure on Congo’s weak government and economy. As a result, the country’s natural resources have become an important factor in increasing poverty and violence rather than wealth and development.

The Catholic bishops in Congo (about half of the country’s population is Catholic) repeatedly have denounced three specific kinds of evil: a climate favoring genocide, outbreaks of religious fundamentalism, and a push toward Balkanization.

Sébastien Muyengo, author of In the Land of Gold and Blood, is the Catholic bishop of Uvira in eastern Congo. As a result of the mineral wars, he writes, the country’s poverty has become a mental, human, and structural poverty, rather than predominantly material. Yet Congo has resources the rest of the world wants.

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Consumerism Is an Empty Promise

Image via /Shutterstock.com

My wife and I are beginning to start the process of buying a house for the first time. For better or for worse, we have become regular viewers of HGTV’s line of television shows that target would-be home consumers just like us. There’s Fixer UpperFlip or FlopProperty BrothersLove It or List It, and…boy, could I go on. On the one hand these shows give us an interesting entree into what’s possible when it comes to buying and renovating a house. They may expand our vision so we don’t get stuck on things like existing wallpaper, old carpet, or hideous paint color. But, as I’ve come to understand the (very predictable) arc of these shows, I’m also struck by their danger. They’re basically “Keeping Up with the Joneses” on steroids.

America Isn’t a ‘Christian Nation,’ and Never Has Been

“God Bless America,” written in sand with an American flag.Photo courtesy of Maria Dryfhout via Shutterstock/RNS.

Right-wing Christians and the politicians who pander to them like to say that the United States was, is and always should be a “Christian nation.”

Why, then, are they so obsessed about money and political power and so determined to make people afraid?

After all, Jesus spent an estimated two-thirds of his teaching time on wealth and power. His message was clear, if radical: Give wealth away rather than build bigger barns. Submit to others rather than seek power. Love your enemies rather than smite them.

Moreover, his one new commandment was equally clear: Don’t be afraid. Live without fear. Live in trust and confidence. Live in harmony. Make peace. But whatever happens, don’t be afraid.

Instead of preaching a gospel of self-sacrifice and generosity, right-wing Christians support the mega-wealthy who yearn to stifle democracy and move us further toward plutocracy: Keep the riffraff from voting. Keep alternative views out. Live in the bubble of like-minded people, not the marketplace of ideas and diversity where Jesus lived.

The Biblical Case for Limiting Money in Politics

Sean Locke Photography & Svetlana Lukienko/Shutterstock.com
Sean Locke Photography & Svetlana Lukienko/Shutterstock.com

While there are no biblical texts speaking directly to the issue of money in politics, biblical principles are still relevant, and people of faith have an important role to play in the emerging debate about the future of our democracy. Before exploring those principles, however, it is important to understand the serious issues of inequality currently present in our system, and the correlation between inequality and the money flooding our political system.

The richest 1 percent own more of the nation’s wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The richest one-tenth of one percent have as much pre-tax income as the bottom 120 million Americans.

In Affluence and Influence, political scientist Martin Gilens concludes that, “The preferences of the vast majority of Americans appear to have essentially no impact on which politics the government does or does not adapt.” He details the data throughout his book that clearly demonstrates policy makers are only listening to the wealthy donor class. This situation has been made even worse by the Supreme Court’sCitizens United in 2010, which allowed a huge influx of money to flood our political system after declaring the personhood of corporations. 

The Court’s more recent decision in McCutcheon v FEC made matters even worse. Before McCutcheon, one person was able to contribute up to $123,000 to political candidates and parties. In striking down this aggregate limit, the Court paved the way for individuals to contribute more than $3.5 million directly to candidates and party committees. In a report detailing the potential impact of McCutcheon, Demos predicts the decision could result in more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions by 2020.

COMMENTARY: Free Market Compensation or a Rigged System?

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

In a marketplace unfettered by ethical restraint, a sense of duty, concern for others, or even basic shame, 25 hedge fund managers gave themselves a 50 percent pay boost in 2013.

Never mind that hedge funds’ performance, on average, tanked for the fifth consecutive year.

These 25 men wanted big bucks, so they took them: a total of $21 billion. All for managing wealth that someone else created and, except for a few, not managing it particularly well.

The top earner paid himself $3.5 billion for 2013.

A Minimum of Justice

ON NOV. 5, 2013, the people of SeaTac, Wash., enacted the highest minimum wage in the country, $15 an hour, more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

On Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, Wal-Mart workers at more than 1,500 store locations conducted protests and informational pickets. Fast-food workers in more than 100 cities protested in front of McDonalds, KFC, and Taco Bell stores, calling for wage increases.

Across the U.S., a grassroots movement is blossoming to address the extreme inequality of wealth and wages. Led by low-wage workers and bolstered by faith community leaders, this movement is shining a spotlight on the glaring disparity of wages, wealth, and opportunity.

The wealthiest 1 percent of households, those with annual incomes over $555,000, now receives more than 21 percent of all income. Meanwhile, millions of low-wage workers subsist on the federal minimum wage, which is $15,080 a year for a full-time worker. As a result, many low-wage workers depend on charity and public subsidies such as food stamps and Medicaid to survive.

If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would now be $10.74, enough to boost a family of three over the federal poverty line, according to the Economic Policy Institute. If the minimum wage had increased at the pace of worker productivity, it would be $18.72 an hour today.

Federal legislation has been introduced to raise the minimum wage over three years to $10.10. Polls indicate broad public support for this proposal. Seventy percent of people in the U.S. said they supported raising the federal minimum wage, according to a CBS News poll in December 2013. But this proposal faces bleak prospects in our gridlocked Congress.

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Time to Change the Rules? Examining Our Relationship With Money

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.

Is Wealth a Sin?

Rich man drinking wine, ollyy / Shutterstock.com
Rich man drinking wine, ollyy / Shutterstock.com

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?

Texts of Terror and Wealth

JEREMIAH IS OUR uncomfortable and discomfiting companion this month. He is a vehemently emotional man of God. Far from struggling to bring his emotion under control, he instead prays for more raw grief and anger. He knows that even his current rage and tears in no way match the scale of devastation wreaked by unfaithfulness to God’s covenant. “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (8:21 - 9:1). To be a prophet is to risk letting our hearts resonate with the feelings of God. Jeremiah might help us discern whether our own witness for justice has turned into something too rational, measured, even routine. How do we re-engage our hearts and derive our passion from God’s divine passion?

Luke’s deep concern to show Jesus’ prophesying against the toxicity of Mammon, the power games of the wealthy, is ablaze in the gospel readings. Perhaps those who read them to us in church should preface them with a warning along the lines of Bette Davis’ famous quip in All About Eve: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!”

Martin L. Smith was an Episcopal priest, author, preacher, and retreat leader when this article appeared.

[ September 1 ]
Entertaining Angels
Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

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