During this time of economic turmoil in our nation, five Allentown clergy from Congregations United for Neighborhood Action (CUNA) traveled to New Orleans last week to join more than 500 clergy from 26 states, representing Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim faith traditions.
The Reverends Dick Baumann, Maritza Dolich, John Grabish, David Charles Smith, CUNA executive director, Joshua Chisholm, and I attended the convocation in response to a “prophetic call to action.” That call reminds us about the responsibility of a people, especially those in power, to care for the poor and the vulnerable members of their society.
In fact-filled presentations, we saw statistical evidence that poverty and inequality are growing faster than any time since the 1920s. Indeed, the income gap between the top 1% and the rest of the people is almost as extreme as it was in 1929!
Clergy in New Orleans shared story after story about the devastating realities of unemployment, foreclosure and financial stress on our communities. How can anyone not be moved by the plight of a young father searching fruitlessly for work; parents and children evicted from the home they can no longer afford; or a retiree watching her life savings disappear – all due to an economic crisis they did not cause?
We clergy have witnessed the emotional and spiritual suffering that such stress often brings. The “occupied” sections of many of our nation’s cities demonstrate the despair and frustration that people feel. And now the “super-committee” has brought us the same old same old: political gridlock and gamesmanship. People who already are stressed and despairing lose hope as politicians position themselves for re-election instead of collaborating for the common good.
For generations America was a land of opportunity, a place where hard work led to a better life. Many working people now feel like the deck is stacked against them, yet attempts to discuss fairness in our society often are labeled “class warfare.” Just as the ancient prophets in our scriptures were called by God to condemn idolatry and injustice, so we feel called to speak out when we see unchecked greed and the corrupting influence of powerful special interests on our government.
The faith leaders who gathered in New Orleans believe that current public debate about economic recovery reflects competing moral and spiritual values that have profound consequences for us all. Who are we as a nation, and what binds us together? Americans always have believed in taking personal responsibility for our own well‑being; we also believe in helping our neighbors in need. Should we not expect a government as good as our people, a government that works for everyone, not just for the powerful and well‑connected?
We think that faith communities have a vital role to play in healing our nation, to shine the light that will remind our leaders to make decisions reflecting our deepest moral values. These values always have included a sense of fairness. These values always have included care for and protection of the most vulnerable among us. These values always have included courage to stand up for those who are being treated unjustly.
We have returned from New Orleans committed to preach, teach and organize in ways that unify people of faith to “do what is just, to love what is kind, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).” We challenge all of our elected leaders to put the needs of working families and the poor as well as the common good of our nation ahead of short‑term political strategies and special interests. And we invite all clergy to stand with us by reading and signing the call to action (www.cunapico.org) to reduce poverty and increase justice.
We ask for everyone’s prayers, that people of faith will be spiritually emboldened to work for the transformation of our nation, so that we may again give God every good reason to bless America.
NOTE – this was published as an “op ed” in the Morning Call, Nov. 23, 2011