Other resources, links, and references:
Most faith communities in America fail to make the connection between Biblical economics and contemporary practice. The more economically comfortable we become, the more difficult it becomes for us to hear the Biblical message. We are like the rich young man who came to Jesus for advice, but went away sorrowful [Mark 10:17-31]. Collected here are some of the resources we find helpful in addressing economic justice in America. We begin with a brief commentary on Biblical economics; the resource links which follow lead to an abundance of statistical and annecdotal information about the contemporary situation in America.
In Biblical times, the cultural, social, and political situation was quite different from today's world; there were no space explorers, computers, or global corporations. Yet there are some basic economic principles that appear consistently in both the Old and New Testaments and which can give us insight for contemporary situations.
The Biblical story begins with creation -- God's creation; God is the sole Creator and creation belongs to God: "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein." [Ps. 24:1]. Also, God often reminds the Hebrew people, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves." [Lev. 26:13]. Here we see already an example of concern for economic justice--liberation from slavery. "I will walk among you and will be your God and you shall be my people."
Just as God liberated the Hebrews from slavery and provided for their needs, it is expected that they in turn will care for the earth and its inhabitants and especially to those who are needy or oppressed. Widows, orphans, and strangers--the most vulnerable people in ancient Hebrew society-- are often commended to the care of the prosperous.
The Law of Moses includes prescriptions for the observance of Sabbatical and Jubilee years to restore economic justice in the land from time to time. It's not clear whether the Sabbatical and Jubilee were ever observed as described, but they were clearly important to Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus. One clue to this is Jesus condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees for the loopholes they invented to get around the original intent of the Sabbatical and Jubilee. Some of the specific requirements of Sabbatical and Jubilee changed during Israel's history [see, e.g., Ex. 23, 25; Lev. 25; Deut. 15:1-15], but three primary requirements for the Sabbatical Year (every 7th year) were:
The Jubilee (every 50th year) repeats these and adds one more: restoring all property to the family of the original owner.
Jesus began his public ministry, according to Matthew and Mark [Matt. 4:17, Mark 1:15], by announcing that the kingdom of God is at hand. If you think about it, the word "kingdom" is clearly a political term. Here's a clue that Jesus didn't come simply to establish a spiritual community. He was very forthright in dealing with the political, economic, and social issues of the day.
According to Luke's account, Jesus was even more explicit about his intent to bring economic and social change. In the temple at Nazareth, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah [Isa. 61:1-2] "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." [Luke 4:18-22]
In Jesus' day, " ...the acceptable year of the Lord" was clearly understood to mean the Jubilee. If we pay attention to these words at the outset of Jesus' ministry, it's easier to make sense of the teachings and actions that follow. As Luke tells it, Jesus again speaks to economic and social justice in his sermon on the plain--a litany of blessings and curses after the fashion of ancient Israel's covenant ceremonies--blessed are the poor... blessed are the hungry... woe to you who are rich now. The kingdom of God which is at hand is characterized by a new social order. Even the Lord's prayer--forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors--addresses an important economic issue of first century Palestine. Many people unable to pay their debts ended up in prison or as slaves. "Debts" and "debtors" should be understood literally as well as figuratively in the Lord's prayer.
Many of Jesus' other teachings and parables also contain economic themes [for example, the rich man Dives and the poor man Lazarus, the rich young ruler, ...]. The parables, of course, generally have multiple levels of meaning, but certainly one of the important themes is basic economics.
And at least some early church communities practiced Jubilee economics [Acts 2:44-47, 4:32- 37], selling their possessions and distributing to all as anyone had need, so there was not a needy person among them.
Cry Justice, Ronald J. Sider, ed., (Paulist Press 1980). [An annotated collection of Bible passages on hunger and poverty.]
Stephen Charles Mott, "Passing the Abundant Gift of God on the Poor", Christian Social Action, Feb. 1996, p. 35. [Commentary on Deut. 15] This issue of CSA also has several other articles that address economic justice in the United States. CSA: (202) 488-5617. http://www.umc-gbcs.org/
Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., Good News to the Poor: John Wesley"s Evangelical Economics, (Abingdon: 1990), Paperback: $17.95.
Ministry of Money (a project of Church of the Saviour, Washington, D.C.) offers
workshops throughout the U.S. on holistic stewardship and other topics such as "Women, Money
and Spirituality", "Simplicity and Non-Violence", "Economic Equality and Justice." Ministry of
Money also sponsors "reverse mission pilgrimages" to Haiti, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and India.
Ministry of Money, 2 Professional Drive, Suite 220, Gaithersburg, MD 20879-3420. (301) 670-9606. FAX: (301) 670-0131. [ Information about MM seminars].
Richard Foster, Freedom of Simplicity, (Harper: 1981). This book and others by Foster provide models for integrating spiritual discipline with daily life.
Citizens for Tax Justice (Washington, D.C.) monitors national legislative issues related to U.S. tax policy. It is a useful resource for people who are leading "Share the Wealth" workshops, or who are ready to move into legislative advocacy. Citizens for Tax Justice, 1311 L Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20005. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org WWW: http://www.ctj.org/
Meeting the Political Challenges of the 1990's: A Rank & File Economics and Political Action Training Program. (Communication Workers of America: Sept. 1996). A 150-page, seven session workshop training manual with dozens of charts on the U.S. budget, welfare, free trade, and corporation/worker issues. Free--if copies are still available--from Ken Peres or Bob Master, CWA District One, 80 Pine Street, 37th Floor, New York, NY 10005. (212) 344-2515.
Bread for the World (BFW), an ecumenical Christian advocacy organization which
addresses the political roots of hunger in American and throughout the world. BFW provides a
variety of resources on effective political advocacy and hunger-related legislation.
Bread for the World , 1100 Wayne Avenue, Suite 1000, Silver Spring, MD 20910. (301) 608-2400. Email: email@example.com WWW: http://www.bread.org