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Center for Action and Contemplation

Inalienable Rights

Monday, June 25, 2018

Economy: Week 1

Inalienable Rights
Monday, June 25, 2018

No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. —Matthew 6:24

In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus critiques and reorders the values of his culture from the bottom up. He “betrays” the prevailing institutions of family, religion, power, and economy (i.e., controlling resources) by his loyalty to another world vision which he calls the Reign of God. Such loyalty cost him popularity, the support of the authorities, immense inner agony, and finally his own life. By putting the picture into the largest possible frame, Jesus called into question all smaller frames and forced a radical transformation of consciousness upon his hearers. Most seemed unready for this paradigm shift, including his inner circle.

What is Western culture’s primary frame of reference? Money and power seem to come first. The dominant system in our society is production and consumption. Manipulative marketing convinces us we must have the newest version, regardless of what we actually need. Status is attained by having money and the freedom to use it.

Uncontrolled greed (no longer considered a capital sin) widens the gap between the haves and the have nots, the powerful and the powerless. Today in the U.S., the 4oo richest people own more wealth than the entire bottom 64 percent of the population (204 million people). Over 40 million Americans live below the poverty line. [1]

When the bottom line is money and politicians are in the pockets of big corporations, resources as foundational as clean water, housing, and health care go to the highest bidder. This inequality is absolutely counter to the Gospel message. In “The Souls of Poor Folk”—an audit of America fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign—the message is clear:

There is inalienable worth and intrinsic value to every person, regardless of wealth or public position. Policies that hurt the poor are a violation of that inalienable value. . . . We are all worthy of the very necessities of life.

To be a Christian (and a decent human being!) we cannot “make moral claims about caring for the souls of people, but then pass policies that destroy their bodies and communities.” [2]

Economic justice is not popular. Who will hold our politicians and corporations accountable today? Jim Wallis, founder of the faith-based nonprofit Sojourners, writes:

What if the calls for economic justice were made in the name of Jesus—or Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah—instead of from more ideological sources and causes? . . . What if behavior in the economic spheres of our lives became the substance of adult Sunday school curriculums and Bible study groups? And what if the hard political questions about corporate responsibility, tax benefits, trade policies, budget priorities, and campaign financing were coming from religious congregations that political leaders couldn’t afford to ignore? Nothing could do more to bring about a change of fortunes in the battles of class warfare. [3]

There has been a permanent state of class warfare of the rich against the poor throughout history, but for some strange reason it is only called class warfare when it is the poor against the rich!

[1] The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America 50 Years After the Poor People’s Campaign Challenged Racism, Poverty, the War Economy/Militarism and Our National Morality,, 9.

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (Harper Collins: 2005, 2006), 269.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 67, 68-69.

Image Credit: Oil Slick in the Timor Sea, September 2009 (detail), NASA Earth Conservatory, US Government.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
It was inconceivable that the vast plains and forests . . .  could be exhausted, or that the abundant new fuels of coal could produce enough waste to foul the air and the seas, or that the use of oil could eventually lead to global climate change. —Paul Hawken
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