Excerpts from Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis, pars. 53, 54, 2013
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. … everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
… Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.
On February 12, 2015 at Paradise Valley UMC in Paradise Valley, AZ, the Desert Southwest Conference Board of Church and Society Economic Inequality Subgroup presented a three-part seminar highlighting the growing problem of economic inequality. The presentation included the reasons for the involvement, the stance of the church, and next step discussions so that progress towards equality can be made.
What is the problem?
Presenter Dan Sagramoso shared statistics. He highlighted the fact that in the last 30 years, the top 1% of wage earners experienced a staggering increase in earnings, while middle class earnings remained stagnant, and the earnings of the working poor declined. He also shared that the United States is ranked 64th in the world in regards to economic equality, and that there are approximately 400 individuals in the U.S. who currently hold half of the entire nation’s wealth. He urged United Methodists to start talking about this issue, and its possible effects.
A portion of the documentary Inequality for All was shown. This thought-provoking video clip, featuring former U.S. Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, accentuated the myths, causes, and dangers of this widening economic gap. In the video Reich says,
“Of all developed nations, the United Stated has the most unequal distribution of income and we are surging toward greater inequality.”
Why should United Methodists care?
Speaker Paul Self -Price introduced the reasons to act from a political perspective. He shared the dangers of the wealthy elite using their monetary influence to choose candidates for political office who will make financial policies in their interests. He explained how this puts a dangerous level of power in the hands of the wealthy elite, and not the majority of people. He encouraged us to get involved and vote against policies that offer the poor no help.
Economic Inequality Subgroup Chairperson, Kent Olson, offered reasons to act from an economic perspective. He shared evidence dispelling the myth that there is little information available to support the beliefs that tax breaks for the wealthy creates more jobs and that cuts to education spending are better for businesses. He spoke of the statistical rise in bankruptcy among families, especially households with single mothers. One in seven U.S. children will live through bankruptcy.
From a religious perspective, Rev. Kim Gladding reminded all that John Wesley rejected the gospel of prosperity. Rev. Tom Jelinek said the Kingdom of God is a vision of a transformed world that is equal to God’s will and inequality is not part of the Kingdom of God. Rev. Jane Baker then presented the United Methodist Church Social Principles pertaining to dignity and sharing more equitably the resources of the world.
What should United Methodists do about economic inequality?
Kent Olson offered several calls to action for churches. He urged us to spread the message that good ethics, as opposed to greed, is better for businesses and regardless of the issue being politically charged, we should understand that this is primarily a social issue. We should educate and have harmony in our congregations through holy conferencing, so pastors can speak candidly from the pulpit.
- Exercise our right to grasp the centrality of the Kingdom of God as the foundation for our own dreams and visions.
- Identify the reasons for our persistent rejection of biblical virtues in favor of the values of the dominant culture, and how this rejection has contributed to our acceptance of radical inequality.
- Prepare ourselves to grapple with the economic forces that propel us towards radical inequality.
- Prepare ourselves to grapple with the political forces that propel us towards radical inequality.
- Assist our congregations and our clergy to become more informed about what is going on in our economy with respect to the distribution of wealth and income, and the consequences of the rapid growth of inequality.
Amongst one small group the following ideas for churches were discussed:
- Show the, Inequality for All, documentary at the church
- Clergy should present this information as a sermon series
- Get involved in minimum wage legislation or petitions
- Engage in holy conferencing at our churches to adequately present both sides of this issue
- Ensure all our church employees are paid a fair and livable wage
This seminar is a pilot program for the subgroup of the DSC Board of Church and Society. The members of the subgroup hope to use in it the future to continue spreading the importance of equality and its gospel truth.
Click here for a PDF handout from the seminar with additional resources.
For more information, contact Chairperson Kent Olson at email@example.com or staff person Billie K. Fidlin, Director of Outreach for The Desert Southwest Conference, at firstname.lastname@example.org.