Casey Schoeneberger, Faith in Public Life’s Media Relations Assistant, came to FPL from NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby’s Associate Program after studying economics at Saint Joseph’s University. She blogs about tax and budget issues on Bold Faith Type.
One of the most damaging myths about free-market capitalism is the unfounded belief that unregulated markets will naturally lead to socially beneficial results. According to the theory, if corporations engage in harmful policies, shareholders will hold them accountable and so there is no need for regulation to help ensure corporations are behaving in ways that benefit the broader society.
But this ideal quickly falls apart in practice. For one, most people (whose investments take the form of employee-sponsored retirement accounts or mutual funds) have no idea what companies they even own stock in. They just give their money to investment companies who make the decisions and report back on the rate of return of the entire portfolio.
The result is that, in practice, shareholders are only likely to challenge companies when earnings statements aren’t high enough–only further encouraging them to put social responsibility on the backburner when it conflicts with greater profits.
Trying to expose and rectify this structural problem, Sister Nora Nash of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility have long been vital to efforts intended to pressure executives to do more of “God’s work” and curb corporate excess and greed. The New York Times profiles them this week:
Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St. Francis were quietly staging an occupation of their own. In recent years, this Roman Catholic order of 540 or so nuns has become one of the most surprising groups of corporate activists around.
The nuns have gone toe-to-toe with Kroger, the grocery store chain, over farm worker rights; with McDonald’s, over childhood obesity; and with Wells Fargo, over lending practices. They have tried, with mixed success, to exert some moral suasion over Fortune 500 executives, a group not always known for its piety.
“We want social returns, as well as financial ones,” Sister Nora said, strolling through the garden behind Our Lady of Angels, the convent here where she has worked for more than half a century. She paused in front of a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. “When you look at the major financial institutions, you have to realize there is greed involved.”
Under ICCR’s watch, executives from Goldman Sachs to Wal-Mart and McDonalds have been rightly rebuked for ignoring the common good in pursuit of profit. People of faith have long been calling for a triple bottom line (environmental, social and financial concerns), and it is without question that women religious like Sister Nora Nash led the way.
Photo credit: Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia
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The 2011 American Values Survey from Public Religion Research Institute (which we’ve already blogged about some this week) provides some interesting insight into Americans’ religious and political beliefs. The polling clearly shows that people are in search of answers on how to address America’s growing wealth inequality. Elected officials should take note that Americans are not fooled by claims that decreased taxes and increased profits for the richest 1% of the country will lead to jobs and prosperity for everyone else.
A strong majority (60%) of Americans agree that the country would be better off if the distribution of wealth was more equal, while 39% disagree.
Strong majorities of Democrats (78%) and Independents (60%) agree that the country would be better off if the wealth was more evenly divided. In stark contrast, more than 6-in-10 (63%) Republicans and Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement (62%) disagree.
Majorities of every major religious group and religiously unaffiliated Americans agree that the country would be better off if the distribution of wealth was more equal.
Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Millennials agree that the U.S. would be better off if there was a more equal distribution of wealth. Among seniors, less than half (46%) agree.
Not only are Americans tired of the current system and lack of opportunity, but it appears they are ready to support concrete policy solution that decreases economic disparity:
Seven-in-ten (70%) Americans favor “the Buffett rule,” a proposal to increase the tax rate on Americans earning more than $1 million per year, compared to only 27% who oppose it.
While solid majorities of Democrats (85%) and Independents (70%) support increasing the tax rate on Americans earning more than $1 million a year, just over half of Republicans (52%) and only 4-in-10 Tea Party members favor it.
Less than half (43%) of Americans who most trust Fox News favor increasing the tax rate for Americans making more than $1 million a year (55% oppose it). In contrast, approximately 8-in-10 Americans who most trust any other media outlet favor such an increase (82% for broadcast news, 76% for CNN, 81% for MSNBC, and 84% for public television).
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Affirming the faith community’s call for withdrawal from Iraq, a Gallup poll out yesterday shows that the majority of Americans (75%) support President Obama’s decision to withdrawal troops from Iraq by the end of the year.
President Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year generally fits with Americans’ wishes, if not those of many Republicans. Americans have been opposed to the Iraq war for many years. Since 2005, on average, a majority have said the U.S. made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq.
Thankfully, the political will to withdraw American troops from Iraq will now be in line with the public’s long-held consensus.
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From New Haven, Connecticut to San Francisco, California, clergy and people of faith are standing in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street protesters. Despite the occasional story trumpeting the Occupy Movement as a “largely secular” undertaking, there is a far-reaching consensus from both the mainstream and religious media that the faith community is a dynamic partner in the Occupy movement.
Below is a media roundup detailing faith’s fitting (and growing) role in the Occupy Movement:
Jay Lindsay at the Associated Press:
“Religious imagery and events have been common since the protests began. In New York, clergy carried an Old Testament-style golden calf in the shape of the Wall Street bull to decry the false idol of greed. Sieradski organized a Yom Kippur service. About 70 Muslims kneeled to pray toward Mecca at a prayer service Friday.
Clergy who support the protests say they are a natural fit with many faiths, because they share traditional concerns about economic injustice. They also point to history, including the civil rights movement and abolition.”
Kim Lawton at Religion and Ethics Newsweekly:
“Many say there is a prominent spiritual dimension to what’s been happening. Inside Zuccotti Park is a makeshift community altar, where protestors of all faiths come to pray or meditate. In several cities, protest chaplains–many of them seminary students–minster to the protesters.”
Catherine Woodiwiss and Jake Paysour at Center for American Progress:
“Just blocks from where the protests began in New York, Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church opened its doors to protesters who need a place to rest. A Yom Kippur prayer service was held in Zuccotti Park, complete with a sermon given in call-and-response to compensate for the lack of sound equipment. And in South Carolina, a rabbi joined an African Methodist Episcopal pastor, among others, to help organize protests in Florence.”
Lisa Miller at Washington Post, On Faith:
“What would Jesus think of Occupy Wall Street?” I asked myself this week as I wandered the makeshift, blue-tarp village in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. Born with little means into a first-century world, the historical Jesus might feel right at home with the very aspects of the occupation that so many 21st-century observers consider gross: the tents, the damp sleeping bags, the communal kitchen. Jesus would have sympathy, I think, with the campers’ efforts to keep a small space sanitary in the absence of modern plumbing.”
Rev. Chuck Currie at Huffington Post:
“Supporting Occupy America is a Christian act born out of the call we have received to help build-up the Beloved Community. Our churches should seize this movement as a new Great Awakening and once again preach a Social Gospel that lifts up the common good of all and firmly rejects prosperity theology and other movements in our churches that have allowed us to ignore the fundamental principles of biblical justice.”
A few weeks ago, New York faith leaders marched to Zuccotti Park with a golden calf, protesting the idolatry of greed on Wall Street.
Rev. Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church at Huffington Post:
“We brought the calf to Wall Street to confess our allegiance to false Gods and to announce that something was dying for us. That death is our own belief in the sacred calf of the Wall Street picture of the universe. The “mike check” was just the beginning of a new conversation, between and among people, about what is really important.”
National and local TV and print outlets also covered the golden calf in New York:
WABC-TV (New York), Local religious leaders join Wall Street protest
National Catholic Reporter, Occupy Wall Street, false idols and a moral economy
Wall Street Journal, Faith and the Wall Street Protest
As FPL executive director Rev. Jennifer Butler points out in the Huffington Post, the faith community’s work for social and economic justice is not a new venture:
“The faith community’s movement for economic justice didn’t start in Zuccotti Park in September. In addition to overcoming Jim Crow, Martin Luther King Jr. worked to end poverty for people of all races in all places. Since the Tea Party has taken over Washington, we’ve organized to protect the poor and the vulnerable from immoral budget cuts and confronted politicians who pay lip service to the Gospel but pursue an economic agenda inspired by Ayn Rand. We’re working to hold predatory banks accountable, not only on Wall Street, but in cities across the country.”
And the Occupy movement (and religious involvement within it) is spreading throughout the world:
Mark Townsend at The Guardian wrote:
“As the storm of controversy over the handling of the Occupy London Stock Exchange demonstration deepened on Saturday, Christian activists said it was their duty to stand up for peaceful protest in the absence of support from St Paul’s. One Christian protester, Tanya Paton, said: “We represent peace, unity and love. A ring of prayer is a wonderful symbol.”
Occupy protesters around the world also received encouragement last week from the Vatican, which released a document calling for greater oversight for global financial markets.
Fr. Thomas Reese said to NPR:
“Those who read the pope’s 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth)” will not be surprised by this new document. In that encyclical, the pope decried “corruption and illegality” among economic and political elites in both rich and poor countries. He told financiers they must rediscover the ethical foundation of their activity and stop abusing savers. He wants a radical rethinking of economics so that it is guided not simply by profits but by “an ethics which is people-centered.”
Echoing the Vatican’s call for financial reform, the Archbishop of Canterbury called for new taxes on banks in support of Occupy London protesters:
“Backing a new tax on banking, Rowan Williams said the protest against financial inequality and banking excesses had been seen ‘by an unexpectedly large number of people as the expression of a widespread and deep exasperation with the financial establishment that shows no sign of diminishing’.”
People of faith have also been calling for an end to police brutality against Occupy protesters, especially in light of violence against peaceful demonstrators at Occupy Oakland.
From Episcopalians to Jewish leaders, Occupy Wall Street has found support among a broad contingent of people of faith.
More stories from around the country:
Bangor Daily News, Jesus goes to Wall Street
Chicago Tribune, Clergy providing spiritual support for Occupy Chicago masses
Jewish Daily Forward, Why ‘Occupy Judaism’ Is Turning Point
Religion Dispatches, God Dissolves into the Occupy Movement
Washington Post, The Vatican meets the Wall Street occupiers
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Public Religion Research Institute released new findings this week detailing an increase in the correct identification of Mitt Romney as Mormon among white evangelical Protestants. According to Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director:
“The increase in knowledge of Romney’s Mormon faith among evangelicals is potentially problematic for Romney,
since we know from our research that 6-in-10 evangelicals do not see the Mormon faith to be a Christian religion.”
This data also provides a window into understanding Herman Cain’s meteoric rise in the polls and Romney’s stagnation among white evangelicals. While 21% of evangelical voters say Romney’s political views are closest to their own, he continues to struggle with a demographic that distrusts his religion.
While understanding what drives a candidate’s particular stance on issues is useful when voting, religious affinity should in no way be the only measure of a candidate’s worthiness for elected office.
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