As I was compiling the news reel this morning, I sorted through dozens upon dozens of “best of 2009″ lists– from the top religion stories to the top Catholic chief executive and everything in between. And while I think it’s helpful to look back at the year and assess the landscape, frankly, I prefer looking ahead.
PBS Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly has a few pieces that fit the bill, including a roundtable discussion that gives a helpful overview of a few religious and political issues that are sure to be in the news in 2010.
E.J. Dionne had some great insights regarding the interaction between our moral values and the economic crisis we face:
DIONNE: I think, first of all, we may have the discussion on morality and the economy that was, I think, a little bit delayed, that people were trying to come to terms with what the downturn meant. I think there is going to be now a real look back and look forward as to why did we get into this mess–how much of it were practical problems, how much of it were about people not taking responsibilities seriously that they should have–the stewards of our economy, the people with a strong position in our economy. I think that debate will very much affect the elections.
The conversation is already happening. Before Christmas, faith leaders gathered in front of the U.S. Treasury to push the conversation about morality and the economy forward, and to fight for families facing foreclosure.
One of those leaders was Jim Wallis, who in a recent Washington Post op-ed provides a silver lining of sorts to the economic crisis:
This could be a moment to reexamine the ways we measure success, do business and live our lives; a time to renew spiritual values and practices such as simplicity, patience, modesty, family, friendship, rest and Sabbath.
I like the idea of reexamining our economic structures and the way we live our lives. And I hope that 2010 proves to be a year where we’re able to make some serious progress on fixing our societal brokenness. I hope the religious community can help families keep their homes, feed their families, and be healthy and safe. And I hope our political leaders will have the wisdom and courage to tackle (and in some cases, to continue tackling) these important issues.
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Although there’s been plenty of tough sledding in Copenhagen this week (with plenty more ahead), a really positive development has emerged:
The Obama administration announced that it would join allies in raising $100 billion by 2020 to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to climate change, a number that stunned many environmentalists with its size — and which appears to meet the top demand of China, whose stalemate with the United States had bogged down the negotiations.
Although the funding would be, according to the LA Times report, “contingent upon nations reaching a broad agreement here that would lay the groundwork for a new treaty to combat global warming,” this is a breakthrough, not only because of the amount of money involved, but also because it elevates adaptation to a first-tier priority in climate change policy. When the House of Representatives passed ACES earlier this year, adaptation funding barely registered on the national radar and barely made it into the bill. Now, it’s in the headlines. Many faith groups have been working on this issue for a while now, and it’s great to see their goals coming closer to being met.
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This holiday season, as men and women across America struggle to find work and find it harder and harder to make their mortgage payment each month, many banks (including those who received federal bailout funds) have been dragging their feet when it comes to adjusting loans to help families stay in their homes. Meanwhile, wealthy bank execs are bringing home billions in bonuses, celebrating the holidays in style. It just doesn’t seem right.
As President Obama meets with bank executives to address this matter, faith leaders and struggling homeowners who are personally affected by the mortgage crisis gathered at the US Treasury to call attention to this “tale of two holidays” and call for financial reform. Rachel Hope Anderson of the Center for Responsible Lending put it best in a recent Sojourners article, saying
The recent financial crisis opened our eyes to what usury looks like in the modern economy and its pernicious ability to destroy not only wealth but also trust. Meanwhile, the unseemly bonuses that financial executives paid themselves belie any hope of financial-industry self-restraint. Practical new regulation like the CFPA [Consumer Financial Protection Agency] is our best hope for restoring trust between Main Street and Wall Street and, perhaps, in the American dream of household economic security.
On Friday, the “practical new regulation” Johnson calls for passed a major hurdle in the House, and the faith community will pivot attention to the Senate and urge them to pass financial reform legislation early in the New Year. Legislation needs to help ensure that the millions of families who as a result of the economic crisis now face the threat of foreclosure can stay in their homes this holiday season.
Faith leaders are also taking their message straight to the White House in a meeting today with members of the White House National Economic Council. They’re bringing a letter signed by hundreds of clergy nationwide calling for specific reforms to hold banks accountable, keep families in their homes, and protect consumers from predatory lending.
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Unsurprisingly, CitizenLink, a publication of Focus on the Family’s political arm, has posted an article critical of the Copenhagen climate talks.
Somewhat unexpected, though, is the article’s indifference to the suffering of the world’s poorest citizens and Focus’s faith-free justification of it.
The article portrays the Copenhagen talks as some kind of handout of fancy green technology to poorer countries: The countries gathered will attempt to form a strategy to fight global warming that includes saying there will be “money sent to ‘developing countries’ to aid in making them ‘eco-friendly’”and “cutting-edge green technology sent to those countries at no charge.”
This, scare-quote heavy summary is a misrepresentation of what aid to developing countries really is. It’s not what we normally think of “green” here in the US (installing bamboo floors instead of Brazillian hardwood) it’s literally about survival for the people scripture calls on us to care for the most. In the developing world, climate change is causing massive floods, crop failure, disease and starvation, but CitizenLink seems to think we shouldn’t help.
Most disappointing is that CitizenLink uses sources from the conservative Heritage Foundation and the health insurance, tobacco and oil industry champion Americans for Prosperity to make it’s case, but not one reference to scripture or the “Biblical perspective” the site purports to offer.
For those playing at home, that’s moneyed corporate interests: 2; Bible: 0.
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For most of us, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with loved ones and share a bountiful meal. A time when you’re allowed to try a slice of all three pies being offered. A time when you can’t even fit a small helping of everything on your plate.
But for a steadily increasing number of Americans, Thanksgiving is another cruel reminder that it’s harder and harder to keep food on the table. This weekend, the New York Times covered the explosion of food stamp use, as more and more people struggle to provide for themselves and their families without government assistance. The food stamp program, designed to help needy Americans purchase staples, is growing by 20,000 people a day.
While the statistics are startling, it’s heartening to see help coming from many different sectors.
Churches are stepping up, expanding food pantries and other efforts to stem the rising tide of hunger in communities across the country. In addition to the important work of local organizations and congregations across the country, major national organizations like Catholic Charities, profiled last week by PBS Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, are helping feed those in need.
Bread for the World is another national organization tackling poverty and hunger. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last week, Rev. Art Simon, founder of Bread for the World, commended churches and other religious organizations for their ministries to the hungry, as well as calling for advocacy and systemic change to our fraying safety net: “God didn’t tell Moses to take up a collection for the slaves in Egypt. He told him to tell Pharaoh ‘Let my people go.’ That’s policy change.”
As both the PBS and the Chicago Tribune stories note, the government is joining the effort too – the The White House just launched an initiative called Feed a Neighbor, in conjunction with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, part of the United We Serve project.
So let’s all do what we can– pitch in at a local soup kitchen (if you’re here in DC, check out Miriam’s Kitchen) or donate canned food to a local food pantry. And as Rev. Simon says, we also need policy change– so let’s keep working for a more just society in which everyone has enough to eat.
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