Come Saturday, will you be enjoying leftover Halloween candy?
Some religious Americans won’t. They’ll be engaged in fasting, the ancient spiritual exercise of fasting which allows us to “enter into deeper relationship with God, [be] changed by that relationship, and then [be] sent out into the world.â€
Jesus said in the Gospel that “Man does not live on bread aloneâ€ but rather by “every word that comes from the mouth of God.â€ It can help Christians to focus and enter more deeply into prayer.
So it seems that, especially in these days leading up to a landmark election, Christians of all stripes agree that we cannot live on bread alone. But, the devil’s in the details, as they say. What words are “coming from the mouth of God”? How do we know? And how do we respond?
Some Christians will think the words from the mouth of God are about human despair, suffering, and hunger. These Christians fast to discern ways to respond to the global food crisis. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), my denomination, encourages its members to join in 40 hour fasts for the first weekend of each month. These fasts are meant to help Presbyterians pray for guidance on how to respond in love to suffering and hunger around the world.
This weekend, Presbyterians will focus on Haiti, a poverty-stricken nation that has been called the “World Hunger Poster Child.â€ Malnutrition is the leading cause of death for children in Haiti. Desperate Haitians spend precious pennies on “mud cakesâ€–made from dirt–just to subsist.
By fasting, Christians in America (the wealthiest country in the Western Hemisphere) express solidarity with those in Haiti (the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere) and look for the ways God is calling them to serve those in needs.
Some Christians this weekend will be fasting for another reason. “The Call Californiaâ€ –a “corporate prayer and fastâ€ will be held in a stadium in San Diego, but not to find ways to help those suffering from malnutrition and disease. Rather, this fast is about California’s Proposition 8–a proposed ban on same-sex marriage. The event is subtitled “A Battle to Save Marriage.â€ The organizers believe that “our nation is in desperate need of the mercy of God and a great Spiritual Awakeningâ€ and that traditional marriage must be saved.
Watch the video:
Which would you fast for? Children eating mudcakes or marriage in California?
…The conventional wisdom is not exactly accurate…The economy did not displace moral issues: The economy is a moral issue. Providing for one’s family is a moral obligation, one that is suddenly uncertain. Buying a house and making the mortgage payments is a moral accomplishment, requiring discipline and delayed gratification. Faulty economic theories were part of the reason for the credit crunch, but greed has played its part. The anger felt on Main Street is not mere anti-elitism: The barons of high finance treated people’s hard-earned life savings as mere fodder for risk-taking. An economy that had been characterized by an idolatrous worship of the laws of the market suddenly sees the need for social solidarity in the form of government bailouts.
The economic crisis, in short, is more than an economic crisis. It is a cultural crisis, even a spiritual crisis…(emphasis added)
If this crisis reminds us to invest greater moral energy into our economy and community, if it causes bankers and bus drivers alike to ask the age-old question “Who is my neighbor?,” maybe all the pain, terrible and tragic as it’s been, won’t be in vain.
The Center For American Progress did a roundup of faith leaders’ statements, blog posts and actions in response to the economic crisis:
The meltdown of global financial markets is more than an economic crisis. It is also a moral crisis that exposes the fatal flaws of unfettered capitalism and rebukes the worship of free-market forces whose excesses are having brutal consequences for everyday Americans.
As politicians and economists offer proposals for what should be done, religious leaders and communities are speaking out as well. They are criticizing the immoral culture of greed and lack of regulation that led to this crisis. They are providing assistance for those in need. And they are offering a prophetic voice for economic justice and the common good, as evidenced by the sampling of responses that follow.
And from the department of serious questions, the article — by Time’s David van Biema — asks what role prosperity theology has in the mortgage crisis.
Prosperity theology’s tenet that “God will ‘make a way’ for poor people to enjoy the better things in life,” and its emphasis on upbeat faith as a key to material bounty seem conducive to a less-than-cautious approach to borrowing, and David quotes prosperity theology expert Professor Jonathan Walton saying “prosperity theology ha[s] developed an additional, dangerous expression during the subprime-lending boom.”
Namely, belief that divine intervention rather than bad banking policy was delivering home loans to borrowers with bad credit scores.
However Walton also thinks the theology can be “empowering to those who’ve seen themselves as financially or even culturally useless,” and that, “in some cases the philosophy has matured with its practitioners, encouraging good financial habits and entrepreneurship.â€
Seems like the system and the culture as a whole, not just the Prosperity Gospel, need to mature.
Dan and I were just sitting in the office, talking about how the financial mess is affecting churches and religious organizations. With that in mind, I started poking around religion blogs and news sources, expecting to find stories about diminishing funds in church coffers stymieing congregations’ abilities to help those in need, how pledges and stewardship campaigns are shifting as a result, what cuts are being made in religious organizations’ budgets, and the like.
But the subtitle– “Episcopalians consider new economic landscape, extend help to others”– told a different story.
Mary Frances Schjonberg writes about new and evolving ministries that cater to the needs of those affected by the Wall Street crisis; churches like Trinity Church, (located at the corner of Wall Street and Broadway in lower Manhattan), which is now offering sessions on “Coping with Stressâ€ and “Navigating Career Transitions.â€ Others offer job-seeking classes; all offered pastoral support and care for parishioners suffering from doubt and anxiety.
It’ll be interesting to see how else houses of worship respond. What’s yours done so far?
(Thanks to Jeff Weiss over at the Dallas Morning News religion blog for posting this article!)