What the National Council of Churches Should Say About Financial Reform

Quick, what’s missing from this Huffington Post article by National Council of Churches President Peg Chemberlin on financial reform?

If you said “any mention of transparency on Wall Street,” ding ding ding! You’re correct!!

Admittedly, there’s only so much you can do in a single opinion piece, and what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico looks like a nice fat target. But “the real deathliness” experienced by most Americans isn’t the non-disclosure of financial interests by extractive industries. I’m not even sure most Americans would know what that meant off the top of their heads. But average Americans damn sure know that their wages have been stagnant, the price of health care continues to go through the roof, they can’t afford to send their kids to college, those kids can’t afford to move out of the house, and they have been screwed by corporate greedheads on Wall Street again and again.

So if you’re going to start a campaign to end poverty, please, pretty please, use a hook that people can get hold of. And for God’s sake, don’t start with education programs for churches and arguing minute policy details with Congress. Hit ’em with something motivational, like the truth:

Dear Mr. President & Congress:

Our economic policies are a disgrace. They are structured to keep the vast majority of people poor or running as hard as they can to keep pace without actually making any progress. Meanwhile, the rich get richer and call the poor people lazy.

That’s not Christian, the way we understand Christian. You should be ashamed of yourselves for propping up this injustice.

Love, the National Council of Churches

If all else fails, point them to scripture:

Dear Mr. President & Congress:

You may have heard of a book of the Bible called “Exodus.” Here is a sample passage:

    Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.’ “

    Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”

    Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.”

    But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!” Then Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.”

    That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.”

You are Pharaoh. We are Moses and Aaron. Get our drift?

Hugs and kisses, etc. etc.

I am being impolite for dramatic effect, of course. You get the point.

Religious progressives don’t need to be rude, but they do need to be effective. Begging the government to fund education, unemployment, and human services programs is a disastrously weak frame. Until somebody names the real dynamic here — that most of us are laying bricks for Pharaoh — and points out, firmly, the injustice of the situation, nobody’s going to listen, nobody’s going to care, and nothing is going to change.