December 1, 2008
Opinions on the Financial Crisis
— Martin E. Marty
Last week we sighted post-election themes in the conservative religious magazine World. This week, we do the same in a liberal opinion journal, the doughty and durable Sojourners (December). Its focus is less on the aftermath of the election and more on "The Financial Crisis," which the post-election nation and leadership face as crisis. "Where Is God In All This?" is the cover question. Two articles are addressed chiefly to the clergy, as World's were not.
Jim Wallis, sojourner-in-chief offers, "a pastoral strategy" as he asks, "What is the responsibility of Christians?" Those who consider the magazine's editors and writers to be self-assured and strident should note that on his first page Wallis needs and uses eleven question marks, which serve both as prods and as indicators that these editors join the rest of us in not knowing what to do. The shorter half of his article is a promissory note, announcing a forthcoming series to address those questions from the viewpoint of experts in many disciplines. The editor is hopeful; "God has a way of bringing something new out of the ruins of the old." That the old is ruined? Of that there is no doubt.
One pitch: "The narrow narrative of scarcity is already emerging--that the lack of resources will prevent us from doing something important." That's a dead-end for sojourners. "Prophetic action will be called for, and pastoral care will be needed," says a sub-head. Author Diana Butler Bass calls for "Honest preaching in difficult days" in the mood of "Holy Insecurity." She reports on her response to a recent homily by her Episcopalian priest. "It was a profoundly political sermon. Not in the sense that the preacher told the congregation whom we should vote for. But he reminded us that we are God's polis, a holy city-one not governed by the stock market or housing prices, but by grace, generosity, and goodness. This alternative city, the community of grace, is ultimately strengthened by worldly hardship because it reminds that our spiritual investment is in a realm not seen. Our community is one marked by holy insecurity--the sure knowledge that our wisdom is not an economic strategy, our power is not financial, and our trust is not in princes."
Further: Don't expect cable news producers, who pose polarizers against each other, to be roused by such talk. Bloggers will find nothing to blog about here. But the combination of the prophetic and the pastoral advocated by Wallis and the reminder by Bass that the nation's economic life cannot be improved through the individualist dog-eat-dog policies and advocacies of recent years suggests that some Christian leaders want to reach to historically valuable Christian (and other religious) modes and precedents to make their positive contributions in the crisis. Details later, the editors would say.
We'll keep our sights trained on World and Sojourners and periodicals which are poised between them in a time when no one knows that to do, but some are beginning to project how to do it. Meanwhile, the magazine's art editor Ed Spivey, Jr., adds spice: "Some say there is nothing the average American can do...On the contrary, there is much we can do. We can hyperventilate, we can wet ourselves, we can turn around in circles shaking our hands in pathetic waves of powerlessness, we can experience anxiety attacks that require lengthy hospital stays. And we can projectile vomit in disgust when political conservatives blame the crisis on the Carter Administration. Aim well."
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com