Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Time for churches to step up to the plate with some answers

In this time of national economic crisis, Americans need more than just the facts about how many points the stock market is up or down each day, how many billions the government has spent today trying to free up the credit markets, which bank or financial institution totters on the brink of collapse, or what a Presidential candidate says about this or that federal rescue program.

This is a time when church leaders need to step up to the plate with good, solid perspective on what to do. The meltdown raises all sorts of ethical and moral issues that need to be addressed.

So far I've seen mostly the traditional, to-be-expected comments from church leaders. The real nitty-gritty, solid advice is not yet forthcoming.

Oh yes, some have stepped forward to remind folks about tithing (which sounds at this point more than a little self-serving), the need to get debt-free (a little late to be preaching that one, isn't it?), and the importance of investing by keeping one's eyes on the long term (which sounds too much like stockbrokers). And some others have stepped forward to remind us of  "the poor" and less fortunate who are probably going to be squeezed much more than the rest of us in this bizarre situation (duh! Isn't that what always happens went the rich create a mess and then run for cover on faraway, exotic islands?).

Where are the fiery sermons on God's punishment on a rich nation that has squandered its rich heritage on riotous, lavish living including that occurring in faraway lands?

Or sermons on God frowning on Big Bankers, Wall Street brokers, and their cohorts for getting drunk on the smell of money exuding from  those highly profitable (so they thought) adjustable-rate mortgages taken out by poor, innocent people, many of whom couldn't even read the legal papers in English that they were signing?

Or just a good ole moralistic sermon on "Be careful; your sins will find you out"?

The Bible abounds with sermon materials for times such as this.  For starters, one need look no further than the so-called Minor Prophets including Amos and Hosea. The Sermon on the Mount is another fount of information.

Actually the Bible says more about money that about any other issue.  If you thought it says more about sex than anything else, you'd better get out your Bible and start reading again! Money is far more often pictured as the culprit that leads to a fall than is sex.

Times like these demand some precise answers on all sorts of ethical issues. When layoffs occur, what is the appropriate criteria for deciding who has to go?  Or are, from the biblical perspective, layoffs even an option for Christian employers? 

During the current economic upheaval churches and church institutions will model in word as well as in deed. Most staff layoffs will occur quietly and behind the scenes. Is that biblical or only the Southern American way of passively aggressively dealing with life? Do better ways—such as uniform across-the-board staff salary cuts—exist to illustrate Christ's teachings?

Church pantries are no doubt gearing up for increased applicants. Are they also thinking about shelter for families who lose their homes? Or will they leave all this, as usual, to specialized ministries such as the Salvation Army?

Too many churches in America have too often succumbed to the materialistic tendencies and behaviors of our culture as a whole.  What they do during the next six to 24 months will tell whether they have learned any lessons from re-reading the Bible in times such as these. I certainly hope they will display that they have.

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