Preaching about Greed

An interesting blog post by John Blake at CNN discussed how religious figures are tackling—or not tackling—the issue of greed and its role in the recession.

The post mentions Bishop Harry Jackson at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., who focuses more on the concept of personal responsibility than political or economic policies of greed:

Jackson is not shy about stirring up controversy, but he stops short when it comes to preaching about greed. The Maryland bishop said he encourages his congregation to get through the Great Recession by saving and sharing. But he doesn’t want to alienate well-off members by talking about what’s behind the nation’s economic woes.

“I’ve got to watch it,” said Jackson, pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland. “I could get into some big teaching on greed, but the reality is that a lot of that teaching may wind up creating anti-economic-growth and anti-capitalism concepts (in people’s minds). … I always talk about personal responsibility so we don’t get into the blame game.”

It seems appropriate to pause for a moment and reflect on Blake’s characterization of Jackson’s statement. Blake writes that the Bishop doesn’t want to alienate his rich congregants by taking about the causes of America’s troubled economy (implication: they are a part of the cause). Acknowledging the possibility that Bishop Jackson intimated this very sentiment to Blake in a portion of the interview that is not reproduced on the blog, what Bishop Jackson actually says is that he doesn’t want to create a prejudice against economic growth policies and capitalism in the minds of his flock—which is a responsible position for the Bishop to take.

With the Occupy Wall Street protests in full swing, it’s all too easy for the reasonable—albeit disorganized—expression of dissatisfaction with failed economic policies—including the policies that have inadequately addressed corporate greed—to transform into a movement that essentially calls for wealth redistribution, which demonstrates a blatant sense of entitlement that is antithetical to America’s core values.

The larger question of whether religious leaders in America should create a discourse about the way greed has shaped the nation’s political, economic and social condition seems to me to have an obvious answer: yes. While religious leaders should be mindful to avoid offering up the richest Americans as a scapegoat for our current woes, they still have an obligation to instruct their communities on the problem of greed and the evils of coveting those things that lawfully belong to one’s neighbor. When the clergy look at the ragtag group of Wall Street protesters occupying Main Street, they might as well see lost sheep; these are people who need an organized moral framework in order to analyze the current crisis and gain some perspective, which is one more thing the government can’t give them.

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