Creating the Common Good: A prophetic topic for our time

display of wealth

For the 44th year Trinity (Episcopal) Church in New York hosts Trinity Institute/National Theological Conference Thursday January 23 – Saturday January 24. This year’s topic is Creating the Common with lectures, panel and small group discussions on two themes: “Is Inequality Sinful?” and “Class Matters”.

As in past years the conference was streamed to partner sites around the world and Christ Church Cathedral was one of those partner sites. Questions and comments were shared as far and wide as London School of Economics via Skype and e-mail.

The conference opened on Thursday evening with evensong and a sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby who spoke on the issue of inequality. He noted that the topic was timely and that it is drawing attention in current media including prominent papers like Financial Times and The Economist.

Prof. Cornel West followed him on the podium with the keynote address, which fired up emotions and passions as expected especially on the issues of love and social justice.

Friday’s sessions began with Archbishop Welby pointing out that from the very beginning in Genesis, the intent is equality and actually the Levitical Code prohibits inequality. Throughout the bible, although wealth is a blessing it is also in danger of corrupting the wealthy. The New Testament shows the early church (in Acts) practicing common ownership of wealth.

The panel discussion that followed was particularly informative especially when Rachel Held Evans responded to a question about Evangelical Christians and social justice. True, she noted, there is the accepted perception that Evangelicals emphasize personal responsibility while mainline churches see systems. However, Evangelicals are very passionate – be it personal salvation or mission. They can bring in the same passion for social justice.

In small group discussions, participants were advised to brainstorm for possibilities first – not problems – and ask, “What is God calling you to do, be, or change?” I was personally moved by Rachel’s remarks that each one of us begin with ourselves. There is a call for repentance, especially when we are complicit with the systems that are at the root of what is wrong.

The point was aptly emphasized by Rev. Yamily Bass-Choate when she gave the example of the food we eat without the slightest idea of the workers who daily face dangers to produce it. Our consumerism, Rachel noted, often takes over our souls.

At Christ Church Cathedral there was also a screening of Robert Reich’s new film, Inequality for All.

These have, no doubt, been three thought-provoking days. It is a call for every Christian, indeed every person of faith, to move from the comfort zone and take up the cross. The summons is summarized in St. Francis’ words: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible”.

When I shared this with my friend Steve he reminded of Ezra’s words in Ezra 10:4: “Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it”.

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