Sunday, November 11, 2012

Jack Nelson Pallmeyer: Existence of Hunger, Poverty a Sign of a Deep Spiritual Crisis

Author and theologian Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer was the keynote speaker at a conference sponsored jointly by the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry (now Lutheran Advocacy Ministry) and Bread for the World New Mexico exactly 17 years ago.  Here are some excerpts from his thought-provoking address on November 11, 1995.  Even though he made these comments almost two deacades ago, they are more relevant than ever in today's political environment.

Chatting with conference participants

To ground us Biblically I want to share a few points.

I've always found the Biblical writers very helpful in reminding us that hunger and poverty are signs of a dual crisis.  From a Biblical perspective, the existence of hunger and poverty are signs that economies aren't functioning, but they're also signs of a deep spiritual crisis.  I think that we can say with confidence in our present setting in this country that we are in a midst of an economic and spiritual crisis.

Hunger is an indictment of our faith, it's an indictment of our politics, it's an indictment of our economic priorities. Hunger is like the biggest signpost most brightly lit that you've ever seen, screaming at us.  What it's screaming at us to do is to rethink everything.  It's my own view that Newt Gingrich and the politics of meanness won't save us.  That Bill Clinton won't save us.  That Colin Powell won't save us.  The crisis is much, much deeper than that.

The third brief point is also grounded in the Bible, and this is very important for us living in this country right.  The way that we're to judge whether or not an economic system is working is based on what is happening to the poor, not on what is happening to the rich.  It's on what is happening to the most vulnerable in the society, not on what's happening at the stock market level--what's happening in therms of income gains for a few.  So our lens as people of faith is a different lens, and it's one that we must bring to the public debate.
Hunger is like the biggest signpost most brightly lit that you've ever seen, screaming at us.  What it's screaming at us to do is to rethink everything. 
Human beings are created by God as part of the created order.  We are part of and responsible to the broader creation.  And this has all kinds of implications.  Our economic systems and priorities and personal choices must all be evaluated on whether or not they contributed to present justice as well as the viability of life on the planet in the future.  So we should be asking ourselves questions like these: Is how we've organized our  economic and political life good for the people? Is it empowering to the poorDoes it break down inequalities Does it shatter the cycles of poverty and despairIs it sustainable? Do the economic policies and priorities and visions we have leave space for the future? Do they renew the Earth, or do they in fact, contribute to the Earth's destruction?  Is the way we organize economic life, and the political choices we are making, offer hope and possibility of a different future?

A fifth Biblical grounding point for me is that we should ask if our assumptions of economic life contribute or block authentic spirituality.   What is our vision of economic life?  What is the promise? What are all the goods and services that we produce setting out to do?  Let me offer you a quote from Victor LeBeau, retail analyst after World War II, laying out the foundations of our society, determined by market morality.   He said: "Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever increasing rate."  Do our very assumptions of life and economic life contribute to an authentic spirituality, or do they lead us down paths that promise and promise and promise, and fail to deliver on almost every count?

One of the themes that you'll pick up in my talk this morning is that the transformations that are called for in our time are very deep and very profound,. 

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