“Doom to those who devise wickedness, to those who plan evil when they are in bed. By the light of morning they do it, for they are very powerful. They covet fields and seize them, houses and take them away. They oppress the householder and those in his house, a man and his estate…”They must not preach!” so they preach. “They mustn’t preach about such things! Disgrace won’t overtake us.” (Should this be said house of Jacob?) The Prophet Micah
Last week I attended the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. It is always a fascinating and often quite painful process for some of us. Will we give basic human rights to our lgbtq community? Do we listen to our Youth Advisory Delegates? Will we shine a light on the present instead of rehearsing past victories in fear of future disasters?
Surprisingly one of the things that gave me the least amount of hope for my denomination was its long and torturous discussion about divestment. I must fully admit that a decade ago, when this was first suggested, I was in full support. Now I think the entire idea is based on the wrong questions and assumptions about peace. I love the people who are pushing this and do not have a strong feelings against it, but think sometimes we get so caught up in an idea we might be missing something larger. In a sense we have missed the forest for the trees in being so bound to market based forces.
What was eventually agreed to was something that is far more troubling theologically than an idea of divestment. It is the idea that positive investment in the market will bring about peace. Believe in the market and capitalism shall set you free? I am not sure, but this seems to me to be an entirely faulty premise according to all that we now know about how capitalism has contributed to the suffering of humans here in the United States and across the globe. It is this type of incremental reform of totally corrupt systems that makes us complicit in their systemic distortions.
A case in point was that while the General Assembly was considering “positive” market based investments the Wall Street Journal was reporting the Interest Rate Manipulation of LIBOR by Barclays and the assumption that many more fraudulent claims by banks would soon be revealed. Since it has been revealed that our current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was a regulator in 2008 and knew about these fraudulent interest rate manipulations that affected every single American. Still, in the midst of all we know our General Assembly made the assumption that we can know what is positive in a market that has destroyed so many lives.
Whoa you might say. That is getting a bit too technical. That is a bit too radical! We are just trying to do the right thing by investing in the Presbyterian Foundation and our institution’s investment in the Stock Market! Yet, what are we to do when the entire system has proven again and again to be corrupt? Are we making ill gotten gain off the suffering of others through our investments? Are we being stolen from by unscrupulous bankers, brokers and firms? Does relying on the returns on investments and the prohibition of using the “principle” really amount to good stewardship in the midst of what appears to be a depression?
Fortunately, both conservatives and liberals can take solace in the Biblical text. It unhesitatingly condemns the unethical practitioners of grifting business and the corruption of the powerful. From blessing of the poor, to Micah decrying the rich and powerful stealing from the poor, and to James exhorting us to not show favoritism to the rich and powerful over the poor the Bible shows overwhelming evidence that to continue condoning these practices is to be complicit in sin.
Am I asking us to completely divest? I don’t know. I am asking us to at least care and speak out against this immoral group of oligarchs that are principalities and powers and rulers of darkness in this world. This is a call, not to those who are apathetic, but to those who are engaged in faith and justice to rethink these issues for a new generation.