Rediscovering Values

A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery

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About The Book

When we start with the wrong question, no matter how good an answer we get, it won’t give us the results we want. Rather than joining the throngs who are asking, When will this economic crisis be over? Jim Wallis says the right question to ask is How will this crisis change us?

The worst thing we can do now, Wallis tells us, is to go back to normal. Normal is what got us into this situation. We need a new normal, and this economic crisis is an invitation to discover what that means. Some of the principles Wallis unpacks for our new normal are . . .

• Spending money we don’t have for things we don’t need is a bad foundation for an economy or a family.

• It’s time to stop keeping up with the Joneses and start making sure the Joneses are okay.

• The values of commercials and billboards are not the things we want to teach our children.

• Care for the poor is not just a moral duty but is critical for the common good.

• A healthy society is a balanced society in which markets, the government, and our communities all play a role.

• The operating principle of God’s economy says that there is enough if we share it.

• And much, much more . . .

In the pages of this book, Wallis provides us with a moral compass for this new economy—one that will guide us on Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street.

Embracing a New Economy


Getting back to "the way things were" is not an option. It is time we take our economic uncertainty and use it to find some moral clarity. Too often we have been ruled by the maxims that greed is good, it’s all about me, and I want it now. Those can be challenged only with some of our oldest and best values—enough is enough, we are in it together, and thinking not just for tomorrow but for future generations.

Jim Wallis shows that the solution to our problems will be found only as individuals, families, friends, churches, mosques, synagogues, and entire communities wrestle with the question of values together.

Excerpt

Rediscovering Values INTRODUCTION
 
ASKING THE WRONG QUESTIONS
The 2008–2009 economic crisis presents us with an enormous opportunity: to rediscover our values—as people, as families, as communities of faith, and as a nation. It is a moment of decision we dare not pass by. We have forgotten some very important things, and it’s time to remember them again. Yes, we do need an economic recovery, but we also need a moral recovery—on Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street. And we will need a moral compass for the new economy that is emerging. That’s what this book is all about.

The Great Recession that has gripped the world, defined the moment, and captured all of our attention has also revealed a profound values crisis. Just beneath the surface of the economic debate, a deep national reflection is begging to take place and, indeed, has already begun in people’s heads, hearts, and conversations. The questions it raises are about our personal, family, and national priorities; about our habits of the heart, about our measures of success, about the values of our families and our children, about our spiritual well-being, and about the ultimate goals and purposes of life—including our economic life.

Underneath the public discourse, another conversation is emerging about who and what we want to be—as individuals, as a nation, and as a human community. By and large, the media has missed the deeper discussion and continues to focus only upon the surface of the crisis. And most of our politicians just want to tell us how soon the crisis could be over. But there are deeper questions here and some fundamental choices to make. That’s why this could be a transformational moment, one of those times that comes around only very occasionally. We don’t want to miss this opportunity.
THE WRONG QUESTIONS



OUR CURRENT ECONOMIC CRISIS PRESENTS US WITH ONE OF THOSE TIMES THAT COMES AROUND ONLY VERY OCCASIONALLY. WE DON’T WANT TO MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY.



For some time now, we’ve been asking the wrong questions. Television, magazines, and our whole popular culture, in ad after ad, have asked us: What’s the fastest way to make money? How do you beat your coworker for the next promotion? Is your house bigger than your neighbor’s? Are you keeping up with the Joneses? What do you need to buy next that will truly make you happy? What is wrong with you, and how could you change that? What should you protect yourself from?

Advertising has preyed upon two of our deepest human emotions, greed and fear—what do you want and what are you afraid of? Sometimes the ads answered questions we hadn’t even thought to ask, about the whiteness of our teeth and the style of our clothes, but once we saw the answers they gave us, we began asking the same questions.

This book came out of some conversations I had almost a year ago. In January 2009, I was invited to participate in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Every morning, during that annual gathering of the world’s economic and political elites, CNN interviewed a bundled-up CEO with the dramatic, snowy “Magic Mountain” of Davos in the background. It was always the same reporter, and the question was always the same: “When will this crisis be over?” CNN actually had a whiteboard, on which each CEO would write his or her answer predicting when the economic crisis would finally end: 2009 … 2010 … 2011 … later. All the delegates to the World Economic Forum woke up every morning in their hotel rooms to that CNN discussion.

But on an unusual plenary panel at Davos titled “The Values Behind Market Capitalism,” I suggested that CNN was asking the wrong question. Of course, we all want to know when the crisis will end. But, I challenged the audience of CEOs and heads of state, the much more important question is, “How will this crisis change us?” How will it change the ways we think, act, and decide things; how we prioritize and value our success, how we do business, and how we live our lives? Yes, this is a structural crisis that clearly calls for new social regulation. But it is also a spiritual crisis that calls for new self-regulation. We seem to have lost some things, and forgotten some basics—like our oldest and best values.



I SUGGESTED THAT CNN WAS ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION.



MISPLACED TRUST
We have trusted in the “invisible hand” of the market to make everything turn out all right, and we have believed that it wasn’t necessary for us to bring virtue to bear on our decisions. But things haven’t turned out all right, and the invisible hand has let go of some crucial ideals—like “the common good.” The common good hasn’t been very common in our economic decision making for some time now. And the situation has spun out of control.

I recited Gandhi’s Seven Deadly Social Sins to the world’s business leaders, because they seemed an accurate diagnostic for the causes of this crisis. The social sins that Gandhi used to instruct his young disciples in his ashram were:

1. Politics without principle

2. Wealth without work

3. Commerce without morality

4. Pleasure without conscience

5. Education without character

6. Science without humanity

7. Worship without sacrifice

For days after the Davos “values panel,” participants would come up to me, pen and paper in hand, to make sure they got them right.

There were other sessions at Davos on these subjects, as there always are. One was called “Helping Others in a Post-Crisis World.” It was full of the insights of social entrepreneurs and innovative philanthropists, all discussing new patterns of social enterprise—where capitalism is again in service of big ideas and big solutions, not just making money. But the session was held early in the morning in a small room, not the big Congress Hall. And it wasn’t full. New ideas of business with a social purpose have been part of Davos before, but as in the global economy, social conscience has been a sidebar to business. Social purposes were somehow extracurricular to real business. But this year, the sidebar hit the main hall of discussion as a plenary discussion on values, and went to the center of the way participants were talking about how we do business.

When you start with the wrong question, no matter how good an answer you get, it won’t matter very much. There was a shift that occurred throughout the week that you might not have seen in the television coverage, as participants began to ask a very different question: “How will this crisis change us?”

If our goal is to get back to business as usual, we will soon be right back to what got us into so much trouble, because what was usual is exactly what got us here in the first place. To go back to business as usual would be to miss the opportunity this crisis provides to change our ways and return to some of our oldest and best values.



WHEN YOU START WITH THE WRONG QUESTION, NO MATTER HOW GOOD AN ANSWER YOU GET, IT WON’T MATTER VERY MUCH.



Former British prime minister Tony Blair, who was also on the values panel, told me afterward that were it not for this deep crisis, Davos wouldn’t be having such a discussion and wouldn’t have included “somebody like you” (a religious leader). But the panel discussion on values became the buzz of the conference. And the spiritual conversations (sometimes quite pastoral and almost confessional) that followed over the course of the next few days were, for me, a real sign of hope.

The economic tide going out has not only shown us who was “swimming naked,” as Warren Buffett put it, but it has also revealed that no invisible hand is behind the curtain guiding our economy to inevitable success. It is a sobering moment in our lives when we can see our own thoughtlessness, greed, and impatience writ large across the global sky. With some of the world’s brightest minds, boldest leaders, and most innovative entrepreneurs gathered at one Swiss retreat, it seemed like a good place to start asking better questions.
THE RIGHT QUESTION
This book is intended to help us do just that—to ask the right question. Again, if we start with the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how good our answer is, we’ll always end up in the wrong place. If we only ask how to get back to the place we were before this crisis began, we will miss the opportunity to stop walking in circles and start moving forward.

As I said, the worst thing we could do now is go back to normal. Our normal was, indeed, what got us into this crisis, and going back to it will just repeat the crisis over and over again. We need a “new normal,” and the economic crisis is an invitation to discover it.



THE WORST THING WE COULD DO NOW IS GO BACK TO NORMAL.



So the question that underlies this book is a simple but hard one: “How will this crisis change us?” The answer isn’t going to be found in reading the newest economic analysis, hoping for better indicators, following a political ideology, or even updating the economy. It will be found as individuals, families, friends, small groups, churches, mosques, synagogues, and entire communities wrestle with the question of values together.

We need to find where we made our wrong turns and how we got off track; then we need to face the truth of what brought on this crisis—even if that truth is uncomfortable and, especially, if some of those answers can be found in the mirror.

Our country has had times of great prosperity when the rich, the poor, and everyone in between enjoyed the fruits of their labor. Not all of our old habits, behaviors, and institutions are bad, just as not all new ones are good. We need to uncover some forgotten lessons that have served us well in the past and make sure the baby of our better choices doesn’t get thrown out with the bathwater of our mistakes.



WE NEED TO UNCOVER SOME FORGOTTEN LESSONS THAT HAVE SERVED US WELL IN THE PAST AND MAKE SURE THE BABY OF OUR BETTER CHOICES DOESN’T GET THROWN OUT WITH THE BATHWATER OF OUR MISTAKES.



To get out of a destructive cycle, to stop spinning in circles, and to break bad habits, we need a change, a different direction, new habits. When we clear the space of something old, we finally have room for something new. If we clear out the weeds, we can let the new flowers grow.

The crisis is deep and wide, and to get out, change needs to come from families, communities, and our whole society. These kinds of changes are never quick or easy solutions but, rather, long-term shifts that we must choose and rechoose every day.
THE VALUES CONVERSATION
We are indeed in a crisis, and it’s a global crisis—one that provides the rare opportunity to ask some fundamental questions about our most basic values. In fact, the values question lies just beneath the headlines and the media discussion about our severe economic recession. The values conversation is the one begging to be had from Wall Street to Main Street, to the back streets of American life, and to Your Street. This book is about that values conversation.

The crisis goes deeper as jobs are lost, houses are foreclosed upon, savings destroyed, and future hopes undermined. The global economy has not seen a decline of this magnitude since the Great Depression. We are in the midst of a fundamental shift in which the old foundations have shown to be nothing but the shifting sands of speculation. Lying beneath the economic measures of the market is a moral deficit that is increasingly apparent and a growing hunger to recover former values. To make sure we do not simply repeat the mistakes of the past that led to this crisis, our economic recession must also be answered with a moral recovery.



WE NEED TO DETERMINE WHETHER THE PURPOSE OF BUSINESS AND THE VOCATION OF OUR BUSINESS LEADERS IS RESTRICTED TO TURNING A PROFIT OR IF IT CAN BECOME SOMETHING MORE.



The twentieth century saw the creation and distribution of goods, services, and ideas with unprecedented efficiency and volume. But with these great advances, the moral weight of our decisions becomes greater than ever before. We need to determine whether the purpose of business and the vocation of our business leaders is restricted to turning a profit or if it can become something more. We face great challenges that need even greater ideas to overcome them. We have big obstacles that need even bigger vision to see past them. Will our business community transform itself to meet those challenges, or is it just waiting to get back to business as usual? The key will be whether the right questions are asked and whether the common good is part of the answer.

And as far as the faith community is concerned, we need nothing less than a pastoral strategy for an economic crisis.
AN UNDERLYING FEAR
As the polls and media pundits have pointed out, many Americans are angry about this financial crisis, angry about a rescue plan that seems to bail out Wall Street more than them, and frustrated with the lack of clear solutions being offered by politicians. But underneath the anger, there is a deeper level of fear, and I am hearing that fear from across the country. How will this affect me and my family? What will happen to my retirement funds, to the college account for my kids, to the value of my home? Am I going to lose my home or my job? When you hear financial consultants report on CNN that some of their clients are already living in their cars, you can feel the fear gripping many Americans. A friend of mine, who is also a financial planner and is now engaged in intense daily conversations with his clients, just left me a simple voicemail— “Please pray for me.”



WHEN YOU HEAR FINANCIAL CONSULTANTS REPORT ON CNN THAT SOME OF THEIR CLIENTS ARE ALREADY LIVING IN THEIR CARS, YOU CAN FEEL THE FEAR GRIPPING MANY AMERICANS.



It’s not often that most Americans are feeling the same thing at the same time, talking about the same thing, and all worrying about the same thing. The last time might have been just after 9/11. But it is increasingly clear that most Americans are now focused on the same thing. The collapse of Wall Street and what we can now call the Great Recession (the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression) has become the overriding focus of national attention.
QUESTIONS FOR PEOPLE OF FAITH
But for people of faith, there is a second question, or maybe one that should be the first question: What is a Christian, a Jewish, or an Islamic response to a deepening economic crisis like this? What should people of faith be thinking, saying, and doing? What is the responsibility of the churches, synagogues, and mosques to their own congregants, to their communities, to the nation, and to the world? And where is God in all this?

What does the Bible say about all the issues now being raised? What does our theology tell us about money and possessions, wealth and power, credit and responsible financial choices, economic values vs. family values, lifestyle and stewardship, generosity and justice, and both personal and social responsibility? What can economists, some of whom are also people of faith, tell us about economic philosophy, the role of the market, the role of government, the place of social regulation, the spiritual consequences of economic disparities, the moral health of an economy, and the criteria of the common good?



FOR PEOPLE OF FAITH, THERE IS A SECOND QUESTION: WHAT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CHURCHES, SYNAGOGUES, AND MOSQUES?



What do pastors, lay leaders, activists, and practitioners say about creative opportunities and new solutions that could come out of all this: the possibilities of mutual aid, congregational and community credit unions, and new cooperative strategies for solving problems like health care, housing, and even jobs? How can an economic crisis reconnect religious congregations with their own communities? How might a crisis be an opportunity to clarify the mission of the faith community?

One good example of a response is the Vineyard Church of Columbus, Ohio. On Palm Sunday, Pastor Rich Nathan told his congregation, “We want to help families and individuals who have lost their jobs by taking a special offering.” The collection that followed was an amazing surprise to everyone—raising $625,000! The church is now using these funds to provide resources, coaching, counseling, and networking events to assist people with securing employment, for both its members and the wider community.1

Pastors will need help with preaching resources at a time like this, and local congregations will need adult Sunday-school curricula on money and all the related issues of this economic crisis. What about pastoral care in a time of economic crisis? How do we listen to people, be present to them, comfort them, and perhaps help them reexamine their assumptions, values, and practices? This is already a time of great anxiety for many. But it also could be a time of prayerful self-evaluation, redirection, and even new relationships with others in their congregations and communities.

This book takes up all of those questions. It is designed to provoke a wide-ranging discussion and collective discernment of the moral issues raised by this economic crisis.

I’ve listened to the economists who also are trying to address some of the fundamental moral issues of economic philosophy and policy. I’ve sought the best thinking of many theologians on the religious and biblical issues at stake. I’ve asked pastors about the realities now facing the members of their congregations and what spiritual formation means in a moment like this. And I describe the emergence of a pastoral strategy for an economic crisis.

While you can read this book by yourself, it is not meant to stay with just you. Share the conversation with your friends, your family, your coworkers, your clergyperson, your congregation, and your community. Use it as a way to have difficult conversations or as a way to change your own life and relationships with those around you. The changes that we need to make will happen person by person and also community by community. While you can read this book on your own, you can’t live it on your own.

The book is written to help spark a conversation that is begging to be had and is already occurring. It is designed to get the wider community talking, praying, and acting in this time of challenge and opportunity. It is full of stories and, hopefully, will encourage many more stories. In a crisis like this one, prophetic action is called for and pastoral care is needed. My best hope is that this book helps to begin a far-ranging conversation on the shape of both.

With this book, we have also created an interactive website, www.rediscoveringvalues.com, with a variety of resources to help people of faith and conscience respond to this historic crisis. By gathering the wisdom of many voices, we can enliven an extended community of discourse, discernment, and decisive action that could help get us through and past this crisis. We can share ideas about the practical support we can offer one another, the creative solutions we can help forge, and the prophetic leadership we can offer the country.



IN A CRISIS LIKE THIS ONE, PROPHETIC ACTION IS CALLED FOR, AND PASTORAL CARE IS NEEDED.



I invite you to join the conversation as together we offer a moral compass for a new economy. Let us learn together what it means to be responsible and faithful in a time such as this.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Rediscovering Values includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Jim Wallis. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Part treatise, part blueprint for personal and economic recovery and sustainability, and part meditation on America’s shifting moral center, Rediscovering Values features New York Times bestselling author and public theologian Jim Wallis at his best. 

With the invisible hand of the market reaching a God-like status during the economic boom of the past decade, many Americans have been misdirecting their faith and have allowed greed and financial prospects to guide them. But, maintains Wallis, it is in times of crises where opportunities for change arise.  Rather than letting the events of the Great Recession defeat us, Wallis urges Americans to recalibrate their lives, creating a moral compass for the new economy.  The old maxims that got us into this mess were greed is good, it’s all about me and I want it now.  It’s time to replace those misguided principles with some of our oldest and best values--enough is enough, we’re in this together, and a mindset that considers how our decisions will affect the next seven generations.    Remembering these lessons will not only help us keep afloat during the Great Recession, but will keep us from falling victim to the traps that led us here in the first place.  Wallis calls for a conversion to take place--an economic and spiritual conversion that extends from Wall Street, to Main Street, to Your Street.

 

Questions for Discussion

1.  One of the most poignant moments of the book occurs early on as Wallis describes his experience reciting Gandhi’s Seven Deadly Social Sins to a room full of world business leaders (p. 6). Discuss these seven pillars of wisdom. How can they be applied to economics? Did the violation of any of these social contracts lead directly or indirectly to the Great Recession?

2.   Wallis uses several biblical passages to illustrate that many of our current financial and moral dilemmas are as old as history.  Most notably, the narrative of the Money Changers (p. 18), the parable of the Golden Calf (p.26)  and the parable of the Good Samaritan (p. 55). Which of these passages of scripture spoke to you the most?  Which do you think is most directly applicable to the Great Recession?

3.   Debt is a tool, Wallis argues, that can help achieve goals and dreams but can also be seductive and destructive.  What lessons can we learn from the Great Recession about how debt is used and abused?

4.   “New Old Values” (p. 84) is an important concept to grasp while trying to avoid falling back into the same old pre-recession habits.  What “New Old Values” can you remember from your childhood? Are there any “New Old Values” that you think will prove vital to our nation’s economic recovery?

 5.    One of the telltale signs of a coming economic downturn, Wallis notes, is a period of opulent spending and conspicuous consumption that precedes a crash.  Is it more difficult to keep a moral compass during times of great economic growth or during the financial struggles of a recession?

6. Wallis draws several parallels between the Great Depression and the Great Recession. The Great Depression left an indelible mark on the generation who experienced it. What values do we generally associate with Americans who lived through this difficult time? Are those values still applicable today?

7.  With the unemployment rate rising and the lingering effects of our recession becoming even more visible, Wallis observes that the poor are now our neighbors and friends, not just an unseen subsection of the population. Is it immoral for us to ignore poverty in America until it directly affects us?

8.  “The Great Lie” in chapter six is that wealth is God’s reward for spiritual righteousness, and that the poor are being punished for their moral depravity. Do you agree that this is simply a myth? Why or why not?

9. God’s economy, Wallis says, is ruled by the principle “there is enough, if we share it” (p. 38), yet the gap between rich and poor in the world continues to widen.  Are people with a lot of money morally obligated to share their wealth?

10. Do you think that government initiatives to temper extreme disparities are an un-American approach to our economic disparities? Wallis argues that the gap between rich and poor will continuously widen if there is no interventions for the common good. Do you agree?

11. Wallis is careful to distinguish between blind rage and effective anger. Rage is a reaction, whereas effective anger comes with a vision (p. 92). Are there other emotions and feelings that can be harnessed and put to good use as we recover from the recession?

12.  Wallis chooses to use the word “conversion” to describe the change that America needs. What does conversion mean when applied to personal behavior, the economy, and the whole of society? (p. 135).  Do you think an overhaul of values in American society can be an inter-faith effort, or will crisis drive us further apart?

13.  After reading this book, what values do you think are the most important to rediscover? What should be the values on Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street?



Enhance Your Book Club

1.  Pick up a copy of Sojourners, the magazine founded by Jim Wallis. This Washington D.C.-based periodical is full of stories that expand upon current events touched upon in this book.  You can easily enhance your discussions on topics such as health care and the emerging green economy by revisiting these hot-button issues every month. 

2.  How do you stack up to the world’s richest? You’d be surprised. Go to the Global Rich List recommended on page 82 of the book to get some perspective on America’s incredible standard of living (www.globalrichlist.com). Put your annual salary to the test: a modest $25,000 a year would put you in the top 10 percent of the world’s richest people!

3.  As Wallis notes “While you can read this book on your own, you can’t live it on your own” (p. 13).  Put your own thoughts and ideas into action by joining the discussion online at www.rediscoveringvalues.org. The fight against poverty and economic and social justice in America and worldwide cannot be won alone.

4.  In the book, Wallis points out that before Adam Smith wrote his famous treaty on economics, he wrote about ethics and morality.  In fact, it seems that morality and economics are inextricably linked.  Ayn Rand, a strong proponent of free market ideology, argued that selfishness is a virtue while Wallis argues that it is a vice.  Do you think you can separate economics and morality?  Is selfishness a virtue or is it a vice? 

5. Everyone has had their own personal experiences with the Great Recession. Take turns sharing a story that encapsulates what you think makes this time in American history unique.  Are you optimistic that we will come out of this a better nation, or are we bound to repeat the mistakes of the past?


A Conversation with Jim Wallis

1. Did you always envision writing a book centered on economics, or was the project a response to our current financial climate and the new challenges America faces as a result?

I actually had about five other book ideas and not a single one of them had this kind of focus on economics.  I began to tell the story about the World Economic Forum, which I write about in the introduction, and I would get an overwhelming response.  After one talk that included “Sunday School with Jon Stewart” and the story of the five loaves and two fish, my special assistant and communication manager, Tim King, told me, “Jim, there is a book in that sermon!”  He would sit in the crowd while I preached, and he would describe the looks of hope on people’s faces when they heard about the idea of “God’s Economy” and using the crisis as an opportunity to relearn old lessons.  We started working on an outline and researching soon after that.

 

2.  You pinpoint the green revolution and the movement toward clean energy as a key to our economic and moral recovery. Do you think that the moral benefits of pursuing clean energy are sufficient to stave off any short-term financial disincentives?  Do you envision that moral profits and losses will ever play a bigger role than financial profits and losses in our decision making?

As evidenced at the World Economic Forum, more and more business leaders are beginning to think in terms of more than just a financial bottom line.  They are also thinking about community impact and environmental stability as bottom lines, and they are learning that you can both do good and do well.  It’s true that a movement towards a green economy might make the cost of filling up your car go up a bit, but that also means more jobs for people in our country to make sure we have alternative energy resources.  Investing in public transportation might mean a good chunk of change, but it also means that more kids living in the city can leave their inhalers at home because the air they are breathing is cleaner.  Putting money into weatherizing your home and getting energy efficient appliances means an investment now with savings for years to come.  If your mindset stays “I want it now,” then a green revolution makes little sense; but if you care about your kids and have a seventh-generation mindset, then you have both a moral and an economic imperative.

 

3.  You have stated publicly many times that you believe religion does not have a monopoly on morality, and yet you are a very prominent Christian leader.  Is it difficult to bridge the gap between faiths while simultaneously maintaining a strong Christian belief yourself?

I work hard to bridge the gaps between people of other faiths exactly because of how strongly I hold my own Christian beliefs. Working with people who believe differently than I do in no way makes me give up any of the unique truth claims that I hold as a follower of Christ.  Globally, I have over one billion Muslim neighbors; I can either be an agent of peace, as Jesus told his disciples to be, or I can be an agent for conflict and violence.  I choose peace.  Some of my nearest and dearest friends--friends whom I would trust with my life--claim no particular faith at all. But when it comes to things like concern for the poor, hope for peace, and preservation of the environment, I sometimes find I have more things in common with them than with some Christians I know. 

 

4. With so much corruption in the financial sector coming to light during the recession, it is impossible to dismiss the notion that wealth corrupts.  With this in mind, would you advise young men and women to steer away from careers in finance or challenge them to transform the industry while keeping both feet firmly grounded?

Yes and yes.  As I mention in the book, just a few years ago an inordinate amount of Harvard students were planning on going into the financial services industry.  I believe the primary motivation was not so they could help small business grow through loans or because they wanted to ensure that couples could retire comfortably or that families could save for college, but because it seemed like the quickest way to make some big money.  Many of the practices of our financial system have been shown to be a kind of upscale, dangerous casino with a few big firms having the game rigged in their favor.  So I certainly hope a lot more young people are considering careers of service and producing real goods and services, but I also hope that those young people who get into the financial industry do it with a deep ethical commitment to providing real services and not just Wall Street roulette.

 

5. You are friends with President Obama and famously defended his faith after James Dobson called it into question leading up to the 2008 presidential election.  Do you think that President Obama has been guided by his faith while dealing with the financial crisis?  What effect do you think faith-based policy can have on the American economy? 

Well, part of my criticism of James Dobson was that he publicly judged the state of another person’s faith.  The president has had a lot of difficult decisions in front of him, and I am not the ultimate judge of whether or not he is faithful.  But, as you can see, especially in the final section of the book, I have not been impressed with quite a few economic decisions that have been made, some under the Bush administration and some under the Obama.  We have been seeing a lot of band-aids but not a lot of the deeper restructuring I think we need.  There are two concepts, both of which I touch on in the book, that offer some hopeful faith-based policy for the American economy.  First, all of the Abrahamic religions strongly condemn “usury,” which is interpreted as excessive interest on loans or, sometimes, as any interest at all.  I think our country needs to crack down on predatory lending where lenders charge huge amounts of interest and often include fine print or use deceptive advertising to trap people in debt.  From mortgage scams to “pay-day lending” shops that seem to be on every street corner of our cities, we need to start cracking down on usury.  Second, our country is often a “buyer beware” kind of place, and anything goes as long as the seller can get away with it.  In the Old Testament, especially, we see a lot of talk about the moral responsibility that merchants have not only to their customers but to society at large.

 

6. You infuse your writing with popular culture references and have appeared multiple times on The Daily Show and other popular television shows. Has this kind of exposure helped you reach a younger audience? How receptive are younger generations to your message?

When I go on the road to speak, half of my audiences are under thirty.  Young people are often fascinated by Jesus and what he stood for, but just can’t stand the Christians the often see on TV.  Time after time I hear stories of young people who return to their faith or find it for the first time because they want to follow after the Jesus who proclaimed good news to the poor, freedom for the oppressed, and the year of jubilee! If you stop buy the Sojourners offices in D.C. and meet some of my staff, you will meet a group of some of the smartest, most dedicated young Christians in the country.

 

7.  You speak very fondly of your experiences coaching both of your sons’ little-league baseball teams. Professional sports, however, have become almost synonymous with over-spending and price gouging.  How can we account for the disconnect between the potential sports has to teach valuable lessons and the economic realities of professional sports in America?

Not just price gouging, but have you seen the commercials that are on during sports games!  I have to cover up my kids eyes and block their ears.  For some baseball games, I swear there are more commercials for the little blue pill than there are hits.  With the big contracts and some of the wild adventures of sports superstars, I’m pretty convinced that many of them have forgotten the lessons of little league. 

 

8.  You make an interesting observation that celebrities have replaced heroes in American culture and that their inevitable status as role models causes a trickle-down effect of bad values (p. 133).  Who do you think are the modern-day heroes in American culture? Who were yours growing up?

I tell the story in the book about my son Luke’s fifth- grade assignment to find and research a “hero” and write an essay about him or her. He found lots of them, including Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr., Bono, environmental activists, and of course, Lebron James! 

 

9. How does being from Detroit change the way you approach writing and talking about the Great Recession? Does it make it more difficult for you personally to transform blind rage into effective anger?

Detroit has become a parable in this Great Recession--as I write about in the book. My home town is an example of the social contract that has been broken, and the suffering that has caused. But it also points to the power of resilience and hope.

 

10. In American politics, religious faith has become an unavoidable component of a candidate’s ultimate success or failure. Do you eventually see faith playing a similar role in finance as it becomes a more transparent and increasingly regulated industry?

If faith doesn’t change how a political leader does politics or how a business leader does business or how we all do what we do—then it doesn’t mean very much.

 

11. Would you say that economic recovery is inevitable if moral recovery is achieved?

What I am saying is that we won’t have or be able to sustain a true economic recovery without a moral recovery. What we need is not to go back to normal: we need a new normal. 

12.  Now that you have tackled the intersection of economics and morality, what are some of the topics that intrigue you going forward?  Are there any emerging issues that you’re itching to write about?

I want to write a book about Gandhi’s Seven Deadly social sins that I just mention in this book, because they are so morally diagnostic of our present situation. And I want to write a book about my boy’s prayers and one the lessons of life you can learn from baseball!

About The Author

Photograph © Blair Anderson

Jim Wallis is a bestselling author, public theologian, speaker, preacher, and international commentator on religion, public life, faith, and politics. He is president and CEO of Sojourners, where he is editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine. He regularly appears on radio and television, including shows like Meet the Press, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the O'Reilly Factor, and is a frequent guest on the news programs of CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and National Public Radio. He has taught at Harvard's Divinity School and Kennedy School of Government on Faith, Politics, and Society. He has written eight books, including: Faith Works, The Soul of Politics, Who Speaks for God? and The Call to Conversion.

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