As I read scripture, I am continually reminded that God is concerned about justice, especially justice for the poor and the marginalized in our society. Some politicians may not be concerned about those who fall below the poverty line. Some of my fellow believers may not care. But, it’s clear that God cares.
Consider the words of the Psalmist who declares:
Give justice to the lowly and the orphan; maintain the right of the poor and the destitute! Rescue the lowly and the needy. Deliver them from the power of the wicked! (Psalm 82:3-4 Common English Bible).
Or consider this word from the prophet Jeremiah:
No, if you truly reform your ways and your actions; if you treat each other justly; if you stop taking advantage of the immigrant, orphan, or widow; if you don’t shed the blood of the innocent in this place, or go after other gods to your own ruin, only then will I dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave long ago to your ancestors for all time. (Jeremiah 7:5-7 CEB).
Then there is the word of judgment offered by Jesus:
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ . . . “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40).
Scriptures like these remind me that God is concerned about justice, and justice means something other than “law and order.” The focus of God’s justice is creating a community of equity and fairness. In Roman Catholic social teaching it’s called “God’s preferential option for the poor.”
It is from this biblical perspective that I have tried to understand my role in society, and that of the church. As a result I chose to join in the formation of a coalition of suburban congregations seeking to engage the political and economic systems so that they might become just and fair and responsive to the needs of the people living in our communities. This coalition has its origins in conversations that began a year ago, and that led to the formation of the Metropolitan Coalition of Congregations. Our purpose is spelled out in our mission statement:
"The Metro Coalition of Congregations is an interfaith organization of clergy and religious congregations working together for transformative systemic and societal change in our communities. The Coalition, representing Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, is seeking partnership with civic leaders from metro Detroit communities, and is committed to building power in order to influence policy and become a strong, unified voice speaking out and taking action on issues that affect all of southeast Michigan. "
As a coalition we have chosen to focus our attention on the issue of financial and economic justice, with a special focus on the foreclosure crisis. We have been engaged in a number of activities, including hosting a Faith and Financial Justice Summit in November that provided an opportunity for members of the faith community to hear from a number of sources, including political leaders and persons involved in providing assistance to those in need.
Among the issues we discussed was the logjam that keeps the State of Michigan’s Housing and Development Authority (MSHDA) from releasing more than $400 million dollars in federal money designed to prevent homeowners from suffering foreclosure. Very little of that money has found its way to its intended beneficiaries, and if you google this program you'll find little news coverage. We'd like to see this change, so a meeting has been set up for members of the coalition to meet with the head of MSHDA to see what can be done to facilitate the movement of funds. We have talked about putting pressure on banks that have resisted participating in efforts to work with homeowners to resolve these problems.
Consider for a moment that one in three Michigan homeowners owes more on their mortgages than their homes are now worth.
One of the ways we are responding to this crisis is to launch a preaching series on Economic Justice in churches across the three Metro Detroit counties. In sermons, worship experiences, and faith expressions we are trying to get the word out, letting congregants know what kinds of resources are available to them, and inviting them to get involved in changing a system that often works against the best interests of the community. We observed this day at my congregation on February 19th. Others are doing so throughout January and February.
We hope that these experiences will lead to conversations that will empower people in the community to work for fair and ethical banking, and financial justice.
By raising the issue in worship we want to counter the personal shame and guilt that are often associated with foreclosure and highlight the injustice of big banks that have been throwing congregants, their friends, and their neighbors out of their homes.
I hope that you will reflect on these texts of scripture, these issues that confront us, and consider joining us in working toward a just and lasting solution. For more information about the coalition see our website.