PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — The Desert Southwest Conference Board of Church & Society presented a three-part seminar last month highlighting the growing problem of economic inequality. The presentation at Paradise Valley United Methodist Church included reasons for the involvement, stance of the denomination, and next step discussions so that progress towards equality can be made. The seminar was sponsored by the board’s Economic Inequality Subgroup.
Dan Sagramoso of the Valley Interfaith Project pointed out that in the past 30 years, the top 1% of wage earners experienced a staggering increase in earnings, while Middle Cass earnings remained stagnant, and that of the working poor declined.
The United States is ranked 64th in the world in regards to economic equality, according to Sagramoso. He said there are approximately 400 individuals in the country who hold half of the entire nation’s wealth.
Sagramoso urged United Methodists to start talking about this issue, and its possible effects.
’Inequality for All’
A portion of the documentary “Inequality for All” was shown. This thought-provoking video clip, featuring former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich accentuated the myths, causes and dangers of this widening economic gap.
Of all developed nations, the United Stated has the most unequal distribution of income.
“Of all developed nations, the United Stated has the most unequal distribution of income and we are surging toward greater inequality,” Reich says in the video,
The Rev. Paul Self-Price introduced the reasons to act from a political perspective. He told of the dangers of the wealthy using their monetary influence to choose candidates for political office. He cautioned that these candidates could make financial policies in the wealthy’s interests.
Self-Price said this puts a dangerous level of power in the hands of the wealthiest, and not the majority of people. He encouraged to get involved and vote against policies that offer the poor no help.
Reasons to act
Economic Inequality Subgroup Chair Kent Olson offered reasons to act from an economic perspective. He shared evidence dispelling the myth that little information exists to support the belief that tax breaks for the wealthy create more jobs and that cuts to education spending are better for businesses.
John Wesley rejected the gospel of prosperity.
Olson spoke of the statistical rise in bankruptcy among families, especially households with single mothers. One in seven U.S. children will live through bankruptcy, according to him.
From a religious perspective, the Rev. Kim Gladding reminded all that John Wesley rejected the gospel of prosperity.
The Rev. Tom Jelinek said the Kingdom of God is a vision of a transformed world equal to God’s will. He said inequality is not part of the Kingdom of God.
The Rev. Jane Baker presented the United Methodist Church Social Principles pertaining to dignity, and sharing more equitably the resources of the world.
Calls to action
Olson offered several calls to action for churches. He urged to spread the message that good ethics, as opposed to greed, is better for businesses. He said that regardless of the issue being politically charged, we should understand that this is primarily a social issue.
Olson advised to educate about economic inequality to have harmony in congregations through holy conferencing, so pastors can speak candidly from the pulpit.
Seminar participants, after breaking into small groups, five steps towards equality were addressed. The steps were:
- Exercise our right to grasp the centrality of the Kingdom of God as the foundation for our own dreams and visions.
- Identify the reasons for our persistent rejection of biblical virtues in favor of the values of the dominant culture, and how this rejection has contributed to our acceptance of radical inequality.
- Prepare ourselves to grapple with the economic forces that propel us towards radical inequality.
- Prepare ourselves to grapple with the political forces that propel us towards radical inequality.
- Assist our congregations and our clergy to become more informed about what is going on in our economy with respect to the distribution of wealth and income, and the consequences of the rapid growth of inequality.
Ideas for local churches
One small group discussed the following ideas for local churches:
- Show “Inequality for All” at the church.
- Clergy should present this information as a sermon series.
- Get involved in minimum-wage legislation or petitions.
- Engage in holy conferencing in our congregations to adequately present both sides of this issue.
- Ensure all our church employees are paid a fair, livable wage.
This seminar is a pilot program for the subgroup of the Desert Southwest Board of Church & Society. Members of the subgroup hope to use in it the future to continue spreading the importance of equality and its gospel truth.