Keeping a holy Lent with a focus on Economic Justice
The Right Reverend Thomas C. Ely, Bishop of Vermont
Ash Wednesday 2014
We are invited each Lent “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” (BCP p.265) This Lent, I invite people throughout the Episcopal Church in Vermont to approach this discipline with particular attention to matters of economic justice and income inequality.
Our 2013 Diocesan Convention passed an important resolution on this subject seeking to raise awareness not just in Vermont, but beyond by calling upon the leadership of The Episcopal Church to name this as a spiritual and moral issue of immediate and urgent concern. We further called upon the Presiding Bishop to convene an interfaith coalition to provide moral leadership for the establishment of economic justice in our country. I have communicated this resolution to her and the President of the House of Deputies and we are in conversation about how best to move forward.
In this message I want to be clear that for me economic justice and income inequality are indeed moral issues of immediate and urgent concern. Our diocesan Economic Justice Coalition is preparing some Sunday bulletin inserts on these matters.
Our Diocesan Convention resolution also affirmed and adopted the Statement on Economic Justice and Income Inequality adopted by the Diocesan Council on June 29, 2013. That full statement appears at the end of this message. Its foundation is the summary of the law and the Baptismal Covenant. The statement ends by saying, “We must take responsibility for our own relative wealth and evaluate our own financial practices individually and as a church. We must use our voices and our assets to seek justice and relieve the suffering and inequity that surround us.
That is the spiritual discipline I invite each of us to adopt during this season of Lent: Look closely at your own life; Be mindful of the lives of others; Embrace our connections to one another as the whole human family; Deepen your knowledge and understanding about issues of economic justice and income inequality; Commit to addressing these matters in your own life and in the larger arenas of our local communities, state, nation and world as part of your participation in God’s reconciling mission in the world.
Please open your hearts to receive this Lenten blessing:
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. Amen.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. Amen.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. Amen.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.
And may the blessing of God, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit be upon you in this season of Lent and forever. Amen. (A fourfold Franciscan blessing, modified)
Statement on Economic Justice and Income Inequality
adopted by the Diocesan Council on June 29, 2013:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ Matthew 22:36-40
As Episcopalians, we bind ourselves in our baptismal covenant, “to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves” and “to strive for justice and peace among all persons”, and “respect the dignity of every human being.”
In 1970, the richest 1 percent of Americans enjoyed 9 percent of total national pre-tax income. In 2011, by contrast, that share had risen to 19.8 percent. This large increase in inequality has been exacerbated by a regressive tax policy. Tax rates on the top 1 percent of taxpayers have fallen over this same period. According to Chuck Collins in 99 to 1 the growing gap is not only of income but also of total wealth, with 82 percent of all wealth gains going to the top 5 percent between 1983 and 2009. The bottom 60 percent lost wealth during these years. By contrast, the period from 1947 to 1977 had seen solid increases in prosperity in every income group.
We believe that our democracy is threatened. As Louis Brandeis has said: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United guaranteed special interests the freedom to raise and spend any amount, from any source, at any time, in order to win elections has lead to further deterioration of our social fabric and the loss of trust in our institutions.
The systematic destruction of the middle class has had serious consequences for preservation of families, health, education and employment and even greater consequences for those in the bottom 30%. Significant social unrest is a growing possibility.
Our financial system has become deeply distorted: financial institutions that are “too big to fail,” investment instruments few can understand, and pervasive conflicts of interest. The suffering and overpowered majority will continue to lose the struggle for jobs, affordable housing, education, retirement security, a sustainable environment and peace if we keep silent. This situation cries out for us to open our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to a growing bitter reality.
We must take responsibility for our own relative wealth and evaluate our own financial practices individually and as a church. We must use our voices and our assets to seek justice and relieve the suffering and inequity that surround us.”