U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will hold a news conference on Friday, June 20th with Vermont religious leaders Bishop Thomas Ely, Rabbi Joshua Chasan, the Rev. Lynn Bujnak and Monsignor Roland Rivard to discuss the moral implications of extreme wealth and income inequality. The conference will take place at 1:30pm at Senator Sanders’s office: 1 Church Street, 3rd Floor, Burlington, VT 05401.
Bishop Ely’s participation in this news conference is in keeping with the resolution on the subject of economic justice and income equality passed at The Episcopal Church in Vermont’s 2013 Diocesan Convention, parts of which he will include in his remarks. The resolution seeks to raise awareness not just in Vermont, but beyond and calls upon the leadership of the Episcopal Church to speak out on these matters of economic inequality. In his Lenten message earlier this year, Bishop Ely noted, “I want to be clear that for me economic justice and income inequality are indeed moral issues of immediate and urgent concern.”
The 2013 Resolution also affirmed and adopted the following statement on Economic Justice and Income Inequality:
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.”