Progressive Revival

To the Christian Leaders of America in this Time of Crisis,


The past few weeks have provided a vivid reminder that we are in a global crisis.  This is not restricted to what is happening with the stock markets.  We are also in a crisis of wars, of disease, of hunger, of massive corruption, and failure of leadership – and that is just on the domestic front. Our material challenge provides Christians with an opportunity for spiritual growth. 


For the last thirty years, selfishness and private greed in the material world has been mirrored and supported by individualistic and privatized spirituality.  We have been bombarded by the heresy of the ‘me first’, self help, prosperity Gospel.   David Van Biema just wrote a startling piece in Time magazine as to how the the Prosperity Gospel played a role in the subprime mortgage crisis as predatory lenders fed upon poor congregants’ magical belief that God had provided them with a home they could not afford.  Once the economic reality crashed in on their spiritual fantasy, it caused them more poverty, heart ache, and a spiritual crisis to add to their financial one.  Perhaps now the world will recognize the prosperity preachers for the snake oil salesman that they are.


The economic crisis reminds us we are not spiritually or material alone in this world – and we never were. We have responsability to and with one another.  We must abandon our personal fiefdoms for our communal dwelling place in the kingdom of God.   Jesus calls to us each personally, but we are saved collectively. God requres both personal and social repentance and salvation.  The two great commandments – to love God and to love our neighbor are not discreet actions but are inextricably linked, together providing the key to God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven.


As religious leaders we have the obligation to preach this spiritual truth to our congregations: not as an abstraction concerning others but as a reality of our own churches and communities.  I don’t need to tell you all that the pastoral consequences of this moment are going to be huge. People will turn to us for comfort and for hope.  Through our faith and through tangible displays of solidarity we can deepen the faith commitments of our congregants and be advocates for our collective good.  Our churches should strive to be places where the kingdom of God is realized in small ways every day.   


Like most economist and world leaders, you and I will not have immediate solutions for the problems that face our country and our world.  Yet as religious leaders we do have power to influence how the challenges are framed and approached.  Collectively we can provide a voice for those who are suffering – not only the bankers and the middle class, but the millions of poor people who lack food and housing within our own borders and around the world. As Christians we must propose Jesus’ kingdom of God as the model for the society we are trying to rebuild..  As my great-grandfather Walter Rauschenbusch wrote during the crisis of his time: “Instead of a society resting on coercion, exploitation, and inequality, Jesus desired to found a society resting on love, service, and equality.” 


Some may question why religious leaders are getting involved in economic policy.  Well, who do they think is going to be collecting, comforting and caring for the human wreckage that past policies have wrought?  The churches, the mosques, and the synagogues.  We have a vested interest in making sure that the economic fabric of this country is woven together in a more just fashion, recognizing that all life is cut from the same sacred cloth.   We have heard a lot about the values voter  – but economic and social justice are the original values of our faith and we must witness to them in the voting booth in November.


Recently, I spoke to Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund about her upcoming book: The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small: Charting.a Course for the Next Generation.  She said that this crisis we are in may provide us with the reminder that we are vulnerable in this life.  She said that in this time, like in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we remember that we are dependant upon one another.  We are called to sacrifice for one another and expect to be supported by one another; to extend and accept a helping hand.  As the late Gwendolyn Brooks poetically reminded us:


We are each other’s business

We are each other’s harvest

We are each others magnitude and bond


Or as Walter Rauschenbusch wrote: Humankind is so closely bound together no man lives to himself, and no man is saved to himself alone.


Sisters and brothers,  we are called to be transformed ourselves and to transform those whom we lead.  May God bless you and keep you. 



Rev. Paul B. Raushenbush

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