By Lucy Kolin
pastor, Resurrection Lutheran Church in Oakland, Calif.
As a parish pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), I have spent nearly a quarter century teaching and preaching about what it means to live the life of faith, what it means to not just hear the Word of God but to do it. So it is less a choice than a joyful given for me to be involved in and speaking publicly about matters like Wall Street reform, matters that affect not only members of my own congregation but also many people in my city, state, and nation — my neighbors all.
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is “love God with all that you are and have and love your neighbor as yourself.” We often read “love your neighbor” in terms of charity, not justice. But, as I learned again recently while preparing four young people for confirmation and a mature life of faith, our calling is to look at the world as God created it to be and as it is operating, to examine where the gap lies, and to work publicly to bridge it.
In the prayer Jesus taught, Christians pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” Martin Luther defined “daily bread” as much more than healthy and sufficient food and drink. He understood that phrase to include all that we need “to sustain this body and life,” so also good governance, housing, money, and trustworthy neighbors, both individuals and institutions. And in teaching about the commandments, Luther understood “you shall not steal” as a call always to “help [our neighbors] to improve and protect their property and income.”
As a person of faith and, specifically, as a pastor, I have seen far too many of my neighbors suffer from banks and other financial institutions who fail to act as “good neighbors,” responsible to the people of the communities they serve. Of course, my congregation and I will continue to pray and uphold those who suffer, but we will also work to see abuses corrected and reforms instituted. The recent exploitative practices have abused the working poor, crippled the middle class, destabilized entire neighborhoods, dried up credit to small businesses, and caused widespread unemployment. Those practices, often defended in the name of shareholder profit, have not helped shareholders and have led to a loss of bank integrity — bank “soul” if you will — and erosion of public trust.
As a person of faith, I know and believe in the reality of sin – for individuals and institutions. But I know and believe in the blessing and opportunity for confession and conversion — personally and corporately. Banks and Wall Street have an opportunity to publicly acknowledge and repudiate the practices and policies that have caused suffering and loss for so many. They also have an opportunity to embrace new behaviors and policies that can contribute to healing the economy and give real help and hope to families and communities so our nation can regain its economic health and restore its soul.
That’s why I am deeply involved in the PICO Network‘s campaign to hold big banks and Wall Street accountable. That’s why I am going to join thousands of people at bank shareholder meetings next week in Charlotte and San Francisco as well as directly on Wall Street itself in speaking up and speaking out. That’s why I favor the goal of financial reform legislation being debated in Congress and support a modernized Community Reinvestment Act. That is why I am joining many others to urge local and state governments to use their authority and leverage to push dollars into responsible lending institutions — institutions that care for all their neighbors, big and little, and do not abandon their moral integrity and responsiveness in the midst of economic crisis. And that’s why I urge people of faith around the country to help us hold big banks accountable by taking our pledge at www.OurMoneyOurValues.org.
In vows my confirmation students will soon make, vows repeated at significant moments in the church’s life, we commit ourselves to serving all our neighbors and striving for justice and peace in all the earth. So here I stand…I can do no other. And I am pleased to stand with millions of other persons of faith who have come this far by faith.
Rev. Lucy Kolin is pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Oakland, Calif., co-chair, Oakland Community Organizations, and PICO national spokesperson.