Debt, the economy and the church

Many in our churches are fearful when they hear the debt discussions and the seeming inability of Congress to move to a solution from their partisan politics. Those on fixed incomes, Social Security, military and government pensions fear that they will not receive any income for months. What are the consequences for our churches? How can we preach a message of “perfect love casts out fear”? This coming Sunday we hear the story of the feeding of the multitudes and Isaiah’s vision of God’s reign. Is our diet fear or abundance?

Isaiah 55:1-5

Thus says the Lord:

“Ho, everyone who thirsts,

come to the waters;

and you that have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;

listen, so that you may live.

I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

my steadfast, sure love for David.

See, I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander for the peoples.

See, you shall call nations that you do not know,

and nations that do not know you shall run to you,

because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,

for he has glorified you.”

Matthew 14:13-21

Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Is the fear Social Security recipients and others based in reality? CBS News reports:

The Obama administration has said that without congressional action,

the U.S. will breach its limit on borrowing next Tuesday, August 2, though it now appears the nation may have an extra week or so of wiggle room to pay its bills. A breach could cause the U.S. to default on its debt as well as a host of other negative outcomes, including the suspension of Social Security checks, military pay and other obligations, and potentially cause global financial chaos.

Credit ratings agencies have warned that they are poised to withdraw the United States’ triple-A credit rating without guarantees that it will not default, and they have also suggested that the credit rating is in danger without a significant deficit reduction effort.

A host of conservative bloggers and talk show hosts say suspension of Social Security checks won’t happen reasoning that the Social Security Administration has the authority to sell Treasuries it owns to cover its obligations. However, this claim does not appear to have received credence in the mainstream.

If your congregation is predominantly Hispanic or black, you already know the terrible effects of this economy on households. Pew Research writes:

The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009.

These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession that ended in 2009.

The Pew Research Center analysis finds that, in percentage terms, the bursting of the housing market bubble in 2006 and the recession that followed from late 2007 to mid-2009 took a far greater toll on the wealth of minorities than whites. From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and 53% among black households, compared with just 16% among white households.

For the local church, what could be the effect of a failure of politicians in Washington to come to an agreement? Members receiving government checks may trim their giving, and may already have done so as a precaution; they would eventually receive what’s owed them but may not have savings to draw on in the mean time. Even members who do not receive government checks may experience financial pressure if interest rates rise. Demand for social services would increase. Your church may partner with the government, and this funding for social services could dry up.

What are your thoughts? Comments? What will you say if you are preaching this Sunday?

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