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United Methodists call for stewardship over greed

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Sept. 30, 2008

Jim Winkler

Declaring that "the financial bubble has burst," United Methodist leaders are calling for a biblical mandate of stewardship over corporate greed as the U.S. government scrambles to revise a failed $700 billion bailout of Wall Street.

"All we have is ours 'on loan' from God to be used for good in this world," said a statement from the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the denomination's social action agency. "John Wesley’s mandate to 'do no harm' is violated when we prey on the vulnerable."

The board advocated several measures, including limiting compensation for failed corporate executives, helping homeowners and regulating Wall Street.

Meanwhile, the denomination's finance agency said volatility in the stock market is to be "expected, not feared" and reminded the church that the market is cyclical in nature.

"We are invested for the long term," said a statement from the General Council on Finance and Administration, issued jointly with the church's Board of Pension and Health Benefits, Council of Bishops and Connectional Table.

"While we remain vigilant of performance and volatility on an ongoing basis, we are also committed to the philosophy of prudent investment of assets over a very long term."

Both statements were issued Sept. 30, one day after the House of Representatives voted 228-205 to reject the bailout—decried by critics as a handout to big business. The vote sent the market tumbling 770 points on Sept. 29, followed by a rebound on Sept. 30 as the blue-chip index rose nearly 500 points by late afternoon.

The financial crisis is being blamed on risky home mortgages and other high-risk loans held by U.S.-based financial institutions including Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, as well as mortgage lenders Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Countrywide Financial, Indymac Bank and American International Group.

An economy of extremes

The Board of Church and Society, led by chief executive Jim Winkler, said the U.S. House balked at the bailout in response to "enormous outcry from the American people opposing any plan that does not hold Wall Street barons accountable for the financial morass they helped create."

"The rich have grown richer and the poor poorer. There is little appetite among the people to rescue the rich from their excesses."
–Board of Church and Society
"The rich have grown richer and the poor poorer. There is little appetite among the people to rescue the rich from their excesses," the statement said, noting that "the prophetic voices of the Bible repeatedly warn against a society that favors the rich over the widows, aliens, orphans and the poor."

The agency pointed out that the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church declares all economic systems "to be under the judgment of God … and recognizes the responsibility of governments to develop and implement sound fiscal and monetary policies that provide for the economic life of individuals and corporate entities, and that ensure full employment and adequate incomes."

The church supports measures that would reduce the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, including revising tax structures and eliminating government support programs that benefit the wealthy at the expense of others. "A just response to the financial crisis must include limiting the compensation of failed corporate executives," the statement added.

The agency called for a single-payer health-care program, bankruptcy law reform, caps on credit-card interest rates, aid to homeowners and stricter oversight of Wall Street.

"The financial bubble has burst. Corporate greed must be replaced by the biblical mandate of stewardship," the statement said.

Signs of hope

The General Council on Finance and Administration coordinates and administers finances for the 11.5 million-member worldwide denomination, including the church's non-pension institutional investments. Its portfolio is "invested using a very long-term strategy," according to the statement from the Nashville, Tenn.,-based agency.

A. Moses Kumar

GCFA reports that the United Methodist Church Foundation, which manages funds to benefit denominational missions and ministries, had no fixed income exposure to Lehman Brothers in the form of direct debt obligations or otherwise. The nation's fourth-largest investment bank filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15.

Ups and downs in the market should not be cause for alarm, said Byrd Bonner, executive director of the foundation, in a telephone interview with United Methodist News Service.

"It’s not always going to be a peak situation, and it’s not always going to be a flat situation, and thank the Lord it’s not always going to be a valley situation," he said. "Long term is clearly a message of hope."

The GCFA statement emphasized signs of hope including a half percentage point increase in U.S. personal income in August. It noted that the 770-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average Sept. 29 ranked as the 17th largest when viewed as a percentage of the Dow's total value.

The agency said the message of all periods of fluctuation in the economic markets should be one of hope.

"As New Testament people, we view the ministry of Christ as one for the long term," said A. Moses Kumar, the church's treasurer and top executive of GCFA. "As recorded in John 17:20, Jesus made clear his purpose that he was not just praying and acting for those who physically followed him, but for all who would follow throughout the days and centuries ahead. How could we do any less when entrusted with the caretaking of God's great bounty?"

Families and children

Last week, the top staff leader of United Methodist Women urged U.S. legislators to represent families and children as they address the global financial crisis.

Harriett Jane Olson

In a Sept. 19 letter, Harriett Jane Olson called on congressional leaders "to keep before you the faces of families and children whose future will be determined by the decisions you make." Olson is the top executive of the Women's Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, based in New York.

She outlined UMW's concerns in her letter to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

"We pray that you will look out for the future of families and children even if it requires action that is not in the interest of the powerful corporations," she said. Olson also called for bipartisan, short-term and long-term action to help families facing foreclosure and bankruptcy to retain ownership of their homes.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Social Principles: The Economic Community

Board of Church and Society

General Council on Finance and Administration

United Methodist Church Foundation

United Methodist Women

Board of Pension and Health Benefits

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