|United Methodists call for stewardship over greed|
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Sept. 30, 2008
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
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
"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
"The rich have grown richer and the poor
poorer. There is little appetite among the people to rescue the rich
from their excesses.""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."
–Board of Church and Society
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
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.
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.
A. Moses Kumar
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
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.
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.
Harriett Jane Olson
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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United Methodist Church Foundation
United Methodist Women
Board of Pension and Health Benefits