Christian talk on the recession

The current issue of The Christian Century is focused on the recession.

The cover headline reads: “Theological Dividends: Lessons of the economic downturn”

I have an article about how churches in good, old Westchester County have tried to respond to the needs of suburbanites.

My story is not on the Christian Century website, so you can’t read it unless you’re an old-fashioned subscriber. We miss subscribers in the print world.

But you can read the thoughts of the Rev. Michael Lindvall, pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, who writes about the different ways people try to come to terms with the financial mess. Some blame others. Some focus on being victimized.

But Lindvall puts the onus on human sin. He writes:

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Calvin saw that human brokenness is no simple matter of doing some things that are wrong while doing others that are altogether right. Rather, even our noblest, wisest and most selfless acts are tinged with the sin that permeates even our virtues. Niebuhr reminded us that sin is not simply a reality within individual persons or a matter of autonomous choices; it is systemic. Sin is built into our finest institutions. It is endemic in our highest culture. It is hidden in our wisest strategic plans and plagues well-intended governments and noble reform movements. Sin confounds complex financial derivatives and the rescue plans designed to clean up their mess. No one, not one, is righteous.

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You can also read the musings of four other Christian scholars. One of them, Deirdre McCloskey, who teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has written a theological defense of capitalism, wrote this:

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Innovation has been better than any exercise of the usual Christian charity. Indeed, from the point of view of a theology of creativity, it has been Christian charity. Give what you will to the poor of the world, economic creativity since 1800 has given ten times more. Simple charity is good for your soul. But if you wish actually to help the poor, you should let markets and innovation work, because they are what have transformed the lives of the poor. Look at China or India, freed from Mao’s communism or the License Raj. The world economy has sharply slowed this year. But it will return next year to raising the incomes of the poorest faster than at any time in history.

Talk about a mixed marriage

There is fascinating piece in the current Christian Century written by a minister whose wife does not attend church and is, at most, a skeptic when it comes to faith.

Martin Copenhaver, pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation in Massachusetts, writes with honesty and tenderness about his marriage to Karen, a lawyer and lapsed Catholic. He takes you through several stages of their relationship and explains how the couple have faced their very different beliefs about God and Christ and the rest.

More than anything, it feels very real. Copenhaver’s love for his wife comes through, as does his faith and his commitment to a minister’s life.

He writes beautifully about what they are able to share, how they respect one another despite their differences, and about the strains that he and his wife have faced along the way.

He includes many telling anecdotes, including one about bringing Karen to an interview at a church where he was hoping to serve:

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About a year after that first New Year’s Day, I had an interview for a position at a church in Burlington, Vermont. Karen accompanied me as we met the members of the search committee. As the interview was winding down, the president of the congregation turned to Karen and said, “Karen, we probably should ask you one question: What do you see as the role of the minister’s wife?” Uh-oh. Not only did this question tread on a delicate matter in our still-young marriage, we were also aware that the wife of the previous senior minister had been extremely active in the life of the congregation, and we thought that there was a good chance that they would expect the same of Karen.

So for the first time in the interview, I was more than a little bit nervous. Karen seemed perfectly calm. I have since learned that when Karen is particularly nervous, she comes across as even more poised than usual. With a smile, she said, “Well, thank you for asking.” And then she went on to describe some of the demands of the ministry, which she had seen first hand, and how important it is to have a supportive presence at home. Then she concluded, “So I would say that the role of the minister’s wife is to be a good wife to the minister.” As she was talking, I was trying unsuccessfully to read the still countenances of the Vermonters around the table. When she finished, the president said, “Well that’s good, because we don’t have any special expectations, either.” Whew. The next day they called and asked if I would become their new minister.