Church leaders see new U.S. ethics crisis

January 21, 2009

From billion-dollar Ponzi schemes to bad mortgages and pay-to-play dealings by public officials, some are asking: Is there a crisis of ethics in America?

The swirl of corruption, fraud and greed stretching from Wall Street to Main Street has many U.S. church leaders saying the answer is a resounding yes — America is facing not only an economic meltdown, but also a moral one. And they are rushing to bring flocks back into the fold.

My colleague Carey Gillam in Kansas City has reported on this issue and you can see her story here.

David Gushee, a leading voice in the emerging centrist evangelical movement and a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta, said the United States needs not just an economic recovery plan but also a “moral recovery plan.”

“I think that this transition point is a good one in the life of our nation. We need … a renewal of the moral compass to do the right thing just because it’s right, obeying not just legal laws but moral laws related to how people need to be treated,” he said.

This is not the first time that clergy have scrutinized business practices in America and found them to be wanting. The social gospel movement of the late 19th century comes to mind; so does more recent trends in Catholic social teaching.

But what is perhaps most interesting about the current wave of clerical concern is that it sharply differs from the pro-business sentiment of the Religious Right, which was perhaps the most successful religious/political movement of the 1980s and 1990s and remains a force to be reckoned with in the Republican Party.

Its main moral concerns have focused on the “culture of life” (its opposition to abortion rights), the “traditional family” and a rigid opposition to the expansion of gay rights.   

Under the new administration of President Barack Obama, the Religious Right fears that many of the policies it champions related to abortion and the family will get rolled back — and so its leaders will also see a new crisis of ethics and morality in America.

Watch this space: there is going to be lots of talk from the pulpit about these issues from all sides.

(Photo: Trouble on Wall Street means trouble on Main, Oct 8, 2008/Jessica Rinaldi)

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