Archive for the ‘Economic Crisis’ Tag

Amos in New York

All sorts of questions come to the mind of this preacher as I contemplate the implosion of Wall Street. Like: what might Amos say in such a situation?

You recall he was not one of the religious hired hands in ancient Israel. That person’s name was Amaziah. He was pastor of the church—or, as they would say, priest of the sanctuary—at Bethel. It was the king’ sanctuary, so prophets—what we call today preachers—had to be careful what they said. It was more important, evidently, what the king thought than what God thought. That is a tough spot for any proclaimer of the Word.

Amos thought the king should protect the poor, care for the widow, give justice to the weak, and distribute the material goods of the kingdom so all might share in the prosperity of the land.

You can read all about this in the small book of Amos. It is part of the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament. We also call him a Minor Prophet, which is a misnomer if ever there was one. It is a short book, just nine chapters. But that makes it minor in the same since that the Gettysburg Address is minor.

The little book of mostly poetry was a favorite of Martin Luther King, Jr. who liked to quote chapter five and verse twenty-four: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Amos would ask questions of the king: in this massive billion-dollar bailout, are you helping the rich or are you helping the poor? Are you more concerned about the people who might lose their life savings or the executives who might lose their salaries?

I read today that Lehman’s Brothers Bank in New York filed for bankruptcy; but before they did they set aside $2.5 billion dollars in a bonus pool to pay workers at the New York office. Last year their chief executive made $34 million.

Police in New York will spend hundreds of hours and millions of dollars to fight street crime: robbery, drug use, bad checks, unpaid rent, parking fines. These are normally the offenses of the poor, street people who have little to eat and often nowhere to sleep. They will be arrested and prosecuted.

But at Lehman Brothers, and a dozen other high and mighty firms, the white collar criminals will escape prosecution. Instead of losing their freedom for bringing the world to the brink of chaos or even losing their jobs for mismanaging billions of dollars, they will be bailed out and evidently receive rewards. The American government, led by the former executive at Goldman Sacks, will pay them handsomely for their work.

I think Amos would have something to say about some of this. But he would be told to shut up. “This is the king’s sanctuary,” he would be told. “You know nothing of the intricate rules of international finance. Go read your Bible and stick to your own business.”

But today, it is Amos that we quote, and Amaziah whose name we cannot remember.