The 2008 financial crisis, coming in the midst of a presidential campaign fueled by faith-based rhetoric, gave Americans a chance to reconsider economic policies in the light of religious beliefs. Many do not often think of the relationship between economics and religion — they are often viewed as seperate entities working in different worlds — but the recession stimulated much thought on how the two interact.
The view that the economy is a secular mechanism for the common good approach has shaped debates in Washington for the past 30 years. It has been challenged by two developments:
• The economic crisis is prompting theological reflections on morality and the marketplace from religious thinkers who support a hands-off free-enterprise system and those who want faith to help shape a more activist economic policy. In this debate, some cite greed as the culprit in the crisis, some the free-market system, while others point to failed government policies — or some combination of these factors.
• The second development is the effort in recent years by liberal Christians — the so-called “religious left” — to persuade policymakers and believers to see the economy in moral terms that would call for certain economic policies.
• The Republican Party platform for 2012 details the party’s economic positions and philosophy in a principal section Restoring the American Dream:Rebuilding the Economy and Creating Jobs.
• The Democratic Party platform for 2012 can be read online. There are many pages at the front of the document dedicated to the economy.
Why it matters
Despite recent financial travails, the United States remains the global economic engine whose condition affects the daily lives of billions of people, especially the poorest in America and elsewhere. But the role of the United States is also changing as other economies — in East Asia, Russia and the European Union — adapt to a globalizing marketplace. Experts say decisions by policymakers in the coming years are likely to have an impact on economic growth and economic justice — or suffering — for years to come.
News articles and research
“Churches lost $1.2 billion in recession”
Read a March 22, 2012, Religion News Service article about how churches were affected by the recession.
“Charitable giving stabilizes as recession ebbs”
Read a March 23, 2011, Religion News Service article describing the steady incline of donations as the economic recession diminishes.
“New Research: Slow Economy Continues to Weigh on Churches and Pastors”
Read an August 28, 2012, article at ChristianityToday.com analyzing the results of a poll analyzing the effects the recession had on churches’ budgets.
“Pope Benedict Pins Economic Crisis On ‘Crisis Of Faith’ In His Christmas Speech To The Roman Curia”
Read a December 2011 story published in the Huffington Post about Pope Benedict XVI’s connection between the world economic crisis and the lack of religious faith.
“Faith and finance: Empowering faith leaders to care for congregants in financial crisis”
This December 2011 research report by North Caroline State University reports on the increase of incidents in which church members ask their religious leaders for financial advice.
“Christian Financial World Sees Silver Lining in Banking Mess”
Read a Sept. 29, 2008, Christianity Today story titled “Christian Financial World Sees Silver Lining in Banking Mess.” It details how some Christian banks and credit unions — though not all — have staved off insolvency.
“Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon”
Read a Sept. 25, 2008, essay at First Things titled “Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon” by the Rev. Robert A. Sirico of the Acton Institute. Sirico argues that “the most productive economic system ever known” — that of the United States — “also happens to be the one that is most respectful of human rights and dignity, and provides the freedom to worship.”
“Vatican newspaper says crisis shows failure of ‘new economy'”
Read a Sept. 24, 2008, Catholic News Service story about an article in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, citing failed governmental policies in Washington as the cause of the meltdown and calling for a more transparent system with better regulation to make the economy more equitable.
“Where Do Evangelicals Stand on CEO Compensation?'”
Read a Sept. 24, 2008, column at Christianity Today titled “Where Do Evangelicals Stand on CEO Compensation?”
“Finding a Christian Perspective on the Economic Crisis'”
Read a Sept. 24, 2008, column at Crosswalk.com, “Finding a Christian Perspective on the Economic Crisis,” by R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Mohler says the American system of free enterprise remains the best and says, “There is cause for concern, but no justification for panic.”
“Wall Street Ethics”
Read a Sept. 19, 2008, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly segment, “Wall Street Ethics,” featuring an interview with Rebecca Blank, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of Is the Market Moral?: A Dialogue on Religion, Economics & Justice.
“Greed in the Economy”
Read a Sept. 18, 2008, column, “Greed in the Economy,” by Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners and a leader of the “religious left.” Wallis traces the financial crisis to greed and deregulation.
“Wall Street’s Troubles Are No Reason to Fear”
Read a Sept. 17, 2008, column at Crosswalk.com, “Wall Street’s Troubles Are No Reason to Fear,” by Chuck Colson, a conservative evangelical Christian leader. Colson says the economic system is secure, but the crisis is a moral wake-up call for Americans.
“Bishops Urge Congress, Bush Administration to Find Moral Response to Financial Crisis “
Read a Sept. 26, 2008, letter from Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urging the Bush administration and Congress to consider the moral aspects of the current financial crisis.
“Candidate Preferences of Religious Voters Similar to 2004, But Economy a Higher Priority”
A 2008 survey from the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron shows a marked shift (Tables 5 and 6) from 2004 to 2008 in the priorities of religious voters from social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, to economic issues. The survey also shows (Table 7) how different faith groups feel about whether there should be an increase or decrease in government services. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has a Q-and-A with the survey’s author, John Green, on the results.
Liaquat Ali Khan
Liaquat Ali Khan is a professor of law at the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kan. A native of Pakistan, he focuses his research on terrorism and conflict in Muslim societies. He has written extensively about Islamic law and in 2008 wrote an article for The American Muslim about Islamic perspectives on the economic meltdown.
Rebecca M. Blank
Rebecca M. Blank is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, specializing in economics and social policy. She is a past dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan and former co-director of the National Poverty Center. Blank is co-author of Is the Market Moral?: A Dialogue on Religion, Economics & Justice. Contact through the Brookings communications office.
Daniel Finn is a professor of theology and economics St. John’s School of Theology-Seminary in Collegeville, Minn. He is the author of the 2006 book The Moral Ecology of Markets: Assessing Claims About Markets and Justice. He wrote an article in the Sept. 26, 2008, edition of Commonweal magazine, “Libertarian Heresy: The Fundamentalism of Free-Market Theology.”
John C. Green
John C. Green is a senior fellow at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, specializing in religion and American politics. He also serves as interim university president, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics and distinguished professor of political science at the University of Akron.
Laurence R. Iannaccone
Laurence R. Iannaccone, (pronounced “YAWN -uh – cone -ee”) director of the Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics and Society and professor of economics at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., is a leading authority internationally on the economics of religion. He heads the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture and developed the Consortium for the Economic Study of Religion.
Robert T. Miller
Robert T. Miller is a professor of law at the University of Iowa and a former associate professor at the Villanova University School of Law. He wrote an article for the First Things blog titled “A Conservative Case for the Paulson Plan,” arguing for the $700 billion bailout package.
Wilfred M. McClay
Wilfred M. McClay holds the SunTrust Bank Chair of Excellence in Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he is also a professor of history. He is a widely published author on issues related to religion in America. He co-edited Religion Returns to the Public Square: Faith and Policy in America. He is also a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and co-director of the Evangelicals in Civic Life program.
R. Albert Mohler Jr.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and hosts a weekday call-in radio program. In 2001, he chaired the executive committee of the Greater Louisville Billy Graham Crusade. Mohler’s blog often mentions Graham.
Michael Novak, philosopher, theologian and public policy commentator at The American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, is the author of Questions about Liberation Theology (Paulist Press, 1991). He argued that by the late 1980s, liberation theology was in danger “of slipping into a backwater” because it had done very little to help the poor. He is also author of The Joy of Sports: End Zones, Bases, Baskets, Balls and the Consecration of the American Spirit. Many consider his book on sports and religion the first and best on the topic.
Eduardo Peñalver is a professor at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, N.Y., where he teaches property, land use and a course on Catholic social thought and the law. He writes frequently about the economy and justice. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, and he is a blogger at Commonweal.
The Rev. Jim Wallis is a Christian author and commentator and the founder of Sojourners magazine, a periodical that tries to promote social change through Christian values. He has served on the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and can comment on policies related to race, immigration and other religion-related issues. Arrange an interview through Meredith Brasher.
Robert Wuthnow is director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. He wrote the book Poor Richard’s Principle: Recovering the American Dream Through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business and Money and was the editor of the 2006 Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion. He is also the author of After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion and Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America’s Heartland. He can speak about hot-button issues including abortion, the separation of church and state and gun control.
Christian Answers is a mega-site the provides biblical answers to contemporary questions. Contact through the website.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine and founder of the Tikkun Community, a peace and social justice movement. He is also a co-founder The Network of Spiritual Progressives.
Lerner opposed an immediate economic bailout, saying that the crisis presented an opportunity for society to engage in “ethical and spiritual reconstruction.”
Council for Ethical Leadership
The Council for Ethical Leadership is an association based in Columbus, Ohio of leaders in business, higher education, religion and other professions working together to try to strengthen the ethical fabric of business and economic life.
Ethics and Public Policy Center
The Ethics and Public Policy Center is a conservative, Washington, D.C.-based think tank and advocacy group. Founded in 1976, the group describes itself as “dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy” and advocacy of founding principles such as the rule of law. The EPPC’s president is Ryan T. Anderson.
International Business Ethics Institute
The International Business Ethics Institute is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational organization founded in 1994 in response to the growing need for transnationalism in the field of business ethics. It is based in Washington, D.C.
In the Northeast
Albino F. Barrera
The Rev. Albino F. Barrera is a Catholic priest and professor of theology and economics at Providence College in Providence, R.I. He is the author of the 2006 book God and the Evil of Scarcity: Moral Foundations of Economic Agency and the 2005 book Economic Compulsion and Christian Ethics.
David W. Miller
David W. Miller is founding Director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative. He was director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and an assistant professor of business ethics at Yale Divinity School. He also led the center’s Ethics and Spirituality in the Workplace program. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister with a degree from Princeton Divinity School and is a prominent author and commentator of the growing nexus between work and faith.
The Rev. James Martin is a Jesuit priest and editor at large at America magazine in New York. His books include Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity.
Eugene McCarraher is a professor of humanities at Villanova University in Pennsylvania who writes widely on issues of the economy and justice.
Russell Reno is editor of First Things, a magazine published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life. He writes regularly on topics such as politics, the economy and religious freedom.
David Skeel is a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an evangelical Protestant. His courses include one on Christian perspectives on law.
Skeel has blogged about some theories on what caused the financial crisis.
In the South
David P. Gushee
David P. Gushee is a distinguished professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Atlanta. He is frequently quoted about evangelical perspectives on ethics and was the principal drafter of the Evangelical Declaration Against Torture. He describes himself as a “Christian centrist.” Gushee’s most recent book is Changing Our Mind: A Call From America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church, in which he outlines his change of heart from opposing same-sex relationships.
Timur Kuran is professor of economics and political science and Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He has researched economic issues involving Islam, and his books include Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism (Princeton University Press, 2004).
Robert D. Tollison
Robert D. Tollison, professor of economics at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., has expertise in the economics of religion. His books include, as co-author, Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm (Oxford University Press, 1996). He has co-written a draft manuscript, Economics and Christianity.
Susan Pace Hamill
Susan Pace Hamill is a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law who specializes in tax law, business organizations and ethics. She is an advocate for Bible-based tax reform guided by the moral principles of Judeo-Christian ethics.
William P. Quigley
William P. Quigley is a law professor and director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans. He is the author of Ending Poverty as We Know It: Guaranteeing a Right to a Job at a Living Wage.
Melissa Snarr is an associate professor of ethics and society and a Christian social ethicist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Her research focuses on political and religious ethics, social change, religion and war and religion and politics.
D. Michael Lindsay
D. Michael Lindsay is a sociologist and the president of Gordon College, a Christian school in Wenham, Mass. His focus is on issues surrounding leadership, organizations and culture. He is a former Gallup consultant with an expertise on research about evangelicals. Lindsay is author of the 2007 book Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite and the 2014 book View From the Top: An Inside Look at How People in Power See and Shape the World.
Charles M. North
Charles M. North, associate professor of economics at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has written about the links between religion and economic growth. He co-wrote the 2008 book Good Intentions: Nine Hot Button Issues Viewed Through the Eyes of Faith.
In the Midwest
The Rev. Robert Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. He’s also a Catholic priest. He has argued that marijuana legalization could lead to some social benefits, like a reduction in illegal drug trafficking.
In the West
Jim Balassone directs the business ethics programs of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley. The center “brings scholars and business people together to address key ethical challenges and develop best practices for building ethical organizational cultures.”
Pamela K. Brubaker
Pamela K. Brubaker is professor emeritus of religion at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. She wrote the article “Making Women and Children Matter: Feminist Ethics Confronts Welfare Policy” for the Journal of Poverty (1999) and the book Women Don’t Count: The Challenge of Women’s Poverty to Christian Ethics (Scholars Press, 1994). [email protected]
Anthony Gill, professor of political science at the University of Washington in Seattle, researches church-state relations from a microeconomic perspective. He teaches a course on religion, politics and economics. His books include Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America. Gill conducts research on community efforts to restrict the property rights of religious groups. He wrote a paper on the subject for the Association of Religion Data Archives.
John Mark Reynolds
John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School. Dr. Reynolds is a senior fellow of humanities at The King’s College in New York City. He is also a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He was also the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute.
He has blogged about the economic crisis and the tendency to “pile on” about Wall Street greed. Reynolds likens such critics to the friends who blamed Job when troubles beset him.