Vermont: Senator, bishop, faith leaders discuss economic justice

Posted Jun 23, 2014

From left, Monsignor Roland Rivard, the Rev. Lynn Bujnak, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Bishop Thomas Ely and Rabbi Joshua Chasan. Photo: Episcopal Diocese of Vermont

[Episcopal Diocese of Vermont] On June 20, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) held a news conference with Vermont religious leaders to discuss the moral implications of extreme wealth and income inequality. Bishop Thomas Ely, Rabbi Joshua Chasan, the Rev. Lynn Bujnak, and Monsignor Roland Rivard were present, as well as several other Episcopal clergy and faith leaders.

Bishop Ely’s participation in this news conference is in keeping with the resolution on the subject of economic justice and income inequality passed at The Episcopal Church in Vermont’s 2013 Diocesan Convention.

Below is the transcript of Bishop Ely’s statement:

Thank you Senator Sanders.

Thank you for your advocacy on so many important issues and especially your leadership in the area of economic justice and income inequality. I am glad to add my voice to yours and these distinguished colleagues who provide important leadership and direction in our Vermont faith communities.

The President has called income disparity “the defining challenge of our time.” He speaks an important truth to us. Economic justice and income inequality are indeed moral issues of immediate and urgent concern and present us with important choices about how we will live and how we will act.

Many years ago Supreme Court Justice Brandies declared “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” Evidence suggests that inequality is not only corroding our political system but eroding social cohesion as well.

The systematic undermining of the middle class has had serious consequences for the preservation of families, health, education and employment and even greater consequences for those in the bottom 30%. Social unrest is a growing possibility.

Our financial system has become deeply distorted: financial institutions that are “too big to fail,” investment instruments few can understand, and pervasive conflicts of interests that are threatening the ongoing ecological stability of our world all contribute to this reality.

The suffering and overpowered majority will continue to lose the struggle for jobs, affordable housing, education, retirement security, and a sustainable environment if we keep silent. This situation cries out for us to open our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to this growing bitter reality. The excesses of the sin of avarice, of greed, along with the sin of pride, are at work in our midst and have the potential to destroy so much of what we cherish.

These are critical ethical issues, touching on our obligations to each other as human beings, and therefore central to our faith traditions. We as faith community leaders have a responsibility to provide leadership on these moral issues, which have such a direct impact on so many of our fellow Vermonters.

The people of the Episcopal Church in Vermont have called upon our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori to convene a nationwide interfaith coalition to provide moral leadership for the establishment of economic justice in our country. We have also adopted a statement on Economic Justice and Income Inequality prepared by our leadership Council (and available on our website). And, in a concrete effort to put our faith and conviction into action, our annual Convention urged all our congregations, as well as the bishop’s office, to pay all lay employees an hourly livable wage appropriate for the State of Vermont.

For me, the call to engage this challenge is grounded in the words Jesus used to summarize the commandments that informed his faith, as well as the great Hebrew prophets before him, and which is expressed this way in the Gospel according to Matthew: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40)

Borrowing from the teaching of Archbishop Rowan Williams in his book Faith in the Marketplace, we are reminded that maintaining wealth at the cost of our neighbor’s disadvantage, or worse, is inhumane – what the other finds painful I should find painful too. True love of neighbor is the moral and ethical imperative that can lead us from greed to generosity, from economic disparity to economic justice.

©The Right Reverend Thomas C. Ely, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Vermont


Comments (4)

  1. David S. Benedict says:

    As a fellow Episcopalian in Williamsburg, VA and member of the Greater Williamsburg Outreach Mission to the those citizens who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, I hope Bishop Ely will take his thoughtful statement to the Council of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in American that all members of our denomination will engage the rest of the faith community via the National and World Council of Churches, and make this matter of income inequality a united push to move towards economic justice across all natiional boundaries.

  2. Paul Connors says:

    As someone who lived in Vermont when Sen. Sanders was mayor of Burlington and now lives in NJ in the Diocese of Newark, I will admit that I have never liked Sen. Sanders. As a retired member of the US armed forces and a political conservative, I detest Sanders’ socialism and his constant carping about the inequality of our economic system. For one thing, his senator’s salary of $174,000 per year places him in the top 5% of earners in America. Secondly and unlike most Americans, his career as a US Congressmen and Senator means he will have a guaranteed lifetime pension that equals his current salary. Who else in America has that? Very few these days.

    Senator Sanders and other statists of his ilk continue to rail against income equality when it is the very policies of an over-reaching federal government that has contributed to this state of affairs. Obama, Pelosi and Reid are all individually wealthy by anyone’s standards, yet few of them have run a business, made a payroll or created so much as a single job whereby another American can make a living. Sanders in his own way is the same. They believe they have the right to deny Americans basic individual liberties for the greater good and in the process confiscate our wealth via excessive taxation, over-regulation and the use of coercive force against people who dare to disagree with them.

    Sanders and statists like him believe they have a right to take by force (via government mandates, regulations and laws) from the productive people of America and convey the benefits of that productivity on those who have largely produced nothing. I categorically reject that method of thinking and will do all in my power to resist it. The people of the state of Vermont have collectively proven, as have the residents of the other New England and mid-Atlantic states that they are no longer a real part of the productive engine of America – they did so by electing Sanders & Leahey, Markey and Warren in MA, Reed in RI, Blumenthal in CT, Schumer and Gillibrand in NY, Menendez and Booker in NJ, and others of their re-distributionist ilk in Delaware, MD and even Virginia.
    Senator Sanders and the national Episcopal Church have also deliberately forgotten that without a system that creates wealth that there is no wealth for them to coercively redistribute and that is why those of us who oppose them and larger, more intrusive and coercive government speak out as vocally as we do.
    Income inequality has been part of man’s lot since the beginning of civilization. It is not the role of a representative, constitutional government to take from one party to bestow on another simply to curry favor with the latter and to create a permanent class of serfs, unable to provide for themselves.

    If there were ever a set of issues that would drive me out of the ECUSA, it is the social justice movement that is based in liberal orthodoxy and self-deception. Then again, if one listens to people like the Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts-Schiori, people like me no longer belong in the Episcopal Church. She may have a point after all; over the last several years I am reminded of a comment made by life -long Episcopalian, the late Charlton Heston when asked why he left the Democrat Party and became a conservative. “I did not leave the Democrat Party, it left me.”

    I am sure many former Episcopalians feel the same way about the church they grew up in and sadly, felt compelled to leave.

    1. Terry Francis says:

      I totally agree with my fellow vet Paul Connors. With each passing year TEC is looking more and more like just a wing of the DNC in its activities and its rhetoric. Economic inequality is just one of many examples. And our esteemed PB has shown time and again her contempt for conservative members of this denomination by hauling into court conservative parishes that chose to break away because most of the members of the congregation felt TEC had simply become too leftward-leaning. Her message to them was and still is, you can leave if you want but no way are you keeping the property. Time and again I have said and will continue to say, progressive/liberalism has become the unofficial sacrament of the Episcopal Church and sadly, it’s here to stay.

  3. Kenneth Knapp says:

    I am not convinced that the efforts of our politicians and religious leaders to get us to covet our neighbors’ property have made us as morally superior as we like to think. There is an enormous ethical difference between giving to the poor and using the power of government to compel others to give to the poor.

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