In the nearly three years that Cerulean Sanctum has existed, I've posted many times about the disconnect between the American Church and economic issues. We've approved of Crown Financial or Ron Blue budget classes because they cater to the individual making personal decisions (reinforcing the stereotype that Christianity is all about "a personal Jesus"), but we're pathologically quiet about macro monetary issues.
I believe this to be an enormous mistake. If the Church cannot speak to larger issues than personal ones, we will increasingly be seen as irrelevant. We may already be there.
Many blanch at the mere mention of relevance, but I think that what is at issue here is not relevance per se, but the fact that we Christians in America can't seem to live out what we believe on any scale beyond the personal. That gives Christianity the sheen of being a religion that might speak to me, but can't speak to my neighborhood. In lieu of this, our faith falls into a category of just another personal decision, like whether to shop at Target or WalMart.
Gasoline is poised to spring up to $4 a gallon in some parts of the country. To the minimum wage earner, this translates into heightened desperation. Many people who work minimum wage jobs are forced to live outside the more costly areas of town, necessitating longer drives. If I make $6 an hour and have a forty mile round trip to make every day, I'm in trouble.
When I lived in Silicon Valley from 1996-2000, the cost of living was so exorbitant that the average two bedroom apartment rented for more than $2000 a month. No one making less than $15 an hour could possibly live there. Those folks lived in outlying areas and suffered through daily one to three hour commutes from up to a hundred miles away. I once talked to a Safeway grocery store clerk who commuted an hour and forty minutes one way to get to work every day. Now ask her to pay $4 a gallon for gas.
Ford announced record losses last week. They piggybacked a historically large recall on top of that bad news. Their bonds are junk. Toyota just passed them as the second largest automaker in the world. And carmakers aren't looking to build more plants in the US, but in China.
The sheer number of companies in this country that depend on Ford for business should give us pause. The sheer number of Americans who are now paying spiraling prices for every staple of life that is transported by oil-consuming vehicles should start us talking.
But the Church in this country has nothing to say about any of this.
When my wife and I moved into our house five years ago, gas in our area was about $1.35 a gallon. The digits swapped this year and the price of gas this last Saturday was $3.15. We own a thirteen-year-old four-cylinder pickup truck that gets about 22 mpg on the highway and a compact car that gets about 38 mpg. In 2003, we spent about $290 a month on gas under normal usage. We now drive less than we did then, but with inflated gas prices, we're at nearly $600 a month now.
We're not rich; nor are we poor. Kissing $310 a month goodbye hurts. It hurts even more through the ripple effect. The cereal we bought two years ago for $1.50 a box is now about $2.75. Multiply that ad infinitum.
We hear about a good economy, but the real facts are depressing. The latest numbers reported one year ago show that while Americans did enjoy more income, with steadily rising salaries, factoring out the top one percent of wage earners nearly eliminated all gains. In fact, 99 percent of Americans enjoyed a 1.5 percent increase in salary over the dog days of the last recession. The 12.5 percent increase in wages among the top one percent accounted for the offset. Translation? The rich got richer and inflation ate the average family's wage increase.
Being better educated didn't help, either, despite the prevailing wisdom. Salaries for college educated Americans declined in 2004.
And don't talk about savings. Last year, Americans on average saved zero percent of their income. Nothing. This year, economists are already saying that we could be looking at a negative one percent savings rate.
The figures cited here are the most recent we have. And that's before gasoline above $2 a gallon and Ford and GM bonds falling into the basement.
Yet what are we as a Church doing in light of this? Not one thing that I can see. Did we champion the recent push for an increase in the minimum wage? (In Ohio, the $4.25 state mandated minimum wage hasn't changed since 1990!) Certainly no Evangelical worth his conservative salt mentioned this lest he be lumped in with Jim Wallis. Are we Christian conservatives true to our nomenclature by calling for conservation of resources? All such calls that I've seen have been lampooned. What are our plans to help each other cope with looming economic disaster for many households? Or is the mantra we're chanting in our churches today, "Every man for himself"?
I don't know why we're so shortsighted.
I want to tell you something you may not consider: There are people in your church who are really smarting from this increase in the cost of gas that is progressively trickling down into all goods and services. They're wondering how they'll cope. With China and India industrializing faster than you can say "globalization," capitalism's market forces dictate that demand drives price, and that demand for oil will only increase. What then, if salaries do not keep pace? As we've seen, they aren't.
I'm not a fearmonger. I'm only calling for common sense. Our churches MUST speak to this reality and start doing something immediately to ensure that the least of those in our churches are not bankrupted by forces they cannot control. Because right now, someone in your church is weeping over bills they could easily pay two years ago, but not today.
That person might even be you.