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Letter from the Editor

Perhaps before Katrina we could pretend we didn't notice the widening gulf between the wealthy and those left behind.

The hurricane made it impossible to ignore. The disabled, the elderly, and the poor—especially people of color—were left to fend for themselves with few resources to draw from. Many were even treated as criminals.

Today, well-connected corporations are winning huge, no-bid contracts for rebuilding the region, and the waiving of labor and environmental protections means that wages can be sub-par and water and soil left contaminated. Money is flowing, the powerful are making decisions, and the poor and displaced are once again missing from the table.
This is a moral crisis if ever there was one.

Shortly after the 2004 election, Zogby pollsters asked voters to identify the most serious moral crisis in the U.S. You wouldn't know it by listening to the pundits, but only 12 percent cited gay marriage and 16 percent abortion. For 33 percent, the greatest moral challenge was greed and materialism. For 31 percent, it was poverty and economic justice.

So why the deafening silence about poverty and the precarious position of the middle class? Political leaders clam up when they get accused of “class warfare.” Campaigns, after all, require contributions from corporations and wealthy interests.

Religious leaders also are surprisingly quiet on economic issues. On the Right, they focus instead on hot-button social issues that assign blame for all manner of ills to gay people, women, and immigrants. They imply, contrary to the teachings of
Jesus, that the poor are less worthy in the eyes of God. Meanwhile, progressive religious leaders seemed to have lost their voices—until recently.

There is, now, a spiritual uprising under way in the United States that is taking on this moral crisis. At its center are people like Rabbi Michael Lerner, who has been calling for a “new bottom line” based not on greed and materialism but on the well-being of people and the environment. And Reverend Jim Wallis has turned his book tour for God and Politics into a series of revival meetings for people looking for a prophetic response to the corporate/right-wing vision ruling our country.

Religions, through the millennia, have taken a strong stand on poverty and materialism, often to the discomfort of the comfortable. Muslim teachings prohibit usury because debt is so often the road to persistent poverty. The Old Testament proclaims the Jubilee, when debt is to be forgiven, slaves freed, and land returned. Northwest coastal tribes hold potlatches in which wealth is given away freely. And of course Jesus focused his ministry on the excluded, preaching good news to the poor about a transformation that would bring the Kingdom of God to Earth.

In this issue of YES!, diverse religious and spiritual voices issue a call for solidarity. As they have on other pivotal issues—from the struggle against slavery and child labor to the call to save the Earth —the religious community is rising up, proclaiming the spiritual truth that we are all one.
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