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Monday, April 15, 2024

In God we trust?

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As the world continues to experience a severe financial downturn, many people are wondering if the condition of the economy and individual spiritual choices are related.

Locally, faith leaders are considering answers to a provocative question: Were today’s economic difficulties caused simply by human mistakes and financial greed, or were they allowed by a god angry at society’s increased value of personal wealth over spiritual principles that benefit all of mankind?

Dr. Philip K. James, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, believes that there is indeed a spiritual element to the current economic disorder, and certain choices outside of God’s will have caused everyone to suffer.

“God has established a plan and set of standards that not only entails what is best for us, but also allows for the betterment of humanity. There are repercussions when we don’t take that high road,” said James, who worked in the banking and insurance industries before accepting his call to ministry.

James said the economy is designed for people to build wealth and believes God is fine with that, but expects those who have gained wealth to find a way to share their blessings with those who, for various reasons, are struggling.

“When we choose to not follow God’s direction and get too greedy and start taking advantage of people, then the whole nation and the world suffers,” James said, citing economic abuses such as predatory lending and stock fraud as examples.

He encourages people to keep in mind the Jubilee celebrations highlighted in the Old Testament of the Bible, when debtors were relieved of severe obligations and everyone was given a fresh chance to achieve financial security.

Imam Michael “Mikal” Saahir of Nur-Allah Islamic Center believes that the financial crisis was caused mainly by human greed, but is also being used by G-d to “purify and cleanse” the economic wealth of those who have used their power to abuse it.

“G-d put humanity on Earth so that we can have dominion over it, but he also called on us to be good stewards of what he has trusted us with,” said Saahir. “A lot of that depends on how we follow the role that he has given us.”

Saahir noted that both the Christian Bible and the Koran tell the story of Joseph, who insured that Egypt had plenty of food during a famine because he followed God’s directions and was a good steward of resources when the nation had plenty of food.

“The Koran teaches us that bad things come from our own two hands, and every good thing comes from God,” said Saahir.

“How we react to the economy says a lot about our relationship with him,” he added. “Some of us forget about him when times are good, but rush to him when times are bad. Others are the exact opposite: We praise God when things are going well, then turn away from him and cuss everybody out when they are not. I always get tickled when I see someone with a ‘Blessed’ license plate on a new car. They didn’t realize they were already blessed when they had that ‘hooptie’ that got them to and from work!”

Rabbi Jonathan Adland of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation believes it is “ridiculous” to suggest that God would choose to punish the entire nation or world for the decisions of certain individuals.

“Failures of the economy and failures in religion are two separate issues, one has nothing to do with the other,” he said. “If anything, religion is set up to help people when the economy sours.”

Adland, who is involved with Gleaners Food Bank and the Interfaith Hunger Initiative, added that he does not believe that God is all-powerful. Otherwise, he and other Jews would have to explain why he would allow massive injustices such as the Holocaust.

“G-d, in my view, is kind, loving and supportive, but he wouldn’t take punitive action in regards to the economy because of individual choices,” said Adland. “That’s like saying someone has cancer because they looked at a Playboy magazine.”

All three faith leaders agree that it is important for faith-based organizations to step up efforts to give food to the needy, clothing during the winter and workshops to help people who are in debt, foreclosure or unemployment.

Mt. Zion has been hosting workshops each Friday at 1 p.m. to help people fill out proper paperwork to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit. The church has also served families in need with its food pantry, free health services and programs at its Renaissance Center of Hope and Learning.

Nur-Allah will hold interfaith Exchange Days that allow individuals to take household items they no longer need and place them on display for a free giveaway to the needy.

The Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation has held drives to raise food donations for the needy, and is working with community organizations to supply volunteers for much needed social service programs.

“Right now it’s important to encourage people to share what they have, if they can,” said James. “Until the economic playing field is a little more level, we have to look out for those facing challenges in this difficult time.”

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