Asking Pope Francis to critically examine his jobs advocacy

Principal author:
John L. Clark


The dominant economic system is an ugly and frightening thing, and I desperately want to encourage everyone to think through its moral implications. So I am excited that Roman Catholics currently have a Pope who is at least drawing attention to economic issues, because they are so essential to understanding every moral issue. His recent prescriptions, however, betray a poor understanding of the true nature of the disorder from both a historical and a Christian approach. So I wrote him a letter.

The dominant economic system is an ugly and frightening thing, and I desperately want to encourage everyone to think through its moral implications. So I am excited that Roman Catholics currently have a Pope who is at least drawing attention to economic issues (and who is making strongly symbolic personal gestures in solidarity with the poor), because economics is so essential to understanding every moral issue. Pope Francis talked recently, on May Day, about inequality and other symptoms of economic injustice, but then, reticent to offer any critical analysis of the dominant economic system, he simply deferred to that system for salvation: “I would like to encourage those in public office to make every effort to give new impetus to employment.”

Job growth rhetoric is an enormous red flag for me, because such programs are facilitated by generalized economic growth, which is unsustainable (and, thus, necessarily destabilizing). Such a system is driven by debt, which Jesus refuted harshly when he called for a renewal of the Jewish jubilee program. Tied in with this is the fact that this system ultimately uses people in ways that are exploitative, oppressive, dangerous, and destructive. We don't need more jobs. We need to acknowledge and share the gifts that God freely gives us to allow us to survive and prosper. So I wrote him a letter.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam

Dear Pope Francis,

Only recently have I come to realize how dependent for my very survival I am—and have been for my entire natural life—on a deeply destructive, exploitative economic system. Fundamentally, this society, so suffused with and confused by this sin, is itself ultimately dependent on gifts that God has given to all of us, but abusing these gifts leads inexorably to suffering and death. And so I repent of this dependence with great sorrow for the destructiveness in which I have been complicit. I know that forgiveness for this sin does not allow me to evade its immediate consequences, but it does gain me access to a well of grace to recognize how the world is broken and thus to be able to seek out healing in the Kingdom of Heaven with sincerity.

I am excited to note that you drew attention to some of the effects of this world's economic system, because it opens up possibilities for exploring the alternative that God offers to us. On May Day this year, which in many secular communities is commemorated as International Workers' Day, you addressed the world about the nature of the inequalities that stand out so starkly when we consider how people live and work. I am most grateful for your concern for the destitution which wracks so many of our brothers and sisters. In particular, you emphasized the significance of intensifying unemployment as the secular economy measures it, seeing its roots in a world system “which seeks selfish profit, beyond the parameters of social justice”. You have called for a focus on increased employment as the mechanism for saving us from this situation, but we must constantly seek our salvation in God and in his Christ, and there we find an alternative way forward.

I see how the world of this age seeks security outside of what God provides, and I am flooded with sadness because I want people to be free of this debilitating fear and isolation. The people of this world are extremely afraid that what they have will be taken away, whether by incident or intent, and this leads them to strive endlessly to extend their power and possessions. This exploitation, born of fear, bores relentlessly into the foundations of communities across the face of the Earth. It is accomplished through debt, the commoditization of God's free gifts, and the concomitant accumulation of fiscal wealth. People who serve this relentless and expanding machine justify their work by asserting that jobs can only be “created” when the overall pool of fiscal wealth increases. In this world, people desperately pursue any jobs they can get, seeking salvation in the economy rather than in the Word of God. Thus is this world agonizingly stretched, again and again, to the point of breaking, and beyond.

I recoil in horror when I cast my thoughts on many of the types of work that our economic system offers. It employs people in brutal, grueling, and degrading factory work; in jobs tearing down or ripping up ever larger swaths of the environment to channel resources and energy toward superfluous consumer products; in jobs devoted to finding ways to alternatively seduce and cajole others into purchasing these products in order to keep this very system flowing; in jobs orchestrating and managing all the investment debt that encourages people to grow increasingly wealthy from all this activity. The current world employs people to wreak violence and death on others directly as soldiers and police officers. Which of these jobs are good, moral, needful, and beautiful? Is this the freedom that God provides? In a homily on the same day as the address I noted previously, you yourself also highlighted the tragic working conditions that afflicted the Bangladeshis caught and killed in the recent factory collapse there. These are the jobs that this world encourages!

To what end should our potency and vibrancy be directed, then? Made in the image and likeness of our heavenly Father, we certainly yearn to participate in His creative work. Our work is our way of sharing our gifts out of gratitude for everything that God gives us to sustain us, and we suffer when we find our ability to share our gifts stifled. We should not seek answers, solutions, and salvation from this economic system and its ability to provide jobs, though.

Jesus taught us another way, and the holy Spirit passionately wants to return us to that way. This way is simple, although in the face of the enormous momentum of the current world system, it is by no means easy: when we share what God has already given us, we suddenly find that there is abundantly enough for everyone (cf. Matthew 6:25–34). Jesus emphasizes the importance of giving everything that we have, and he demonstrated this perfectly. When we empty ourselves in true loving, generous poverty, then we recognize that God fills us with all good things. Abandoning our fearful selfishness, we find that we are supported by all those who reach out in faith to share what God has first given them, and ultimately by God himself. Together, this nurturing Church is animated by the holy Spirit, God. This economy is driven by joy and gratitude; it is the most beautiful economy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

If you perceive truth in this, please examine it thoughtfully and prayerfully with respect to scripture and history. Then please exercise your eminent position to invite us to see the truth and to aid us in understanding that truth. Awareness of our brokenness has the potential to trigger great despair, so please emphasize the availability and power of healing offered by God through forgiveness of debts and sins. Make a clear call for a regular jubilee practice throughout the universal Church. Embrace support from your brothers and sisters wherever God provides it; allow us to help you whenever we can. Share in our mourning, and in our joy, as we stretch toward freedom from interwoven systemic oppression and sin. Then please lead us as we work to recognize and organize our gifts in such a way that they can best serve the needs of the whole Church. May God bless you and guide you in all that you do.

Your brother in Jesus Christ,

John L. Clark

This page was first published on 2013-05-18 13:45:00-04:00.

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