Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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COMMERCE WITHOUT MORALITY
Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton 5/15/2011
at Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

This morning we begin the KUUF “theater of the absurd.”

This side of the house is made up of one element in our society... and this side is made up of the other... and neither of you this morning has a choice... a little like life!

You are not divided as red and blue, as men and women, as young and old, as Baptists and Unitarians, as even Yankees and Red Sox... but you are different, really different.

You, on this side...

You earn the minimum wage... $7.25 an hour...

You have no health benefits...

You certainly have no retirement plan, or no pension...

You had better not try to organize...

You complain about racism or sexism -- you’re out on your ear...

You report sexual harassment, and we’ll find somebody to accuse you....

You will sometimes have to be paid under the table... or not at all...

You will work frequent overtime at your regular pay...

You will never report any of this as illegal... or you will be fired for insubordination, and stealing, and, and we will see that you never find another job in this country!

You, on this side

You are all CEOs, Chairmen of the Boards, Chief Financial Officers, Company

 Presidents, major Stockholders, Founders, Partners, Corporate Managers...

You are the benevolent dictators of certain corporations and institutions...

You are the 21st Century oligarchs...

You are the 1% of Americans accumulating wealth at a staggering rate...

You are earning salaries some 400 times your company’s minimum wage earners...

You are receiving annual bonuses larger each year regardless of whether your  company returns a profit...

You will maximize your profit by firing numbers of your employees...

Your philosophy in business is that ‘the end justifies the means’... ‘everybody is doing  it’..‘this is the survival of the fittest’... ‘dog eat dog’...‘nice guys finish last’... it’s a cutthroat business’... ‘and there’s no place in the financial world for ethics and  morality!

Now, ‘youse guys’ meet and work it out.  Right!  Two separate planets... but, boys and girls these two elements really exist!  And, this divide may represent the greatest challenges for America in this second decade... and if demonstrators and rebels were to take to the streets in our country... it would be because of this unjust division... the gap, the ugly immoral gaps between the rich... and the rest of us.

“Commerce Without Morality”

There are other forums and venues for arguing about balancing budgets, for cutting spending, for raising taxes, for capping the deficit, for military security, for providing jobs, for securing mortgages, for government v. private sector, for partisanship and negotiation... all this in another time, another place.. but I believe there is something practical and profound that the faith community can bring to this conversation... two basic tenets!

And both sides of the house can work on these together... Yes, we can!

1. Human dignity must surpass profit.

2. Every budget is a moral statement.

Let’s look for a minute at the broadest possible caricatures of the wealth and the poverty around the globe in 2011.  If we were to imagine our present world population as a Village of 100 persons... this is the way it would look:

There would be 57 Asians; 21 Europeans; 14 from the Western Hemisphere, the americas; and 8 Africans.

In this village of 100...

 70 would be people of color, 30 would be white

 70 would be Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, other religions and non-religious folk, and 30 would be Christians

 89 would be heterosexual, 11 would be homosexual

 80 would live in substandard housing

   6 would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth...and all 6 would be from the U.S.

In this village of 100...

 70 would be illiterate, unable to read or write, 50 would suffer from malnutrition, 1 would own a computer

 1 would have a college education

 And 35 children would be dying every day because of hunger, debt, and lack of

  development.

All this in a world village of 100... And beyond this...

The profile of the U.S. is equally startling, and a bit unbelievable:

 America, the richest of all nations has the unconscionable reality of 30% of its children living in poverty,

 Despite a GNP, gross national product, which if divided equally for every family in America would total $86,000,... the fact is that 1% of all households derive 35% of the total house income.

 And the U.S. has the largest disparity between rich and poor of any Western nation... and a poverty rate 3 times higher than other countries with a similar standard of living.

And then it is categorically true that violence and alcoholism and other drug addictions are highest in countries with huge disparities between rich and poor.

Does this represent ‘human dignity’ across the planet... in this the United States?  It was the lack of human dignity that led to the Civil Rights movement among the Blacks in the South. 

I heard Diane Nash being interviewed last week by Tavis Smiley.  Ms. Nash in the ’60’s

was in college at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and took leadership of

‘Freedom Riders’ in 1961, when buses were fire bombed.  Her life was threatened... she dropped out of college to lead the civil rights movement among college students because, she said, “I knew segregation was wrong, and white men intimidating us was real injustice... because they were taking away our dignity.” At one point Attorney General Robert Kennedy called the local SNIC office and said, “Who the hell is Diane Nash?”  She provided the courageous leadership for a national movement.. that this year(week?) celebrates its 50th Anniversary... a movement for dignity.. racially, economically, and politically.  ‘Human dignity must surpass profit.’  What else can the faith community bring to the discussion?  The faith community reminds the general public and partisans especially... on the State and National levels that.. “Every Budget is a Moral Statement”.  

This week the New Hampshire Council of Churches is sponsoring workshops in Manchester and Wolfeboro on “State Budgets and Values”... the NH Legislature is required to present a balanced budget by June 30th for the next two years... How can people of faith ensure that our budget protects the most vulnerable?

A scathing article in the New Hampshire Union Leader in April by Mike and Anne Wilber warned...

 “We are now a state that doesn’t think their children should have to go to school.

 We don’t think that air should be clear.

 We think that giving smokers 10 cents off a package of cigarettes is more important than giving medications to people with mental illnesses.

 We think that ‘defective’ people should be sterilized.

 We think that college students are too stupid to be allowed to vote.

 We think that any criminal from anywhere should be allowed to come to our state and buy a gun.

 We don’t believe that firefighters, police, teachers, sanitation workers deserve the right to negotiate for a living wage.

 

Talk about commerce without morality...

Talk about shrinking the budget on the backs of the poor, the disadvantaged, the powerless, those without a voice..

Talk about a moral statement...

What is happening in New Hampshire is happening in numerous other states at the federal level as well. 

There are no harder words for us to hear than those from Jesus of Nazareth in writing of Matthew’s proclaiming the basis for judgment on our human existence... Jesus says “I was hungry and you gave me no meat... I was thirsty and you gave me no drink... I was sick and in prison and you visited me not... naked and you did not clothe me.. a stranger and you did not welcome me.. Inasmuch as you did not unto one of the least of those my brothers, sisters, you did it not unto me.”  There’s the basis for a budget.

Mark Fernald, State legislator from Keene, writes about the proposed NH Budget: “New hampshire is a community which has always been committed historically for 275 years to caring for the needy... but this tradition is under attack.  In the budget passed by the House... over 7,000 people would be cut from the State programs for the poor, uninsured, mentally ill... over $100 million would be cut from charity care at NH Hospitals.  Severely disabled people would be put on a waiting list... and local governments would no longer be required to provide assistance to the poor.  Have we really become that hard-hearted?

Commerce without morality!

But is doesn’t have to be that way, does it... whether you are on this side of the house, or on this side... all it demands is that we begin the simple act of standing and walking in someone else’s shoes... the act of caring, the act of compassion, the act of identification...

Here’s a simple story:

Years ago in a small middle Eastern nation there lived and reigned a very, very wise king who because of his compassion was known as “the people’s king”.   He often dressed in the clothes of a beggar that he might feel the humiliation that a beggar felt... he spent time in a thief’s disguise and slept nights in a prison that he might know loneliness and contempt... he wandered the streets of a village for months at a time, homeless, unemployed, and racked with disease that he might suffer the indignity and the agony of his poorest subjects. 

One evening after he had visited a very impoverished and frightened man who lived in a cellar, after he had eaten his coarse food, after they had shared many stories together... the king took out his signet ring and revealed himself as the ruler of that land.

The poor man did not ask his king for a gift or some kind of favor, but he said to him, “You left your palace and splendor to visit me in this dreary place... you ate my coarse food and lifted my spirits... you have done more for me than if you had brought me a gift... you have given me yourself!” 

Identification leads to compassion, compassion leads to caring and caring leads to... ‘Commerce based on morality’ in New Hampshire and at the Federal level!

 

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