One of the presenters, Mike Pyle, a special assistant to President Obama on the National Economic Council, titled his presentation “Investing in an Economy Built to Last” for a forum focused on the strengths and weakness of Miami’s economy, where the challenge is to provide equal opportunity, with fair and living wages. As the president’s senior staff shared statistics, my mind as a member of the clergy drifted to scripture that paralleled the discussion.
In Luke 12:19, Christ quotes the thinking of a rich fool, who said to himself, “(I) have plenty of good things laid up for many years. (Now I can) take life easy; eat drink and be merry.”
The Obama administration seemingly understands how rich people think and that people are suffering not just in Miami but across the country and that America doesn’t need a quick fix but “an economy built to last.”
As the White House executives outlined bold steps in creating the infrastructure needed in labor, sewage systems and transportation, I was reminded that almost to the date 44 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on a balcony in Memphis, Tenn., where he was killed just one day after peacefully fighting for fair wages for sanitation workers. King’s death brought worldwide focus on the cause of economic justice and the fight against all forms of inequality — racial and economic.
A study prepared by the advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice showed that 280 of the largest publically traded American companies paid an average annual corporate income tax rate of 18.5 percent over the last three years — slightly more than half of what they should have paid. This has cost the federal government billions in uncollected tax dollars that could have gone toward job-creation and badly needed investment in job-training programs, as well as toward cutting the deficit.
The rich man in Jesus’ story died before he could begin to use what was stored in his big barns (read: big banks). Planning for retirement — preparing for one’s personal future and life before death — is wise, but neglecting those who will live on after us and our own salvation after death is disastrous.
The reason many rich and big corporations get away with this shortsighted view is the huge influence of lobbying money in political decision-making.
It’s time we demand more from the rich and our lawmakers who have helped create a culture in which giant corporations and the rich come before the majority of the people. The minority community should want to let such companies know that they too have an obligation to pay their fair share and that the community will no longer sit back and watch as many politicians bend over backward for big business and the wealthy at the expense of the ever-shrinking working class.
In Dr. King’s final book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, his central thought is, “We have failed to make democracy real.” King’s “tomorrow” is now “today.” There is, as he said, “the fierce urgency of now.” King states that the stability of “The World House” depends on a “revolution of values,” shifting from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society, and the creation of a government which makes democracy real, a “socially conscious democracy.”
As the only pastor in the White House meeting, I felt it my mission to seek the coming of God’s kingdom here to South Florida, trusting what Christ said that when we do, “all other things will be given to us as well.”
Jesus reminds us in Luke 12:33-34, “Be generous, give to the poor.” Get yourself a bank that cannot go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bank robbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis