“God does not call us to be successful. God calls us to be faithful.” Prathia Hall
I learned this wisdom from Prathia Hall, an African-American preacher/teacher/civil rights activist/scholar friend. She was my predecessor in Christian Ethics at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH. I was also privileged to spend time with her at the end of her life in 2002 when I moved to the Boston area to teach at Andover Newton Theological School. Again, I was arriving as she was leaving.
It was Prathia Hall’s “I Have a Dream” prayer that was the inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ” I Have a Dream” speech. Prathia Hall was of the generation that cleared away much of the conceptual resistance to the idea of black-woman-as-scholar that made my way in the world easier. She knew from her experience as a trailblazer that the path of progress is long and hard, and that we would have to fight the same battles over and over again. She constantly reminded me that our duty is to keep on keeping on, to be faithful in our love and in our work even though it may not seem at the time that we are having success. The goal is justice, including economic and social justice.
Faithfulness is the steadfast, immovable, determined, loyal, conscientious, commitment to a standard, an ideal, or goal. Many of us who believe in God believe that God, transcendence, Divine Love, compels us to a particular work. We feel an irresistible mystery urging us on. The question for many of us is whether this “call” is from something outside of us, or rather an expression of something within, a deep desire that is also a mystery. That divine command, the imperative placed on our lives, could be a combination of both.
Oddly enough, I think of Prathia Hall’s wisdom as I watch the Republican presidential race. Both former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry have attacked former Governor Mitt Romney over his work at the private investment firm Bain Capital. According to the Bain Capital website:
“Established in 1984, Bain Capital is one of the world’s leading private investment firms managing approximately $60 billion in assets under management. . . Since our inception, our competitive advantage has been grounded in a people-intensive, value-added investment approach that has enabled the firm to deliver industry-leading returns for our investors.”
According to a documentary movie owned by Winning Our Future, a super political action committee supporting Speaker Gingrich, Bain made money for its investors by taking value out of weak companies, firing employees and selling what was left. People suffered while investors saw large dividends. Speaker Gingrich calls this crony capitalism. Governor Perry called it vulture capitalism.
Fact checkers have pointed out many distortions in the short documentary film, King of Bain, and both Gov. Perry and Speaker Gingrich have either invested in or been affiliated with companies such as Bain Capital. But the discussion around Bain has opened a wider discussion about the morality of the kind of capitalism where investors make money whether or not a business succeeds. Investors make money while ordinary people lose their jobs or they are forced to take a pay cut and lose their benefits.
Gov. Perry started his campaign with professions of faith and strong support from Christian conservatives. In the summer of 2011, he sponsored “The Response,” a day of prayer and fasting along with a stadium rally. Several early gaffes and less than stellar debate performances have left him with very little chance of winning the nomination.
Yet, he has given us language to think about and to speak about the sinister side of capitalism – vulture capitalism. Establishment Republican voices are crying foul, and Perry has toned down his rhetoric. They are calling his criticisms an attack on capitalism itself. Gingrich has also been criticized for raising questions about companies that make money from leveraged buy outs.
In my opinion, both of these candidates are doing the country a service by raising the question. When companies whose sole reason for being is to make money for investors does so at the price of the suffering of people who are not investors, who make too little money to invest, we are looking at an immoral redistribution of wealth. Too often the real lives of real people with flesh and blood fears, hopes and dreams are lost behind faceless statistics. In the documentary King of Bain – propaganda piece or not – we see and hear from real people whose lives have been made less secure because of vulture capitalism.
Further, this discussion has exposed the divide in the Republican Party between the rich who make their money from a redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top and the everyday hardworking people who are just a paycheck or two from poverty and who vote Republican. The question these people ought to ask the Republicans is: What have you done for me lately?
The question of economic and social justice is: how is public policy skewed in favor of the rich who make their money from their money? How do tax and financial regulatory policies contribute to the income inequality that is toxic for the country as a whole?
The Republicans will hold a debate on King Day. Perhaps they will honor King with a vigorous debate about the benefits and the dangers of capitalism, including vulture capitalism.
It is possible that when Gov. Perry heard or felt a call to run, he was called not to succeed at winning the Republican nomination for president, but rather to speak the truth about the exploitation of ordinary people by the “greed is good” brand of capitalism.
At the end of the day, Gov. Perry, Speaker Gingrich and all of us ought to know to what moral principle, to what transcendent ideal, we will be faithful even if we are not successful.