The release of a disheartening report from Oxfam International coincided with the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions. In it, the researchers warned that by the 2016, the world’s wealthiest 1 percent would control as much of the planet’s assets as the other 99 percent. Out of the Income Inequality plenary’s nuanced responses to these pervasive symptoms of economic and environmental injustice, one mantra emerged:
“Consume less and share more.”
World-renowned speakers shared prophetically, many of them dusting off central-but-often- ignored tenets of religious texts. Their assertion was undeniable; that, if heeded, spiritual teachings could radically reduce the widening wealth gap, greed, extreme poverty, and hunger endangering most of earth’s inhabitants.
Comprehensive self- and community-wide examination would take place in exploring economic justice at the intersections of race, caste, and other socioeconomic constructs.
Attendees were challenged to look introspectively at their own privileges, whether they stemmed from belonging to a region’s majority religious group or a powerfully protected caste, to being born with a particular color of skin. It was a night of contrasts as each person in the crowd identified their own advantages; ambitious students buried by insurmountable student loan debt sat shoulder-to- shoulder with indigenous peoples whose already- slight rights and property are constantly beingthreatened, and with refugees deprived of home and country. Attendees became keenly aware that there always exists someone with less; a difficult truth that sits at the heart of inequality.
So the Parliament line-up of Income Inequality experts sought to present some common spiritual sense.
Sojourners President and author, Rev. Jim Wallis, immediately leaned into one of the most confrontational questions of the night, asking,
“What if White Christians were more Christian than White?“
Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, addressed the plenary via video by sharing the “Moral Imperative to End Extreme Poverty,” an initiative led by the World Bank Group after convening religious and spiritual leaders to develop a global statement and plan of action. Kim recalled amazing feats accomplished on global crises through the leadership of faith-inspired revolutionaries, achievements such as halving the number of people living in extreme poverty over just two decades. Pointing to the transformative influence of interfaith action on extreme poverty on the world and on the World Bank itself, he said,
“Mobilizing for the poorest is a powerful way to pursue the Parliament’s theme of reclaiming the heart of our humanity. Faith leaders have so often fueled social movements with righteous results.
You’ve turned seemingly impossible goals like ending Apartheid and Jim Crow segregation into inevitable outcomes...We’re committed to working with you to do this once again. Together we can accomplish what I believe will be one of humanity’s greatest achievements:
“Ending Extreme Poverty in a Generation.”