Rev. Jim Wallis: Pope Francis is more radical than a communist
Pope Francis has some choice words for capitalism. He’s called it “unbridled” and “unfettered,” and in his June encyclical, he condemned it, writing, “In this system, which tends to devour everything that stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”
Economics correspondent Paul Solman spoke with Rev. Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners and a progressive public theologian, about the pope’s critique of capitalism. Wallis, an evangelical Christian who converted to Catholic social teaching, explains how morality is undeniably tied to economics.
“How we decide the morality, the integrity, the righteousness of an economy is not how the wealthiest do but how the poorest do. That’s in the text,” says Wallis. “Now, that is more radical than communism and socialism.”
Watch the video above, and for more on the pope’s economics, watch the full Making Sen$e segment here.
Jim Wallis: I think Pope Francis is the greatest conversation changer in the world today. There’s no other religious leader for sure, no other political leader, no other leader who can change our thinking and how we view something whether we’re religious or not. He’s a conversation changer, and when a Pope comes to America, it’s a big deal. When the Pope comes to America, it’s always a big deal, but this is a momentous event, because the people looking forward to him coming are not just the Catholics, or the Christians or the religious. They’re all kinds of people. Young people especially are watching to see what he says.
In Jesus, God hits the streets, and I hear that for Francis. What we do in the world is what’s important. So people’s view of religion is often an enclosed, inward community that sits around trying to judge the rest of us. Francis wants an open community. He wants to go into the world. He doesn’t judge. He encounters. So it’s a movement from judgment to encounter, and that’s a powerful thing.
Paul Solman: But you yourself are not Catholic, right?
Jim Wallis: I am not a Catholic. I’m a small “c” catholic. I am an evangelical Christian who has been converted to Catholic social teaching.
Catholic social teaching is old. It’s not new with Francis, but he’s giving it a life and a luster and a renewal that’s a very powerful thing to see, and it’s not just for Catholics. It’s for all of us.
Paul Solman: What are the economics of the Gospels?
Jim Wallis: I love his apostolic exhortation called “The Joy of the Gospel” and his encyclical on the climate called “In Care of our Common Home.” We’ll start with “The Joy of the Gospel.” He speaks against an economy of exclusion where we ourselves become commodities bought and sold and discarded. He speaks against a throwaway culture and where we’re not taking care of each other, and so this isn’t just economics. It’s gospel.
In this encyclical about climate change — it’s not really about climate change. It’s called, “In Care of our Common Home.” What he talks about — Pope Francis — is three core relationships that we have gotten wrong: our relationship to God, our relationship to our neighbor and our relationship to the Earth — to God’s creation. Those three — God, our neighbor and the creation — are integrally connected. It’s an ecology. It’s an integral ecology. So instead, we have taken the place of God, which he calls idolatry, and we’ve used our power to dominate and exploit the Earth and to leave out those whom Jesus calls the least of these and are critical to his concern. So those who have done most to create climate change are the wealthiest. Yet, the ones who will suffer the most and fastest are those that are poor, and he’s saying that’s wrong, and the economy is an economy that is for the wealthy, and — as I say — he came and he gave at Davos time before last —
Paul Solman: The World Economic Forum, big shots from all over the world, political business —
Jim Wallis: Full of CEOs. The first night they read a letter from Pope Francis to them, and he said, wealth should serve humanity; not rule it. Total silence in the room. So an economy is for all of us. I love the way this Pope has turned judgment into encounter, and he says the economy is where we encounter other people, and for us as Christians, how we encounter them is the most important. And on the economy, the Pope would say the most important Biblical passage is the 25th chapter of Matthew, which turns out to be my conversion passage. In that text, Matthew 25, Jesus says, I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was a stranger, I was sick, I was in prison and you didn’t come to me. The people say, Lord, when did we see you hungry and thirsty and naked and stranger and sick and in prison? He says, as you have done to the least of these, you have done to me. So as I read this encyclical on environment it hit me. Matthew 25 is again at stake, because the hungry will get hungrier, because of climate change. The thirsty — because of drought and water — will be even thirstier. The naked, those who have everything stripped, will be devastated yet further. The stranger — migration, massive migration. The sick — all the disease that will come. And crime and violence and chaos will produce more people in prison. So Matthew 25 shows us what we should do for the most vulnerable, but it also shows what climate change will do to those that Jesus prioritizes as the ones he is most concerned about.
Paul Solman: Isn’t that why people in your tradition say that Jesus is a socialist?
Jim Wallis: Well, Pope Francis is radical. That’s true, but he’s not new. So this goes back to Jesus. This is the gospel, and what it says here is we evaluate an economy by how it treats the most vulnerable. That’s right there in the text. How we decide the morality, the integrity, the righteousness of an economy is not how the wealthiest do but how the poorest do. That’s in the text. Now, that is more radical than communism and socialism.
This goes way back beyond socialism and communism. This is a radical approach to the value of every human being when he says, you love God with your whole heart, soul and mind — and right away — and your neighbor as yourself. What does it mean in an economy to love our neighbor as ourselves?