BURLINGTON, Vt., June 20 – Vermont religious leaders joined U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today to address the moral implications of extreme wealth and income inequality.
Bishop Thomas Ely, the Rev. Dr. Lynn Bujnak, Monsignor Roland Rivard and Rabbi Joshua Chasan joined Sanders to emphasize that increasing wealth and income inequality in the United States is one of the great moral issues of our time and is undermining the fabric of our nation.
“At a time when more Americans are living in poverty than at any time in our nation’s history, the middle class is disappearing and we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country in the world, we have a moral responsibility to reduce the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else,” Sanders said.
In the United States today, the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the nation’s financial wealth while the bottom 60 percent owns just 2.3 percent of the nation’s wealth. Today in America, the Walton family which owns the Wal-Mart discount chain, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. In terms of income, in recent years 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.
Ely, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, said in his Lenten message earlier this year, “I want to be clear that for me economic justice and income inequality are indeed moral issues of immediate and urgent concern.”
Today, the bishop elaborated, “the systematic undermining of the middle class has had serious consequences for the preservation of families, health, education and employment and even greater consequences for those in the bottom 30 percent,” Ely said. “Social unrest is a growing possibility.”
Bujnak, the conference minister of the United Church of Christ in Vermont, said, “It seems to me that a moral economy must be concerned with a fair balance for all. To settle for anything less is to fail to do the just and right thing.”
Chasan, a rabbi at the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington, Vermont, said, “As the power of wealth in our country is concentrated in the hands of a very few, democracy is falling apart because the center is not holding. At stake is not only economics, but also our very capacity to be free. We are once again in a time that tries the soul of America.”
Rivard, who was given the distinction of monsignor from Pope Benedict XVI after serving as pastor of Christ the King-St. Anthony Parish in Burlington, joined Sanders to demonstrate his concern for growing inequality in the United States.
“Today,” Sanders said, “the United States is No. 1 in billionaires, No. 1 in corporate profits, No. 1 in CEO salaries, No. 1 in childhood poverty and No. 1 in income and wealth inequality in the industrialized world. From a moral perspective, from an economic perspective, and from a political perspective, we have got to do better than that.”