At Worship, in a World of Staggering Inequality

“The richest 1 percent will control more than half of the globe’s total wealth by next year.”  The news of the recent Oxam study were widely reported over the last few days.  “Do we really want to live in a world where the 1 percent own more than the rest of us combined?” Oxfam’s executive director asked.

And, we might ask, “How do we worship in a world of such staggering inequality?”  Does the dramatic increase in the gap between the 80 richest people and the people who make up the lower fifty percent of the world’s income scale mean anything for our gathering in God’s presence?  Should it?  How?


  1. Things have changed. When I was doing my Masters in Social Work in the 1990’s, it used to be 5%. We have been going in the wrong direction… for sure.

  2. Thomas Picketty notes that these stats are pretty much wild guesses. As Bill Gates notes, it’s not a very useful stat. It’s possible to live lavishly in debt or frugally with billions in paper assets willed to an anti-poverty charity.

    Nevertheless, as always, there are Catholics of varying incomes. Mass is a great equalizer. On the upper east side you see millionaires and their help attending Mass together. Outside of Mass, parishioners self-segregate which may actually be welfare maximizing. You often want to target programs towards particular demographics.

  3. What does control of wealth mean? It’s more interesting to look at how much of what is done in Manhattan is connected with building real economies as opposed to destroying national industries. In the meantime I hear a lot of rambling by liberal Catholics on social justice and by right-wing Catholics on crackpot free-market theories.

  4. As a preacher, I try to make connections between the lectionary texts and what is happening in the world. I suppose that is the most straightforward way that inequality can be faced in our worship.

    This brief article by Kate Ward suggests ways that theology can reflect on inequality, for example insofar as economic inequality is reflected in unequal access to basic human rights such as health care.

    I admit, though, that I am not completely sure how such concerns are to be made manifest in liturgy. When I think of how slavery was preached against in abolitionist pulpits in the 19th century, it makes me realize that we shouldn’t mute our voices in the face of injustice. Still, I would guess that most of us don’t wish to hear anti-abortion messages every single week, even when we agree with the sentiments expressed, as it seems somehow a descent from true worship into issue advocacy.

    Perhaps these things are a matter of finding the prudent balance: just as pro-life sermons shouldn’t be preached every week, nor should our preachers be completely silent on pro-life matters. And if the sanctity of life is worth preaching about, then are economic injustices, of which inequality may be an instance, less important to talk about? That may be a matter of finding a just balance, too. Pope Francis has forced us to take that question more seriously than we have in the past, I think.

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