photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA

At This Moment in History We Need Another Elijah

In Biblical times prophets often emerged in periods of political crisis and economic discontent to warn leaders they were taking their nations in a perilous direction.  Elijah, Hosea, Isaiah, John the Baptist – all confronted the leaders of their time with the social injustices of their reigns that often were disguised as religious piety. The prophets called them back to the covenant with Yahweh and incited them to do God’s will.

We certainly are in a period where we could use a few prophets, and a few are emerging.

Addressing the federal budget issue, Warren Buffet, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.,  offered to pay higher taxes  and suggested that his “mega-rich” friends do the same.  Mr. Buffet, a billionaire who is well-known for his philanthropy, challenged the rhetoric coming out of Washington that asks Americans to embrace a “shared sacrifice” as we struggle to balance the budget and reduce the deficit.  “But when they did the asking, they spared me,” he said.  Buffet called for raising tax rates on those making over $1 million and adding an additional increase for those making $10 million or more (there were more than 8,000 of them in 2009). He would continue the 2 percentage point reduction in employee contributions to the payroll tax to help the poor and middle class, who, he says, “need every break they can get.”

Reacting to the “the lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials” in Washington earlier this month, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz pledged to cut off political fundraising until Congress starts working together to “restore civility, agree on a debt-ceiling deal that we’re proud of, and restore confidence in America.” In an email he urged other businesses to do the same. The CEOs of the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ stood in agreement and forwarded his letter to the thousands of CEOs whose companies are listed on their exchanges. Schultz also urged businesses to hire more people “now” to inspire confidence in the economy.  In an internal memo sent to Starbucks employees he said that Starbucks had a responsibility “to act in ways that can ease the collective anxiety inside and outside the company,” including job creation and providing a generous benefits package for Starbucks employees.

Are Warren Buffet and Howard Schultz prophets? I don’t know – prophets are rarely recognized in their own time. But for now they are lone voices crying out in the wilderness, seeking new ways to set America on the right path again.  In thinking and acting anew they stand in the shoes of the prophets of old. They tell us it is urgent that we shift the focus from inward political wrangling to helping our fellow citizens who, as Mr. Buffet says, “are truly suffering.” We need more like them.