I have been watching Frontline, the episode titled The Untouchables. It is the story of the investigation into the banking industry concerning the meltdown was caused by bank industry practices of selling and reselling bad mortgages. These practices made a lot of bankers rich, but it almost caused a worldwide economic meltdown. It certainly caused a national economic catastrophe. And, amazingly, as the show points out and despite efforts by Senate investigators as well as the New York State Atty. Gen.’s office, none of these “fat cats” went to jail. This is the opposite of what happened after the S&L crisis in the 80s where thousands of bankers went to jail.
One of the things that becomes apparent when you look at this debacle is that the scale of the thing. This was no isolated incident at any level. There were loads of people buying mortgages that had no business getting them. There were numbers of bank workers at every level that were aware that a lot of these mortgages were being secured by people without the resources to pay them off. To their credit, there were a number of people who tried to point the problems out to people that were higher than them but they were ignored. And there were the mortgage companies, and the banks whose only concern was profitability, and more specifically, that if it was okay on Wall Street and the moneymakers were making money, then it was not only a business that was okay, it was a business to pursue. In the words of the chief executive of Countrywide Mortgage, the motto was “fund em”, that no matter what people’s circumstances were, there was a way to fund them, whether they had jobs, or assets, or not. The big banks made lots of money with this strategy.
However, this caused a big economic bubble, which crashed. It other times in history when this kind of reckless behavior was discovered people went to jail. Not this time. The rich got richer. The poor have became poorer. (That is called “oppression” in the Bible)
What does that say about the society in which this kind of behavior thrives?
Jesus made an interesting comment after he was asked by some Pharisees for a sign:
But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. (Matthew 12:39-45 KJV)
Jesus called the generation a “wicked and adulterous” one. Wicked is just another word for evil. It means sinful, or unrighteous, or simply put, not living as God intends for us to live. Adulterous brings up the image of a person who is unfaithful to their spouse, but in this case it is an analogous term that refers to God’s people being unfaithful to him.
When God talks about a generation being evil he doesn’t mean everyone in the generation, just that it’s so prevalent that it’s something that marks the generation. One of the biggest things that marked the current generation is this Wall Street banking scandal of the early 21st century.
The Wall Street banking scandal clearly illustrates practices that are not what God would want. God believes in fair practices, a good day’s work for a good day’s pay, and a good price for a fair amount of product.
“You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 25:13-16 ESV)
This sets a standard that says when somebody trades something that is so much weight it needs to be accurate. If you’re buying a pound of wheat or rice or gold, it needs to be measured accurately in order for the appropriate value to be determined. There is no leeway in the above standard.
The banking industry clearly did not hold that standard. They sold bundles of mortgages that were supposedly good while they knew they were not. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein not only admitted as such, but he presented the practice as part of “market making”. In his statements to Congress he was unapologetic and his arguments focused on what have become the standard business practices of the day, which includes taking both “long and short” positions on sales, that is selling things while taking a position in the market that the item being sold will fail.
Everybody else would call that selling a product that they know is not good, or fraud. The focus of the Frontline piece centers around citizens, Senators, attorney generals all calling this fraud while Blankfein and his cronies call it standard business practices.
According to Wikipedia Blankfein regularly earns in excess of $50 million a year, and in 2011 was listed by Forbes as the 43rd most powerful person in the world.
It certainly looks suspicious that the Obama administration has failed to indict any of these leaders especially considering that Blankfein is a known democratic supporter. Again, according to Wikipedia, in 2008 Blankfein’s Goldman Sachs’ employees and relatives helped raise almost $1 million for Barack Obama, making it the company from which Obama received the most help getting elected.
One of the questions asked in the Frontline piece was not only why didn’t anyone hold the American banking system to account but why hasn’t anyone held the American Justice system to account for not holding the Banking System to account?
All of this has happened while the person on the street has suffered, losing income and buying power steadily throughout this fiasco. Unemployment is still high and the economy is still shaky.
The whole scenario is what the Bible calls “a wicked and adulterous generation” because these things didn’t happen in a vacuum. There has been a widespread culture change in our country that has allowed this to happen.
So what would the Bible message be in response to this? It would be “Repent”, of course! People, we have a choice. Greed may not be illegal, but it is evil. Don’t be a part of it. Don’t be a part of any business practice that isn’t right. And while finances and the economy are important, it is very important that we first of all act righteously in our own affairs. And second, that we do business with people and elect political leaders that will help make us a generation known for righteousness rather than evil.
This is not always simple. It means we may have to clean up our work practices. Sometimes it may mean changing jobs and/or the people that we do business with.
Remember, just because it is currently acceptable in our culture doesn’t make it righteous.
But, if we are truly believers, then the question that we must always ask ourselves, down to a moment by moment basis, is, “Is what we are doing serving the Lord?
And to the mighty in the land there is this charge:
“Thus says the Lord GOD: Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people, declares the Lord GOD.” Eze 45:9
Its time to make America great again for the common man. We need to do our part by both living righteously and demanding the same from business and political leaders.
©copyright 2013 Mark W. Smith, all rights reserved.