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UW Chancellor links faith and economics

(Photo by Alexandria Joy Millet)

It was a rare moment when the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison had a chance to address two of her passions – economics and Christianity.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank talked on Wednesday to students, faculty, and community members at Upper House, an off-campus venue that provides a forum for the exploration of belief and action.

In addition to being leader of a public educational institution, Blank is an internationally respected economist and someone who is a regular participant at a local church – First Congregational United Church of Christ near Camp Randall Stadium.

As she addressed the theme of her talk – “Is the Market Moral? Reflections on Religion, Economics, and Justice” – she referred back to a book with a similar title that she wrote with William McGurn in 2003 even as she updated some of the issues to reflect today’s climate.

Blank described four fundamental characteristics of the market: self-interest, individualized decision making, more is better, and want and needs are not moral. This makes the market a place where it is all about how the individual can get ahead.

In contrast, she said, the four critical characteristics of faith are being called into community, being called to be other-interested, sensing an abundance in the spirit, and recognizing that choices are not morally neutral. The chancellor added a bonus characteristic: the need to care for the poor and marginalized.

Blank described how Christians go about combining the market and their faith. There are three options, she said. One is to completely withdraw from society. A second is to keep the market and the Christian walk separate. But Blank chooses the third alternative: “Living consciously in both realities.”

She listed what she does to make this her solution to the conflict of the market and faith:

  • Paying very close attention to how one treats others
  • Taking giving seriously
  • Thinking consciously of economic choices
  • Engaging in civic and political choices from Jesus’s works with the poor.

The chancellor said she regularly attends church and it reminds her that this solution is very doable. She shared that she began going to church because of it is an institution that engaged with the community. Now she has learned that she is in church for the spirituality. In her words, “I have felt the spirit, learned the importance of prayer, and have a sense of grace and mercy.”

She ended with a quote from the New Testament book known as Hebrews: “There, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (12:1)

Blank urged the audience to run with perseverance while living in the market and in faith.