Imagine for a moment you're having a performance review with Jesus – what might he ask, and how might he rate you?

todd herman web

Ever since I wrote Are You Ripping, or Are You Weaving? last year at this time, I've been consciously looking for articles articulating a philosophy to help us guide how we govern ourselves to create a more just and fair society. Every time I found such an article, I squirrelled it away. Two articles, which I’ve summarized below, stood out.

Moral Capitalism and Economic Dignity


"My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side."
– President Abraham Lincoln


In June of this year, Michael Kazin, a history professor at Georgetown University, wrote a wonderful essay, Whatever Happened to Moral Capitalism? The concept of Moral Capitalism originated and developed from the 1830s to the 1930s, becoming for its leaders "an aspiration for a system that would balance protection for the rights of Americans to accumulate property and start businesses, with an abiding concern for the welfare of men and women of little or modest means who increasingly worked for somebody else." This vision of Moral Capitalism combines both a critique of concentrated power – whether in finance, manufacturing, government, or private wealth – and a commitment to improve the lives of working Americans.

About nine months ago, David Leonardt penned an excellent column titled Dignity for All, where he summarizes and comments on Economic Dignity, an essay by Gene Sperling in the journal Democracy. There are three main pillars supporting Economic Dignity – being able to care for one’s family, having the opportunity to reach one’s potential, and being free from domination and humiliation. As noted in the column, empowering Economic Dignity should be "the singular end goal for economic policy."

"People Were Too Small To Matter"

Every Friday, for nearly 14 years, my friends from First Lutheran Church and other faith communities, have joined me in waking up early to prepare and serve a hot breakfast at Greensboro Urban Ministry (GUM). Based on what I see every week, and from articles and research I have read concerning social justice issues, I can safely say we have a long way to go to achieve Moral Capitalism and Economic Dignity.

Here is a quote from Paul Polman, the former head of Unilever, on the lesson of the Great Recession of 2008: "Banks were too big to fail and people were too small to matter." That statement is powerful – sad and true at the same time.

Based on numerous changes – economic, trade, technology, antitrust enforcement, and regulatory rollbacks – since the Great Recession, I would update and broaden the statement to be: Large corporations and the ultra-wealthy are too powerful for the public good, and people are too small to matter.

Feed My Sheep, Those Who Are The Least of These

Someone to whom people were not too small to matter? Jesus.

John’s Gospel describes one of the last instructions Jesus gave his followers, found in a curious exchange with Peter. Three times, Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me?" Each time, Peter replied, "Yes, of course I do." And each time, Jesus commanded Peter to "Feed my sheep." (John 21: 15-17).

Jesus’ sheep were The Least of These – any person who was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison. (Matthew 24: 31-45) Notice the situations listed by Jesus – most of them economic, and all disproportionately affecting the poor.

Jesus' entire mission and ministry centered on people seemingly too small to matter. It is no coincidence Jesus' message concerned local religious and political leaders, and Jesus' mission culminated in challenging the top religious and political authorities in Jerusalem. Jesus called out the corrupt bargain made between what we today would call “church and state” that directly threatened the religious leaders, who then persuaded the state leaders that Jesus would ultimately threaten them, too.

How Would You Answer?

During the holiday season, it's natural to focus on the story of the baby Jesus. Still, we should always remember he grew up in a family of modest means, earned his livelihood as a blue-collar tradesman, and became an itinerant teacher and healer who loved, served, and stood up for those whom others ignored – those seemingly too small to matter.


"The kind of Jesus Christians believe in will determine the kind of Christianity they practice."
– Jim Wallis, social justice advocate and found of Sojourners


When Jesus commanded Peter to "Feed my sheep," he did not tell Peter and the other disciples how they should go about doing this. Jesus recognized the authority of both government and God – "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s." (Matthew 22: 15-22) - so presumably he would be indifferent about the mix of public and charitable resources used.

Jesus just wanted his people fed, clothed, housed, welcomed, and healthy, and he was counting on those who loved him to do so – whatever it took. Indeed, because of the scope of poverty, hunger, health issues, and homelessness affecting our society, we need both public and private resources to work towards the ideals of Moral Capitalism and Economic Dignity – two modern concepts that embody Jesus’ command to “Feed my sheep.”

As an employer, I occasionally must have “tough love” conversations with staff. These experiences helped me see Jesus’ discussion with Peter as a “management intervention” with an associate regarding job performance.

Recently, I've been conducting an interesting thought experiment: I imagine the real Jesus is alive and well today, and he has decided to conduct a one-on-one "Performance Review" with each of us. If he were to ask you how you've used your time, talent, treasure, position, vote, voice, and other resources to feed his sheep, how would you answer?



Todd L. Herman


What You Can Do

Here are some free resources you can access to understand how to use your resources – in particular, your voice and your vote – to advocate and work towards the public good envisioned by Moral Capitalism and Economic Dignity:

  • Sojourners – Learn about its social justice vision and focus areas of work.
  • Sojourners – Review its issue guide to help all persons of goodwill be more responsible citizens
  • Bread for the World – Join its advocacy efforts urging Congress to advance global nutrition efforts.
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights – Review its ratings of voting records on civil and human rights for every member of the 115th Congress.
  • MIT Living Wage Calculator – Find out what constitutes a living wage in your community. Technical notes accompanying this tool include the following:
    • The living wage is defined as the wage needed to cover basic family expenses (basic needs budget) plus all relevant taxes. Values are reported in 2018 dollars. To convert values from annual to hourly, a work-year of 2,080 hours (40 hours per week for 52 weeks) per adult is assumed. The basic needs budget and living wage are calculated as follows:
      • Basic needs budget = Food cost + childcare cost + (insurance premiums + health care costs) + housing cost + transportation cost + other necessities cost
      • Living wage = Basic needs budget + (basic needs budget * tax rate)
  • United Health Foundation – Review its 2018 "America's Health Rankings" report.
    • The Executive Summary ranks the states based on its overall health – Hawaii is the most healthy, Louisiana is the least healthy, and North Carolina is in the 31-40 rankings group (the full report ranks North Carolina at 33).
    • The Full Report ranks each state individually, and provides international benchmarks for the US and certain states against the other 35 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
  • Friday Breakfast at Greensboro Urban Ministry – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to help feed Jesus' sheep.