Category: Christian Social Thought

almsDavid Schelhaas, Professor Emeritus of English at Dordt College, recently published an article titled “What Does Social Democrat Mean?” Schelhaas suggests that “Christians should seriously consider the merits of social democracy.” Schelhaas is quick to point out that he does not advocate socialism, with state control and management of the means of production, coupled with the redistribution of wealth. Instead, he advocates for the lighter “social democracy.”

Schelhaas goes on to outline his vision of social democracy, including the state’s role in “creating a good and just society” and “using taxes to pay for…other social changes they desire.” His chief concern is wealth inequality, and claims it is the underlying cause of “virtually all social problems that plague a society, things like infant mortality, life expectancy, criminality, mental illness, etc.”

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Evangelicalism historically has always been embroiled in political and social movements in the West. Because of the effective reach church leaders have in reaching the masses in past history, politicians take particular interest in the church during political campaigns. Donald Trump’s new found interest in evangelicalism, then, makes historical sense. Winning over evangelicals could translate into votes. In fact, in the post-Nixon era evangelicals were very useful tools in the growth of the GOP as some Christian leaders unintentionally sold out the mission of the church to win a “culture war.”

In the wake of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, evangelical figures like Harold O. J. Brown, Francis Schaeffer, and C. Everett Koop, joined forces in the mid-1970s to call evangelicals to fight against the proliferation of abortion. Matthew Miller does a wonderful job of explaining how these men woke evangelicals up to an issue that Catholics were already fighting against.

In 1975, Brown and Koop launched The Christian Action Council which became the first major evangelical lobbying organization on Capitol Hill. In 1976, Francis Schaeffer’s film and lecture tour, How Shall We Then Live, served to awaken many evangelicals to the decline of Western culture on issues like abortion, materialism, secularism, the influence of evolution in public schools, the increasing coercion of government power, and so on.

Under the leadership of Brown, Schaeffer, and Koop, evangelicals officially launched their first offensive in the culture war as the pro-life movement recruited more crusaders. In the years that followed, the second generation of evangelical culture warriors were deployed. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, James Dobson, and so on, established a solid pro-life movement. These leaders would be key figures in the formation of The Moral Majority movement of the 1980s which enlisted Christians in the culture war for traditional family values, abortion, prayer in schools, among others.
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god-and-man-at-yaleIf a classic, as Mark Twain claimed, is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read, then William F. Buckley, Jr.’s God and Man at Yale is the epitome of a conservative classic. Few who have read it (and they are indeed few) would dispute its importance to the founding of modern conservatism. As the historian George Nash said, God and Man was “probably the most controversial book in the history of conservatism since 1945 and it’s importance for this movement is manifold.”

Still, it’s a book about the failings of Yale in the mid-twentieth century. If you suspect it’s an anachronistic cultural artifact you won’t be wrong. Buckley spends a considerable portion of the book calling out Yale professors and administrators for being irreligious and socialistic. The perverse appeal of watching the impish young Yalie naming names is muted by the fact that few of the names are people you’d recognize.

This was what made the book controversial. But what made it truly outrageous at the time — and makes it even more scandalous now — is the primary thesis. God and Man is a polemic with a simple, inflammatory proposal: Because Yale actively undermines the students’ faith in Christianity and the free market, the alumni should withhold financial support from the university. The corollary was obvious: Yale should do something about these professors.

Consider, for a moment, the audacity of the suggestion. The idea that an Ivy League school should restrict academic freedom when teachers use it to erode confidence in economic freedom and Christianity is even more peculiar now than it was in 1951. Today, even assistant professors at podunk Bible colleges think they should have the right to undermine the faith of their students. At a school like Yale, you would be shocked if the professors didn’t denigrate conservative religious and economic beliefs.
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The current debate surrounding overcriminalization and juvenile incarceration is often centered around the male prison population. The debate increasingly overlooks the problems that face young girls caught in the prison pipeline to juvenile detention. New data in the past several years has shown that the prison pipeline for girls often includes a pattern of sexual abuse that is not present in cases involving male delinquents.

A 2015 report published by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality found that girls in juvenile detention have a high likelihood of being sexual and physical abuse victims. The reports summarizes new data on the ‘abuse to prison pipeline’ present in the female juvenile justice system. The report found that there is systemic criminalization of victimized girls, often disproportionately girls from minority populations.

Sexual violence against girls is a modern American tragedy, and this sexual abuse is a primary predictor today of a girl’s entrance into a juvenile detention center. Girls that were victims of sex trafficking are often arrested on prostitution charges and put in detention centers to be punished instead of being helped to overcome the trauma of the sex trafficking industry. Ethnic minority girls are increasingly being incarcerated as a result.
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necessary-sufficientTo be a champion of free markets is to be misunderstood. This is doubly true for free market advocates who are Christian. It’s an unfortunate reality that many of us have simply come to accept as inevitable.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t attempt to clear up misunderstandings when we can. So let me attempt to clear up one of the most notorious misunderstandings: Few advocates of free markets (and none who are Christian) believe that free markets are a sufficient condition for human flourishing. We believe they are a necessary condition, but they alone are not sufficient.

Economist Donald J. Boudreaux (who, for what it’s worth, is not a Christian) explains:
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clinton-trump“When the value-bearing institutions of religion and culture are excluded, the value-laden concerns of human life flows back into the square under the politics of politics,” wrote Richard John Neuhaus, “It is much like trying to sweep a puddle of water on an even basement floor; the water immediately flows back into the space you had cleaned.”Although he made the comment thirty-two years ago, the late Fr. Neuhaus could be describing the current election season.

While there is much that could be said about how and why we allowed our “value-bearing institutions” to fall into disrepair, for now I merely want to discuss what has replaced them. Everything is now about politics and all politics is now about liberalism.

As David Koyzis notes in his superb study of ideologies, Political Visions and Illusions, the first and most basic principle of liberalism is that everyone possesses property in their own person and must be free to govern themselves in accordance with their own choices, provided that these choices do not infringe on the equal right of others to do the same.

Whether they call themselves a progressive, libertarian, or conservative, almost every politically involved American (and most who are not) subscribes to this foundational belief in the near-absolute sovereignty of the individual. The differences in political persuasions derive not from a denunciation of this principle but merely from disagreements over the role of the state in relation to the individual.

In his chapter on liberalism, Koyzis states that the ideology progresses through five distinct stages. While it is difficult to adequately summarize his explanation, the stages could roughly be outlined as follows:
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Over the past decade media coverage of the problems surrounding indigent defense has been increasing. For example, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently suing the state of Utah for failing to uphold that 6th Amendment which now provides opportunities for government provided criminal defense. The ACLU is claiming that Utah fell short of its obligation to provide attorneys to criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire one. While the merits of the case have yet to be properly sorted out, what is true is that public defenders offices are under much needed scrutiny.

With the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright decision back in 2013 a flurry of articles were published that highlighted some of the injustices in the public defense system that the Gideon verdict created. The Gideon verdict required states to provide defense attorneys, especially for the poor.

In 2013, a New York Times article by Lincoln Caplan on the anniversary of the Gideon decision summarized several of current problems around the United States regarding public defense. The article highlighted the problems with meeting the requirements of Gideon at the state level where 95 percent of America’s criminal trials take place. The best programs in the United States still struggle to meet the high number of cases that require public defenders. Caplan’s article highlights the Miami public defender’s office which handles far above the American Bar Association’s recommendation of 150 cases per year for a attorney. The demand in Miami has reached 500 cases a year, and has far outpaced the funding for indigent defense. The important distinction the author makes in this article is that not only is financing of public defense an issue, but the general attitude towards the poor the system has created. It is an attitude that Caplan and others describe as “contempt.” (more…)