Category: Christian Social Thought

Crucible of Poverty

Stuart Ray, Donn Weinberg, and Anielka Munkel discuss solutions to poverty – July 17, 2014

On July 17th, the Acton Institute hosted a panel discussion titled “The Crucible of Poverty: Perspectives from the Trenches.” The discussion examined the issue of poverty, with a focus on what strategies for poverty alleviation have worked, what strategies have failed, and how we can better help the most vulnerable among us.

The panelists for the discussion were Mr. Stuart Ray, Executive Director of Guiding light Mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Mr. Donn Weinberg, Executive Vice President of The Harry and Jeanette Wienberg Foundation; and Ms. Anielka Munkel, Project Manager here at the Acton Institute, and a co-producer of the PovertyCure DVD series.

The discussion ranged from analysis of the roots of poverty in west Michigan to questions of federal policy relating to poverty, and how foundations can ensure that grant recipients are actually pursuing the goals supported by foundations.

The full discussion is available via the audio player below.

pope washing feetArchbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia spoke recently at the Napa Institute on Pope Francis’ view of economics. Archbishop Chaput reminded the audience that the pope was not an economist, but spoke rather as a pastor and theologian. He went on to say that some of what the pope has to say about economics is “hard for some of us to hear” but told his listeners to read the pope’s writings for themselves, without the filter of the media.

Archbishop Chaput also stated that Pope Francis’ message is not so different from that of his predecessors.

In matters of economic justice, Francis’ concerns are the same as Benedict’s and John Paul II’s, and Pius XI’s and Leo XIII’s. He understands economic matters through the lens of Church teaching in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  Like his predecessors, he defends human dignity in a world that consistently threatens it. But Francis stresses more directly than they did that human solidarity is a necessary dimension of human dignity. We need both. Human dignity requires not just the protection of individuals, as in our prolife work, but an on-going commitment to the common good. (more…)

gleaners-milletIn recent years, we’ve seen a renewed focus on the deeper value, meaning, and significance of our daily work, particularly across the realm of evangelicalism. Yet as easy as it may be for some to alter old attitudes and begin appreciating the gift of creative service, it can be extremely difficult for others — and often for good reason.

Indeed, until the last few centuries, the bulk of humanity was confined to activities that, while often fruitful, meaningful, and God-glorifying in their basic aim and end, did not leverage individual “giftings” in ways we would deem “fulfilling” or “dignifying” today.

Our economic situation has surely improved in the years since, with vocational opportunities and overall prosperity continuing to expand and improve in profound and unexpected ways. But many still find themselves in positions or careers that are difficult to endure, from the anxieties of a Wall Street executive to those of an underpaid farm hand.

Each of us is going to encounter our own unique challenges, driven by and toward our own particular calling. Although we ought to try our best to improve the alignment of such service in a fallen world, the persistent need for hard and rough work is bound to remain as long as it remains a fallen world. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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Giotto di Bondone - No. 27 Scenes from the Life of Christ - 11. Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple - WGA09209Last month the New York Times hosted a discussion on the question, “Has Capitalism Become Incompatible With Christianity?” There’s lots to be said about the “Room for Debate” feature, including a note on the caption for the lead image in the introduction.

The image is a rendering of the classic scene from the Gospels, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The NYT caption reads thus: “Jesus comes down hard on the bankers of his day.” Perhaps that’s a bit of ideological balance for the phrasing of the debate question itself, which supposes that at least at one time that “capitalism” and Christianity were compatible, even if they are no longer.

Occasioned by the NYT feature, although not a direct response, is a piece today over at Think Christian, in which I introduce what I consider to be some important distinctions to keep in mind when thinking about the Christian faith and economics.
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Economy of LoveFor today and today only, you can watch Episode 2 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles for FREE over at Flannel.org.

Produced by the Acton Institute and spread across seven episodes, the series seeks to examine the bigger picture of Christianity’s role in culture, society, and the world. Episode 2 focuses specifically on the Economy of Love, and the grand mystery we find therein.

As host Evan Koons concludes: “Family is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to society because it is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to our nature, to pour ourselves out like Christ, to be gifts, and to love.”

Stream the full episode here for the rest of the day (July 23).

Watch the trailer for the series below, and purchase it here.

Visit the Acton Book Shop to find related books and media

sisters of charityIn a gutsy, thoughtful article at the American Thinker , Danusha V. Goska describes her intellectual journey from a family of card-carrying Communists to discovering she wanted to spend time with people “building, cultivating, and establishing, something that they loved.”

There’s a lot to mull over in Goska’s piece, but it was her discovery of a moral and religious framework that struck me. Rather than a “nihilistic void” that had been her life, Goska encountered people whose faith informed their actions in concrete and truly helpful ways. They weren’t just protesting against something; they were working towards something. She recounts her time with both the Peace Corps and the Sisters of Charity:

Peace Corps did not focus on the “small beginnings” necessary to accomplish its grandiose goals. Schools rarely ran, girls and low caste children did not attend, and widespread corruption guaranteed that all students received passing grades. Those students who did learn had no jobs where they could apply their skills, and if they rose above their station, the hereditary big men would sabotage them. Thanks to cultural relativism, we were forbidden to object to rampant sexism or the caste system. “Only intolerant oppressors judge others’ cultures.”

I volunteered with the Sisters of Charity. For them, I pumped cold water from a well and washed lice out of homeless people’s clothing. The sisters did not want to save the world. Someone already had. The sisters focused on the small things, as their founder, Mother Teresa, advised, “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love.” Delousing homeless people’s clothing was one of my few concrete accomplishments.

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Integrated Justice - front cover (1)Christian’s Library Press recently released Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works by John Addison Teevan, which seeks to challenge popular notions about “social justice” and establish a new framework around what Teevan calls “biblically integrated justice.”

Weaving together thought and action from a variety of perspectives and points throughout history, Teevan offers a refreshingly integrated economic, philosophic, and biblical framework. For young evangelicals in particular, who have grown fond of leveraging the vocabulary of “justice” and “equality” toward particular aims and ends, Teevan’s blend of careful analysis and practical application offers a needed challenge to the status quo.

To celebrate the release, CLP will be giving away three copies of the book. To enter, use the interface below. There are three ways to enter, and each will increase your odds. The contest will end Friday night (July 18) at 11:59 p.m.

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In the latest issue of Faith and Economics, a bi-annual journal from the Association of Christian Economists, Dr. Robert Black reviews two of CLP’s four tradition-specific primers on faith, work, and economics: Chad Brand’s Flourishing Faith (from a Baptist perspective), and David Wright’s How God Makes the World a Better Place (from a Wesleyan perspective).

Black reviews each book quite closely, aptly capturing the key ideas and themes in each, and concluding that both are “well suited as a non-technical introduction to biblical and theological aspects of work, wealth, church history, and economic systems.”

Wright - Copy

As a sample, here’s Black’s summary of the Wesleyan connection between Christian conversion and broad-scale human flourishing:

The final section of [Wright’s] book…contrasts an unconverted will at work with the converted will at work. While we may wish not to work at all, we are not freed by conversion from work. Instead, we are freed to enjoy work, “to experience work as the expression of all that is most beautiful and magnificent about us.” Instead of a “lifetime of self-centered pursuit,” Wright encourages us to “use [our] influence to nurture the kind of economic and legal systems that favor meaningful, rewarding work.”

What kinds of people are Christians called to be and how do those characteristics affect economic activity? Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Part Three develop three character traits to which converts to Christ are called to be: people of assurance, people of integrity, and people of authenticity; Assurance of God’s calling overcomes the “[i]nsecurity and fear [that] are terrible burdens to carry into our work” (p. 28). In a “world … awakened to the desperate need for the renewal of ethics,” personal integrity is most welcome (p. 35). Authentic Christians, who are true to the character of Jesus Christ, the original ideal for us, are an antidote to those people who seek to be authentically true to their own selfish hopes and misguided desires. (more…)

baby-budgetI’m sure Willie Nelson was not thinking about surrogacy issues when he wrote “If You’ve Got The Money, Honey,” but it’s applicable. $100,000? Check. 9 months? Check.

If you’ve got the money honey I’ve got the time
We’ll go honky tonkin’ and we’ll have a time
We’ll have more fun baby all way down the line
If you’ve got the money honey I’ve got the time

While surrogacy is a huge industry in India, it’s becoming a growing business here in the U.S. now. In Austin, Texas, one couple from New Jersey awaits the birth of their children via a surrogate:

A nurse spread gel on Nicole Benham’s pregnant belly and slowly moved a sonogram wand over it, describing the images on nearby monitors. This scene, in which parents get an early glimpse of baby, is played out many times a day in medical offices across America, but this plot has a twist.

Benham is carrying twins, but they are not her babies. They belong to Sheila and Kevin McWilliams, a New Jersey couple who lost their firstborn and can’t have another child together. They provided the eggs and sperm, and they will bear all costs, which average $75,000 to $100,000 and include fees to the surrogate, the matchmaking surrogacy company and lawyers for both parties, experts said.

Despite such costs, U.S. surrogate births have jumped 250 percent in eight years, and experts expect them to continue rising because of advances in reproductive technology, increasing numbers of same-sex marriages and growing acceptance of surrogacy.

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Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
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FLOW_EXILE (1)Christians are called to be in the world but not of it (John 17:14-15). But what does that mean for how we should live?

At TGC Stephen J. Grabill, the director of programs and international at the Acton Institute, explains why living faithfully in exile and seeking the shalom of our cities are two big ideas that the church needs to embrace in order to recover a robust “in-but-not-of” theology of culture:

God’s people have always been—and are now—living in a permanent state of “in between.” The prophet Jeremiah gives us the essence of living faithfully in this state: “To seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you into exile” (Jer. 29:4-7). In City of God, Augustine builds on this exilic theology. His metaphor of the city of God and the city of man with their different loves and orientations is the archetypal expression of the tension and anxiety that characterizes our “in between” existence.

More recently, people like David Kim and James Davison Hunter have used the concept of exile to articulate an understanding of culture that takes a long-view of engagement, vocation, and public discipleship—that is, the concept of exile retires the church’s short-term, winner-take-all, scorched-earth, culture-war approach to addressing the hostile forces of secularization that are working to eradicate the imprint of Christianity in the West.

Being in “exile” means that God’s people live somewhere other than their true home. For example, God’s people were in “exile” when they were banished from the Garden, lived as slaves in Egypt, and were carted off to Babylon. Similarly, after the resurrection of Christ, God’s people were scattered throughout the world to live as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11). So, too, for Christians today.

Read more . . .