Category: Poverty

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Surprise was the reaction in Rome on hearing of the elevation of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, to the Papacy. My colleagues in Rome told me that the Plaza was unusually quiet as the people tried to figure out what was going on.  I guess the Cardinals showed that they elect the pope on their own terms, and now everyone is wondering who Pope Francis is, how he will lead, and what will characterize his pontificate.

Intra and Extra: Challenges for the Pope in the Church and the World

The Pope’s main role is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In his first homily as Holy Father he asserted just this. “We can walk as much as we want,” he said  “we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a compassionate NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ.”  He also has a Church to govern—and he’ll face serious challenges on both fronts.  On the inside, the Church continues to reel from scandals and abuse. The curia needs to be reformed and the bureaucracy cleaned up. On the outside, Pope Francis faces a growing and hostile secularism, religious persecution from a number of fronts, dwindling number of believers in traditionally Catholic lands, including Latin America, and increasing ignorance of the basic tenets of Christianity. But there are also some real positives. The Church continues to grow in the Global South—especially in Africa and Asia. Belief is still high in Latin America, though many Catholics are leaving for the Pentecostals or evangelicals. Among U.S. Catholics, Hispanics are now the majority.  And while the Church in the West may be getting smaller, it is also more vibrant and serious. Younger Catholics are orthodox and evangelical, and dissenters like Hans Kung are aging and less influential each day. Pope Francis also has the advantage of following Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, whose interpretation of Vatican II and whose intellectual and spiritual guidance set out a framework for the New Evangelization.

Francis brings several important things to his papacy. The most obvious are that he is a Latin American, and not a member of the Roman Curia. The Curia needs reform, and being an outsider with experience of diocesan dysfunction will serve him well. Further, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires he not only dealt with extreme poverty, corruption, lack of rule of law, and social and economic volatility that is common in the developing world, he also has had to contend with virulent and aggressive secularism that is common in the West.  He has been a fearless defender of human life and family, has called abortion the “death penalty for the unborn,” and has been unafraid to clash with political leaders over corruption, reminding them that social corruption is rooted in personal sin.

He also brings a long record of engagement with the poorest of the poor. (more…)

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Passion for Government Leads to Neglect of Our Neighbor,” I examine how the disconnect between desires and deeds with reference to helping the needy among us perpetuates unbalanced budgets and spending on debt to the detriment of future generations. I highlight how St. John the Baptist came to “turn the hearts of fathers to their children” (Luke 1:17) by exhorting people to look to their neighbors and the small but practical ways they can serve them in love:

During his ministry, John’s message to everyday people, according to Luke, was remarkably simple: “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” To the tax collector, he warns not to take more than is due, and to the soldier his counsel is “be content with your wages” (cf. Luke 3:10-14). This was “the way of the Lord”?

I conclude by recommending the same for us today. The problem is not that people do not care, it is that we have forgotten with whom responsibility for the work of caring for the needy among us lies first of all. (more…)

mass_design_groupIn a recent issue of Metropolis Magazine, Thomas de Monchaux tells the story of an amazing lesson about innovation that Americans can learn from Rwandans. This is no surprise, but readers will learn that burdensome government regulations stifle innovation and undermine human flourishing.

De Monchaux recounts the story of Michael Murphy, executive director and co-founder of the Boston-based MASS Design Group, and Alan Ricks, MASS cofounder and COO, attempting to take what they learned from building health care facilitates and hospitals in Rwanda, with minimal building code regulations, and bringing that knowledge to building in the United States. He describes the project in Butaro, Rwanda this way:
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I’m just back from the republic of Texas and Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference. One of my fellow lecturers was Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Ben Phillips. In between sessions, he showed me a recent Houston television news piece on SWBTS’s Darrington prison extension, where Phillips and other Southwestern profs are bringing prisoners to Christ, with a plan to send graduates of the program to other Texas prisons. Many of these men may grow old and die in prison, but they won’t die without hope, and they won’t die without becoming a blessing to their fellow prisoners at Darrington and other Texas prisons.

The cover story of a recent Religion & Liberty tells about a similar program on a larger scale, at Angola Prison in Louisiana, where many men on death row, with no hope of parole, have been transformed by the power of the Gospel.

It’s hard to imagine an example more dramatic than Angola prison, but if there is one, it’s the work of Rwandan Bishop John Rucyahana, Prison Fellowship, and others to bring the grace of Christ to the imprisoned genocidiers of Rwanda. Through this work, many of the men involved in the 1994 genocide that took almost a million Rwandan lives have repented of their participation in the genocide, sought and obtained forgiveness from the families of their victims (itself a miracle), and been reintegrated into society after serving their prison sentences. (more…)

MSNBC.com reports on a video about wealth inequality that has now gone viral, with over 2.2 million views in just a few months.

A video made shortly after the 2012 election showing how much greater the disparity actually is, has gone viral in the last few days thanks to links from websites including Reddit and Mashable. First, it lays out what people see as ideal, a system in which wealthy Americans get a lot more but poor Americans are slightly above the poverty line. Reality perhaps has the most shock value. As the narrator lays out in the video (uploaded by an unaffiliated, anonymous YouTube user), the top 1% has 40% of all the nation’s wealth, the bottom 80% only has 7% of it.

If you watch the video, you’ll be left with many questions. Among them are the following:

  • What is morally wrong with wealth inequality?
  • Why must wealth be distributed?
  • Whose job is it to distribute the wealth?
  • What makes the distribution of wealth “fair”?
  • How do we measure “fairness” with respect to how people acquire their wealth?
  • What is the “ideal” distribution of America’s wealth and who has the authority to determine what that distribution should be and how should it be enforced?

There are many more questions to pose, for sure.

Near the end of the video the narrator commits a fatal error, which ultimately reveals a possible motive behind the production, when he asks why CEOs should earn a salary “380 times” more than their average employee. The narrator then says, “we don’t have to go back to socialism to find something that is fair for hard working Americans.” There you have it friends: envy. The idea that somehow those who are wealthy are undeserving of their wealth leaps out at the end of the video. There is a deep seated envy epidemic in this country and we see it in videos like this.
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Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that every conservative should read—and heed:

Conservatives are fighting a losing battle of moral arithmetic. They hand an argument with virtually 100% public support—care for the vulnerable—to progressives, and focus instead on materialistic concerns and minority moral viewpoints.

The irony is maddening. America’s poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children.

Meanwhile, the record of free enterprise in improving the lives of the poor both here and abroad is spectacular. According to Columbia University economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin, the percentage of people in the world living on a dollar a day or less—a traditional poverty measure—has fallen by 80% since 1970. This is the greatest antipoverty achievement in world history. That achievement is not the result of philanthropy or foreign aid. It occurred because billions of souls have been able to pull themselves out of poverty thanks to global free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship.

Some say the solution for conservatives is either to redouble the attacks on big government per se, or give up and try to build a better welfare state. Neither path is correct. Raging against government debt and tax rates that most Americans don’t pay gets conservatives nowhere, and it will always be an exercise in futility to compete with liberals on government spending and transfers.

Instead, the answer is to make improving the lives of vulnerable people the primary focus of authentically conservative policies.

Read more . . .

Alex Chafuen’s Forbes article on “champions of innovation,” which Michael Miller blogged here recently, is now one of the top features on the contributors page at The Blaze. Here’s an excerpt:

When Adam Smith wrote his famous “Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” he helped shift the terms of the discussion. Centuries earlier, work focused on different aspects of poverty. Jurists and city authorities analyzed whether the poor should be allowed to beg freely and move to other cities. Charities were set up to help the destitute. The great Florentine Saint, Antonino Pierozzi (1389-1459), even set up a charity to serve the “shameful poor” (poveri vergognosi). These were formerly rich people who were impoverished by government attacks and injustices, but who would prefer to die rather than beg. It is easy to be poor; it is harder to understand how wealth is created. Smith changed the approach.

PovertyCure tries to create a similar shift among those who work in this field. It seeks to move efforts from aid to enterprise and from paternalism to partnerships. We often ask how to alleviate poverty. But the real question is: How do people in the developing world create prosperity for their families and communities?

Read “From Aid to Enterprise: Intelligent Poverty Cures” by Alex Chafuen at The Blaze.

The February issue of Sojourners magazine presents various perspectives on the surge in evangelicalism’s interest in exploring new national and international peace initiatives. For example, The World Evangelical Alliance’s Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Initiative acknowledges “that in our zeal for evangelism, we have often overlooked the biblical mandate to pursue peace. We commit ourselves anew to this mandate within our homes, churches, communities, and among the nations.” Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) promotes itself as an evangelical organization that “consistently campaigns at the grassroots and policy level for a world that is pro-life and pro-poor, pro-family and pro-racial justice, pro-sexual integrity and pro-creation care.” “We want Christians to look deeply, act justly, and love radically,” says ESA.

Justice and peace are, of course, themes we can all support. What Christians are there in the world who are pro-war and pro-injustice? Even with these themes, however, is it possible that those who are oppressed and suffering need more than a society that is merely peaceful and where people are acting justly? Because “peace” and “justice” are normally situated in light of negative realities, more often than not, the discourse tends to focus on what we should not do in society instead what allows people to be free to live out their vocation to be human. The solutions offered tend to narrowly focus on lofty hoped for visions that deny trade-offs necessary in a broken world.

Additionally, we find the surprising promotion of a ruling class of elites in government having concentrated decision-making power over those with less money and less political power, rather than considering ways to allow people to make decisions that empower them to seek their own solutions to meeting their needs. We need to do more than “end slavery” or “end poverty.” We need to think more deeply about what it means to be human and how we can put people in positions, in accordance with their design by their Creator, to live well. In other words, we need to focus our attention on human flourishing.

In a 2003 article on human flourishing,” Dr. Edward W. Younkins helps us get a sense of the advantages of focusing on human flourishing: (more…)

With the most recent fiscal cliff approaching this Thursday (February 28), it is worth asking, “How did we get into this mess?” My answer: a little leaven works its way through a whole lump of dough….

Touchstone Magazine
(March/April 2013) recently published my article, ”The Yeast We Can Do,” in their “Views” section (subscription required). In it, I explore the metaphor of yeast in the Scriptures—how little things eventually work their way through our whole lives and can lead to big consequences. In some cases, I point out, this is a bad thing. For example, I write,

According to Evagrios the Solitary, one of the early Christian hermits of the Egyptian desert, our spiritual struggle can be summarized quite simply: it is because we have first failed to resist little temptations that we eventually fall to greater ones. Following John the Evangelist’s warnings against succumbing to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), Evagrios identifies three “frontline demons” in particular: gluttony, avarice, and seeking the esteem of others.

Little by little, when we give in to small temptations, they eventually work their way through our whole lives, leaving us vulnerable to bigger, related areas of temptation.

Now, how does this relate to our over $16.5 trillion national debt and annual deficits over $1 trillion for the last four years that brought us to a looming sequestration deadline, with little time to come up with some solution to drastically cut spending to get our finances under control, adversely affecting the lives of millions? Well, as I said, a little leaven works its way through the whole lump of dough. (more…)

PovertyCure was featured in Forbes Magazine last week. Alex Chafuen, one of Acton’s founding board members, featured PovertyCure in his article on champions of innovation. He writes:

A new multifaceted initiative, called PovertyCure, provides abundant materials and resources for those who want to create lasting solutions to poverty. The program is founded on the conviction that each human person can be a source of great creativity. It highlights the incentives needed to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that fills the developing world.

Chafuen also calls attention to PovertyCure’s focus on the big picture:

Many intellectual entrepreneurs and some of their donors and “angel investors” tend to be single-product champions. They focus on only one element in the road to reduce poverty, e.g., women rights, property titles, vaccines. This could lead to neglect of the fundamental problems that impede successful outcomes in their area of work… A fruitful dialogue among participants in PovertyCure can increase the chances that poverty or “human flourishing” programs will be structured with the proper incentives.

Instead of focusing on what we can do to solve poverty, the real question is how do people in the developing world create prosperity for their families and communities.

Learn more about PovertyCure, their network of over 180 organizations, and order the new PovertyCure DVD-Series, a 152-minute documentary-style series that challenges conventional thinking and explores the economic and theological foundations of human flourishing.