Category: Effective Compassion

Blog author: jballor
Friday, March 2, 2007
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Oprah isn’t the only one opening a school in Africa. Fraser Valley Christian High School and Surrey Christian School in Canada have partnered together with Christian Extension Services in Sierra Leone, Africa to build a Christian Primary School in Kabala. This partnership is one of the initiatives I highlighted in a previous Acton Commentary.

The partnership has released its first newsletter (PDF here), which chronicles recent news and events, including prayer requests and special opportunities for donation.

Also be sure to keep up with the project at the blog administered on location in Sierra Leone, “A New School for Kabala.”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 23, 2007
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Anthony Esolen, from the March issue of Touchstone:

The most bountiful alms that the rich can give the poor, apart from the personal donation of their time and means, are lives of virtue to emulate. It is their duty. But when they use their means to buy off the effects of vice, or, worse, to celebrate it, that is an offense against those whom Jesus called ‘little ones,’ and no amount of almsgiving can lighten the millstone.

Read the whole thing (HT: the evangelical outpost).

ON SECOND THOUGHT, the reality of the situation is probably a bit more complex than the editorial above indicates. That is, there is a cyclical and reciprocal dynamic in the popularization of any trend, as it moves from sub-culture to the mainstream. Very often the rich are dependent on the poor for determining what is “cool”. The rich and famous are typically derivative and dependent in this sense. Just as often the newest trend is wearing a trucker hat or grunge as it is Dolce & Gabbana.

Take the case of rap music. An underground, urban, and grassroots phenomenon has become mainstream. And in any such transition, there are disputes as to who is loyal to the movement itself and who has simply latched on to cash in on the mainstream popularity. Thus, for instance, the dispute between Eazy-E and Dr. Dre in the mid-90’s about who is a real “G.”

This dynamic does underscore the truth of Esolen’s observation about the “disconcerting sameness” between rich and poor. Wealth and power certainly do not by themselves confer any special moral standing or integrity, and as our namesake quote from Lord Acton indicates, they can often be the occasion for greater and more comprehensive corruption.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
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Via CrossLeft, which promises to bring “balance” to the Christian voice, this short and interesting piece from Larry James’s blog Urban Daily, which documents his reflections as “president and CEO for Central Dallas Ministries, a human and community development corporation with a focus on economic and social justice at work in inner city Dallas, Texas.”

Says James, “If your goal is community and human development, you look for ways to avoid the creation of dependence or a neo-colonial approach to relief and compassion efforts.”

Of course the realization of freedom, which revolves around asking the question, “Does a program prepare clients for independence, or does it keep them dependent?,” is one of the hallmarks of effective compassion.

For groups that put these principles of effective compassion into practice, both in Dallas and around the country, check out the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 16, 2007
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Today’s Detroit News ran a brief letter to the editor in response to my Jan. 23 op-ed, “Don’t prevent religion from helping to reform prisoners.” (Joe Knippenberg engaged a previous response on his blog here).

David Dery of Central Lake writes, “Jordan Ballor’s article encouraging religious groups in prisons is fine, as far as he goes…. The problem comes when the state attaches some benefit to attending these programs without providing a non-religious alternative.”

In response I’ll simply make a few observations and raise a few questions. I agree that the state “attaching some benefit” to a program like IFI is potentially problematic, although the nature of the benefit would probably need to be more clearly defined (are we talking material benefits? social?). What if this benefit is not attached by the state but inheres to the nature of the program itself (i.e. spiritual)?

I also think there is not only a question of a religious vs. non-religious/secular alternative to be considered, but Christian vs. other religions (Islam, paganism, Buddhism, et al.) That is, if the government allows a Christian program into prisons, must it also provide a non-Christian religious alternative? What if there are no groups who are doing religious reform work in prisons from these groups?

Here’s a tentative alternative proposition: if the state allows a Christian group to do reform work in the prison, it must allow (not necessarily provide itself) other groups, whether religious or secular, to do reform work under the same conditions and standards as the Christian group. But the state need not necessarily seek out or artificially create Buddhist, pagan, Islamic, or secularist groups to do the reform work.

The fact that Christian groups are perhaps the most active in this area says something about the nature of the Christian faith and its expression.

IFI’s appeal of the decision in Iowa began this week. Joe Knippenberg gives some good introductory links and IFI’s ruling page gives information on how to listen to the oral arguments.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 29, 2007
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The business of philanthropy education, teaching people how to give their money away, is a growth industry, according to Business Week (HT: The Wealth Report).

It seems that wealthy kids often have trouble realizing and meeting their moral duties to be good stewards of their inheritance. “With my inheritance, I felt a sense of guilt and responsibility,” says Jos Thalheimer, 24, whose great-grandfather founded the American Oil Co. (Amoco) in 1910.

John Stossel’s recent “Cheap in America” program examined this phenomenon, contrasting the attitudes of Fabian Basabe, the “male Paris Hilton,” with Ben Goldhirsh, son of a publishing mogul.

Basabe, it seems, is unwilling and uninterested in doing good: “I’m going to live forever, by the way, so I’m going to have a lot of time to work and get involved.”

Goldhirsh, by contrast, “used the inheritance to start his own magazine, ‘Good,’ and donates subscription fees to charity. His father taught him that work, and charity — not money — is the route to happiness.”

The Detroit News ran my commentary from the end of last year on the role of religion and prisoner reform today, “Don’t prevent religion from helping to reform prisoners.” The version that ran today omits the references to Jeremy Bentham, which you can get from the original and this related blog post.

In related news, Prison Fellowship president Mark Earley reports today that the “Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has set February 13, 2007, for oral arguments in the appeal of the ruling against Prison Fellowship and the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI).” The appeal will be argued in St. Louis, MO and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will be part of the three judge panel.

Get more information about the case at the IFI Ruling web page.

Blog author: jarmstrong
Friday, January 12, 2007
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In the great discourse regarding the separation of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus refers to the kinds of actions, done in obediential faith that works through love, that demonstrates those who truly love him and those who do not. I have heard a dozen different ways of explaining, or explaining away, these verses over the course of my lifetime. Many consign them to Israel and how we treat the Jews. Others say they must be narrowly limited to the actions of the apostles themselves. Others say this is about doing these deeds for those who are being persecuted for being followers of Jesus. And still others say that only if we know the person we are helping to be a “brother or sister” does this text truly apply. There is some element of truth in each of these ideas, as there often is in such exegetical debates.

But I wonder, as I often wonder about such things: “What do we miss by this kind of narrowing of interpretation? And, further, what do we gain by opening the text up to a wide angle view of all our actions done for Christ, in faithful discipleship?” It seems to me that when verse 36 says, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” the whole point is that such actions done for Christ to any person made in God’s image are done to Christ. This is essentially how Mother Teresa of Calcutta understood this text in her Indian context and thus how and why she practiced what she did for years. And it is the general way that the Christian tradition has always understood these words. When you care for the basic human needs of the poor, when you care for the sick, and when you visit prisoners, you demonstrate Christ’s love in the most profound and, just as clearly, the most simple way. What you do for them you do for Christ. Thus verse 40 adds, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did for me.” Even if the person is not one of Christ’s sheep (and we do not know this for sure since in every case those who belong to him finally are not known to us) if we do these actions in his name and for the love of Christ, we do it to Him. This point seems basic and quite obvious unless we strive to create ways to avoid it.

I thought about this again today because I have had a long-time interest and ministry in prisons. I have preached in jails and visited some major prisons. (I am not reporting this to promote my own piety but reflecting upon the words of Jesus afresh.) As I wrote an inmate today, a brother that I have never actually met, I asked myself, “Why am I doing this when there are so many more important things to be done today that could reach hundreds more people?” But there I was hand-writing one guy who prays for me and is incarcerated far away.

My inmate friend wrote me on January 1 these words from his California prison:

“My holidays were quite pleasant because the Lord has taught me how to be content and peaceful in such circumstances, by ever keeping my focus upon him. We have not had a Protestant chaplain here for nearly two years, therefore as Christmas approached, we were unsure about having a Christmas Day service. Several days before, the Lord blessed me with being chosen to bring the message for that service. Unfortunately, on Christmas Day, the prison was short staffed and we were locked in our housing units. In no way was I discouraged or disappointed because in preparing my sermon, I had spent two days and nights in the presence of the Lord. What a blessed joy it is to live in the Word my brother, as you very well know.”

This brother goes on to ask me if an “old thief” could someday become a prison chaplain? I told him that if an old slave trader and liar like John Newton could become an Anglican minister and write “Amazing Grace” he could surely pursue this call upon his life freely.

Who knows, I may have done more good by writing this man in prison today than I did in anything else that I will do all day. I actually think I did this to Jesus himself if I believe the words that He spoke in Matthew 25, which I do. It just seems to me to be the right way to understand what he plainly tells us there. I will also be on the lookout today for the poor and the sick. Unless I make deliberate choices to include them in my life I will surely ignore them since I do not live in a poor community or find myself looking for sick people day-by-day.

My prayer: “God help me today to have the eyes to see the poor, a heart to care for the sick and a plan to reach out to the imprisoned. Give me the determination and the will to serve them as if I were really serving you, since that is exactly what you told me I would be doing when I serve them. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: dwbosch
Friday, January 12, 2007
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faith-based health services?

Change is unlikely to occur without adequate … representation of faith communities in positions of influence – be they government bodies, research charities, or NHS trusts” Professor Sheikh says. He concludes that the long-term goal must be “to mainstream the understanding of the importance of religious identity.”

But Professor Aneez Esmail from Manchester University argues that whilst it is “reasonable [that] we try to plan and configure our services to take account of needs that may have their roots in particular beliefs … we cannot meet everyone’s demands for special services based on their religious identity: it would not be practical.” He goes on to argue that some faith groups might support practices which may be morally and ethically unacceptable to the majority – for example female circumcision and the refusal to accept blood transfusions in life saving situations.

Professor Esmail believes that going down the path of providing special services for defined groups risks stigmatisation and stereotyping. He concludes that “in an ideal world doctors…would ask about a patient’s beliefs not so that they can be categorised but because it might be important for the patient in their illness.

My now-retired-surgeon father spent several decades treating all sorts of folks at St. Josephs Hosptial in Tacoma. I say this to note that the Christian Church, Catholic and Protestant denominations alike, as well as the Jewish community, have a long history of providing care regardless of religious or social or financial background of the sick person. I have no doubt for instance that Christian healthcare this is tied directly to the healing ministry for which Christ was both lauded and vilified, and the example that was carried on through His disciples.

Regardless of faith, caring for the health of another is one of the most basic human interactions. I suggest that in faith-based hospitals today, caregivers set aside their religious affiliation and treat each patient as a child of God in need of help. Many also recognize a responsibility before God to do so. Most hospitals provide non-sectarian "chapels" so all people of faith have a quiet place to pray for their loved ones, and are consoled by "interfaith" chaplains.

I admit my ignorance of current Muslim medical services, but while I note that a thousand years ago the library of Alexandria was repleat with medical manuscripts by Galen and others, I have difficulty imagining Muslim health care merging wtih current faith-based medical services.

Do we have any reason for concern here, particularly now that our healthcare may become a hotter political issue in a Democrat-controlled Capitol Hill? With government promising health care to everybody (American and otherwise) in California, is there a possibility that Muslim-exclusive health care would cause a backlash against all faith-based health services?

Interested in your thoughts and experiences, especially those of you living in heavily-Muslim areas.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
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The conflicting images I spoke about last week, the obesity of poor children in America, are the subject of a weekend piece in the NYT, “India Prosperity Creates Paradox; Many Children Are Fat, Even More Are Famished.”

Of course, in India these aren’t the same kids: by and large the poor ones aren’t the fat ones. Someni Sengupta writes, “In short, while new money and new foods transform the eating habits of some of India’s youngest citizens, gnawing destitution continues to plague millions of others. Taken together, it is a picture of plenty and want, each producing its own set of afflictions.”

The social problems are accompanied by the requisite calls to expand inadequate government programs. “In a rare rebuke, the Supreme Court of India this month ordered the government to expand swiftly the number of nutrition programs in the country. The programs now serve around 46 million children, at least on paper.”

Here’s a sample of what one of these programs looks like in practice.

One morning in a destitute rural district called Barabanki about 300 miles northwest of here, a dozen small children, most of them barefoot, some of them barely clothed, lined up for help at a program known as Integrated Child Development Services.

On this morning, every child received a scoop of dry cereal, a bland mixture of wheat, sugar and soy that is called panjiri in Hindi.

Some brought a plastic bag to hold their gift. Others made a bowl with the dirty end of whatever they wore. They sat on the ground and shoveled the food into their mouths.

Mothers in this village said the dry ration cereal sometimes made their children sick. No cooked food was available at this center. The center was also supposed to dispense vitamin-fortified oil to the villagers, but they said it rarely came.

These don’t seem to be practices that place a premium on human dignity or instilling self-sufficiency, but are rather based on perpetuating dependency on government.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
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‘Tis the season for making resolutions. Today’s Zondervan>To The Point newsletter focuses on a variety of Christian resolutions, and includes a link to a piece from Leadership Journal on Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions (related blog piece here).

One of my favorites: “Resolved, To be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.”

Here’s a good place to start doing that.