Category: Effective Compassion

Blog author: rnothstine
Thursday, April 30, 2009

roose3Brown University student Kevin Roose has written a largely sympathetic and often amusing outsider’s account on the spiritual lives and struggles of conservative evangelical students at Liberty University. Roose, who took a semester off at Brown, decided to enroll at Liberty posing as an evangelical for his book, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. Possibly setting out to write an expose of sorts on Liberty’s quirky Southern Baptist fundamentalism and the students efforts there to gear up for the culture wars, he unsurprisingly finds a much more complex story to tell.

Complex because Liberty students, like most evangelical Christians struggle with temptation, relationships, and the trials that go with being an authentic believer living in a fallen world. In regards to Roose’s own preconceived notions or stereotypes, listen to his own words:

All in all, the Liberty students I’ve met are a lot more socially adjusted than I expected. They’re not rabid, frothing fundamentalists who spend their days sewing Hillary Clinton voodoo dolls and penning angry missives to the ACLU. Maybe I’m getting a skewed sample, but the ones I’ve met have been funny, articulate, and decidedly non-crazy.

In fact, Roose’s account does a good job of demolishing the left’s stereotypes of places like Liberty, a school where you can probably find some absurd stereotypes about Ivy League schools. Roose, by a twist of fate, actually ends up conducting the last print interview of Liberty’s president Jerry Falwell before his unexpected death a few days following Roose’s hour long sit down session with Falwell. This is where the author who was once a foe of Falwell because of his many public statements, decides Falwell is more “complex” and points out a good deal of his compassion in the pages of his book. While he still disagrees with Fallwell’s brand of ministry and politics, Roose can’t but help admire his authenticity:

Realizing that Dr. Falwell isn’t a fraud – as troubling a notion as that is – has helped me solve one of the great mysteries of this semester. For months now, I’ve been puzzled by the thousands of good, kind-hearted believers at Liberty who follow a man who seems, to my mind, to be almost unredeemable. They like him, I’m learning, because he’s a straight shooter. In a half century of preaching, Dr. Falwell has said some outrageous things, and he’s angered Christians and non-Christians alike, but he’s never revealed himself as a hypocrite. He’s never been caught in sexual sin, and he’s been transparent in his financial dealings as you could reasonably expect. And in the world of televangelism, a world filled to the brim with hucksters and charlatans and Elmer Gantry – type swindlers, a little sincerity goes a long way.

The book is a great account if one is looking for funny tales and anecdotes about evangelism, the Liberty dating scene, the teaching of young earth creationism, and Christian fundamentalism in general. There are also spiritual lessons to be learned. I believe each reader will pull different lessons and truths from this account.

I’ve noticed the Emergent Church movement has embraced Roose’s book and Roose himself calls the Emergent Church, “A growing brand of evangelicalism that de-emphasizes political issues like abortion and gay marriage and seeks to return to a more spiritual form of Christianity.” This of course is a wildly sympathetic view of the Emergent Church, because some evangelicals who question the practice of de-emphasizing substitutionary atonement, hell, and doctrines like justification by faith would definitely disagree with the idea that the Emergent Church is a “return to a more spiritual form of Christianity.”

At any rate I can relate to some of what Roose experiences from my own seminary experience. Although I came in as a believer and graduated as a believer I bristled at some of the legalism associated with a Wesleyan Holiness school and worked to tame my tongue around others. Sometimes I felt like I was trapped in the endless mandatory spiritual formation in the small groups that accompanied many courses. There were many a days I felt like an outsider. But when I had problems with a decision made by the administration or from all the busy work that at times seemed unbecoming of a graduate student, I was buoyed, like Roose, from knowing and being in fellowship with some great Christians in my seminary community.

While I’m a conservative evangelical, like many evangelicals I’ve been both amused and frustrated with an element of fundamentalism. Sometimes its rigidity can appear like an eternal plague of locusts, causing me to flee wherever it lands. But if this book reinforced anything for me, it’s a very basic truth, and that is as an evangelical I love God’s people and I grieve for lost souls. I found myself wanting to minister to the troubled souls described in Roose’s book, and of course Roose himself. According to this AP article he even thinks about joining a church.

Since leaving seminary, like so many others, I’ve struggled with areas of ministry, but one thing I think I’ve always been blessed with is an ability to preach and exhort God’s Word. I can remember sitting in preaching class and my professor said, “You have to preach John 3:16 every sermon. You might have to use different passages and find different ways to say it, but the central message should be a John 3:16 one.” I agree and when I look out on a deeply troubled and complex world, it’s important to see people as the image bearers of God, and that they were created for fellowship with the Triune God, and there is no love like God’s love. And ultimately the toils and trials of this world have already been decided by the victory of Christ over sin and death. And that is indeed news worth sharing.

Saturday is World Malaria Day, which each year draws attention to the scourge that malaria is to millions of people throughout the developing world. An estimated 1-3 million people die of malaria each year, and many of these are children. But even when people don’t die, malaria is debilitating. Malaria reduces the red blood cell count to low levels, which in addition to all of the other symptoms, drains energy and saps creativity. In response to this, the thing large multinational aid organizations have focused on are bed nets. Now bed nets can be helpful, but they are a short-term fix. Fortunately, after years of false ideology preventing the use of DDT, the world is starting to come back to its senses. Acton has been promoting this for several years.

Today, NRO’s The Corner quoted malaria expert Richard Tren, who argues that a bed net is a potentially useful but overemphasized tool in the war against malaria, with DDT and, surprisingly to some, economic freedom having greater promise for pushing back the scourge of malaria over the long run.

And if bed nets or any other foreign interventions are to do significant and lasting good, charitable enterprises will need to rediscover the importance of subsidiarity, of humans on the ground in relationship with other human beings, as opposed to government-to-government aid transfers that often do more harm than good.

One person who speaks forcefully to this issue is Rwandan Anglican Bishop John Rucyahana, a leading force in the reconciliation in Rwanda and a key partner in Bridge2Rwanda and the P.E.A.C.E Plan. In an interview we conducted with Bishop John near his orphanage in Rwanda last fall, he commented on why U.N. bed net programs often fail, and why the P.E.A.C.E. plan is succeeding:

We have a percentage of people, thank God, the number is getting less, but we have a great percentage of people who don’t read and write. And you give them a mosquito net; you scare them to death. You need to tell them that the mosquito net would prevent mosquitoes from biting them, and they need to trust you’re not telling them a lie. You’re not trapping them with that mosquito net. They’ve been deceived for too long. They need to have people who trust them, and they trust. And the people who love them; and the people they love. So Rick Warren has it deadly right to say that the church is needed to be employed into the economy, into the health and the social recovery of nations.

Churches have the life-giving hope of the Gospel, Bishop John explains, and they are embedded locally.

The church is out there with the people. You know I’m hugging and I’m shaking hands with every one of these children because I’m with them all the time. They know who I am, and they know I am there for them. During the aftermath of the genocide, many people ran away from here, and I stayed with them. All of these individuals giving the aid ran away from here. And I stayed. Churches are here. And we know how to approach them.

An essay of mine appears today over at the First Things website as part of their “On the Square: Observations & Contentions” feature. In “Between Market and State,” I explore the dialectic logic of market and government “failure,” which functions in part to provide us with a false dilemma: our solution to social problems must lie with either “market” or “state.”

I work out this logic in the context of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and conclude that non-profits play a critical role as mediating institutions that are not driven in the first place by profit motives. A great deal of the economic woe of the last year or so has been the result of seeing the poor as objects of material gain rather than partners in charitable compassion. Read the piece over at the First Things site and discuss it here.

I should note that PowerBlog contributor Dr. William Luckey has provided a brief and challenging analysis of the role of non-profits. His survey of the treatment of non-profits in the literature includes the observation, “Many sources see the purposes of non-profits as taking up the slack from either market failure or government failure, thus revealing a pro-statist, anti-market bias.” The argument in my First Things essay takes the position that one purpose of non-profits is to “take up the slack,” so to speak. But I don’t see how this by definition reveals a “pro-statist, anti-market bias.”

As I say in the essay,

Advocates for government intervention abound nowadays. But apologists for the market economy do themselves and their cause no favors when they ignore the fact that there are limits to what the market can and ought to be asked to do. Indeed, much of what has been called “market failure” is actually the result of applying market-based solutions to problems for which profit considerations ought to be considered secondarily—if at all.

Within a market framework people tend to maximize efficiency and increase material well-being. But the market is not the answer for everything. It cannot tell us, for instance, how to arrange our familial or spiritual lives.

I was influenced in this line of thinking by a brief reflection from Arnold Kling, who writes about two propositions in the context of the sub-prime lending disaster: 1) Market failure is inevitable; and 2) Government failure is inevitable. He says, “In talking about the financial crisis, I believe that to speak the truth one has to accept both propositions. Most people prefer narrative, which either explicitly or implicitly denies one or the other.”

To be sure, I do think Luckey is right to call for “a completely new study of non-profit organizations,” an early attempt at which was made in the context of Acton’s own Samaritan Guide program. (With Marvin Olasky’s comment that the finalists tended to be either “rescue missions for the homeless or rehab centers for alcoholics and addicts” in view as well, see the conclusions of the promising paper, “Faith Makes a Difference: A Study of the Influence of Faith in Human Service Programs,” by Beryl Hugen, Fred De Jong, and Karen Woods.)

One non-profit ministry that I highlight in the First Things essay that is neither a homeless shelter nor a rehab center is the Inner City Christian Federation. This is a worthy organization that merits a great deal of attention in the debate about home ownership, the mortgage industry, and Christian charity.

As I also note in the First Things essay, this discussion about the credit crisis must go to our core assumptions about home ownership. A fascinating interview with Edmund Phelps, director of Columbia University’s Center on Capitalism and Society, picks up on some of these issues. Phelps has a lot of great things to say, and here’s one of them:

I’m hoping that the administration and other thought leaders will succeed eventually in bringing the country back to the older idea that the American dream is having a career, getting a job, and getting involved in it, and doing well. That was the core of the good life. That’s what we have to get back to, and get away from this mystique that the most important thing in your life that could ever happen to you is to be a home owner.

A handy chart showing the movement in trust in social institutions over the last thirty years according to the General Social Survey is available here.

Non-profits are increasingly being squeezed out between market and state, and the solutions they offer are either marginalized or subsumed under the logic of profit or coercion. As many others have noted, some recent policy initiatives, most notably lowering the limit on qualifying charitable donations, will only serve to exacerbate this problem.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Monday, April 13, 2009

Zenit reports a new initiative by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples, Italy: “he is donating a year’s stipend and part of his personal savings to initiate a diocesan bank that will offer micro-credits to the poor.”

I like two things about this project. First, the cardinal is putting his own money to work, furnishing a good example of personal commitment to assist those in need. Second, he is doing so in a thoughtful and creative way, not “throwing money” at a problem. One of his comments: “[F]ar from being a practice of pure welfare, the micro-credit will be the way to make the creativity and ingenuity of our people emerge again.” Bravo, Your Eminence.

A sour note in his remarks is this: “We thought that the globalization of markets would bring us further well-being, wealth for all, and instead we globalized poverty.” This seems to imply that, on balance, globalization has led to impoverishment rather than economic progress—a dubious proposition.

In a wide-ranging interview with Christianity Today, Rick Warren discussed his view of the new vision for the faith-based initiative. Here’s that Q&A:

Have you paid attention to the new faith-based initiatives released by President Obama and Joshua DuBois focusing on the four issues of responsible fatherhood, reducing unintended pregnancies, increasing interfaith dialogue, and reducing poverty?

Those are great goals. My fear is that if all of a sudden you have to compromise your convictions to be part of the faith base, that will kill it. People will simply ignore it. Saddleback has never accepted government money for any peace Plan project because we don’t want the strings attached to it. While the faith-based initiatives have great promise, if it becomes an issue where you can’t just hire Christians in a Christian school, that will effectively kill them.

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, W. Bradford Wilcox looks at the “boost” that President Obama will give secularism through his rapid expansion of government. An Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia and a member of the James Madison Society at Princeton University, Wilcox is also a 1994 graduate of the Acton Institute’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society program. Excerpt:

… the president’s audacious plans for the expansion of the government — from the stimulus to health-care reform to a larger role in education — are likely to spell trouble for the vitality of American religion. His $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal 2010 would bring federal, state and local spending to about 40% of the gross domestic product — within hailing distance of Europe, where state spending runs about 46% of GDP. The European experience suggests that the growth of the welfare state goes hand in hand with declines in personal religiosity.

A recent study of 33 countries by Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde found an inverse relationship between religious observance and welfare spending. Countries with larger welfare states, such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, had markedly lower levels of religious attendance, affiliation and trust in God than countries with a history of limited government, such as the U.S., the Philippines and Brazil. Public spending amounts to more than one half of the GDP in Sweden, where only 4% of the population regularly attends church. By contrast, public spending amounts to 18% of the Philippines’ GDP, and 68% of Filipinos regularly attend church.

Read “God Will Provide — Unless the Government Gets There First” on the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion page.

Here is quite the unique story from 13WMAZ in Macon, Georgia. The clip highlights what Army Staff Sergeant Jeremy Snow is doing to help those in need during the Christmas season. While serving in Iraq, Staff Sergeant Snow and friends from his unit have been shopping online and sending food, new clothes, and even mp3 players back to his mother, who is retired military. Margie Snow then unpacks and hands the gifts over to the local Loaves and Fishes ministry for distribution. “Everyday he calls about a different box on its way,” she says.

While the story is unique, in light of all the care packages that leave the U.S. for Iraq, it is not surprising when you consider the character of so many who serve in our Armed Forces. One of my first reactions after reading the story and watching the news video is that there is little excuse not to give after learning about Staff Sergeant Snow’s first class generosity. It is of course common knowledge that those who serve in the military do so with a modest salary, especially among the enlisted ranks.

In life, I think it’s always helpful to think about how you want to define yourself, how would you like other people to perceive you, and who would you like to emulate? Giving is one of the clearest examples I can think of that reflects your inner and outward character.

Also always deserving a mention is the United States Marine Corps Reserve and their 61 year program of bringing the joy of Christmas to needy children nationwide through their Toys for Tots Foundation. Below is a great commercial promoting their charity.