Category: Effective Compassion

After a disaster strikes, very few organizations have the vast resources and expertise to feed so many people as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. They have received praise from countless victims and organizations, including The American Red Cross. After Katrina, they were the first to have hot food tents up and running, feeding tens of thousands three meals a day in many communities along the Gulf Coast.

Most state Baptist Conventions have their own disaster relief agencies that in many instances have the capacity to function independently without national denominational assistance. Here are a few facts that give a sense of their commitment and network for disaster relief:

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers—including chaplains—and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

Below is a short report from ABC World News Tonight on the work Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is coordinating in Moore, Oklahoma. The community of Moore sustained severe damage as well as loss of life when an EF5 tornado with wind speeds over 200 mph touched down on May 20.

mooreOne of the powerful scenes after Hurricane Katrina was church organizations cutting their way through the roads with chainsaws so they could set up hot meal tents the very next day. Church responders have transformed into “well oiled machines” and are being praised by The Red Cross and federal agencies.

Because of Katrina, and tornadoes like the ones that decimated parts of Tuscaloosa, Ala. and Joplin, Mo., churches in those communities can offer a level of expertise to the local houses of worship in Oklahoma. Christian organizations, who have already mobilized for Oklahoma, are vital not just in the initial response, but will remain a force in the community long after the news cameras and headlines vanish.

One of the most significant problems after Katrina was that some victims, because of the shock of having everything decimated that they physically own, often became paralyzed by inaction and fall into long-term dependency. Many church agencies are now highly trained to handle these situations and can come alongside victims to help them take the first initial steps important for putting their life back together.

It is becoming much harder to make the once valid criticism that evangelical churches in America do not focus enough of their efforts and attention to serving the poor and meeting physical needs. Natural disasters, many of which have hit some of the most religious regions of America, have mobilized armies of evangelical volunteers and workers who are transformed by the words of Christ who commanded us to simply “love each other.” (John 15:17)

"Help me help you."

“Help me help you.”

Yesterday in conjunction with this week’s Acton Commentary I looked at Tim Riggins’ gift of freedom to his brother and the corresponding sense of responsibility that resulted. When Tim takes the rap for Billy, Billy has a responsibility to make something of his life. As Tim puts it, that’s the “deal.”

When Tim feels that Billy hasn’t lived up to his end, it causes conflict. Tim’s gift has created an obligation for the recipient. This reality is on clearest display in this exchange between the two brothers:

Billy: “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?”

Tim: “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”

This hints at the shadow-side of much of our gift-giving as human beings, as this good thing can be turned into a way of manipulating, controlling, or holding “it over” someone.

Consider these words about Augustine and their implications for the kinds of gift-giving that we ought to pursue:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy!

The “spiteful benevolence” that drives much gift giving is actually intended to keep the recipient in a state of dependence, in a relationship that gives power to the giver which can be lorded over others. This, I think, is actually one of the key dynamics of much of the modern international aid movement. Aid can become a tool of a kind of neo-colonial policy.

It is this debased and corrupted form of gift-giving that has led so many to the extreme position which argues that true gifts require no response and inspire no responsibility. But as I argue this week, this abuse of the reality of gift is no argument against its proper use: “The connection between gift and gratitude invigorates a life of stewardship and responsibility.”

Americans continue to be fed the false narrative that poverty causes crime rates to rise. While it is true that not having material needs met makes people vulnerable to do things like steal—even the Bible teaches that (Proverbs 30:8-9)—the ongoing reduction of morality and materiality is doing nothing but setting the stage for the failure of well-intended programs because we are missing core moral issues. One such idea is a New Haven, Connecticut plan to reduce crime rates by giving more welfare. The problems there were recently introduced in a New Haven News article:
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Over at the IFWE blog, Elise Amyx takes a look at Brian Fikkert’s argument about the origins of the modern American welfare state:

According to Fikkert, the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation between 1900 and 1930 encouraged the welfare state to grow to its size today. Church historians refer to this era as the “Great Reversal” because the evangelical church’s shift away from the poor was so dramatic.

In Faithful in All God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life, Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster make a similar case. They argue that “the church is largely responsible for the coming of the modern welfare community.” They also cast the hopeful vision that another reversal might occur: “The church could be largely responsible for purging welfare of its faults and problems if enough believers caught the vision.”

While Fikkert is largely drawing on the early twentieth century in America for his argument, Berghoef and DeKoster examine more broadly the Christian perspective on the relationship between faith and works of charity. This dynamic is, after all, is a perennial challenge for Christian social engagement, and the interaction between the Social Gospel and evangelicalism in America is just one example. Another is the reversal over the last century or so in the Netherlands, where there has been a move from Abraham Kuyper’s claim that “all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior” to the church’s plea “for social security that is not charity but a right that is fully guaranteed by government.”
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In 1936, near the end of the Great Depression, Children International launched one of the earliest child sponsorship charities. Today, child sponsorship is one of the most significant forms of foreign aid. It’s estimated that there are over 8 million internationally sponsored children in the world. With the average monthly sponsorship level set at about $30 (not including other gifts sent to sponsored children), the flow of resources from wealthy countries to poor countries from international child sponsorships is about $3.2 billion per year.

child-sponsorshipDespite the substantial amounts of money being funneled through these charities, few empirical studies have been conducted to gauge their effectiveness. But a new peer-reviewed, independent study on the viability of international child sponsorship led by Bruce Wydick, professor of economics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, reveals “large and statistically significant impacts on life outcomes for children enrolled in Compassion International’s Christian child sponsorship program.”

Some of the key findings from the study include:
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When it comes to proving support for those in poverty, a significant number of economists, politicians, and pundits support direct transfer of money—just giving the poor cash.

ford fiestaThere are many moral and practical reasons I think that option is a suboptimal means of aiding the poorest of our neighbors. But it does have one substantial benefit: It’d be much cheaper and efficient than current welfare programs.

As Daniel Halper at The Weekly Standard points out, the Senate Budget Committee finds that the amount of money spent on welfare programs equals, when converted to cash payments, about “$168 per day for every household in poverty.”

According to the Senate Budget Committee:
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I have recently accepted the honor of becoming a contributing editor at Ethika Politika, and I begin my contribution in that role today by launching a new channel (=magazine section): Via Vitae, “the way of life.” In my introductory article, “What Hath Athos to Do With New Jersey?” I summarize the goal of Via Vitae as follows:

Via Vitae seeks to explore this connection between the mystical and the mundane, liturgy and public life, the kingdom of God and the common good. While I value technical discussions of public policy and believe that the work of advocating for civil laws that reflect the law of God constitutes a true vocation, I see a lacuna in our discourse when it comes to the habits necessary to enable persons to live morally in the first place, however just or unjust the law itself may be. (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…)

Today at Ethika Politika, I explore the prospects for a renewed embrace of the Christian spiritual and ascetic tradition for ecumenical cooperation and the common good in my article “With Love as Our Byword.” As Roman Catholics anticipate the selection of a new pope, as an Orthodox Christian I hope that the great progress that has been made in ecumenical relations under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI will continue with the next Roman Pontiff.

In addition, I note the liturgical season: “The calling of Lent, for Christians of all traditions, reminds us of the ascetic heart of the Gospel way of life.” I continue to say,

Indeed, how many of our social problems today—poverty, violence, abortion, etc.—would benefit from such personal and relational love? We cannot view such problems with regard to statistics and policies alone (though we ought not to ignore them). On a much deeper level, they show us the suffering of persons in crisis who need the love of those who live a life of repentance from past sin and striving toward the likeness of God, the “way toward deification.”

I have commented in the past on the PowerBlog with regards to asceticism and the free society, but here I would like to explore the other side of the coin. We ought to embrace the radical way of love of the Christian tradition when it comes to the social problems of our day, but as I note above, we ought not, therefore, to ignore statistics and policies.

In his 1985 article, “Market Economy and Ethics,” then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes, “A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism. As such it is the antithesis of morality.” Heeding this warning means uniting good intentions and sound economics.

Failure to do so, despite having the right intentions and even the right morals, can lead to great error and unintended, harmful consequences. It reminds me of two passages from the readings for the past weekend’s Acton/Liberty Fund Liberty and Markets conference that I had the opportunity to attend. (more…)