Category: Public Policy

Orlando Patterson, professor of sociology at Harvard University, penned a challenging piece on Jena 6 and our current racial tensions. I have learned much from Patterson over the years. For example, he was the first person to help me realize that we often confuse issues of race and class in America by assuming the race as the single variable accounting for the cyclical plight of poor blacks.

In a September 30th New York Times op-ed piece Patterson rightly says that what happened in Jena, LA and the current state of black America goes well beyond the antiquated appropriation of racial reasoning. Patterson writes:

The circumstances that far too many African-Americans face — the lack of paternal support and discipline; the requirement that single mothers work regardless of the effect on their children’s care; the hypocritical refusal of conservative politicians to put their money where their mouths are on family values; the recourse by male youths to gangs as parental substitutes; the ghetto-fabulous culture of the streets; the lack of skills among black men for the jobs and pay they want; the hypersegregation of blacks into impoverished inner-city neighborhoods — all interact perversely with the prison system that simply makes hardened criminals of nonviolent drug offenders and spits out angry men who are unemployable, unreformable and unmarriageable, closing the vicious circle.

Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and other leaders of the Jena demonstration who view events there, and the racial horror of our prisons, as solely the result of white racism are living not just in the past but in a state of denial. Even after removing racial bias in our judicial and prison system — as we should and must do — disproportionate numbers of young black men will continue to be incarcerated.

Like many others, Patterson fails to see is that the crisis in black America, especially among black males, is primarily a moral one. To what Patterson said, I would add the following:

(1) Patterson calls for prisons to reintroduce rehabilitation as an integral method of dealing with offenders. Sadly, the best any government-run rehabilitation can do for a struggling inmate is to offer shallow behavior modification which has been proven not to work long-term. A man in prison has deep emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues. Prison rehabilitation is incapable of transforming and healing the soul of man who has acted out of his own lacerated wounds.

(2) Black fatherlessness is having a devastating affect on the masculine formation of black boys. This is a moral issue. Cultivating the attributes of love, commitment, intentional formation, care, teaching, time, and discipline that boys need to learn from their fathers, and other men who care about their development, cannot be engendered by a tax incentive.

(3) Rejecting the ghetto-fabulous mindset is a moral problem. On what basis do we expect a young black male to reject the self-sabotaging ghetto-mentality? Money and success? In a country as vain and immoral as America at times the market not only supports and encourages stupidity it also provides incentive for young black boys to pursue with recklessness. “Do yo’ chain hang low?” “Read a book!”

(4) The type of healing and restoration men need when exiting the prison system is moral at the core. While it is true that these men will need job training, new skills, etc., these men need, more than anything else, to embrace a new vision for what it means to be a man. Having a masculine identity that pursues whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, beautiful, commendable, praiseworthy, and the like requires a radically transformed and renewed mind and soul. It takes a morally formed masculine identity to make job skills and family commitments cultivate cycles of human flourishing.

When black men are given the moral formation to pursue a radically transformed view of themselves as men they will become the kinds of men who fight evil in the world instead of fighting each other and are intentional about raising another generation of girls and boys to do the same thereby making the world a better place.

"Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" [John 6:9]

Among all the many good things going on last weekend in Boise, I (and a few others) noticed something a bit disconcerting.

The way many of the topics were covered shows how prone Christians are to being consumed by doom and gloom messages of scarcity and lack and overpopulation and an "ever smaller earth." While it’s reasonable to take a survey of the damage and an inventory of the challenges facing the Church on the subject of caring for creation (…first sit down and count the cost…), we must guard against the negative motivation campaigns that are a hallmark of the environmental movement.

This sort of thinking fosters false choices and unecessarily narrows our options for moving forward. For instance, during the session on climate change, this question was asked:

Do we spend our time, energy and money taking care of people? Or is it wiser to use our resources to rescue the planet so people will have a better place to live?

As children of God that thinking should immediately strike us as out of place. It is, in fact, in direct opposition to what we know (or should know!) about how God works.

God makes everything from nothing [see footnote]. His abundance is not dependent on or limited by what exists on the earth yesterday, today or tomorrow. The cattle on a thousand hills are His. He can make stones cry out or turn them into bread. He both creates and tends to habitats.

– He is the author of life, and rules both the natural and supernatural. He creates living things from dead, whether that be almond branches or best friends. The life He creates does not merely sustain the status quo but is fruitful and multiplies itself abundantly.

– In our relationship with God through Christ we have access to the infinite resources of the Creator. We have the power of prayer that transforms the lives of individuals and nations. Prayer can bring buckets of rain or extended drought. Through Him we can bring water from a rock in the desert, or get money from a fish’s mouth.

– God gives the Church no reason to doubt that if He has given us a mandate, He will also give us the power and the means by which to carry it out. Likewise, we should not be surprised when our own means to solve problems – ecological or otherwise – are limited. Truth be told, He doesn’t need us around to make any of this happen. Our weakness and limitations force us to depend on His abundance and strength so that He is glorified, not us.

I couldn’t summarize this any better than this Torah teacher does here:

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: "I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?" (Jeremiah 32:26,27)

To deny God’s ability is to deny God himself. Nothing is too hard for God. However else we may struggle in our faith, we must come to the place where we accept that his power is limitless. Once we get to that point, the door of our hearts is open to whatever he may want to do in our lives. I wonder how many of us cannot hear the great things God wants to do in us and through us, because we don’t believe in his ability. Think of how we would pray and live differently if in our heart of hearts we knew God’s power had no limits.

A hallmark of the Christian ecologist must always be an unflappable, unstoppable confidence in God’s abundance.

Let’s admit here and now that fire and brimstone sermons do little to change hearts, and neither will they green the Church or transform our world.

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist. Click here for his other posts in this series.]


[Footnote: This is also a good argument for thoughtful debate over earth’s origin. A materially-limited view of God is a natural outcome of routinely seeing Him as merely an intelligent agent acting within the confines of the earth’s self-existing (and thus finite) evolutionary processes.]

Blog author: rnothstine
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

You may have heard this line before, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The quote was attributed to Johann Tetzel, a German Dominican Friar, in charge of collecting indulgences in 16th Century Germany.

However, it’s not Roman Catholics who have embraced a re-run of indulgences, but the new gurus of carbon-offsetting at the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, takes issue with ECI’s latest venture into indulgence – carbon offsets in his piece for the American Spectator titled, A Pardoner’s Tale. Murray sarcastically notes, “You can atone for your carbon sins by buying carbon offsets from the Evangelical Climate Initiative.” Murray also says:

Not to worry. ECI tells us that “The average American is responsible for about 23 tons of CO2 pollution.” And it just so happens that $99 (Not $78 or $103.54? How did it just happen to come to a price right under the $100 threshold past which consumers are much less likely to purchase?) is just enough to offset 23 tons of CO2 per year.

Murray also highlights the new found free market spirit of ECI, but also calls the faithful to their reformation roots, declaring:

One last concern: Where’s the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on ECI’s moneymaking site? Or the Better Business Bureau logo? Or the link to information about how the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates the carbon offsets and carbon trading businesses to make sure there’s no monkey business going on? They’re not there, because — well, because there is no regulation of this business. Apparently the ECI has finally found a tiny bit of the free market that it doesn’t want to strangle with regulation. One wonders, though, what happened to the ECI’s strong suspicion of sin in every branch of the corporate world. Or is the carbon offset industry impeccable?

It appears to me that this particular branch of evangelical theology is in dire need of a reformation. When it comes to the sin of carbon emission, perhaps carbon-using Christians should remember the words of Martin Luther’s Letter to Melanchthon: ‘Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.’

(Powerblogger Kevin Schmiesing pointed out the indulgent nature of carbon offsets in a post last February.)

On the campaign trail just recently, John Edwards called for Americans to give up their SUVs, and then was seen leaving the rally in none other than a sports utility vehicle. But not to worry an Edwards spokesmen said, “We buy carbon-offsets for the vehicle.”

It seems as if individuals and families were serious about altering their carbon footprint, they would curb their energy use instead of purchasing an indulgence for their guilt. It seems to resemble a fad or a trendy phase by guilt-ridden polluters. I wonder if I have to purchase a carbon offset for those parachute pants I once owned in kindergarten?

However, with the rising free and unregulated market of carbon-offsets, it will be interesting to see what other offsets emerge in the marketplace, and whether this will trickle down to the health, food, and tobacco industries. Entrepreneurs who miss out on this exploding market, may be feeling a bit of guilt and remorse as well.

Jay W. Richards of the Acton Institute, has a commentary today in the National Review Online titled, What Would Jesus Drive?: Electrified Evangelical theological confusion. Richards notes in his article, “With respect to the environment, the theological principles are uncontroversial: human beings, as image bearers of God, are placed as stewards over the created order.”

He asks four separate questions, which he calls “tough.”

(1) Is the planet warming?

(2) If the planet is warming, is human activity (like CO2 emissions) causing it?

(3) If the planet is warming, is it bad overall?

(4) If the planet is warming, we’re causing it, and it’s bad, would the policies commonly advocated (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol, legislative restrictions on CO2 emissions) make any difference and, if so, would their cost exceed their benefit?

Furthermore, he offers a tough critique of the defenders of the Evangelical Climate Initiative:

The problem with the chief defenders of the Evangelical Climate Initiative is that they haven’t thought through these four questions, at least not publicly. What they have done is label their position as the authentically Evangelical one. Other Evangelicals need to call them on this tactic, exposing the false dilemma for the piece of cheap rhetoric it is.

Be sure to read the entire commentary, it is a helpful analysis on the climate debate, as well as a good look at the political strategy of the Evangelical left and their allies, the Democratic Party.

Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, has a piece in today’s Detroit News titled, “Will Quran limit growth of Muslim nations?” The commentary addresses the economic outlook of Muslims, and Islamic nations, considering their religious position against the charging of interest. Gregg notes:

Given the Arab world’s increasing religiosity, however, one potential obstacle could significantly handicap these nations’ financial creativity and economic diversification policies: Islam’s prohibition of interest-charging.

Gregg also briefly examines how Christians settled the moral dilemma regarding interest:

Christianity once had a usury issue. Christianity began resolving this matter in the medieval period. Scholastic theologians established that, under certain conditions (such as free exchange economies), money was not simply a means of exchange, but also “capital”: that is, a productive good whose owners could legitimately charge others for its use. Not all interest-charging, the scholastics concluded, constituted usury.

I’ve heard it said from a number of leaders in the Reformed community that there is a great opportunity for Reformed churches to be a positive influence on the growth of Christianity abroad, particularly in places like Africa where Pentecostalism has made such large inroads.

The thesis is that as time passes and institutions need to be built, the traditionally other-worldly Pentecostal faith will by necessity need to embrace a more fully comprehensive world-and-life view. Reformed institutions ought to be prepared to step into the breach and provide that worldview education.

On that note, I pass along two items of interest. The first is a newly released book from Fortress Press, Christian Education as Evangelism, an edited collection of essays that argues that if congregations “are to be active in their evangelical outreach, solid teaching is necessary. Likewise learning ministries that are well grounded and alive will spring forth into vital sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ. Christian education leads to evangelism and evangelism leads to Christian education.”

And as a counter-point to the potential for arrogance that might accompany a Reformed educational mission to the Pentecostal world, see this item, “Dutch Protestant leader apologises to Pentecostals,”

Utrecht (ENI). The Protestant Church in the Netherlands has apologised to Pentecostals for negative attitudes held in the past by Reformed and Lutheran Christians towards members of Pentecostal churches. “Even now, one still can often sense an attitude of negativity and condescension,” the church’s general secretary Bas Plaisier said at celebrations in Amsterdam’s Olympic stadium to mark the centenary of the Dutch Pentecostal movement. Such attitudes were also widely held among Protestants in the past, Plaisier said. “I hope that with this centenary celebration we can put an end to this [negative] way of speaking and thinking about one another,” he said. [355 words, ENI-07-0726]

Given the rather distinct lack of commitment to distinctively and confessionally Reformed education among the Christian Reformed Church at the moment (check out this synodical report), I wonder if this sort of educational impetus is something that Westerners find are good for other people, but not themselves.

The problem and pain of poverty garners a prolific amount of attention in the Church today, and rightfully so. In Evangelical Christian Churches, poverty awareness, discussion, and action has risen to new heights. Much of this has to do with the rapid speed of communication, increase in education, and a reaction against social conservatives, who in the past, have emphasized much of their focus on more specific social and moral issues such as abortion.

While I was in seminary, during an annual event which was supposed to raise awareness of issues of poverty, some students pretended to be homeless, they lived in cardboard boxes and any form of materialistic – luxury was denounced. Much of the problem solving initiatives called for increased government regulation and programs to solve issues of justice and fairness in society.

Big corporations in some seminary classes were also denounced from time to time, mostly by the endless examples of Enron, the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, and of course anybody in “big oil.” In addition, some professors would throw in Halliburton because of its ties to the current Executive Branch. Another problem which was highlighted often on campus was Western exploitation of developing nations. Understandably, I did not agree with many of the caricatures of business and the endless stereotypes of institutions and people with capital.

Professor Mark Hendrickson of Grove City College, reminds us of the positive aspects business plays in reducing poverty. In his piece titled The Liberal Temptation, Hendrickson notes how the political left does a disservice to anti-poverty initiatives. A few quotes from the article are provided below:

The liberal approach to poverty is also rendered problematical by their anti-capitalist, anti-business mentality. Liberals regard themselves as the good guys for initiating government programs to help Americans of modest means, while disdaining businessmen as selfish, less-than-moral beings who are engaged in the selfish and morally inferior pursuit of profits. This is an unduly harsh assessment of businessmen; in fact, it is spectacularly ignorant and perversely unfair. A person may not like the daily tussle of business or individual businesspersons who behave abusively, and they are fully justified in being repulsed by illegal conduct. However, there is a vital historical fact that anti-business liberals generally overlook: business’ role in reducing poverty.

Throughout most of human history, the masses of human beings were wretchedly poor. Only in the last few centuries have large numbers of people climbed out of poverty. What has been the agent of such a fundamental change? Profit-seeking business. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, business has lifted more people out of poverty than all the churches, charities, and government programs (national or multilateral—like the World Bank) combined. Look at the history of Great Britain, the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chile, South Korea, and now China and India. Wherever you look, standards of living rise where business is allowed to flourish.

In contemporary Evangelical Christianity and in the political world there are a lot of poverty traps present. Too many Christians do not move beyond reactionary action for aiding and assisting the poor. One of the great characteristics of America is the number of immigrants who came here, with little or no material or capital wealth, and succeeded with their new life. One of the reasons there was such an abundance of opportunity was because of the lack of excessive regulation and taxation.

It’s important to take a look at Hendrickson’s article, because it’s a reminder just how much human initiative, free markets, and business plays a powerful role in reducing the sad state of human misery in the world. Often times, people who identify with a conservative world-view on economic issues are labeled as being against something, because they might be against a new government program, or a regulatory act. But this is simply not the case, if you are for free markets, deregulation, lower taxes, and other pro business initiatives, you truly are a part of the largest anti-poverty campaign in the history of the world.