Category: Public Policy

This summer I’m working on developing the syllabus for a class that I’ll be helping to lead in the Fall. The course will focus on readings in social ethics, with a general theme on church and culture, and a particular theme on church and poverty.

I’ll be reading through the selections on this particular theme over the next few weeks. I’d like to post the readings for the week that I’ll be going through, so that you can read along if you like. I’ll post my responses, observations, and questions as separate posts throughout the week, as starters for discussions that we can pursue in the comment threads if you so desire.

I’ll do my best to summarize works that may not be available or for those who aren’t able for whatever reason to engage the primary sources directly. Where available online, I’ll include links to the primary sources. Otherwise, the sources can only be found in print (this information is available upon request…some of them may be hard to find, and I’ll note those in the relevant post).

The readings will progress in roughly historical order. For this first week of readings, let’s look at:

  1. Cyprian of Carthage, On Works and Alms

  2. Clement of Alexandria, Who Is the Rich Man that Shall be Saved?
  3. Gregory of Nazianzus, On the Love for the Poor
  4. Gregory of Nyssa, Love of the Poor

Week 2:

  1. John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3).

Week 3:

  1. Bonaventure, A Defence of the Mendicants (selections), in From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought 100-1625, ed. Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, pp. 312-19.

Week 4:

  1. Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi (selections), in Melanchthon and Bucer, Book I, Chapter XIV, “Care for the Needy,” pp. 256-59; Book II, Chapter XIV, “The Sixth Law: Poor Relief,” pp. 306-15.

Week 5:

  1. Richard Baxter, How to Do Good to Many (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3) (London, 1682; repr. 1830).

Week 6:

  1. John Wesley, “The Rich Man and Lazarus.”

Week 7:

  1. Abraham Kuyper, The Problem of Poverty.

Week 8:

  1. Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis.

    To conclude this survey of a series of texts on the church and poverty, we’ll be looking at this piece from Rauschenbusch. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first publication of Christianity and the Social Crisis, and a new centenary edition has been released this month by HarperSanFrancisco and includes responses to each chapter from figures such as Jim Wallis, Tony Camplo, Cornel West, Richard Rorty, Stanley Hauerwas, and others.

Blog author: E. Calvin Beisner
Friday, August 24, 2007

A letter to the editor in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution in response to two op-eds in that paper: “Global Warming: No urgent danger; no quick fix,” by Patrick J. Michaels and “Global warming: Don’t take skeptics at face value,” by John Sibley.

A taste: “Sibley the politician resorts to ad hominem attack on those with whom he disagrees. Michaels the scientist appeals to evidence.” Scroll down to the second letter to see the whole thing.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 23, 2007

Readings in Social Ethics: Abraham Kuyper, The Problem of Poverty. References below are to page numbers.

  • With next week’s reading of Rauschenbusch in view, here’s how Kuyper evaluates Christian socialists: “Socialists constantly invoke Christ in support of their utopias, and continually hold before us important texts from the Holy Word. Indeed, socialists have so strongly felt the bond between social distress and the Christian religion that they have not hesitated to present Christ himself as the great prophet of socialism” (27).

  • Here’s what Jesus’ social message really consists in: “If you ask what Jesus did to bring deliverance from the social needs of his time, here is the answer. He knew that such desperate needs grow from the malignant roots of error and sin, so he placed the truth over against error and broke the power of sin by shedding his blood and pouring out his Holy Spirit on his own. Since rich and poor had become divided because they had lost their point of union in God, he called both together back to their Father who is in heaven. He saw how the idolizing of money had killed nobility in the human heart, so he held up the “service of Mammon” before his followers as an object for their deep contempt. Since he understood the curse that lies in capital, especially for the man of great wealth, he adjured him to cease his accumulation of capital and to gather not treasure on earth, where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break in and steal (Matt. 6:19). He rejected the rich young man because he could not decide to sell all his goods and give to the poor. In his heart Jesus harbored no hatred for the rich, but rather a deep compassion for their pitiable condition. The service of Mammon is exceedingly difficult. Sooner would a camel go through the eye of a needle than would a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 9:16-24). Only when the possession of money leads to usury and harshness does Jesus become angry, and in a moving parable he tells how the man who would not release his debtor is handed over to torturers and branded as a wicked servant who knows no pity (Matt. 18:23-35)” (37-38).
  • Likewise Kuyper says: “The socialists so flatly reverse [this] when they preach it: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33). For both rich and poor, Jesus’ teaching simultaneously cuts to the root of sin in our human heart” (39-40).
  • The deep interconnections between material want and spiritual need: “A charity which knows only how to give money, is not yet Christian love. You will be free of guilt only when you also give your time, your energy, and your resourcefulness to help end such abuses for good, and when you allow nothing that lies hidden in the storehouse of your Christian religion to remain unused against the cancer that is destroying the vitality of our society in such alarming ways…You do not honor God’s Word if, in these circumstances, you ever forget how the Christ, (just as his prophets before him and his apostles after him) invariably took sides against those who were powerful and living in luxury, and for the suffering and oppressed. Even more appalling is the spiritual need of our generation. When, in the midst of our social misery, I observe the demoralization that follows on the heels of material need, and hear a raucous voice which, instead of calling on the Father in heaven for salvation, curses God, mocks his Word, insults the cross of Golgotha, and tramples on whatever witness was still in the conscience–all in order to inflame everything wild and brutish in the human heart–then I stand before an abyss of spiritual misery that arouses my human compassion almost more than does the most biting poverty” (62-63).
  • Solidarity as expressed ultimately in the sacrament of communion: “The tremendous love springing up from God within you displays its radiance not in the fact that you allow poor Lazarus to quiet his hunger with the crumbs that fall from your overburdened table. All such charity is more like an insult to the manly heart that beats in the bosom of the poor man. Rather, the love within you displays its radiance in this: Just as rich and poor sit down with each other at the communion table, so also you feel for the poor man as for a member of the body, which is all that you are as well. To the poor man, a loyal handshake is often sweeter than a bountiful largess. A friendly word, not spoken haughtily, is the gentlest balm for one who weeps over his wounds. Divine compassion, sympathy, and suffering with us and for us–that was the mystery of Golgotha. You, too, must suffer with your suffering brothers. Only then will the holy music of consolation vibrate in your speech. Then, driven by this sympathy of compassion, you will naturally conform your action to your speech. For deeds of love are indispensable” (77). See also 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
  • Is state welfare an adequate substitute for Christian charity? Never: “The holy art of ‘giving for Jesus’ sake’ ought to be much more strongly developed among us Christians. Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior” (78).

Next week: Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis.

Across America a group of Christians have banded together to promote a movement to protect illegal aliens from deportation. This is not a new phenomenon at all. What is a little different, at least about some aspects of this renewal of an older movement, is that it has now focused primarily on protecting Mexicans, who are living illegally in the U. S., from deportation. A celebrated case is unfolding day-by-day here in Chicago so I hear a great deal about this on a regular basis. I am not entirely sure how to think about the movement or this particular case. (As is true with many similar issues there seems to be no simple, single, obvious answer.) I see some things clearly here but then there are some issues that seem less clear to me. 

The Chicago story is a pretty straightforward sanctuary case. Elvira Arellano, 32, came to America as an undocumented Mexican alien in 1997 to find work. She was deported shortly thereafter and then returned and worked at several different jobs, including child care. She moved to Illinois in 2000 because she had friends in Chicago. Here she took a job cleaning planes at O’Hare International Airport. While she was in the U. S. illegally she got pregnant and had a son, Saul, who is now eight years old. This means Elvira’s son Saul is a U.S. citizen by virtue of his birth place.  Elvira was arrested in 2002 at O’Hare and later convicted of working under a false Social Security number. Last August, 2006, she was to surrender to authorities but decided to take refuge inside a Methodist church in Chicago. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials consider her a fugitive because she failed to surrender for deportation.

Elvira now intends to leave her sanctuary at the Methodist Church and lobby Congress for immigration reform, even if it means she will be arrested and deported. She says that if she is deported her son will stay in the U.S. Her plans for D.C. are to pray, with a group of immigration rights people, for eight hours on the National Mall on September 12th.  Her supporters have invited others to join her in prayer and to participate in a boycott from work, school and shopping on that specific date. However, on Monday, August 20, she was taken into custody in Sacramento, choosing to come out of her church Chicago sanctuary sooner than she had at first stated. Deportation plans are now in the works as of today.

The proposal that Elvira supports by her efforts is one that says there must be immigration reform which would include a safe-harbor visa program for illegal immigrants parents who have U. S. citizen children and a five-year temporary visa for those who qualify under national security standards. She adds, “Families should not be separated. I understand fear because I fear being torn from the arms of my son.”

Consider this issue as dispassionately as possible. (I doubt this can be done by most of us if we are really, really honest.)

Update: Arellano has been deported to Mexico. Read Brooke Levitske’s July 11 Acton commentary on the New Sanctuary Movement here. — Ed. (more…)

A few weeks ago I was listening to a very engaging American RadioWorks documentary, rebroadcast from last October, “Japan’s Pop Power.” The show focused on the increasing cultural imports to America coming from Japan, which by some estimations will soon dwarf industries typically associated with American-Japanese trade like automobiles, technology, and electronics. Japan’s economic success is a sure sign that human creativity and inventiveness are more important factors in human flourishing than mere material concerns or natural resources.

Some of the commentary expounded the typical pattern and dynamics of a sub-culture movement becoming mainstream. A great deal of the program focused on Japanese art, film, and media products, including the form of Japanese comic known as manga. Beginning with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the growing Japanese dominance of programming oriented toward youth is especially noteworthy (I’m a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan and my wife likes Ninja Warrior).

One portion of the program interested me especially because we have been discussing the importance of narrative here lately. As Chris Farrell and John Biewen spoke with an American teenager, it became clear that in part what draws our youth to contemporary forms of Japanese storytelling, beyond the inherent exotic elements, is the disjointedness of the narrative. It’s often a challenge to figure out who the main characters are and what they are doing. Some of the attraction is no doubt the mental agility that is required to induct a logical flow from the sometimes confusing morass.

But on another level, the attraction is undoubtedly a reflection of a post-modern mindset, which isn’t so concerned with logical plot progression. Japanese shows are renowned for their emphasis on glitzy effects, explosions, and action (oftentimes at the expense of sanity) such that they’ve become a staple of American parody:

It’s always a challenge for Christians to determine when and how to engage cultural movements. Some businesses and industries are without a doubt beyond the realm of moral permissibility, and the Christian is barred from licit participation. The message to those who are involved must be only, “Go and sin no more.”

But other times keen discernment is called for, and Christians at different times and places have come up with very different answers about how to engage the broader culture. At some point soon, for instance, we’ll look in more detail at the Christian Reformed Church’s synodical reports from 1928 on “Worldly Amusements” and from 1966 on “Film Arts.”

One approach I’m familiar with in a professional capacity is the attempt by some Christian publishers to transform the manga genre into something that is a positive and constructive influence, conducive to Christian piety, rather than one that celebrates moral depravity (for which manga is infamously renowned).

Zondervan, for example, has newly available a number of new manga series aimed towards youth or “tweens” audiences (full disclosure: I provided theological review services for a number of these products). On example is a series that follows the fictional exploits of Branan, the son of the biblical judge Samson. Other series follow a team of time-travelling flies and relate the biblical narrative in the form of a Manga Bible (the latter produced by a Korean author/illustrator team).

Whether such ventures are judged to be successful depends on the standards applied by individual Christians. No doubt many will be thankful for offerings in a pop culture genre whose contents are sincerely counter-cultural.

What is certain is that there is no better place to address the needs for a new generation of readers eager for meaningful narrative than to rely upon mythopoeia and, indeed, the greatest story ever told, the “True Myth,” the biblical drama of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

What do you call titans of industry who influence governmental regulation to provide them with tax and subsidy incentives to make a business venture profitable?

They used to be called robber barons…now apparently they’re “eco-millionaires.” The NYT piece gives a brief overview of four such figures:

Bruce Khouri “did not found Solar Integrated until 2001 once tax and subsidy incentives made the market more attractive.”

Pedro Moura Costa says he “saw the carbon market could be big business and the Kyoto Protocol confirmed my views.”

According to David Scaysbrook, “tax breaks, subsidies and emissions caps had prompted even more conservative investors ‘to finally move off their perch.'”

And “Neil Eckert, chief executive of Climate Exchange, which runs the main European exchange for carbon trading, has shares worth about 18 million pounds ($36 million). He is also non-executive chairman of Trading Emissions and Econergy, both involved in emission-cutting projects and generating revenue from carbon credits.”

More here on how not only individual investors but also nations are cashing in on artificially-created carbon schemes.

Readings in Social Ethics: John Wesley, “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” References below are to page numbers.

  • A warning on the dangers of riches: “‘There was a certain rich man.’ And it is no more sinful to be rich than to be poor. But it is dangerous beyond expression. Therefore, I remind all of you that are of this number, that have the conveniences of life, and something over, that ye walk upon slippery ground. Ye continually tread on snares and deaths. Ye are, every moment, on the verge of hell. ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘Who was clothed in purple and fine linen.’ And some may have a plea for this: our Lord mentions them that dwell in kings’ houses, as wearing gorgeous, that is splendid apparel, and does not blame them for it. But certainly this is no plea, for any that do not dwell in kings’ houses. Let all of them, therefore, beware how they follow his example, who is lifting up his eyes in hell: let us follow the advice of the Apostle, being ‘adorned with good works, and with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit'” (316).

  • A condemnation of gluttony and indulgence: “‘He fared sumptuously every day.’ Reconcile this with religion who can. I know how plausibly the prophets of smooth things can talk, in favour of hospitality, of making our friends welcome, of keeping an handsome table, to do honour to religion, of promoting trade, and the like. But God is not mocked: He will not be put off with such pretences as these. Whoever thou art that sharest in the sin of this rich man, were it no other than faring sumptuously every day, thou shalt as surely be a sharer in his punishment, except thou repent, as if thou wert already crying for a drop of water to cool thy tongue” (316). Great wealth does not make vice permissible.
  • A sermon illustration intended to motivate us to do good works: “At Epworth in Lincolnshire, the town where I was born, a beggar came to a house in the Marketplace, and begged a morsel of bread, saying, ‘She was very hungry.’ The master bid her be gone, for a lazy jade. She called at a second, and begged a little small beer, saying, ‘She was very thirsty.’ She Lad much the same answer. At a third door she begged a little water, saying, ‘She was very faint.’ But this man also was too conscientious to encourage common beggars. The boys, seeing a ragged creature turned from door to door, began to pelt her with snow-balls. She looked up, lay down, and died! Would you wish to be the man, who refused that poor wretch a morsel of bread, or a cup of water?” (317)

Next week: Abraham Kuyper, The Problem of Poverty.