Archived Posts August 2007 - Page 3 of 11 | Acton PowerBlog

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.

One of the sad legacies of the civil-rights movement is that anyone who makes a critical comment about bad dimensions of black life in America is automatically branded a racist. This is silly. The New York Times reports today on the uproar regarding a recent BET satirical cartoon called “Read A Book” which is circulation in Some are claiming that the video is racist.

In a gloss on the hip-hop videos frequently shown on BET, an animated rapper named D’Mite comes on with what looks like a public service message about the benefits of reading, but devolves into a foul-mouthed song accompanied by images of black men shooting guns loaded with books and gyrating black women with the word “book” written on the back of their low-slung pants. The uncensored cut is making the rounds on YouTube, while a cleaner version was shown on BET.

The cartoon, which represents an effort by the network to broaden its programming, was the subject of an article on Friday in The Los Angeles Times, which noted that the network has been “long criticized for showing gangsta rap videos and those with scantily clad female dancers.”

The video does have bad language but it’s meant to make a point: stupid is as stupid does. The cartoon is protesting the fact that the ghetto-mentality encourages the following:

(1) Ignorance as a goal. The cartoon encourages viewers to read. You rarely ever hear popular radio hip hop encouraging listeners to enlighten their minds. A strong emphasis on education has always been a strong pillar of black life in America until recently.

(2) Irresponsible fatherhood. The cartoon encourages men to take care of their own kids. Popular radio hip hop often celebrates parental irresponsibility.

(3) Financial irresponsibility. The video encourages viewers to buy property instead of rims for their cars. What’s odd is that Chris Rock makes the exact same comments about the stupidity of wasting money on rims for worthless vehicles but Rock is never called “racist.”

(4) Bad personal hygiene and grooming. The video encourages viewers to take better care of themselves–dental care, bathing, deodorant, etc.

The burning question remains: how is this video racist? BET does not need to apologize for showing the satire. I hope more cartoons like this emerge to expose just how the self-sabotaging dimensions of the ghetto-mentality are destroying a segment of American culture.

What we really need is a conversation on what constitutes real racism. Pointing out ignorance, regardless of the racial expression, moves us closer to the truth and to confuse this with racism will keep many blacks from making any progress. In fact, to point out ignorance and conclude that such comment is the same as mocking blacks in general is the most racist position of them all. “Black” and “ghetto ignorance” are not synonyms.”

What is most helpful is if black cultural elites would put the black-community-as-sacred-cow to death. It’s not helping any of us.

Dr. Jay W. Richards

Dr. Jay W. Richards gave an impassioned address at the heavily attended Acton Lecture series yesterday titled, “Myths Christians Believe about Wealth and Poverty.” This topic was especially relevant for me because I graduated from a Wesleyan Evangelical seminary, which constantly preached and proclaimed so many myths Richards addressed, especially “the piety myth.” This was a big problem in seminary, as the gospels were often linked to promoting the modern welfare state, and its goals of wealth redistribution.

Richards said the piety myth “focuses on our good intentions rather than the unintended consequences of our actions.” An example he provided was rent control, which causes major shortages in housing, and of course the quality of housing. Moderately priced housing also diminishes significantly in communities with rent control.

Another essential example cited by Richards was the “zero-sum game myth,” which holds that wealth gained in one place always means that wealth was lost someplace else. To illustrate this myth, Richards used the example of pie, saying that if somebody cuts for themselves a larger piece by proportion, somebody else of course loses out. Most economists and entrepreneurs however understand that wealth is created, and Richards used the example of sand and the explosion of the microchip. Natural resources are one example of something being harvested for production and consumption.

While I was at seminary the hip thing was crusading against the retail giant Wal-Mart. Many students wanted to play the William Wilberforce role by freeing Wal-Mart suppliers from “slave trade” status. Wal-Mart was constantly accused of not providing a living wage, closing down small businesses, and causing the explosion of international sweat-shops. It was described as a “social justice” issue. In his talk, Richards did a fine job of explaining Wal-Mart’s value in the marketplace. And how places like Wal-Mart provide a reduction in food costs, especially for poorer families who spend more of their disposable income by percentage on food. Obviously many of the critics at my seminary came from upper middle class backgrounds who saw no use for a 25 cent savings on a grocery product, especially if it interfered with their notion of social justice.

In Richards lecture, he noted the need for comparisons between reality and reality, instead of reality and myth or reality vs. utopia notions. He said “many factories get accused of being sweat-shops.” He cited that sometimes the notion exists in the critics head that if the “sweat-shop” was closed down that person would be provided with an education, and a fantastic college degree, which is closer to the truth here in America, but not necessarily true somewhere else. It may be that their job keeps them out of the sex trade, or a life of wandering the streets searching for food, which I saw quite a bit while living in Africa. It’s also been said that many of these places of employment dubbed as “sweat-shops” have provided people in the Third World with the concept and practice of weekends for the first time in their life. In many places a culture of recreation and leisure time is existing for the first time among the poorer classes. The explosion of the middle class in places like India and China is a phenomenon we do not hear very often in news reports.

While compassion for the poor is a universal truth for Christians, compassion alone is not enough. As Christians we need to better understand why wealth is not being created in some places. Richards surmised class warfare serves more as a decoy, when we focus more on income disparity, rather than results. We will continue to see outdated recycled economic philosophies used to create Utopian societies. Communism promised a society of absolute equality, it just had to break a few eggs to achieve the omelet, right? Truth exists, and that is why Richards was so right to say free markets must not be weighed against unrealizable ideals, but rather live alternatives.

Acton Media’s documentary, “The Call of the Entrepreneur,” is slated as the first item on the 2007 Agenda for the Annual Gilder/Forbes Telecosm Conference, to be held in Lake George, NY this October. The theme for the 2007 Conference is “Pursuing opportunities, celebrating entrepreneurship, and seeking the upside surprises surrounding the coming end of the local area network.” Visit the Conference website for more information and to register.

Railing against corporate dictatorship, helps consumers find locally-owned cafes, bookstores, and movie theatres in their area — alternatives to the “invasion” of Starbucks, Borders, and their ilk. The site itself is actually quite an interesting capitalist idea in its freshness and creativity, and people certainly should eat or drink or shop where they are most comfortable. That’s the beauty of competition! And the kind of community-building that often takes place at familiar, time-tested, local shops is to be encouraged.

But to say local businesses possess some kind of moral magic simply by virtue of being family-owned and homey is preposterous. Such shops may be more ethically run in some ways, partially through close personal ties to the community and to fellow owners and employees. But this bespeaks the virtue of the management, not of the abstract institution of the local business itself (just as it indicates the poor character of the management of a corporate business, and not all of corporate business itself, when one falls into unethical dealings). Also, independent stores are often smaller, so they may provide fewer jobs to people in the community and supply fewer products to their customers. Neither of these are inherently good qualities for businesses to have.

In saying that independent, community-operated businesses “deserve your dime,” forgets that consumers may have different preferences, needs, and reasons for choosing bigger stores, and that it is not immoral for them to do so. While it is true that corporate business is not inherently praiseworthy, neither are small businesses — but inherently good things can come out of both types of stores in different circumstances, even if ignoring the economic benefits of competition. Making books more widely available to average people is a good thing. Having a choice of coffee shops — for atmosphere, taste, cost, or convenience — is a good thing. Even facing more snack options at a bigger movie theater is, in its own sense, desirable.

If delocator fans don’t find these things desirable, they should by all means avoid them. But to limit personal choice and to condemn the multiplicity of options seems to defeat the principle of independence that claims to inform them in the first place.

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.