New from Acton Media, this video short titled “How Not to Help the Poor” discusses the root causes of poverty and how even the best of intentions can go wrong in dealing with and trying to help those in need.
New from Acton Media, this video short titled “How Not to Help the Poor” discusses the root causes of poverty and how even the best of intentions can go wrong in dealing with and trying to help those in need.
USA Today has an excellent assessment of the impact of faith-based charities in an October 7 piece titled “Faith-based groups man the front lines.” The gist of the article points out the obvious to those who are still recovering from devastating hurricanes, and that’s that religious charities understand and are committed to the long term need of hurricane victims.
As a Katrina evacuee myself, I have witnessed the commitment and work of Christian churches and charities perform life changing assistance to victims on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They are able to bypass bureaucracy, adding the all important human touch in not only helping rebuild totaled homes, but improve the foundation of one’s life. One of the clear contrasts of faith-based charities verse federal assistance is that it’s simply a lot less discriminating in who they can help. Additionally, they are much better equipped to make decisions on the ground or at the scene by meeting specific needs of those needing help. Instead of only saying “we can do this for you”, they can discern and meet the immediate need.
My father directed the relief efforts at his evangelical church in Pass Christian, Miss. At the church in Pass Christian they had an army of Mennonite, Amish, and evangelical volunteers from the Lancaster County area of Pennsylvania. My dad estimated their labor time consisted of a conservative estimate of $1.3 million, and they donated just over a $1 million in equipment and supplies. This is all from one community in Pennsylvania which was based out of one fairly small church on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Business leaders pitched in as well, as the employer of a construction company in that Pennsylvania community paid his workers through the relief effort.
There are thousands and thousands of inspirational stories from faith groups committed to hurricane relief efforts and this article captures just a couple of them. When you have churches and people driven and influenced by the Lord, there is literally no limit to their service and what they can accomplish. The USA Today article notes:
Shortly after the storm, [Julius] Moll was filling gas in his truck in a nearby town when a neighbor told him about Catholic Charities. The next day, Moll met with Catholic Charities officials who had set up a command post at Jean Lafitte’s Town Hall. They told him they would gut his mother’s house for free. Moll lowered his head and cried.
‘I was overwhelmed,” he says. “It’s unbelievable how people can come in and help you.’
The ninth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The ninth and final leg of the journey took the bikers from St. Catharines, Ontario, to Jersey City, a total distance of 430 miles. By the end of tour, the riders had covered 3881 miles.
The “Shifting Gears” devotional contained a key biblical point in the day 57 entry. Reflecting on the separation from family members over the 9 weeks of the tour, hope was expressed that such an experience might “make us more aware of those who are constantly torn from their loved ones and remind us that the water of baptism is thicker than family blood.” As I concluded in a 2005 post, “The water of Christian baptism is thicker than the blood of natural flesh. ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.'” The reality of baptism sets upon a path of service to our neighbors. This is a good point of departure for discussing questions of poverty and prosperity.
A good deal of the devotional focuses on the particularities of the experience of riding a bike. This is fitting because the text was designed for use by the riders of the poverty tour. But a few weeks ago I discussed another kind of bike rider, Pastor Bike of China, who was imprisoned because of his bicycle-based evangelism.
The good news coming out of China this week is that Pastor Bike has been released. Praise God.
My concern in following the CRC Sea to Sea bike tour over the last months has focused on the relation of material poverty to spiritual poverty. This remains an open question for me regarding the social justice advocacy of the denomination. There is a real danger that the social justice focus of the Christian Reformed Church will lapse into a post-milllenialist form of the Social Gospel.
The texts and materials of the tour itself were a bit uneven on this. In the end I think the focus is rightly aimed at divine reality. But the prudential judgments about how material poverty relates to spiritual concerns remains under-developed. When Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you,” he was effectively saying that until he comes again we will always have to deal with the realities of sin and imperfection.
But he gave us guidance as to how to live in the midst of this sinful reality: “You can help them any time you want.” The one lesson we should take from this tour is that there is a real and pervasive Christian responsibility to give to the relief of the poor in a way that addresses both material and spiritual realities. Give thoughtfully and prayerfully. But be sure to give. For a moving testimony on this, see “Auntie Anne’s Pretzels founder cites personal faith, Bible verses as reasons to give.”
Earlier this week the Detroit News reported (HT: Pew Forum) that supporters of Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and Republican candidate for this election’s presidential nomination, would be meeting with representatives of John McCain in the key swing state of Michigan. Among the “battleground” states, Obama holds his largest lead in the polls here in Michigan (RCP average of +3.2).
The purpose of yesterday’s meetings was ostensibly to urge McCain to pass over Mitt Romney as a possible running mate, in the interests of courting social conservatives. Debra Matney, a Huckabee supporter from Fairgrove who helped organize the meetings, said of McCain, “Who he chooses will speak volumes to us.”
It’s unclear, however, what effect meetings of this kind might have, as an interview with McCain published yesterday in the Weekly Standard has McCain saying that he would not rule out a pro-choice running mate like Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge.
That fact alone ought to speak volumes to social conservatives.
Meanwhile, since his withdrawal from the presidential race, Mike Huckabee has done his best to remain in the national conversation. In a recent interview with Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Huckabee had this to say about the tension in the GOP between social and fiscal conservatism:
Wallis: You’ve talked about public responsibility alongside personal responsibility to overcome poverty. What’s a proper role for government?
Huckabee: One of the things I’m frustrated about is that Republicans have been infiltrated by hardcore libertarians. Traditional Republicans don’t hate all forms of government. They just want it to be efficient and effective. They recognize that it has a place and a role.
Growing numbers of people in the Republican Party are just short of anarchists in the sense that they basically say, “Just cut government and cut taxes.” They don’t understand that if you do that, there are certain consequences that do not help problems. It exacerbates them.
Every law and every government program we have is a direct indictment and reflection that somewhere we’ve failed at the personal level to self-govern. The ideal world is where everybody self-governs and lives by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” If we all abided by that, we would need no other law. No one would hurt anybody. Nobody would get drunk. Nobody would abuse the speed limits. Nobody would drop out of school. It would be a great world. Unfortunately it doesn’t work quite like that.
I go to a church that feeds a whole lot of people. Some kids still slip through the cracks that my church or somebody else’s isn’t getting to. I could be an ideological purist and say, “That’s not government’s responsibility.” But I’m also a realist, and when all of the other social structures fail—whether family, neighborhood, community, or charity organizations—then we have by default created a demand for government to step in.
I get beat up for this terribly by the libertarians in the party. I call them libertarians and not conservatives, because I think I’m a conservative but I’m not a nut! They ask me if I want government to engage in all these social programs. No, it’s not my preference. But if my choice is that government has a program or a kid goes hungry, then give me the government program. I prefer that over a hungry child. I prefer that over a child that’s wheezing through untreated asthma.
If people out of generosity can do this beyond the scope of government, praise the Lord! But when they don’t, then it’s no different than all the nice conservatives in the gated neighborhoods who really don’t want any government until their home is broken into and they call 911. That’s a call to government. And then they want that person in prison for a long time. If we want smaller government and lower taxes, the best way to get there is to create a more civil social structure in which people play by the rules and self-govern.
There’s a lot of wisdom in what Huckabee says here. And that interview is worth reading in its entirety, not only because it’s a pretty candid look at Huckabee’s positions, but also because it shows what many of Jim Wallis’ assumptions are concerning the role of church and government.
I’ve written before about the incompatibility of anarcho-capitalism and the Christian faith, and I think Huckabee is on to something here. The problem, as I see it, has a good deal to do with the adoption of libertarianism as a comprehensive world-and-life view, and not just a political philosophy applicable to limited spheres of human existence. When your political philosophy becomes the be-all and end-all of your worldview, you run into real problems, and that’s what I think Huckabee means by “hardcore libertarians.” Under such ideological illusions you can’t, for instance, deal adequately with the reality of positive social responsibilities that exist between persons. Political liberty becomes an end in itself, and not something, as Lord Acton would have it, that must be oriented towards a higher moral, social, and spiritual good.
That isn’t to say that varieties of libertarianism or classical liberalism that don’t assume the government to be something to be done away with, or that limit themselves to asking questions about the efficiency of political economy, don’t have a good deal to teach us. But Huckabee’s position is worth engaging, I think, if only because it resembles that of Abraham Kuyper, who in the same address could say both that “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,” and, “It is perfectly true that if no help is forthcoming from elsewhere the state must help. We may let no one starve from hunger as long as bread lies molding in so many cupboards. And when the state intervenes, it must do so quickly and sufficiently.”
Mark Tooley pens another brilliant critique of the latest endeavors of the religious left in this piece titled “God’s Welfare State” in FrontPage Magazine. The commentary is a response marked with reason and clarity to left-leaning interfaith groups who are calling for more government programs and initiatives to tackle poverty. Tooley also notes in his piece that the signers of the letter calling for Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama to address their party conventions with a ten year plan to end poverty, are the usual suspects who equate “The federal welfare state with God’s Kingdom.” Tooley always seems to have a knack at getting to the heart of the issue, and he concludes by simply noting:
The left-leaning religious officials, guided by 100 years of statist Social Gospel, want to wage a government-led coercive struggle against “poverty” in the abstract. But most of their religious traditions express God’s love for specific poor people, while emphasizing voluntary and relational charity towards the needy. This historic stance of these religions towards the poor understandably has less appeal to the Religious Left, which often is more preoccupied with political power than with concrete compassion.
The fifth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The fifth leg of the journey took the bikers from Denver to Fremont, a total distance of 553 miles.
The “Shifting Gears” devotional opens the week by focusing on the poor. “Consider this: each one of us has far less to worry about than those living in poverty who often do not know where their next meal is coming from.”
This week’s Grand Rapids Press religion section had a front page story on the problem of panhandling. How ought we to treat beggars on our streets? Many in the early church, including John Chrysostom, argued that Christians were called to be promiscuous in charitable giving, leaving the consequences of ill-used money to those who received it. Chrysostom said, “For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person’s life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need.”
As we have moved into a modern industrial society, however, it has become clear that ways of giving that provide incentives to remain poor do not properly deal with the social pathologies of poverty. The insight that our love needs to be unlimited and abundant is a proper corrective to our natural inclinations to be miserly with love and money. But from this it doesn’t follow that our giving doesn’t need to be intentional and critical.
Making our compassion effective in practice is the focus of the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Award and Guide programs. The bicyclists on this poverty tour will be heading through Nebraska this week. Check out effective charities in Nebraska and consider supporting program’s like Hasting’s Crossroads Center’s 4-Phase Program (a 2006 Samaritan Award honoree), and the W.E.C.A.R.E. and Dads Matter programs (2004 and 2006 honorees respectively) of Essential Pregnancy Services in Omaha.
The fourth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The fourth leg of the journey took the bikers from Salt Lake City to Denver, a total distance of 478 miles.
The “Shifting Gears” devotional at the beginning of this week focuses especially on the relationship of the church to culture. On day 22, the devotion notes that the “crucial pillars of civilization–education, family, government, and science–are in a state of decline and disrepair.” This may seem like a strange claim given all that humans have been able to accomplish over the last century or so. But if you look at the moral center of all these pursuits (for no human endeavor is “value” free), then the claim begins to make some sense.
Take, for example, the prayer from day 22, which focuses on gambling and the state of Utah’s position, which “forbids gambling and casinos.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once reflected on a symptom of the lifelessness of modern society when he wrote,
One gambles with the future. Lotteries and gambling, which consume an inconceivable amount of money and often the daily bread of the worker, seek the improbable chance of luck in the future. The loss of past and future leaves life vacillating between the most brutish enjoyment of the moment and adventurous risk taking.
Similarly, the day 22 devotion observes “that today’s culture, including the church, has sunk into a passionless routine.”
And in the same way, the day 23 devotion examines the ambivalent relationship between church and culture, although it ends on a rather optimistic note: “A hundred years ago biking was a Sabbath sin. Now our whole troupe bikes to church Sunday mornings. We, like the land, are being redeemed.” Even so, a consistent theme of critique towards destructive aspects of modern life is present throughout these devotions. As the day 13 devotion concludes, “Constant busyness is not godliness.”
The overall focus of the bike tour is poverty. To get involved in charities that effectively integrate faith and compassion, visit the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide. Be sure to check out the charities working in Colorado. Denver, the destination at the end of week 4, is home to two previous Samaritan Award honorees, “Providence Homes” (2004) and “Joshua Station” (2007).
The third week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The third leg of the journey took the bikers from Boise to Salt Lake City, a total distance of 444 miles.
The “Shifting Gears” devotional focuses especially on the theme of discipleship, of following Jesus in this third week. One way in which we follow Jesus is in the community of disciples. And as the day 16 devotional reads, “You can share everything and take turns doing the heavy work, but without forgiveness the fellowship will never last.” This gets at what differentiates what has been called the “communitarianism” of the early church from the secular visions of a socialist utopia. Only the church can rightly understand the realities of sin and forgiveness and their consequences for social life.
Day 17 quotes 2 Corinthians 2:17, “We do not peddle the word of God for profit.” This is an important verse, because it reminds us of the primacy of spiritual realities to the gospel message. The devotional puts this contrast starkly: “We are not like the giants of the cosmetic industry, pushing chemicals for profit. Rather, we peddle an ancient formula, ‘fragrance of life,’ simply as a celebration of God’s grace.” I appreciate the rhetorical power of this kind of juxtaposition, but I fear that it misses the point. Paul isn’t deriding business and the pursuit of profit in its own proper sphere. Instead, he’s warning against allowing the principles suited for one sphere (business) to invade another (church).
To the extent that it is the successful business leaders who are implicitly understood to embody religious and spiritual discernment and leadership, this text is a much more powerful witness against the church being run as a business than it is against business as a profit-driven venture. Even so, the devotional speaks rightly when it says, “Paul’s point is that we don’t speak of faith to gain our own advantage.”
The week concludes with a trip from Idaho to Utah. The prayer for day 20 notes that “Utah ranks first among all states in proportion of income given to charity by the wealthy. Today thank God for their generosity, and pray that the money will be used wisely and effectively by these charities.”
To get involved in giving to effective charities, visit the Samaritan Guide, and take a look at the charities that are working in Idaho and Utah, including Boise’s SAFE Center and Salt Lake City’s Spiritual Training Program, both rated “excellent” for their Samaritan Guide entries in 2005.
The second week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour is in the books. The second leg of the journey took the bikers from Kennewick to Boise, a total distance of 321 miles.
There’s a basic theme in the daily prayers from the “Shifting Gears” devotional. There is a fundamentally environmental focus, and by that I mean not just the natural environment, but the economic, political, and social environment of the areas through which the bikers progress.
For instance, the day 1 prayer (from week 1), notes the “controversial residential and building projects” that are faced by the community of Sultan “as its economic foundation erodes and the suburbs spread into the countryside.” On day 8 we are reminded to “thank God our provider today for the ability to produce and distribute food within a local setting.” On day 10, on the stretch between La Grande and Baker City, we are informed that “in areas like this, water runoff is a serious problem.”
One basic point this underscores is that effective compassion has to be fundamentally local, in the sense that it is intimately familiar with the local contexts of the problems that need to be faced. So far the devotional has maintained a somewhat neutral attitude about the various environmental problems, which is important because it is all too easy and simple to preemptively come in from the outside and tell communities what the solutions to their problems are.
One way to help communities around the world where we don’t have local knowledge is to partner with local groups who do have that expertise. Affiliation is the first principle of effective compassion, and we ought to ask of a program, “Does it work through families, neighbors, and religious or community organizations, or does it supersede them?”
The second week of the bike tour took the participants through the state of Oregon. To find groups that are focused on making compassion effective in these areas, see the Samaritan Guide’s listings for Oregon, including Salem’s “Mentoring Women in Prison and Released” program of Freedom in the Son, Inc., rated “excellent” in the 2004 Samaritan Guide.
Yesterday I was a guest on “The Jesse Lee Peterson Radio Show,” a production of BOND (Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny), to discuss the presidential election and the faith-based initiative, with a special focus on the proposals laid out by Democratic candidate Barack Obama. A streamlined version of the interview is available for download.
After the July 1 speech in Zanesville, Ohio, where Obama called his plan for a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships “a critical part” of his executive plans, he continued to campaign on this issue, saying that “faith-based” social service would be “a moral center” of his potential administration.
One of the groups that has faced the dilemma of phasing out faith after taking government money is the Silver Ring Thing, a Christian ministry dedicated to “offering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the best way to live a sexually pure life.” In 2006, the ACLU settled a lawsuit with the government over federal grants to the Silver Ring Thing (SRT), on the condition that appropriate safeguards would be implemented to separate out faith elements from programs that received federal dollars.
The success of groups like SRT have made in connecting human sexuality to spiritual and emotional life makes secularists cringe, who judge that the Religious Right “has warped our sexual politics and forced even the most hardened secular humanists to sing from the Christian hymnal.” You can be sure that secularists won’t hesitate to use government funds to undermine the integrity of groups that see faith-based messages like chastity being the biblical standard.
In the course of the interview I refer to a paper produced by the Acton Institute about the service areas that faith-based initiatives tend to focus on, “Faith Makes a Difference: A Study of the Influence of Faith in Human Service Programs.” I also borrow (with attribution) Joe Knippenberg’s witticism, referring to the Obama plan as the “faith-erased” initiative.
I also discuss what I have called “the fungibility phenomenon” and the way in which the White House office sets the tone for the rest of the country. But the coup de grâce of my argument, I think, comes when I liken the faith-based initiative to the sin of simony.
Simony is commonly defined as “a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual of annexed unto spirituals.” Think about this a moment. If what the government’s faith-based initiative boils down to is the appropriation of the vigor and vitality of a uniquely spiritual ministry by means of offering federal money so that this ministry can be controlled and absorbed by the temporal power, that sounds very much like a form of simony to me.
Here’s part of the story of Simon Magus from Acts 8: “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.'” Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!'”
Weigh in on what you think ought to be done with the faith-based initiative in our blog poll question on the right side of the page, and share your thoughts in the comment section below.
And, honestly, I can’t say it enough. Visit the Samaritan Guide and find a charity that needs your support and give it to them.