Posts tagged with: Christians

John Baden, chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment in Bozeman, Mont., wrote a column for the August 19 Bozeman Daily Chronicle about the Circle of Protection and Christians for a Sustainable Economy and how each has formulated a very different faith witness on the federal budget and debt debate. Baden says that the CASE letter to President Obama is “quite remarkable for it reads like one written by respected economists and policy analysts.”

I attended the FREE conference on the environment for religious leaders in July, the event referenced in Baden’s column (appended below). FREE is building a really useful conference/seminar for faith groups with outstanding lecturers and a truly diverse mix of attendees. I would recommend it to anyone seeking to deepen their understanding of environmental policy as informed by a religious worldview.

Also see Acton’s “Principles for Budget Reform” and associated resources on the budget and debt debate.

Religions’ reactions to financial realities

By John Baden

Many quite normal people, not just the paranoid, believe America will spiral downward and drown in a sea of debt. The Aug. 5 downgrade of U.S. bonds stoked their fears. Much of the debt problem is based on entitlements, commitments to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Prescription Drug Act.

As Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said on NPR on Aug. 9: “I am not going to tell an 80-year-old woman living on $19,000 a year that she gets no cost-of-living, or that a man who has been doing physical labor all his life and is now at a 67-year-old retirement – which is where Social Security will be soon – that he has to work four or five more years.”

Sojourners is a “progressive” religious organization that supports Frank’s position. (Ironically, billionaire atheist George Soros has generously supported Sojourners.) They have recently drafted a letter to President Obama, “A Circle of Protection: Why We Need to Protect Programs for the Poor.”

Sojourners acknowledge our unsustainable deficits – but reject reforms reducing entitlements directed to the poor. “Programs focused on reducing poverty should not be cut. … The budget debate has a central moral dimension. Christians are asking how we protect ‘the least of these.’ ‘What would Jesus cut?’ ‘How do we share sacrifice?'”

There is nothing radical or even unusual in their position. Many, probably most mainline denominations, support similar positions. Sojourners’ leader Jim Wallis wants to move the broad religious community into the policy arena. Hence he is mobilizing a diverse nonpartisan movement of Christian leaders to make them “deeply engaged in the budget debate to uphold the principle that low-income people should be protected.”

Few would question Wallis’ goal but his strategy is challenged by a new group, Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE). They too sent a letter to President Obama.

While they share identical goals of helping the most unfortunate and poor, their means are diametrically opposed. They question policy outcomes by asking the ecological and economic question “and then what?” What are the logical, practical consequences of policies allegedly designed to help the unfortunate and needy?

Their effort had an unusual origin. It arose from an economic conference involving an ecumenical, indeed disparate, group of religious leaders, mainly Christians and several Jews. They represented a wide philosophical and theological spectrum. Some are allied with the Sojourners, others opposed.

CASE’s letter soliciting signers began, “At one level CASE began with a few of us at a lovely conference in Montana with fresh air, kindred spirits, time to talk and the gift of the idea to join together. … Signatories already include us (Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox) … (and) many who work alongside the very poor, and so on.”

I find their letter to the president quite remarkable for it reads like one written by respected economists and policy analysts. “We do not need to ‘protect programs for the poor.’ We need to protect the poor themselves. Indeed, sometimes we need to protect them from the very programs that ostensibly serve the poor, but actually demean the poor, undermine their family structures and trap them in poverty, dependency and despair for generations. Such programs are unwise, uncompassionate, and unjust.”

Their text explains, “We believe the poor of this generation and generations to come are best served by policies that promote economic freedom and growth, that encourage productivity and creativity in every able person, and that wisely steward our common resources for generations to come. All Americans – especially the poor – are best served by sustainable economic policies for a free and flourishing society. When creativity and entrepreneurship are rewarded, the yield is an increase of productivity and generosity.”

A decade ago I wrote a column celebrating Nobel Prize economist Milton Friedman’s 90th birthday. Milton was an apostle of responsible prosperity and liberty. While he is gone, his influence lives. CASE’s letter to the president is a sterling example.

John Baden is the chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment and Gallatin Writers, Inc., both based in Bozeman.

Immigration is never a light topic to discuss, and even the proposition of a solution to the effects caused by immigration might well be considered radical. The idea of a harmonious multicultural society is idealistic, but in reality, is very difficult to achieve.

When looking at the advantages and disadvantages of immigration, relative to the nation receiving immigrants, the economy is a concern that often comes up. In a recent IEA (Institute of Economic Affairs) paper, Nobel Prize winner Professor Gary Becker proposes a way in which the economy and the government of the country receiving immigrants could benefit. He believes that governments should sell the right to immigrate. Becker says, “The government should set a price each year and anyone would be accepted, aside from obvious cases such as potential terrorists, criminals and people who are very sick and who would be immediately a big burden to the health system.”

Becker uses the United States as a model for how the solution might play out. The U.S. has been admitting about one million legal immigrants a year. He says, “At a price of $50,000 per immigrant, let’s suppose this would attract one million immigrants.” At a 5 per cent interest rate, it has a present value of roughly $1 trillion. Of course, different countries could charge different rates, and the option of offering loans to those who couldn’t pay the amount up-front is a possibility. Through this solution, Becker believes a country would get immigrants who are young, skilled, and have the greatest commitment to the country.

Becker’s use of the United States as an example seems to suggest it is experiencing a revenue problem. But in fact, the government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Immigration is not a new concept; it has been taking place since the dawn of time. Since the early days of Christianity, the welcoming of others has been encouraged.  In an interview with Thomas C. Oden in Religion & Liberty,” Oden notes, “Ancient Christian writers knew that all Christians were being called to receive strangers and travelers hospitably.” But this does not get to the question of whether the stranger is entering under lawful pretences. These two viewpoints often conflict. Oden goes on to say, “They conflict dramatically between those who would emphasize the hospitality in an absolute way, and those who would emphasize the moral requirement of following the law as a part of a just social order, including the duty to respect legal borders.” So even among late and present day Christians, there is great contrast in opinions regarding this issue.

But among Christians, policy makers, and all people for that matter, the key component to any decision should be based on human dignity. Becker’s proposal works to boost the revenue of countries, but seems to take lightly the rights of the immigrants themselves.  Sure, they will be accepted into the country and may eventually enjoy the same benefits as a natural-born citizen, but under the proposal, they are treated more as a commodity than a human being.

Although Becker’s proposal would work to moderate the illegal immigration problem, by offering a viable option for immigrants to enter legally, it does not address the cultural differences and religious factors that often play a large role in the discontent surrounding immigration. Germany, for example, has expressed great concern over the large influx of Muslim immigrants (coming mainly from Turkey) entering its borders. The predominant religion in Germany has long been Christianity, although church attendance rates have experienced a rather steady decline. The Turkish immigrants have proven to be very devout in their Islamic faith, which has made Germany question how strongly it wants to hold onto its Christian roots. These religious differences have fueled much of the debate which still continues.

The topic of immigration raises many questions about how it should be handled. Not every country holds the same stake in each issue surrounding immigration (culture, religion, economics, etc.), but each decision made should be premised on the dignity of the human person first. Becker’s proposal seemingly focuses on a solution based solely on revenue concerns. By doing this he fails to recognize immigrants who immigrate for humanitarian reasons (lack of resources, economic oppression, etc.)  For people yearning for freedom, having to pay a considerable amount to enter a county doesn’t exactly fit within the mantra of liberty. Use of the free market is in many cases a good thing, but when its use undermines the very freedom it attempts to foster, it is violating its own principles. This does not mean the immigration system should not be revised; restructuring the legal immigration system in the U.S. and other countries would help a great deal. But, in order for these changes to be truly positive, they should first and foremost be based on the dignity of the human person.

 

My first reaction to “What Would Jesus Cut?” is that it tends to reduce Christ to a distributor of material goods through government programs. Jesus is not a budget overseer or a dispenser of government largesse. Sojourners founder Jim Wallis has already countered this accusation with his own post saying, “We haven’t been trying to get Jesus to be the head of any budget committee, or think that he would ever want that job!”

But still, to use Christ as an example of a legislator writing budgetary law is facile when we recognize Christ as the fulfillment of the law (Romans 10:4). It reduces and trivializes Christ at a time when there is already too much theological confusion about the person, nature, and mission of Christ in this country. And while Christ certainly relates and guides us on the day to day questions as we work to uplift the social witness, this practice reduces the Word of Life to moralism when done in a frivolous manner.

As for how we help the poor, as we are commanded to do as Christians, we shouldn’t confuse the Kingdom of Christ with the power and agenda of the state. Evangelicalism, and proclamation of the person of Christ should not be reduced to baptizing and sanctifying the budget.

In October 2009, I wrote “America’s Uncontrolled Debt and Spending is the Real ‘Waterloo,’” agreeing with Jim Wallis that budgets are moral documents, but focusing rather on the immorality of chaining a nightmare of debt to future Americans. The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, waxes eloquent on budget morality, too. He offered this sound byte in an address just last week to the National Religious Broadcasters Association in Nashville:

It is immoral to bind our children to as leeching and destructive a force as debt. It is immoral to rob our children’s future and make them beholden to China. No society is worthy that treats its children so shabbily.

I also agree with Jordan Ballor here and here in his aptly written remarks about the similar “A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis.”

Wallis, who is a signer of “A Call for Intergenerational Justice” has a very disappointing record when it comes to fiscal responsibility. He is on record of already opposing social security reform, welfare reform in the 1990s, slowing the rate of growth of government spending in the 90s, and even checking the rate of growth for SCHIP, as my 2007 commentary points out.

I wore “What Would Jesus Do” apparel for a short time during the fad, and obviously it is good to ask WWJD. But I stopped wearing it when I realized that I already knew what Christ would do, and I should be asking myself deeper questions about what I am really doing to magnify my relationship with Christ and my witness to others.

I think that is what bothers me with “What Would Jesus Cut?” It’s a reduction of the witness of Christ, with no greater context of his redemptive mission. This is a flaw of some, but not all, on both the religious right and religious left. There is a danger in over-politicizing the name of Jesus in the public square, especially when the Church in America is crying out for sound Biblical doctrine. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and to continually reinsert him into the budget debate, which are clearly prudential arguments, shrinks his real power and authority.

[Editor's Note: We welcome Ken Larson, a businessman and writer in southern California, to the PowerBlog. A graduate of California State University at Northridge with a major in English, his eclectic career includes editing the first reloading manual for Sierra Bullets and authoring a novel about a family's school choice decisions titled ReEnchantment, which is available on his Web site. For 10 years Ken was the only Protestant on The Consultative School Board for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange near Los Angeles and chaired the inaugural Orange County Business Ethics Conference in support of needy parish schools in the diocese. He enjoys sailing and singing in the choir at the Anglo-Catholic church at which he and his wife worship.]

With Memorial Day and July 4th fast approaching I found myself thinking over the weekend about the recent past.

Several years ago we moved to a tony neighborhood in Orange County, California. At the time it was easily eligible for the term “Reagan Country” but in the last election Obama out polled McCain in our Congressional District. A neighbor had a Hillary fundraiser at her home a few years ago. There’s a lot of soccer on Sunday but our family always opted for church.

Around 1996 I was asked to chair the neighborhood’s July 4th parade. It was one of those tasks that occur in small communities where many folks pitch in to help from time to time and I was flattered at the invitation. But as is the case with lots of things we have the opportunity to participate in, I noticed this parade and the accompanying festivities — a barbecue and day at the beach with food and drinks available — were missing what I knew they needed. They were missing an invocation.

I ran the idea of having a local pastor from the church at the edge of the community where our family worshiped deliver that invocation and the denizen who had tabbed me as chairmen thought it a splendid contribution. Plans went forward with the same old “same old stuff” and I extended an invitation to the cleric. He was available. (more…)

Dr. Frank S. Page
President, Southern Baptist Convention
and
Mr. Richard Land
SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
and
Pastor Jonathan Merritt
Cross Pointe Church

Brothers in Christ:

As a member in good standing of the Southern Baptist Church and a Christian who has through much prayer and Bible study come to acknowledge God’s desire that the church take seriously her role in stewardship of creation, I have been closely following the release of A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change and the Southern Baptist Convention’s reaction to it.

First let me say I respect the SBC’s right as an organization to issue public policy statements on the environment and climate change, even when these statements don’t always reflect my personal views. I appreciate many of the previous resolutions passed by the SBC urging stewardship of the earth’s resources while caring for the poor in developing countries.

I also appreciate that both the SBC and Pastor Merritt have formally stated our need as Baptists to fully engage in many areas of Christian environmental stewardship. Certainly these are tasks about which, through the power of Christ, God expects us all to be dilligent until His return.

I am concerned, however, that in the haste to distance the SBC from A Southern Baptist Declaration or the signers of their Declaration to distance themselves from the SBC you both are misrepresenting me and thousands of other Southern Baptists in two important areas.

First, there is the needless appearance of deep division. The messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007, urged Southern Baptists to

"proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research."

"A Southern Baptist Declaration" says

We recognize that Christians are not united around either the scientific explanations for global warming or policies designed to slow it down…this is an issue where Christians may find themselves in justified disagreement about both the problem and its solutions. Yet, even in the absence of perfect knowledge or unanimity, we have to make informed decisions about the future.

Both resolutions suggest Southern Baptists move forward on ecology while respecting that there will inevitably be disagreement on the nature and extent of climate change.

The remedy for this should be obvious. We should not be afraid of tackling any social issue, including environmnental ones. And we must press forward and commit to praying for each other and for wisdom and unity within the body of Christ. This public and rather unseemly display is a foothold that the enemy of the church is happy to exploit. To that end I hope that you [and all those reading this letter. db] will join me in prayer this week, humbled by the fact that only God ultimately controls the affairs of His Creation.

Much more importantly, none of you seem concerned about the tragedy of missing our God-given opportunity here under the Great Commission. An editorial to the Tuscaloosa News by a Mr. James W. Anderson illustrates my point:

I urge the leadership of our Southern Baptist Convention to be about serving our member churches, evangelism and bringing lost souls to Christ. To those currently choosing to carry the liberal environmental torches, perhaps you should consider leaving the organization and entering politics. The two do not mix — at all!

Don’t let his confusion on the pedigree of the Declaration distract you from the real spiritual disaster. Mr. Anderson sees environmentalism as a hinderance to evangelism rather than an opportunity to establish relationships with, and bring the love of Christ to, vast numbers of God’s children who would never darken the door of a Baptist church.

The fact that he doesn’t apparently know about scriptures referencing God’s heart on ecology, doesn’t understand the role of creation in bringing glory to God, doesn’t see creation care as a mission field, doesn’t view climate change action opponents and proponents both as human beings in need of a Savior, and doesn’t think engaging in challenging environmental issues like climate change provide openings for the Gospel message to our generation is not his failing. Rather, it is a direct reflection on the historic failure of our Southern Baptist leadership and many of those in our pulpits to communicate a Spirit-filled, biblical message on creation care.

Rather than continue this division I urge you, therefor, to return your focus to the Lord of Creation. Join with me to pray for reconciliation, for wise yet diligent action, and for the earnest encouragement of pastors and their congregations to make stewardship of the environment as important a priority as stewardship of their missions budgets and church growth projects.

Thanks for your consideration.

Grace and peace,
Don Bosch

[Don's other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist]

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 4, 2007
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One of the oft-overlooked groups in the Iraq conflict are Iraqi Christians (many of whom are Chaldean Christians). Chances are if you hear about an Iraqi ethnic or religious minority, they are either Kurds or Sunni Muslims.

Doug Bandow, who writing a book on religious persecution abroad, points out the dilemma facing native Christians in Iraq in his latest piece for The American Spectator, “Iraq’s Forgotten Minority” (HT: The Point). Writes Bandow, “Although the Shiite- dominated government does not oppress, Christians are a uniquely vulnerable, disfavored minority with neither political power nor militia protection. Christians, usually in business and often thought to have wealthy relatives abroad, are targeted by criminals. Believers also are caught in the violent cross-fire that now characterizes so much of Iraqi society.”

Bandow argues that Christians should be object of special regard for US forces in Iraq, and that the US government should be opening its arms to refugees. But while more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians sought to emigrate to the US, only 200 were granted access in 2006. Check out the rest of Bandow’s piece for some even more shocking numbers.

One other option for fleeing Iraqis, Christians included, has been refuge in neighboring Syria, but Christians at least don’t look to be getting much of a reception there either (HT: Religion Clause).

All in all the situation seems to be a strange recapitulation of the sojourn of Abraham, “a wandering Aramean,” who went up out of Ur of the Chaldeans with his family at the Lord’s call.

Blog author: jarmstrong
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
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Denver Bishop Charles Chaput, whom I had the personal joy of meeting and hearing speak a few years ago, gave an address at a mass for Catholic public officials in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, just before the November elections. Chaput, who is one of my favorite bishops, makes profound and clear moral sense of chaotic sub-Christian thinking on a regular basis.

“The world does need to change, and in your vocation as public leaders, God is calling you to pursue that task with justice and charity with a love for the common good and a reverence for human life. The world needs committed Catholic laypeople like you to lead with humility, courage and love,” said Bishop Chaput.

Chaput further argued that we often treat important things as a “gloss” so as to soften the meaning of the offensive passage thus making it much easier for us to live. St. Francis wanted to live sine glossa, said Chaput, that is without alibis or excuses.

Chaput rightly argues that modern liberalism has created a kingdom of “the imperial autonomous self” and calls it the will of God (or a goddess). Weird and unexpected alliances are the end result, alliances that make no sense except that they join irreconcilable parties in one group that can then put aside their various differences in order to attack Christ.

The bishop rightly noted that there are three political issues that are non-negotiable for morally serious Christians:

  1. Protecting life

  2. Promoting marriage
  3. Protecting a parent’s rights to educate their children

If we do not make these central to our present human situation we fail at the most basic level to protect the weak and to promote true freedom. I am weary of people asking: “How would Jesus vote?” I much like the idea of posing this question through the thought of St. Francis, a true reformer who lived before we even had anything like 16th century Protestant reformers.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jballor
Saturday, November 18, 2006
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Got back from the annual ETS meeting yesterday and finally have a chance to sit down and summarize the events of the last couple days. Thursday morning was highlighted by parallel sessions. I attended one on Melanchthon and his shifting view of free will, in addition to papers on economic imagery in the Scriptures and the prospects for natural law theory as a strategy for political discourse. The latter was part of a session that revolved around evangelicals and natural law, and began with a paper presented by Acton’s Stephen Grabill, author of Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics.

The plenary session on Thursday at the lunchtime hour featured a talk by prominent radio host and blogger Hugh Hewitt, who gave an exciting overview of the power of new media. Hewitt also spoke about the views evangelicals have toward the participation of those from other religious and theological traditions in governing. Using the case of Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, in particular, Hewitt challenged those in the audience to respond to him via email in their answer to this question: “Would you vote for a Mormon president?”

The afternoon sessions I attended revolved around the relationship between liberal Protestant theology and the rise of National Socialism in Germany. These were very informative and valuable papers, and generally highlighted the possibility that existed for liberal theology to be co-opted by neo-pagan Nazis, while also underscoring the fact that there is no necessary logical connection between liberal theology and National Socialism. All this is contra, for instance, the view of Karl Barth, which I juxtapose with the view of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in my recent article, “The Aryan clause, the Confessing Church, and the ecumenical movement: Barth and Bonhoeffer on natural theology, 1933–1935,” Scottish Journal of Theology 59, no. 3 (August 2006): 263-280.

I attended a lecture sponsored by Crossway Books given by John Piper, which focused on William Tyndale’s efforts to translate the Bible into English from the best contemporary Hebrew and Greek editions available at the time. Thursday night was a dinner and plenary address by outgoing ETS president Edwin Yamauchi, who has been at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio since 1969. This marked the end of the formal events I participated in, as I left to return to Grand Rapids early yesterday morning. Since Friday was pretty much a travel day for me, there’s not much of interest to tell.

All in all, my experience at ETS was excellent, having learned a great deal from the papers presented as well as meeting new folks or putting faces to names that I had only previously met via email or the Internet. I look forward to attending and participating in future ETS meetings.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 16, 2006
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Things were busy here yesterday at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington, D.C. With over 1800 registered attendees and 600+ papers being presented, the ideas are flying fast and furious. My paper on Bonhoeffer’s views of church and state went well. A few people asked me to send them copies of the paper, so expect a series of blog posts containing the text in coming days (once I clean up the textual apparatus).

One highlight of the day was the brief chance to visit the exhibitor’s booths. There are some great book deals to be had. In fact, Stephen Grabill’s book, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics, sold out in an hour and a half! (Never fear, you can get yours from the Acton Book Shoppe today.)

Last night J. Budziszewski delivered a challenging and thoughtful plenary address on competing views of tolerance. He juxtaposed what he calls the classical/patristic view over against the modern/liberal grounding of tolerance, finding in favor of the former over the latter.

I also found out yesterday that another Acton adjunct scholar, Eric Schansberg, is giving a paper today, so that can be added to the slate of Acton activities at ETS (updated here). Today’s schedule is full again, starting bright and early with sessions beginning at 8:30 am.

The Hugh Hewitt/Andrew Sullivan kerfuffle has been mentioned a few times on the PowerBlog (here and here, for example), and while the dust has largely settled from that event, the issues that it raised continue to be addressed in various corners of the blogosphere. The most interesting (and extensive) commentary that I’ve read on Sullivan and his new book is by the Rev. Dr. Mark Roberts, who serves as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California. Roberts’ critique is well worth a read in full, but here’s a sample to get you going:

I find Sullivan’s thoughts about Christianity fascinating for several reasons. One is that he epitomizes something I’d call “Retrofitted Christianity.” What do I mean by this? If you look up “retrofit” in the dictionary, one definition reads: “To provide with parts, devices, or equipment not in existence or available at the time of original manufacture.” If you retrofit a classic car, for example, you might give it a new engine that wasn’t available when the car was first built. So retrofitted Christianity is a version of classic faith that includes new parts that weren’t there at first. Some people, like Andrew Sullivan, think this is a better or even more authentic version of the faith. Others, like me, for example, are concerned that the retrofitted version of Christianity exemplified by Sullivan lacks some essential parts, even though it gets some things right.