Posts tagged with: compassion

Why might there be “increasing participation by religious organizations in offering substance abuse treatment funded by federal government vouchers”?

Perhaps because, at least in part, “A program’s faith element relates to the people they serve and the type of help they provide, as programs with more explicit and mandatory faith-related elements are likely to be substance-abuse programs.”

Thus, the more explicitly faith-filled substance abuse programs will increasingly face a special temptation to take federal funds for such purposes. And this will lead to complaints “that many of the faith-based programs funded by ATR [Access to Recovery] do not meet state licensing requirements, and are permitted to use religiously-based materials in treatment programs.”

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.

From today’s NYT: “CARE, one of the world’s biggest charities, is walking away from some $45 million a year in federal financing, saying American food aid is not only plagued with inefficiencies, but also may hurt some of the very poor people it aims to help.”

“If someone wants to help you, they shouldn’t do it by destroying the very thing that they’re trying to promote,” said George Odo, a CARE official who grew disillusioned with the practice while supervising the sale of American wheat and vegetable oil in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

International aid needs to get more economically savvy, and in a hurry, lest unintended consequences like the ones moving CARE to wean itself from the government teat continue to undermine well-intentioned efforts across the globe.

Some charities are accused of supporting the government’s practices because it keeps them afloat.

“What’s happened to humanitarian organizations over the years is that a lot of us have become contractors on behalf of the government,” said Mr. Odo of CARE. “That’s sad but true. It compromised our ability to speak up when things went wrong.” In other words, NGOs have effectively been bought off.

“Sure it’s self-interest if staying in business to help the hungry is self-interested,” said Avram E. Guroff, a senior official at ACDI/VOCA, which ranked sixth in such sales last year. “We’re not lining our pockets.”

But, as Augustine would say, and as CARE seems to be realizing, economic self-sufficiency ought to be the goal, rather than creating cycles of dependence by destroying entrepreneurial viability abroad:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy! (Confessions 3.2.3)

As you may already know, Acton’s Samaritan Award and Samaritan Guide recognize charities who take little or no government funding and are committed to moving those toward independence.

Update: There’s a brief summary of CARE’s decision in this Marketplace piece: “The issue will be part of the congressional Farm Bill debate next month.”

While I was in seminary in Kentucky, students were required to complete a relatively extensive service project that assisted and helped the poor and marginalized in our community. My group volunteered at a teen pregnancy center, others at nursing homes, or with organizations like Habitat for Humanity. At the pregnancy center we led job training, financial classes, and other practical skills for work and the home. A different group went another direction, they passed out petitions that called upon the federal government to do more for the less fortunate.

Ryan Messmore of the Heritage Foundation, notes the obvious today when he says, “When people need assistance, therefore, the first place many think to turn is Washington D.C.” In a piece titled “My Neighbor’s Keeper?” for FrontPage magazine, Messmore lifts up the moral responsibilities we have to assist and help those among us. Messmore’s piece also strongly argues that a “hyper – individualistic” view actually leads to a more powerful and centralized government. Provided below are some common sense and convicting words from his article:

It would be a detriment to our sense of mutual responsibility for one another if the contin­ued recourse to federal programs for remedies caused Americans to view their tax payments — which fund government social service programs — as their contribution to helping people in need. Even the knowledge that such federal programs exist, regardless of their actual effectiveness, may cause some to conclude that the ball is in some­body else’s court.

One of the reasons government is thought to have so much responsibility for the well-being of citizens is that, in modern Western culture, people are viewed more in terms of their isolated autonomy than in terms of their social relationships. In other words, we are prone to think of human beings as self-standing individuals rather than as persons-in-community.

Mutual responsibility is essential within a healthy society, especially a free, democratic one. The more people feel that they can trust and rely upon each other, the less they will need to turn to government for care — or to remedy injustice.

Government does not have a monopoly on responsibility for meeting people’s needs. However, government has increasingly become the primary default setting when discussion turns to who is obligated to care for others. The result is less per­sonal and efficient care for individuals and a weak­ening of our social fabric of responsibility and sense of moral obligation to one another through a vari­ety of relationships.

For me, perfect relationship and love is modeled in the Triune character and nature of God. God’s perfect love and transforming grace is also how we should try to love and care for others. The disengagement from so much of our society from helping and serving others is not a headline grabber, but it’s a crisis of the heart and soul. Christ himself said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
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This morning Karen Weber and I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of pastors and church leaders organized by a local ministry, Project Hope Annetta Jansen Ministries, based in Dorr, Michigan. We were hosted in the group’s new building, which opened late last month.

I outlined and summarized some of the basic theological insights and implications for effective compassion, focusing especially on the relationship between and the relative priority of the spiritual over the material. Karen Weber, who is Acton’s Samaritan Award Coordinator, talked about the Samaritan Award program and the Samaritan Guide, and how Acton recognizes programs that implement the principles of effective compassion.

The talks seemed well received and we got some engaging feedback and questions. It was good to see a commitment among the people who attended to the concrete demands of the Gospel. Thanks to Teresa M. Janzen, Project Hope’s executive director, for the invitation and the hospitality.

Be sure to pass along the word about the Samaritan Award to your favorite non-profit. Applications are open through the end of May.

There is clearly a "Christian Left" growing among evangelicals in America. We have heard a great deal about the "Christian Right" for more than two decades. I frequently critique this movement unfavorably. But what is the Christian Left?

The Christian Left is almost as hard to define, in one certain sense, as the Christian Right. And it is equally hard to tell, at least at this point, how many people actually fit this new designation and just how many potential voters this movement really represents. Is there real political power in this movement? Time will tell. It seems to be a small right group now but the movement is clearly gaining in terms of public notice. It is especially appealing to some evangelical Christians who draw a lot of attention to a select set of issues that they have linked to the Bible in a certain way.

There can be no doubt that since the 2004 presidential campaign  this movement has grown in popularity. It is becoming increasingly outspoken in how it frames the political issues of the day in terms of Christianity. The father of this movement is Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, a magazine read by several thousand. Wallis is also the author of one of the most misnamed books I know: God’s Politics (Harper, 2006). If someone my age and background wrote a book with this title I think I would be maligned for my sheer audacity and incredulity. But Wallis is a kind of hero among many young zealous Christians thus his title seems quite acceptable to them. His book is a manual of solutions and social views that represent an activist role for government in solving the issues of poverty, education, and international peace. In fact, if one issue represents the core of Wallis’ interpretation of Scripture it is the issue of ending, or at least of drastically reducing, poverty. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
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Words of prudential wisdom from Richard Baxter:

‘In doing good prefer the souls of men before the body, ‘cæteris paribus.’ To convert a sinner from the error of his way is to save a soul from death, and to cover a multitude of sins [James v. 20],’ —And this is greater than to give a man an alms. As cruelty to souls is the most heinous cruelty, (as persecutors and soul-betraying pastors will one day know to their remediless woe,) so mercy to souls is the greatest mercy. Yet sometimes mercy to the body is in that season to be preferred (for every thing is excellent in its season). As if a man be drowning or famishing, you must not delay relief of his body, while you are preaching to him for his conversion; but first relieve him, and then you may in season afterwards instruct him. The greatest duty is not always to go first in time; sometimes some lesser work is a necessary preparatory to a greater; and sometimes a corporeal benefit may tend more to the good of souls than some spiritual work may. Therefore I say still, that prudence an an honest heart are instead of many directions: they will not only look at the immediate benefit of a work, but to its utmost tendency and remote effects.

The Christian Directory, Part I, Christian Ethics, Chapter III, Grand Direction X, Direction X, p. 328.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
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Today’s NYT has an op-ed by Nicholas Kristof recommending the work of micro-finance organizations, like Kiva, whom we’ve mentioned before.

Kristof writes in “You, Too, Can Be a Banker to the Poor” (TimesSelect) that “Small loans to entrepreneurs are now widely recognized as an important tool against poverty.”

He also rightly observes that “Web sites like Kiva are useful partly because they connect the donor directly to the beneficiary, without going through a bureaucratic and expensive layer of aid groups in between.” This is an aspect of globalization and the connectedness of the Internet that we rarely hear about.

For groups that are doing micro-finance work out of a specifically Christian commitment, check out Five Talents and Opportunity International.

To read the Kristof column, you’ll need a subscription to TimesSelect. The good news is that if you have a valid .edu email address, the Times is offering you a complimentary subscription.

Via CrossLeft, which promises to bring “balance” to the Christian voice, this short and interesting piece from Larry James’s blog Urban Daily, which documents his reflections as “president and CEO for Central Dallas Ministries, a human and community development corporation with a focus on economic and social justice at work in inner city Dallas, Texas.”

Says James, “If your goal is community and human development, you look for ways to avoid the creation of dependence or a neo-colonial approach to relief and compassion efforts.”

Of course the realization of freedom, which revolves around asking the question, “Does a program prepare clients for independence, or does it keep them dependent?,” is one of the hallmarks of effective compassion.

For groups that put these principles of effective compassion into practice, both in Dallas and around the country, check out the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
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‘Tis the season for making resolutions. Today’s Zondervan>To The Point newsletter focuses on a variety of Christian resolutions, and includes a link to a piece from Leadership Journal on Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions (related blog piece here).

One of my favorites: “Resolved, To be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.”

Here’s a good place to start doing that.