There’s a story that I heard, of a miner, a family down in– it was in the Appalachia area and the church there really thought that they were doing a great deal because they would go in, they said they would pick the poorest families and they would take them Christmas gifts and turkeys and that sort of thing. So they did. They went to this family and they presented them with all the gifts and gave them to them and all the children had gifts; they had a hot meal on the table. The church was so pleased with what they had done, and then they left. And the husband just broke down and cried because he said, “You mean in this community, we are thought of as the poorest family in the community?” The shame that came with that, with the charity that had been given so lovingly out of the best of intentions, but it absolutely shamed him and it destroyed his life. I heard it from his son. He said, “It destroyed my father because he said he was so shamed in front of the rest of the community because they didn’t think that he was a person of worth that they had to take care of his family for him.”
Writers on this blog have pointed to a lot of examples of effective compassion when it comes to charity and public policy. But what can ineffective compassion, or maybe just a lack compassion, look like? The Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina Andre Bauer made a comment saying government assistance programs for the poor was akin to “feeding stray animals.” I’m not highlighting the comment just to bash Bauer and you can watch the clip where he clarifies his comments. He continues in a follow up interview by offering up a much more articulate and measured response to the problems of government dependency.
I think the comments show, besides being woefully short on compassion, the value of the work we do at the Acton Institute. This is especially true when it comes to talking authentically on issues of poverty and the unintended consequences that result from government solutions. Bauer went on to say that “My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed.” The problem with the illustration or metaphor he used was that it completely misses the mark about the dignity of the human person. Furthermore, most Americans want to help people, even when their intentions are misguided.
Let’s be frank, it is hard to adequately help those caught in a cycle of dependency by government programs with animal comparisons. It is not a coincidence that many programs and charities that are run for the poor are managed best by those who have a deep love for those in need. It is one of many reasons why they are more effective and loving than bureaucratic treatment. 1 Samuel 2:8 declares: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; upon them he has set the world.”
In a story in the Boston Herald Bauer adds, “I also believe government, too often in its effort to help people, ends up creating a bigger problem.” The story also highlights some of the circumstances of Bauer’s upbringing, which suggests to me it is hard to believe he is at his core a man of little compassion. In any event, it sounds like Bauer could really benefit from Acton University.
The devastation in Haiti is heartbreaking. For most of us, it is far too easy to be distracted from the tremendous need right now in Haiti because of our own daily circumstances. In many ways I reacted similarly to Jordan Ballor when he confessed he initially thought reports of the earthquake had to be exaggerated. I say that because I was living in Cairo, Egypt when they had a 5.8 earthquake in 1992. The earthquake caused destruction to some buildings in the older part of the city, and the fatalities grew to over 500. While the loss of life was tragic in itself, for most people life did not change in Cairo. CNN at the time was broadcasting widespread destruction and fatalities in Cairo in front of the few buildings that were totally demolished. This reporting caused my mom to panic who was visiting Turkey at the time and other relatives in the United States were left scrambling trying to contact my family in Egypt.
Amid the devastation, chaos, and suffering the good news we see, and there is not a lot, is the U.S. involvement in Haiti. Many pronouncements today focus upon the supposed havoc our country wrecks around the globe, but no other country has ever proved to be more responsive, compassionate, and giving than this country when moved by suffering. It’s a comforting testimony to the character, faith, and compassion of so many Americans. Another blessing for Haiti will be the long term assistance and stability Haiti will receive, with so much of it coming from faith based relief efforts. See my post dealing with the exceptional service faith based groups and churches have provided for victims of Katrina. While governmental agencies largely botched much of the Katrina relief effort, it was church groups and agencies who were the first responders with shelter, water, and hot meals. This was the case in my former neighborhood on the Mississippi Seacoast. Many of those faith groups are still actively involved there as they are committed to long term rebuilding efforts.
One greatly needed federal body of assistance for Haiti is the U.S. Armed Forces. The U.S. military is simply the greatest in the world and the security they can provide for a country that is plagued by poverty, lawlessness, and corruption is critical. The Marines have a unique and catchy unofficial motto, “No greater friend, no worse enemy.” The U.S. Armed forces will be a great friend for Haiti, as they have been before in recent history. Sometimes people forget the immense problems with aid distribution when there is no rule of law and rampant corruption in a country. In an upcoming Religion & Liberty interview with Nina Shea at the Hudson Institute, she will also powerfully remind us about the severe obstacles of trying to transform human rights without morally challenging the corrupt and tyrannical leaders who violate those rights.
The American Christian missionary community in Haiti is substantial, largely because the needs there are so severe. This was the case long before this horrific earthquake; it will be even more so now. Please continue to pray for the protection and work of missionaries in Haiti and support them financially. Many local churches already support ministries in Haiti as well. We know they have the ability to make a tremendous impact. Find out what your local church is doing to help, and find out how you can help them. Some other good news that will emerge from this suffering will be the wonderful testimonies of compassion in the name of the Gospel. As is the case in so many tragedies, many of the best people in Haiti providing comfort will be those specifically called there by the king of Kings.
Some years ago, I was engaged in a conversation at a religious communicators convention with a liberal/progressive activist who was having trouble understanding how the market could actually be a force for good. Finally, he defaulted to the question that — to him at least — would settle the matter. “So,” he asked, “does the Acton Institute work for social justice?” My response, of course, was, “You bet we do.”
The problem with this brief exchange was that we obviously didn’t understand social justice in the same terms. It was a failure to communicate at the communicators convention. And truth be told, there are probably fewer phrases that are thrown around so loosely, that are so heavily freighted with ideological baggage. Liberal/progressives use social justice as a shibboleth that offers affiliation with the tribe of those who advocate statist solutions, whatever else it might mean to them. Conservatives tend merely to shun its use.
A lot of that confusion promises to be cleared up with the release of an outstanding new resource called Seek Social Justice: Transforming Lives In Need from the Heritage Foundation. This resource includes a DVD and companion study guide (available free of charge) and can also be viewed on the Web site. You’ll recognize a lot of the names in this series from their association with Acton over the years as staff members, scholars, speakers at conferences, and policy experts. People like Anthony Bradley, an Acton Research Fellow, Marvin Olasky, Rudy Carrasco, Chuck Colson, Jay Richards, and Robert L. Woodson Jr.
The video for the first chapter — Rethinking Social Justice: Getting to the Root of the Problem — sets the framework for the entire series of lessons. The question: What are the “real roots of poverty and social breakdown.”
Here’s an excerpt from the study guide (download here).
Regrettably, ideas offered in the name of social justice have sometimes misdiagnosed the problem and had unintended consequences that hurt the very people they intended to help. That’s because they have assessed poverty primarily as a material problem.
Programs based on this assumption have kept those willing to help at arm’s length from those in need, often looking first to government and substituting impersonal handouts for personal care and real transformation. Jumping into action without thoughtful consideration has led to damaging results.
Somehow in the urgency to dedicate our lives—or even a few hours or dollars—to a good cause, we’re missing something. We’re missing something about who we are at our core as human beings; we’re missing something about the complex and relational nature of poverty. Though motivated by good intentions, we need a better framework for understanding and engaging the issues surrounding human need and social breakdown.
When it comes to translating good intentions into actions that really make a difference, we need to understand the nature and context of the problem. That begins with correctly diagnosing the suffering we see around us. In the United States, poverty and social breakdown are often rooted in problems that are deeper than a lack of money or material possessions. The poor in America typically suffer in different ways than the poor
in developing countries, where corrupt governments, the missing rule of law, unstable financial systems, food shortages due to famine, and the absence of basic health care systems exacerbate extreme material deprivation. Unique conditions call for a different approach in developing nations.
The lessons are equipped with readings, which will take the student deeper into the subject matter. This is from Michael Novak’s “Defining Social Justice” (First Things, December 2000):
The virtue of social justice allows for people of good will to reach different—even opposing—practical judgments about the material content of the common good (ends) and how to get there (means). Such differences are the stuff of politics.
We must rule out any use of “social justice” that does not attach to the habits (that is, virtues) of individuals. Social justice is a virtue, an attribute of individuals, or it is a fraud. And if Tocqueville is right that “the principle of association is the first law of democracy,” then social justice is the first virtue of democracy, for it is the habit of putting the principle of association into daily practice.
Kudos to the Heritage Foundation, lead writer Ryan Messmore, and all of the contributors and editors behind Seek Social Justice.
Denver’s homeless may get free tickets to see a movie or go to the zoo next month while the Democratic National Convention is in town next month, according to the Rocky Mountain News.
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless plans to get 500 movie tickets and passes for places such as the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for the homeless that they work with. This plan obviously raises many questions, one of these being: how are we to deal with the poor among us?
One of the Acton Institute’s areas of study, effective compassion, lays forth six essential principles for truly helping the poor.
The Samaritan Guide Web site has been revamped and we’d love for you to stop by and check it out. The Guide is an online database of charities that accept little or no government funding and that serve vulnerable human populations. The Guide focuses on outcomes and personal transformation, how religious and moral principles are implemented, and funding sources for the programs of non-profit organizations.
On a related note: Acton is gearing up for the Samaritan Awards! The annual Samaritan Awards identifies and rewards programs that exemplify the Seven Principles of Effective Compassion and demonstrate accountability and transparency. These exceptional charities help individuals break the cycle of dependency by providing help that is direct, personal, and accountable. All the programs that apply for the Samaritan Award will be entered into the Samaritan Guide and also will vie for a $10,000 grand prize and various capacity building prizes. The application period for the Samaritan Awards is from April 15, 2008 to May 30, 2008.
As a quick follow-up to Ray’s post yesterday, be sure to check out the work of Arthur C. Brooks on charitable giving. The spring issue of Religion & Liberty featured an interview with him, and his book, Who Really Cares?, was the basis for a special focus on ABC’s 20/20 (hosted by John Stossel):
John Stossel: “But it turns out that this idea that liberals give more is a myth. These are the twenty-five states where people give an above average percent of their income, twenty-four were red states in the last presidential election.”
Arthur Brooks, Who Really Cares, author: “When you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about thirty percent more per conservative-headed family than per liberal-headed family. And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.”
Connecting the links between so-called “red” states, conservatism, religiosity, and the south are interesting and instructive exercises.
I remember riding back to seminary in Kentucky a couple years ago with a young lady and we pulled off the expressway to grab a bite. As we were getting ready to pay our bill, the young lady, who happened to be from Mississippi, said, “God is telling me to give 100 dollars to this young man behind the counter of this restaurant. ” Needless to say this young man was thankful of God’s decision to speak through the young woman in this manner.
An article by Heather Donckels and a study by empty tomb, inc shows that Southerners as a group give the most to church and religious organizations. Empty tomb, inc. is a Christian research organization in Champaign, Illinois.
If there are any Southern evangelicals who have been a member of a church during a building campaign, this study makes even more sense. Midwesterners placed second in the study. While Southerners lead in overall charitable giving, they give less as a group to charities outside of the religious domain.
Donckels notes in her piece:
The North American Religion Atlas, using data from the 2000 census, shows a high concentration of Protestants in the South while Catholics dominate the Northeast. For example, only 8 percent of people in the South are Catholics, compared to 42 percent of New Englanders.
Francis Butler, president of the Washington-based Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, said research shows Catholics give about 1 percent of income to charity. Protestants, meanwhile, generally give double that, he said.
While this may be one factor of many, there is obviously more to giving than denominational demographics. One obvious factor may be that religious participation and church attendance is higher in Southern states, compared with other regions. Cultural differences are probably more of a factor than denominational factors.
Also in the article, University of Mississippi professor Charles Reagan Wilson is quoted as saying:
The South’s approach to giving has stressed private charity over governmental assistance. Southerners have long tended to be conservative on issues of government, stressing provision from family and churches rather than government intervention in times of crisis.
So it seems, there is still a flickering spirit of Jeffersonian political philosophy alive in Dixie.
The mammoth Congressional expansion of SCHIP is such a bad idea, even the normally big spending President Bush vetoed the bill. I wrote a piece titled, “Abandon SCHIP: Big Government Returns,” which is now available on the Acton Website.
The political posturing concerning the program has reached a troubling level. Supporters are using using kids as props to usher in socialized medicine and government expansion. But one of the main problems with the bill is the regressive characteristic of the expanded version. Money will be transfered from poorer states and citizens to fund a permanent middle to upper-middle class entitlement. While the growing cost of health care is a serious problem, we need to find solutions that provide affordable private coverage outside of the impending bureaucratic and regulatory nightmare.
Another growing frustration is a lack of conservative leadership on explaining the consequences of expanding this program. In general it seems, in the last few years political and moral leadership on government expansion has been largely vacant. Conservatives use to fight the expansion of these programs and point out the unintended consequences of such measures. Do we really want a permanent entitlement for the well to do?
The new issue of Philanthropy Magazine features a cover story on Frank Hanna, vice chairman of the Acton Institute board of directors, and winner of the 2007 William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership. The story is titled “Call of the Philanthropist,” a play on Acton’s Call of the Entrepreneur documentary, which features Hanna prominently.
The lengthy profile by Christopher Levenick offers insights into Hanna’s philanthropic activities and his philosophy of giving. Rev. Robert Sirico is quoted extensively, as are executives of other nonprofits that Hanna supports. For those who are interested in how philanthropy can be thoughtfully applied — and effective — the article is well worth reading.
Here’s Hanna on “indispensable causes:”
According to Hanna, donors should direct their funds only to causes they deem truly essential. “I believe,” he writes, “that the charities to which we give significant help should themselves be indispensable. In other words, their success should bring to mankind physical, intellectual, moral, or spiritual benefits of the most important kind, benefits without which mankind (or particular individuals) would be fundamentally diminished.”
Once philanthropists have identified the indispensable causes, they should restrict their donations to charities for which their support is truly indispensable. A small contribution to a massive organization will have marginal influence, at best. A series of marginal contributions is hardly better. Funds are always best spent where they will be put to the most effective use. If the organization can succeed without this donation, the money would be better spent on an organization that absolutely needs the funds to attain its objectives.
The Principle of Indispensability is designed to help maximize the leverage of charitable contributions. “Archimedes is credited with discovering how to use a lever to get seemingly disproportionate results,” says Hanna. “But Archimedes didn’t just stick his lever anywhere. He had to find the point of maximal leverage.” So too with philanthropy: Charitable donations achieve seemingly disproportionate results when they are directed to the point of maximal leverage.