For some reason, I had never thought about what pro-life socialist policies might look like. But today, Jim Wallis’s Sojourner’s blog covered a Los Angeles Times story about a strategy shift in the Democratic party to support a House bill “designed not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also to encourage women who do conceive to carry to term.”
Passed last week in the House with strong bi-partisan support, the bill provides millions of federal dollars to:
• Counsel more young women in crisis to consider adoption, not abortion.
• Launch an ad campaign to inform needy women that they can receive healthcare and other resources if they are “preparing for birth.”
• Expand parenting education and medical services for pregnant women, in some cases by sending nurses to their homes.
• Offer day care at federal job-training centers to help new mothers become self-sufficient.
According to the L.A. Times piece, the House is also considering a separate measure that would fund maternity and day-care centers on college campuses so “pregnant students won’t feel they must have an abortion to stay in school.”
So, leaving this open for discussion — Is this bill a step in the right direction that Christians should welcome and embrace as “life-affirming”? (If we federally fund abortions now, isn’t it better to federally fund moral alternatives?) Or is it just a political tactic to win over conscientious, religious voters while steeping them in the socialist principles of universal health care on their own ground? (Abortion is certainly more emotional for such voters than the worn-out, transparent appeals for federal health control they’ve heard in the past. And if much of the newly-allocated money goes to Planned Parenthood anyway, isn’t it just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?)
Perhaps it’s not enough for Christians to be “single-issue voters” on the abortion issue. Maybe what lies beneath the pro-life rhetoric matters, too. And when considering any act of the state, our only question should not be “is it a good idea?” — we should also ask the more important question, “Is it the government’s place?”
It’s a recurring bit of guidance throughout the Christian tradition, that if Christians will only do what is right, they will make the best citizens and be respected, perhaps even celebrated, by the society and the government. This wisdom is an expansion of Paul’s note in Romans 13 that if you “do what is right” then the civil magistrate “will commend you.”
It seems this isn’t quite true these days, at least as it relates to the Christian virtue of chastity. Take the case of Lydia Playfoot, “a 16-year-old who has taken her school to court over its decision to ban her from wearing her silver ring symbolizing her chastity pledge.”
Lydia is participating in the UK version of the purity ministry named the Silver Ring Thing. Youth take a pledge of sexual purity and abstinence and signify this pledge by wearing a small silver ring. School officials deemed that this decoration violated the school’s dress code policy.
According to reports, “The school, which allows Muslim and Sikh students to wear headscarves and religious bracelets, argued that the ring was not an integral part of the Christian faith and broke its uniform policy.”
I guess government educrats have taken it upon themselves to determine what is and is not adiaphora. Far from commending the voluntary commitment to chastity, the British school system disrespected Playfoot’s virtuous expression of faith.
This case seems to be part of a larger social campaign against chastity. For instance, see the NYT review of More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics by Steven Landsburg (HT: NewsBusters), a book which claims:
It’s true: AIDS is nature’s awful retribution for our tolerance of immoderate and socially irresponsible sexual behavior. The epidemic is the price of our permissive attitudes toward monogamy, chastity, and other forms of extreme sexual conservatism. You’ve read elsewhere about the sin of promiscuity. Let me tell you about the sin of self-restraint.
Is the government living up to its responsibilities when it actively discourages chastity?
Says Playfoot: “I believe that the judge’s decision will mean that slowly, over time, people such as school governors, employers, political organisations and others will be allowed to stop Christians from publicly expressing and practising their faith.”
In yesterday’s WaPo, George F. Will assesses FDR’s domestic legacy, “Declaration of Dependence.”
It’s not a pretty tale: “The war, not the New Deal, defeated the Depression. Franklin Roosevelt’s success was in altering the practice of American politics.
This transformation was actually assisted by the misguided policies — including government-created uncertainties that paralyzed investors — that prolonged the Depression. This seemed to validate the notion that the crisis was permanent, so government must be forever hyperactive.”
In a previous issue of Religion & Liberty, Prof. Steven Gillen writes that FDR helped to
redefine freedom and liberalism in America. In speeches throughout the 1930s the president declared, ‘I am not for a return of that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the service of a privileged few’ and called for a ‘second bill of rights’ that included governmentally-guaranteed rights to remunerative jobs, decent homes, and adequate health care. Not surprisingly, FDR’s neo-liberal justification of his ‘New Deal’ expansion of the economic role of the federal government enormously appealed to the heavily poor Catholic base of his Democratic Party during the Great Depression and still dominates much of the ‘liberal’ thinking with respect to liberty, rights, and the role of government in America today.
Acton research fellow Kevin Schmiesing also discusses the history and legacy of the New Deal in his book, Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II.
A review of Schmiesing’s book by Thomas E. Woods notes of Schmiesing’s reappraisal of Catholics and the New Deal, “Schmiesing has made an important contribution because he reminds us that a great many considerations, including the dangers posed by political centralization and broad construction of the Constitution, may inform the Catholic conscience on economic matters.”
There’s lots to digest and consider in a new Barna report on poverty:
A new national survey by The Barna Group regarding people’s perspectives on poverty shows that Americans are quite concerned about what they perceive to be a significant and growing challenge facing the nation. The survey also showed that most people are actively involved in trying to alleviate poverty, although they typically believe it is primarily the government’s job to do so. The religious faith of adults appears to have a limited influence on how people perceive and respond to poverty.
One of the sentences in that introductory paragraph that jumps out at me, of course, is the sense that most people “typically believe it is primarily the government’s job” to combat poverty.
But then I ran across this paragraph, which is rather more inspiring:
Worthy of note is the divergent perspective of evangelicals. They were among the groups least likely to see poverty as a job for the government (55%) and were the group most likely to see it as a matter for churches to address (14%). The only other group that was similar was Christian Revolutionaries – the people who indicate that their highest priority in life is living for God and who possess a worldview that is based on biblical principles. Barely half of the Revolutionaries (52%) assigned poverty primarily to government agencies, while 11% said it was predominantly a church responsibility.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I’ve given this report a closer read. Feel free to weigh in as well.
Last Friday afternoon I attended workshops on the theme, “Christian Education in Ministry,” at the Assembly of World-Wide Partners conference. Facilitated by John DeJager, two speakers were featured in these workshops. Comfort Enders is a lead-teacher at an educational initiative in Liberia, Kingdom Foundation Institute. Dr. Gaylen Byker is president of Calvin College and an expert in Christian education around the world. (more…)
Both of our major political parties have missed what seems so obvious. One says that we need more tax cuts to strengthen the economy. This is correct. The problem is that they are not willing to also make serious budget cuts. That party has spent more than any previous administration. The other political party wants to expand federal government by spending more of our money by raising taxes. The first plan helps the economy in the short run but not in the long term. The second is an even worse disaster I think.
Look, budget deficits are not a good thing, at least not in my simplistic understanding of economics. What individual would decrease their revenue, at least for the short term, and then also increase spending, for the long term? I know, cutting tax rates generates more money in the long run and thus the government benefits. I agree with that proven principle. Ronald Reagan advanced it and to the astonishment of all his enemies it worked.
What I do not think is a proven fact is that you can keep raising government spending, so as to increase deficits, and not someday have to "pay the piper." The late Milton Friedman, a hero of mine, continually noted that the burden of government is best measured by the level of our spending, not by the level of our tax rates. John Stossel pointed this out very clearly in his syndicated column that appeared in my paper today.
Here is the bad news. Your FICA and Social Security taxes currently exceed the expenditures of these programs. But by 2017 or 2018 this will all change when the baby boomers start to retire in massive numbers and begin to drain the system. Stossel gives President Bush some credit for the falling deficit because of his tax cuts. This plan has shrunk the deficit, at least to some extent. Cutting taxes and cutting deficits are not opposites. Both can and should be done. There is enough blame to go around in Washington. I want to decrease tax rates even further but I also want to seriously decrease federal spending.
John Stossel notes that the anti-Federalist writer Melancton Smith (1787) wrote: "All governments find a use for as much money as they can raise." That is the real issue and few will admit it, whether Republicans or Democrats. One party generally does a better job with this issue than the other but the difference is more one of degree than of deep and true principle, or so it seems to this amateur. I am open to seeing this differently but I think the obvious is pretty obvious. We need to grow the economy, allow people to keep their own money so they can spend it and create new jobs, and limit the role of government in solving every social ill we face. I believe there are some pressing issues that demand federal solutions. I am not a libertarian Luddite. But I also believe that at some point we had better face this deficit issue and slow spending or we will soon face financial and social chaos like we have never imagined.
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."
Check out Global Integrity, “an independent, non-profit organization tracking governance and corruption trends around the world. Global Integrity uses local teams of researchers and journalists to monitor openness and accountability” (HT: Librarians’ Internet Index: New This Week).
There are limitations, of course, such that countries such as Venezuela or China are not listed as of yet. But Global Integrity might be one valuable tool to add to your “global citizen’s” toolkit.
And while we’re on the topic, don’t forget to add this to your toolkit as well: A Theory of Corruption, by Osvaldo Schenone and Samuel Gregg.
In an essay for TCS Daily last week, Arnold Kling wrote, “With or without the words ‘under God,’ the Pledge of Allegiance feels to me like a prayer. It’s a fairly nice prayer, and I have no problem with having it taught in private schools. I have no problem praying for my country — such a prayer is included in the standard weekly service at my synagogue. But government institutions ought not to be telling people how to pray.”
The essay is well-worth reading. I especially like Kling’s description of a “Civil Societarian.” But I have another anecdotal piece of evidence to contribute to Kling’s conclusion.
It comes from the back page feature “Baby Bloopers” in the current issue of Parents magazine. Here’s the story “Lady Liberty” as told by Tracie Cirillo of Rochester, NY:
One afternoon my 4-year-old daughter, Maya, came home excited to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to me, since it’s played every morning over the public-address system at her school. When she got to the end of the pledge, she said, ‘With liberty and justice for all. Today’s lunch is quesadillas and fruit cup.’
The cynic might say that’s what you get when government teaches you how to pray.
Among the new statements the employees were asked to evaluate was this: “Pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs.” Only 22 percent of the respondents agreed with this statement, while 45 percent disagreed (25 percent were neutral).
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said that a performance-based system of rewards would not work in the federal system, in part because “most federal workers don’t trust a system by which they would be compensated or receive raises based on how they are judged on their performance by their managers.”
As Travis observes, it says something bad about “a workplace and its management if the employees don’t trust their managers to give honest, objective performance reviews.”
Your tax dollars are at work to ensure, to use the words of Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, that “every employee, from unsatisfactory to outstanding, gets the same annual raise.”