Posts tagged with: ron sider

Figures 015 Melchisedec King of Salem blesses AbramThe folks at RELEVANT magazine wonder, “What would happen if the church tithed?”

The piece explores in some depth the point that tithing is really about the radical call to Christian generosity, pointing to the biblical example of the Macedonian church: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)”

I was just reading from the Little House books last night to my son, and one of the chapters I read included the narrative of Laura’s missionary church in western Minnesota as the recipient of Christmas gifts from a church in the more established parts of eastern Minnesota:

There had never been such a Christmas as this. It was such a large, rich Christmas, the whole church full of Christmas. There were so many lamps, so many people, so much noise and laughter, and so many happinesses in it. Laura felt full and bursting, as if that whole big rich Christmas were inside her, and her mittens and her beautiful jewel-box with the wee gold cup-and-saucer and teapot, and her candy and her popcorn ball.

Giving can really mean the world to the recipient, and it is a significant spiritual exercise and discipline for the giver as well.

As to the RELEVANT question, Ron Sider offered his own answer in 2005, and the needs and possibilities identified have not substantially changed in the meantime:

If American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and education to all the poor of the earth. And we would still have an extra $60-70 billion left over for evangelism around the world.

As I’ve said before, seeing evangelism as something for “leftovers” isn’t quite right, but the point still stands that to whom much has been given, much is expected. And American Christians have certainly been given much.

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
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The Christian Post recently interviewed Acton’s Jordan Ballor about biblical principles and the federal budget:
(more…)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 13, 2010
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In an otherwise fine piece focusing on innovative techniques used by food banks to increase efficiency, while at the same time improving service and the recognition of the dignity of those they serve, Bread for the World president David Beckmann uses the opportunity to throw a dose of pessimism into the mix.

“We can’t food-bank our way to the end of hunger,” said Beckmann, co-recipient of the 2010 World Food Prize. “Christian people need to change the politics of hunger as well.”

Well. So what if “we can’t food-bank our way to the end of hunger”? Does that mean that we have to make governmental lobbying our primary focus? How about using the opportunity to praise best practices and improvements in the way food banks are run? How about talking about the important and indispensable role that food banks play?

It might just be that framing the problem as political by definition minimizes the role that private charity and local giving play. The emphasis all too easily becomes one of lobbying and advocacy rather than taking practical steps to address hunger in local contexts.

Perhaps I’m making too much of this. But I think we can see right where the “politics of hunger” mindset leads. Here’s an example from my local area: “West Michigan food pantries see drop in demand, but not for a good reason.”

Here in West Michigan local food bank officials point not to decrease in demand or need, but instead toward “increased state food assistance and accessibility.”

While local food banks are seeing their usage numbers decline, “We have continued to set records every month (for the food assistance program) for the past 18 months, said Edward Woods, communications director for the state Department of Human Services (DHS). “Recovery funds (federal stimulus) did increase the amount of food assistance by nearly 14 percent.”

If changing the politics of hunger means that fewer people use food banks and food pantries in favor of government welfare then I have no interest in changing the politics of hunger. Instead I want to see hunger de-politicized.

All too often discussion about charitable causes end up downplaying direct charitable giving and activity with calls for political activism and advocacy. Jim Wallis, for instance, has said “I often point out that the church can’t rebuild levees and provide health insurance for 47 million people who don’t have it.”

Instead of talking about what food banks can’t do and what Christians can’t do, I like the observation from Ron Sider about the untapped potential of Christians to act on their own through their own institutions without resorting to government advocacy.

Sider says, “If American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and education to all the poor of the earth. And we would still have an extra $60-70 billion left over for evangelism around the world.”

Obviously evangelism shouldn’t be a “leftover” priority, but you get the point. Christians and churches can and should do more, and calls to change the “politics” of hunger, poverty, and a host of other issues let us off the hook too easily.

Gary Becker and Richard Posner examine the increasing gap between the rich and poor in terms of wealth and income. This gap was most recently highlighted in a report that “the richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth,” and the richest 1% hold 40% of wealth. The report was issued by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (PDF).

Becker seems to accept that wealth inequality is essentially a problem, and seems at pains to show that “the inequality in wealth appropriately defined is not nearly as large as the report might suggest, and wealth inequality in the world has almost surely become smaller over time, not larger as some in the media reported.”

Posner acknowledges that income inequality is increasing in the developed world and in some rapidly developing nations, but seems less concerned. He raises three possible negative social consequences of “the existence of a stratum of exceedingly wealthy people.”

Of the three, the third I think is the most important and real: “Huge personal wealth may play a disproportionate role in political competition. Personal wealth confers an enormous advantage on a candidate, but also permits a person who does not want to be a candidate to exert an influence on candidates and policies.”

I don’t think income or wealth inequality in itself is necessarily negative, and so I tend to agree with Posner’s emphasis rather than Becker’s. The problem comes when the economic power of the wealthy is used to disproportionately skew policy in their favor at the expense of less economically powerful classes. But as a whole, I think the concern about wealth disparity is more due to its effect on subjective well-being, or happiness, and the resulting envy that is engendered.

But, as Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action admitted in a recent debate with Rev. Sirico, the concern for policy-makers should not be primarily the happiness level or sense of subjective well-being of citizens, but rather how the poorest of the poor are doing, whether the objective floor of material well-being is being raised or not.

Sider has said that he would not be concerned with an increasing gap between rich and poor so long as the living standards of the poor were also increasing (so long as that increased concentration of economic power does not manifest itself in corruption of the political process, via rent-seeking, et al.)

People are much more likely to vote with regard to their subjective sense of well-being, however, so that politicians are easily manipulated into catering to their constituency’s sense of happiness rather than appealing to their objective betterment.

Over at Jim Wallis’ Beliefnet blog, Ron Sider reflects on his interpretation of the landmark text, “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility,” issued by the National Association of Evangelicals.

Citing the line, “faithful evangelical civic engagement must champion a biblically balanced agenda,” Sider concludes that of the seven areas the document addresses (religious freedom, family, sanctity of human life, justice for the poor, human rights, peace and creation care), “This document refuses to lift out one area to ‘value most.’ It says they all are on God’s heart and therefore central to faithful evangelical civic engagement.”

If we are to take this to mean that each of these seven areas of moral concern, and presumably more could be added, are of equal weight, we must ask whether or not this assertion coheres with the Bible’s own view. Could the evangelical search for a “biblically balanced agenda” in fact distort the teaching of Scripture?

Maybe so. To say, for example, that it is just as much the State’s role to provide direct assistance to the poor as it is “to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4 NIV) does not adequately reflect the true and primary role of the State in administering retributive justice.

It is equally as wrong-headed to assert that the provision “for the proper care of wildlife and their natural habitats” (as important as doing such is), is equally fundamental and important as legal recognition of the right to life.

Jesus did acknowledge that there are greater and lesser matters of the law. It often calls for prudential wisdom to discern the difference. But every aspect of the moral order is not equally weighty.

We are told that we as human beings “are worth more than many sparrows.” If Ron Sider is right in his interpretation, then despite my evangelical sympathies in many other areas, I would have to side against the NAE document and with John Paul II, who affirmed that the right to life is “the first of the fundamental rights,” the basis and foundation of all other human rights.

…civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being.

For more on abortion and Catholic Social Teaching, see this interview with Rev. Thomas D. Williams.

It has become popular for evangelicals like Ron Sider and Jim Wallis to often cull the sources of Catholic Social Teaching for validation of their views. We evangelicals would do well to reckon with the essential insight of the basicality of the right to life.

This truth might well mean that a truly “biblically balanced” agenda is one that is radically weighted toward the protection of the sanctity of human life.

Can you find the tension in the lead sentence from this WSJ story on the annual Communist Party meeting in China? Here it is:

“China’s ruling communist elite opened an annual meeting that will focus on policies for spreading the nation’s newfound prosperity more evenly and on President Hu Jintao’s attempts to further consolidate his power.”

It still amazes me that so many people still think that centralizing political power is both an effective way to spread out wealth and one that is therefore socially desirable. The first assumes that wealth is a zero-sum game and the second assumes that the negative consequences and corruptions of concentrated political power are less harmful than economic gaps.

But as even Ron Sider has come to realize, the focus should be on how the poorest of the poor are doing, not on how big of a gap there is between rich and poor.

Matt Gritter, a first-year M.A. student at Calvin Theological Seminary reacted this way when he heard Sider say this in last week’s debate with Rev. Sirico: “I know that Sider has been arguing for a decrease in this gap, but to hear him say that he would not mind the gap increasing if it meant that the poorest of the society would be better off was a bit of a shock to me.”

Rev. Robert A. Sirico

Rev. Robert A. Sirico

On Monday, October 2, Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico debated the President and Founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, Dr. Ronald J. Sider on the campus of Calvin Theological Seminary. The topic of their exchange was Wealth and Poverty in Light of the Gospel: How Can Christians Work Together if We Disagree? The event was jointly sponsored by Calvin Seminary and Western Theological Seminary.

Their spirited exhange is now available online in both video (streaming video – Real media format NOTE: the presentation begins about 6 minutes into the video) and audio format. Both the video and audio appear courtesy of Calvin Seminary.

Dr. Ronald J. Sider

Dr. Ronald J. Sider

You can also review a responses to the debate from the Kruse Kronicle, and an overview of the event from the Kerux, Calvin Theological Seminary’s student newsletter. And as always, your thoughts and reactions are welcome in the comments section below.

Update 8/5/2013: A reader informed us that the media files originally linked in this post have since gone offline. To make amends, I’ve re-posted the audio, which you can listen to via the player below:

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 22, 2006
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In a way, the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford recognizes a fact that Ron Sider has written on and I have thought about for a long time. In “A New Take on Tithing,” Claude Rosenberg & Tim Stone write:

Too often, individuals make decisions about how much money to donate to charitable causes on an ad hoc basis. As a result, many people give less money than they can actually afford. If the affluent contributed as much to nonprofits as the authors believe they can, charitable giving in the United States would increase by $100 billion a year – enough to solve many of the world’s most pressing problems.

Sider has previously written: “If American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and education to all the poor of the earth. And we would still have an extra $60-70 billion left over for evangelism around the world.”

The Stanford estimate is about one-third higher than Sider’s estimate with regard to how much extra charitable income there might be if the tithe were rigorously implemented. Part of the difference might be due to the fact that there are somewhat different sets of people under examination. The Stanford estimate is primarily based on “the affluent,” while Sider is talking about “American Christians” in general (clearly there is significant but not complete overlap).

But another aspect of the difference might in fact be the nuance of the Stanford piece’s analysis, and one of its key points: charitable giving should not be based simply on take home pay. Under what they call the “old tithe,” the following seems to be the case, “When people tithe, they typically base the amount they give on their income alone, not on their income and investment assets.”

Of course, assuming that at first the investment asset seed money was take home pay, the tithe would have already been applied to those funds. In essence, the “new tithe” is a double application of the tithe, the second time pertaining to profits earned with money to which the tithe had previously been applied.

Whether or not you think this sort of double tithe is appropriate, the Stanford piece does raise the important question of the responsible stewardship of investment profits. And while at first Sider’s estimate may seem more conservative than the Stanford estimate, if you take into account Sider’s endorsement of a graduated tithe, Sider’s model would end up being much more stringent in terms of its expectations (the graduated tithe is the idea that as income increases, so should the percentage of giving increase, eventually to 100% above a certain threshold).

Some may object that the new double tithe or the graduated tithe, or even the old tithe itself is too legalistic, too stringent, or both. To that I have two things to say.

First, let’s put the level of giving in perspective. Whether or not you think the tithe is a biblical requirement, it is valid as a consistent baseline measure. According to Barna’s research, “The proportion of households that tithe their income to their church – that is, give at least ten percent of their income to that ministry – has dropped by 62% in the past year, from 8% in 2001 to just 3% of adults during 2002.” In addition, “9% of born again Christians tithed their income to churches in 2004,” and “When contributions are examined as a percentage of household income, giving to religious centers represents about 2.2% of gross income.”

Second, even if you agree with Russell Earl Kelly, Ph.D., that the tithe is not a biblical requirement, it is a far more difficult case to make that the tithe is “unbiblical” or anti-Scriptural. The category of adiaphora would apply here, I think. So, for example, the assertion that the New Testament does not explicitly endorse or teach tithing does not necessarily mean that Christians cannot practice it or that it is “wrong” to tithe.

Ron Sider, The Scandal Of The Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like The Rest Of The World? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 144 pp.

“Summing Up Sider’s Legacy”

Ron Sider’s recent book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, is a noteworthy achievement. One the one hand, it represents an almost complete shift away from left-leaning government-oriented solutions to social and economic problems that characterize the first edition of his popular Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. This movement had already become apparent by the time Sider released the twentieth anniversary edition of Rich Christians, in which he embraced increased access to markets and capital investment as necessary components of solutions to global poverty. In Scandal, Sider explicitly acknowledges this perspective, as he writes of “the stunning success of market economies in producing ever-greater material abundance.”

Sider is thus able to recognize the basic goodness of creation: “Historic Christianity has been profoundly materialistic. The created world is good. God wants us to create wealth and delight in the bounty of the material world.” A key part of Sider’s project is to properly and relatively value the material and temporal in light of the spiritual and eternal. Thus he rightly notes that “historic Christianity also placed firm boundaries on this materialism. Nothing, not even the whole material world, matters as much as one’s relationship with God.” (more…)