Posts tagged with: stewardship

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 2, 2009
By

This guy fails the ‘anthropological Rorshach’ test:

Jonathon Porritt, who chairs the government’s Sustainable Development Commission, says curbing population growth through contraception and abortion must be at the heart of policies to fight global warming. He says political leaders and green campaigners should stop dodging the issue of environmental harm caused by an expanding population.

The 2 child limit that Porritt encourages is not just an attempt to limit population growth, but is instead a policy that would put the UK well below replacement levels. Even assuming everyone maxed out their 2 child ‘limit,’ that wouldn’t meet the replacement level of 2.2 children per couple.

The misanthropy of much of the radical environmental movement is becoming increasingly blatant. No longer must the “P” word be spoken in hushed tones in darkened alleys. Folks like Porritt are making sure of that.

“I am unapologetic about asking people to connect up their own responsibility for their total environmental footprint and how they decide to procreate and how many children they think are appropriate,” Porritt said.

Couching such rhetoric in terms of “responsibility” and even “stewardship” is a powerful tool of deception. After all, who wants advocate being irresponsible?

Read more about environmental misanthropy on this side of the pond in the joint Acton Institute-IRD paper, “From Climate Control to Population Control: Troubling Background on the ‘Evangelical Climate Initiative’.”

Oh, and the “P” word? Porritt means “population,” but a better “P” word is “person.” Population is an abstraction. Personhood is a reality that can’t be so easily dispensed with. To quote a wise creature, “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

In the wake of the global financial crisis, stories from the pundit class and blogosphere abound proclaiming the imminent death of the conservative movement. This is part of a longer and broader discussion with roots in the post-Reagan era of American politics. (As you’ll see in my comments below, I’m not so inclined to think that a move toward particular kinds of populism is necessarily a move away from conservatism.)

Writing in the American Conservative earlier this month, Claes G. Ryn argues that our recognition of the corrupting nature of power shouldn’t make us abdicate all forms of government and authority:

Without some people governing others, basic social order could not exist, to say nothing of effecting desirable change. The prejudice against power-seeking has left politics too much to people with the wrong kind of ambition, most of whom desire power as an end in itself. Yet wanting power need not be immoral. Pursuing it can be a means to good.

Ryn is professor of politics at the Catholic University of America and chairman of the National Humanities Institute. He notes, in agreement with the older liberal tradition, that,

the old American constitutionalism is inseparable from the moral-spiritual culture that gave it birth. Limited government and liberty were made possible by people who, because of who they were, put checks on their appetites, ran their own lives and communities, and generally behaved in ways conducive to freedom under law. Restoring American constitutionalism would presuppose some kind of resurgence of that old culture. Americans would have to rearrange their priorities and start acting differently, placing more emphasis on family, private groups, and local communities. They would have to want to take back much of the power ceded to politicians far away. Is that likely to happen? If not, the Constitution may not be salvageable.

Ryn discusses what he calls the “coup from within,” where under the guise of conservatism, “People of great ambition who want to exercise the power being abdicated by Americans are trying to make us accept and even welcome the final disappearance of constitutionalism and its culture of modesty and self-restraint.”

I’m not as pessimistic as Ryn about the seemingly inevitable outcome of the crisis and the government interventions and consolidations of power, at least in the economic sphere. He says of those perpetrating the coup, “Their response to the crisis, which they have aggravated, will hasten the crumbling of the American constitutional order. Their prescriptions contain the outlines of tyranny.” He may well be right about that, and Ryn’s concerns shouldn’t be limited to the American scene but apply to the international scene as well. As John Witherspoon said, “A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.”

But despite all this, common sense folk are realizing again that virtues like frugality, thrift, and self-discipline are necessary parts of a broader view of stewardship. This is in part why the bailout has had difficulty finding any serious measure of popular support…it is a plan that is counter-intuitive on so many levels, and despite the media’s best efforts to sell the bi-partisan scheme, the American citizen isn’t convinced. In fact, the concept of stewardship is a pretty good model for Ryn’s view of the appropriate pursuit of power.

It is certainly an uphill battle to practice traditional virtues against a government and a culture that tells us to spend all we can on credit. We have just about maxed out the credit borrowed from the moral and cultural capital of previous generations. In response to those pushing the expansion of federal and executive power, it’s time to, as Ryn says, “expose their false solutions to what are real problems and to explore by what measures the best of our civilization might, despite daunting odds, be given a new lease on life.”

The impending death of conservatism might just be the kind of big-government conservatism that is virtually indistinguishable from big-government liberalism on the scope and size of the government. If that’s the case, then let us celebrate: “Conservatism is dead. Long live conservatism.”

The eighth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The eighth and penultimate leg of the journey took the bikers from Grand Rapids to St. Catharines, Ontario, a total distance of 410 miles. By the end of this leg the entire tour will have covered 3,451 miles.

The CRC is a bi-national church, and while the denominational headquarters are located in Grand Rapids, a significant portion of the church’s membership is Canadian. This is something that I’ve always appreciated and is somewhat rare among Protestant denominations that tend to break down along national lines. Even though there is a great deal of cultural affinity between these North American countries, I think the bi-nationality of the CRC adds an element of internationalism that can help offset the natural tendency to identify the church’s interest with a particular national or domestic setting. The gospel is not confined to the US or to North America.

Unfortunately, the day 52 devotion in the “Shifting Gears” devotional falls flat in offering an “internationalist” perspective. It asks, rhetorically I presume, “Why are billions budgeted for defense and border protection, when we can’t come up with the money to supply mosquito nets for Africa? Why do some governments use their national borders as a wall to hide the injustice and persecution occurring within? Why is it so easy for the powerful to cross borders, but not the poor?” There’s no denying there is great injustice on the international scene related to the strictures of immigration and barriers to trade.

But the first question in this series illustrates a presumption that it is the government’s duty to provide mosquito nets for Africa at the expense of national defense. This, quite simply, is a confusion that is endemic to the perspective of progressive Christianity…that the government, and not the church or other institutions of civil society, is primarily responsible for addressing the problem of poverty.

In the words of Jim Wallis, “I often point out that the church can’t rebuild levees and provide health insurance for 47 million people who don’t have it.” Wallis is fond of talking about the perceived limits of private and church action. But what are the limits of government action? And why can’t the church do much more beyond mere political advocacy? Ron Sider thinks it can, and I agree. It says a lot about you if you are more willing to put your trust in a secular government than in the church of Christ.

Awhile back I considered the amount of money churches spend on building projects in North America. I discussed a a modest proposal: churches should consider tithing the amount they spend on “themselves” and give a portion of the building fund away to other Christian causes.

These kinds of efforts are catching on. Just this weekend I read a piece about a local church which committed 10% of its $1.1 million building fund to other charity work. I wrote more about this in a 2006 commentary, “The North American Church and Global Stewardship.”

One of the entries in the devotional for this week does the best job I’ve seen so far linking and properly coordinating the physical and spiritual concerns of the gospel. Taking its point of departure in the imagery of physical and spiritual imprisonment, the day 51 devotion concludes, “Enjoy the physical freedom of cycling today, and pray for a deeper, richer understanding of God’s mercy–mercy he shows to all who acknowledge their imprisonment in disobedience and who seek freedom in Christ alone.”

Rebecca Hagelin of the Heritage Foundation picks up on my thoughts on consumerism and capitalism and expands on them helpfully in a Townhall.com column.

We should all take her observations about stewardship to heart. I have been a student and a leader of Crown Financial Ministries curriculum, and during my time at Calvin Seminary was even part of a study group to suggest revisions of the curriculum to better reflect Reformed theological sensitivities. I’ve also recently gone through one of Dave Ramsey’s books.

If you’re struggling with debt and controlling your spending, invest your time in one of these or another practical and biblically-grounded guides to responsible financial stewardship.

And speaking of stewardship, participants in this year’s Acton University get the privilege of hearing Dr. Scott Preissler, who is Eklund Professor and Chair of Stewardship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s giving a talk on “Stewardship and Charitable Giving.” Acton’s own Stephen Grabill is giving a lecture titled “A Theology of Stewardship.” And as his ActonU bio states, you should keep your eyes peeled in coming months for the forthcoming Stewardship Resource Bible: ESV, of which Dr. Grabill is the general editor.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
By

In recent years the UK has emerged as a key player in both genetic experimentation and in corresponding legal battles over the extent to which the government ought to regulate such research. The latest news coming from across the pond involves passage of a bill legalizing the creation of human-animal hybrids with certain restrictions (regarding type and length of survival).

Three members of the governing cabinet were “reportedly considering resignation if forced to back the Bill.” Controversy arose over the call from Roman Catholic bishops in the UK to allow MPs and cabinet members a “free vote” on the bill, allowing them to enjoy freedom of conscience as informed by their faith.

Since the creation of the first hybrid embryo was announced yesterday, religious leaders are calling for the creation of a national bioethics commission.

This has brought some strong reactions from critics of the Catholic and generally “pro-life” position.

My own views were lately characterized as representative of the “Roman Catholic and generally free market think tank, the Acton Institute,” and were then conflated with the reasoning of evangelical scientist Cal DeWitt (with whom I do share denominational affiliation).

According to the Reason piece, the distinction I make between the treatment of plants and animals is “based upon the idea that while God commanded Noah to save animal lineages, the Almighty said nothing about preserving plants on the Ark.” (Update: Joe Carter does a thorough and articulate job of dissecting Bailey’s article here).

In fact, in the piece in which I outline a theological framework for evaluating GM foods, I don’t mention Noah at all. And in proposing a similar framework for evaluating the treatment of animals, my only reference to Noah has to do with the inauguration and the terms of the covenant, not with the fact that the animals were preserved on the Ark.

Christian reasoning about the general treatment of animals and concerns with the role of human stewardship are not based on some obscure biblical text, as Bailey’s dismissive allusion would lead us to believe. There is an overarching biblical theme that has to do with human responsibility over the natural world, plants and animals included.

Rev. Leonard Vander Zee, for instance, uses a reference coming at the very end of the book of Jonah as a point of departure, linking it definitively to the foundational “dominion” mandate in the first chapter of Genesis. He summarizes developments in human stewardship and science this way:

State universities used to be known for their programs of “animal husbandry.” What a wonderful term. To husband the animals is to care for them, to provide for their welfare, as well as to use them for human benefit. In the past few decades, most such programs have become departments of animal science, which makes it possible to look on animals as laboratory specimens we can manipulate.

We needn’t agree with the particular conclusions that Vander Zee draws in order to agree that responsible stewardship is a biblical mandate. Clearly the idea of “animal husbandry” is closer to the biblical picture than “animal science.”

The core problem that Bailey and others have with this theological and moral insight is not that it draws too fine a distinction, but that it proposes to set any limits to research at all. That’s why religious opposition to certain kinds of research (or farming practices, for that matter) have to be construed as wholesale opposition to learning, science, and advancement.

But instead, we might also note with Aquinas that the abuse of something does not destroy it’s legitimate use. Christians do believe that scientific knowledge is a legitimate pursuit and indeed a divine calling. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t limits to legitimate practice. And identifying and defining those limits is precisely what these disagreements are all about.

With great ability comes great responsibility. With apologies to Browning, we might say that man’s scientific reach has exceeded his moral grasp.

Alan Donagan, the moral philosopher, in his text The Theory of Morality reflects upon Genesis 1:26 (“Let us make mankind in our image…”). This text can be seen, he writes,

as an affirmation that the earth and all that is on it exist for the sake of the rational beings who live in it; that is, for the sake of man. Yet mankind at large, like any limited human society, is a partnership of the living with the dead and the unborn. The right of the living to use the earth does not entitle them to despoil it. They must respect those who come after them, and not their contemporaries only.

It’s a good thing to remember, and not just with respect to the care of the earth as specifically concerns the environment, but with stewardship of other things, such as oure shared culture, religious doctrine and tradition, and as Dr. J. and others have written recently, fiscal and monetary responsibilities.

Many of us have yet to finalize plans for our Christmas decorating this year. If you haven’t yet decided what kind of tree to put up, consider the truly environmentally-friendly choice: cutting down a live tree.

While that might sound counter-intuitive at first blush, the fact is that the alignment of consumer demand for live trees combines with the environmental interest in growing them to create a powerful alliance.

“Buying a real Christmas tree is the next ‘green decision’ the public can make,” said Mike Bondi, University of Oregon Environmental Science professor. “In fact, a real tree is the safest choice since the tree is helpful to the environment from the time it is planted right up to the recycling process.”

This isn’t your only ‘green’ option this year.

Industry trade groups are also touting live trees as the next “green” thing, including special labeling for trees grown in a particular way. Gayla Hansen, Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association president, says that when you buy a live tree, typically “you’re helping independently owned, family farms.” One way to ensure that there will be lots of evergreen trees grown around this country for years to come is to have a booming and consistent consumer demand for such trees.

This is a clear case of fiscal incentive combining with an environmental interest to create a synergy of economic and ecologic good. We have good reason to think, therefore, that economic and environmental concerns shouldn’t be viewed as polar opposites, but rather complementary aspects of the same basic issue.

A Norfolk Island Pine.

While a live tree is maturing, it takes in CO2 and produces oxygen, in addition to providing natural wildlife habitat. And when the Christmas season ends, trees can be easily mulched or composted (HT: The Evangelical Ecologist).

You might even choose to buy a tree that you can re-plant after its indoor use is finished. When I lived in Virginia where the climate was more temperate than here in Michigan, my mother and I often would reuse a Norfolk Island Pine (which admittedly sometimes looked like a Charlie Brown tree).

When there is reliable consumer demand for a product, there is additional incentive to motivate producers to have a sustainable source to meet that demand. That’s as true for Christmas trees as it is for African Blackwood (a preferred source for many woodwind instruments, including the bagpipe).

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, October 4, 2007
By

The Free Exchange blog at Economist.com (HT) concludes a long and thoughtful post on fair trade, specifically in response to this recent NYT article, “Fair Trade in Bloom,” by wondering:

And how does this affect coffee supply? If a premium is available for fair-trade coffee, shouldn’t other growers enter the market to take advantage of it until the price of coffee is bid down to market levels, leaving total producer take–baseline coffee price plus premium–where it stood before? Such a scenario would also raise distributional questions. If higher coffee prices attract market entrants, then coffee-growing nations will shift resources into that sector, which might be good for grower incomes, but could potentially inhibit the development of other economic activities.

Not to take anything away from the stated goals of the fair-trade movement or the well-meaning consumers who wish to do better by farmers in poor countries. Still, in any economic process, it’s often difficult to foresee the second- and third-order effects of a decision. It will be interesting to observe how growth in fair-trade products changes the structure of markets for targeted commodities.

These sorts of questions and concerns are at the heart of my past criticisms of the fair trade movement.

To the extent that fair trade certifiers are simply acting as agents to inform consumers and guarantee certain practices, to which coffee buyers can freely respond either affirmatively or negatively, there’s no real complaint. Fair trade becomes a boutique item that has to compete in the free marketplace.

But to the extent that the fair trade movement reflects a more thoroughgoing critique of market forces and the “fairness” or justice of market prices, it becomes more problematic. It becomes an entirely different paradigmatic alternative to a system of free trade.

You’ve essentially replaced market prices with arbitrarily determined prices, which are subjectively determined to be “fair.” Compare this with the traditional and classic scholastic understanding of a “just” price as the market value in the absence of any and all fraud and conspiracy.

The Free Exchange blog piece points out all sorts of negative consequences of the change from “just” to “fair” prices, not least of which is the increasing saturation of an already saturated market because of artificial subsidization of a particular commodity. Furthermore, it’s hard to see how it makes good economic and environmental stewardship to subsidize and promote the growth and production of a commodity of which we already have too much.

For more on the disconnect between the intentions and the consequences of the fair trade movement, check out this study, “Does Fair Trade Coffee Help the Poor?”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 21, 2007
By

The PowerBlog’s own Don Bosch is attending the Let’s Tend the Garden evangelical environmental conference this week. He’s liveblogging at his own habitat, and will cross-post and update us here as opportunity permits.

He writes to me briefly that there are “lots of Christian environmental leaders (Rich Cizik is here, along with Rusty Pritchard, Floresta, A Rocha, etc) and also secular groups (Sierra Club).”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
By

The relation of the creation account and the narrative of the flood in Genesis is a complex one. One of these linkages comes in the similarities of the mandates set forth by God in both accounts.

The sixteenth-century reformer Wolfgang Musculus identifies three mandates in the creation account (in addition to the specific prescription regarding the tree of life). The first of these is the procreation mandate: “Be fruitful and increase in number.” The second is the dominion mandate, flowing from the first: “fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” The third mandate relates to sustenance of life: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

Musculus notes that each of these elements are reiterated in the flood account. God says to Noah, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” He also says, “The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.” And finally God says, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

In this recapitulation the procreation mandate seems unchanged. The dominion mandate seems to be marked now by a relationship of antipathy, characterized “fear and dread” rather than benevolence. And thirdly, God expands the provision of human sustenance beyond plants to include eating of animals.

I’d like to focus on this third point, while noting that the change of the relationship noted in the second point is no doubt related to the inclusion of animals as fit for human consumption. Animals would have reason to fear being eaten now, for instance.

There’s been a great deal of reflection on the meaning of God’s adjustment of the creation mandate to include animals as the source of human food. Some commentators have focused on the need for the new human family to have ready sources of protein and nutrients that might not otherwise be available in the post-diluvian world. Related to this, if it’s true, as many vegetarians would have us believe that eating meat is unhealthy, it may be a way for God to ensure that the human lifespan would be limited: “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

As I’ve noted in another context, the expansion of the food mandate to include animals is a reflection of the comprehensive corruption of the Fall. Sin has marred the created harmony of the relationship between humans and animals.

Here, however, I’d like to speculate on another aspect of the extension of this mandate to include animals. Given the nature of fallen humankind, focused on inordinate and idolatrous self-love (cor curvum se, as Anselm puts it), God may be testifying to the fallen-ness of the human/animal relationship and simultaneously providing incentive for fallen humanity to take an active and interested role in stewardship of the animal kingdom.

By linking human survival to dependence on animals for food, God has set in place a relationship that will tend to mirror, if even in a fallen and imperfect way, the original responsibility of human beings to exercise stewardship and dominion over the created order. Human beings now have a basic motivation from self-interest from survival to economic prosperity to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

As many economic observers have noted, a key way to ensure survival of a species is to commodify that species for human consumption in one form or another. There is no lack of cows in America primarily because there is an economic motivation for farmers to keep sustainable herds to meet consumer demand.

There is of course no guarantee that unbounded greed and short-sightedness will short-circuit the economically-savvy self-interest that manifests itself in sustaining a reliable and long-term source of animal products. For a case in point, see Eric Dolin’s new book, Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (interviews here and here, reviewed here). While the whaling industry provided foundational means for economic development in colonial New England, it was a lack of perspective that allowed these populations to be hunted near extinction (see the case of the right whale, for instance).

The key here is note that enlightened self-interest, as opposed to base and short-sighted greed, manifests itself in an impulse to protect sustainable sources of animal products. In this way economic development and the protection of species are not in fundamental opposition, as so many environmentalists have construed laws like the Endangered Species Act.