A Response to a Reader … Why So Much Heat?

My recent post Why So Much Heat About Social Justice? Part 2 generated such a thoughtful comment from a reader that I want to use a new post to respond. Thanks, Steve, for taking the time to write. Your remarks suggest that we have a mutual desire to live from the framework of orthodox Christianity. We also seem to have a common heart to help the poor escape poverty. We both recognize that well-intended money dumping does the opposite. Internally it often enslaves them to what Paul calls the “stronghold of the mind,” in this case a mindset of poverty. Externally it creates shackles of dependency that become harder to break.

I want to respond further to Steve’s comments. Below, Steve’s original remarks are in green.

Let me preface this response with our common ground: I affirm our shared belief in orthodox Christianity, and the reality of the kingdom of God both now and future. I resonate strongly with the approach to poverty called transformational development, as a way to address all aspects of poverty including broken relationships between God and man. Poverty will not be solved with dump loads of money applied from the top down. People, who are created in the image of God, have incredible skills and assets that should be recognized and built on, a process that builds their self-worth, and brings reconciliation with their communities and with God.

I would agree with your opening paragraph and this is what leads me to believe that we have a lot in common.

However, I don’t believe that all underpinning beliefs related to social justice can fit into a 2 by 2 box. Sometimes God works through a supernatural “open” process and through “moral” people, but surely we have sometimes seen the poor cared for by “amoral” atheists.

This is true. People who are immoral sometimes act morally and people who profess to act by a moral standard at times do not. But in each case the person is acting apart from the implication of their framework. What do I mean? An atheistic-amoral framework has no basis to do good or to pursue justice. That framework, by its nature, encouraged “the survival of the fittest” and sees nature as “red and tooth and claw.” The propensity is toward the accumulation and use of power, the goal is to survive, to come out on top. People who function compassionately are doing so from their human nature as given by God and not as an impulse from their atheistic framework.

There are millions of well-meaning Christians who pity the poor as simply lacking material resources, and think the solution is to go on a mission trip to build stuff for them.

I agree. Often these folks are motivated by Christ, but they do not reflect on what they are doing and thus they tend to create more poverty. My good friends, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, of The Chalmers Center,  have written a book, When Helping Hurts which responds to these well-intended mistakes.

There are also many non-Christians who see the poor as real people whose skills are neglected, and work to build their capacity to develop their own communities.

Yes, this is true. Again, I agree.

God can choose to work through all people for his own purposes, sometimes through the most unlikely agents, to bring Himself glory.

Yes.

Splitting people into those who either follow a Judeo-Christian or Atheistic-Materialistic paradigm also misses the possibility that people (and belief systems) are more complex and nuanced.

I would agree that belief systems are very complex and this is both good, and at the same time it provides challenges. Yes, these systems may be nuanced, but the nature of the nuances will conform to the boundaries which define the system.

For example, solving material poverty will certainly require creation of wealth through development of human skills, but may also require that government play a proper role in protecting society’s most vulnerable citizens.

I agree. I would also identify that protection by government as the rule of law. Each person, rich or poor, healthy or sickly, young or old, female or male, black or white, is to be equal before the law. It is the government’s priority to provide justice and social peace so that free citizens might pursue the health and prosperity of their families in a framework of economic freedom. Steve, here is where I think we are operating from two different perspectives.

Here’s a perspective on levels of responsibility that a society would do well to observe. First, we must practice personal responsibility at an individual level. After that, comes family responsibility, followed by the responsibility of voluntary associations such as churches, synagogues, mosques, boy and girls clubs, civic clubs. Only then should government responsibility be invoked in providing a safety net, and even then the responsibility of local government precedes that of state government. Federal government begins only after that. Part of the beauty of this model is that those who are closer to the need can provide more personal help. Unfortunately today, in the US and other places, we assume the federal government is the party responsible to solve problems. So the solutions tend to be bureaucratic and top-down. Money replaces personal responsibility.

Here’s a question that frames part of the battle we are facing in the US today: Will our citizens be responsible? Will they be free and “large” human beings, or will the government continue to take on more and more responsibility that belongs elsewhere? In such a scenario the government grows and people shrink to insignificance.

Steve, I highly recommend Marvin Olasky’s The Tragedy of American Compassion. In my opinion this is a must-read for all poverty fighters. Olasky shows what characterized poverty fighting programs born out of a Judeo-Christian worldview and what happened to compassion in the West when we moved away from a Judeo-Christian to a deistic worldview and eventually to an atheist worldview. (In one of our next posts we will present  Dr. Olasky’s article, Effective Compassion: Seven Principles from a Century Ago.)

A recent example is the case of Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University. In today’s culture sex is not saved for a committed covenantal marriage relationship between a man and a women before God. Rather, sex is defined as a recreational activity or as entertainment. Ms. Fluke wants freedom to have sex at will without pregnancy. Therefore she needs access to birth control and abortifacients. She argues that the government should be responsible to provide what she needs for her recreational activity. Is this really the province of the federal government? I think not. I am type 2 diabetic. I need walking shoes to keep my type 2 diabetes under control. In Ms. Fluke’s framework I would expect the government to provide me with walking shoes so I can practice my recreational walking for health purposes.

Let’s be careful about how we characterize those who see a right role for government …

Who gets to define what the right role of government should be?

… not all who want the state to provide services for the poor want them to be “enslaved” or dependent on an all-powerful massive bureaucracy.

This is true. And I trust that was clear in my post. However, others are intentionally building bureaucracy and government control. Like some in business who cheat customers, stock holders and employees for their grossly immoral and sometimes illegal gains, some in government circles are abusing their power as well.

Thanks, Steve, for the opportunity to dialogue.

–          Darrow

Advertisements

About disciplenations

Equipping the Church to transform the world
This entry was posted in Development, Poverty, Worldview and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Response to a Reader … Why So Much Heat?

  1. I think this paragraph is a quote from the commenter, but somehow it did not end up showing that fact in the body of this article:

    “This is a God-given role for the state, and in a kingdom-of-God world the state should offset the selfishness of individuals to provide opportunity for all. Government also rightly gives a safety net for those who are crushed by the fallen human economic system. Instead, right now government seems to protect the interests of the rich and powerful, and defends those interests through militarism or exclusion. So if we advocate for the government to actually care for the poor by providing the services it should, it is not to grow the power of government but simply to restore the right function of government as God intended. By walking alongside government (which is made of people, after all), we can advocate for a kingdom perspective and contribute to the transformation of those institutions as well.”

    That makes the flow of the article confusing. (I only noticed because I went and read the actual comment).

  2. A key quote from the commenter: “So if we advocate for the government to actually care for the poor by providing the services it should, it is not to grow the power of government but simply to restore the right function of government as God intended.”

    I hear a lot of Christians saying things like that, but I rarely (if ever) hear a real attempt to explain WHY this is so and from where in the Bible they derive these ideas.

    Where does the commenter come up with “the services it SHOULD” provide?” Based on what is this a “right function of government as God intended?” Where are you getting the idea that this is the kind of government that God intended?

    I am assuming that the commenter is referring to “civil government” when they say “government” in this context.

    Mr. Miller cuts to the point when he asks “Who gets to define what the right role of government should be?”

    That is the heart of the question. In a Biblical Christian Worldview what is the source of our information and principle? From where do we get our ideas of government and it’s role?

    It seems to me that many Christians (do I dare say “most?”) bring a certain amount of statism/socialism to the table at the start of the conversation without having really analyzed their own worldview in light of the Heart of God as authoritatively revealed in the Bible.

  3. You are right, Jon. That was my mistake. You are to be commended for your sharp eye, and thanks for your help!

    Gary Brumbelow

  4. Carolyn Markson says:

    Dear Darrow,
    Your posts are fascinating, even for this beginning learner. Your writing helps me understand the why and how I’ve been drawn to our work in Honduras and I believe my continued learning from your work, will improve our approach. Many thanks and keep it up!!
    cm

  5. Thanks Carolyn

    Glad to hear that the blogs are challenging and encouraging to you.

    darrow

  6. Actually, Sandra Fluke had nothing to say about her own birth control usage and sex life. Her testimony regarded a friend who needed hormonal birth control to treat ovarian cysts. She couldn’t afford the treatment and the cysts destroyed her ovaries.

    Isn’t lying something you moral, moral Christians aren’t supposed to do?

    Beyond that, if you are walking in order to control Type 2 diabetes, your walking isn’t recreational, it’s medicinal. By definition. And if buying you shoes treats your diabetes and keeps down the cost of untreated diabetes- like amputating feet, for example, shoes have to be cheaper than amputating feet- then I would be happy to pay for your shoes.

  7. I have many thoughts about personalfailure’s comment as well as Sandra Fluke’s testimony, but I think that would take the thrust of the discussion away from the point of Mr. Miller’s article.

    So… If anyone wants to read or listen Sandra Fluke’s testimony and make their own decision:

    ♦ Transcript: http://abcnews.go.com/images/Politics/statement-Congress-letterhead-2nd%20hearing.pdf

    ♦ Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlRC0nsjtKQ

    ♦ Full Hearing: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/304550-1

    It was a bit shocked to hear the general demanding tone of the testimony. Now that would be an interesting worldview discussion: Are people supposed to obtain provision by demanding it from somebody else?

  8. An atheistic-amoral framework has no basis to do good or to pursue justice. That framework, by its nature, encouraged “the survival of the fittest” and sees nature as “red and tooth and claw.” The propensity is toward the accumulation and use of power, the goal is to survive, to come out on top. People who function compassionately are doing so from their human nature as given by God and not as an impulse from their atheistic framework.

    I’m going to assume that you are neither a sociologist nor a psychologist. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you don’t know any atheists, either. Because this statement is just shockingly, mind-bendingly wrong.

    What you seem to be saying is that when atheists do bad things, it’s because they’re atheists, and therefore bad. But when they do good things, it’s because of a God who they don’t believe in. Do you see the flaw in that logic?

    The assumption that “atheists have no morals” is very common among fundamentalists, to the point that they simply take it on faith (so to speak), and often end up in a twisted morass of bad logic and flawed assumptions.

    Are you saying that, if you didn’t have a “personal relationship with Jesus,” you’d probably embark on a killing spree, kicking kittens and stealing candy from orphans? If so, that says more about you than it does about Christianity, and I’d suggest you get a therapist immediately, for the day when your faith isn’t strong enough to hold back your psychotic urges.

    Or, look at it another way. Ask yourself why every advanced society has developed a variation of the Golden Rule (“do unto others, “etc.) Every one, without exception, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever.

    Once you answer that, you may be able to see where your logic went so horribly, horribly wrong.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s