Posts Tagged charity
I have previously noted the West’s tendency to project its perception of need on the poor — an inclination many Christians have come to share.
The most obvious problem is that not everyone prefers SUVs, organic tomatoes and modern plumbing in the same order as your run-of-the-mill suburban soccer mom. But the deeper issue is that such an approach elevates material needs and temporary handouts above spiritual vacancy and the ever-necessary whole-life transformation through Christ.
What the poor, broken, hurting, and abandoned really need is discipleship, not some mechanistic plan that tries to leverage Hipster Jimmy’s quest for a unique coffee tumbler into a noble, planet-healing event. Such schemes are mere “spiritual frosting,” as Steve Saint calls them: surface-level gloss that does little to nothing for the kingdom.
Many such errors are due to lapses in our thinking, which is why we often like to lob the reminder that “good” intentions (quotes intended) don’t automatically translate to proper thinking or productive action. (I apply this critique routinely.)
Yet at an even deeper level, we must be mindful that we are called to press further, beyond our God-given capacity for earthly wisdom, knowledge, and prudence. This does not, however, mean that we should return to Hipster Jimmy’s blind consumeristic emotionalism and draw from it where it makes us feel warm and tingly. It means we need to consult with the Divine himself.
Beware when you want to “confer with flesh and blood” or even your own thoughts, insights, or understandings— anything that is not based on your personal relationship with God. These are all things that compete with and hinder obedience to God.
In the end, no matter how promising our earthly schemes for sacrifice may seem on paper, or how effective they may appear in application, we need to ask ourselves who/what we are truly sacrificing for. Our efforts may indeed seem “promising” and/or “effective,” but according to whom?
The answer, as Samuel made clear to Saul, is that our actions must always be in sync with God’s will, but as obvious as this may seem, and as prevalent as many Christians think it to be in their own world outlooks, we often think this imposes far fewer demands than it really does.
When pressed on the spiritual legitimacy of our actions, we react by pointing to verses about loving our neighbors or taking in orphans or feeding the hungry (Jim Wallis, anyone?). Yet while each of these imperatives are important and necessary in the life of a Christian, they mustn’t be where we stop. Far too often we draw on the Bible’s generic calls to action while simultaneously rejecting the Helper he sent to assist us in doing the work. We think the message is his, but the method is ours.
But the Christian life is not about taking bumper-sticker slogans and applying them to our own petty schemes as we wish. It’s about transcending our Read the rest of this entry »
I have routinely criticized “fair trade” schemes as ineffective, inefficient and counterproductive — a convoluted form of temporary charity that would be better if treated as temporary charity.
The real problems that cause poverty are deep and complicated, and they cannot be fixed by magical price inflation by Westerners (particularly when our own view of value is as distorted as it is).
As I pointed out in my review of Victor Claar’s book on the subject, one of these problems is often the nature of the given market. When it comes to coffee, for example, Claar explains that “coffee growers are poor because there is too much coffee.” The solution is hardly, “more coffee!”
Many of these realities are difficult to change for good reason: accurate, voluntarily determined prices reflect the real preferences of real people who are just trying to create real value. This includes both the consumer and the creator (the coffee grower). Yet other realities are stubborn because they are involuntarily determined.
This is where we should be setting our sights, and this week at AEI’s newly rebranded project, Values and Capitalism (formerly Common Sense Concept), I focus on one of the biggies: agricultural subsidies.
Here’s a taste:
Although the aims of “fair traders” are often noble (e.g. when “equality of outcome” doesn’t masquerade as “fairness”), their efforts would be much better spent tackling the real problems that impact economic development in the long term. If we’re looking for a game of Demolish the Western Privilege Machine, agricultural subsidies are a marvelous piñata.
Farm commodity subsidies—including price and income supports—crop insurance subsidies, and disaster aid encourage US production and disadvantage farmers who attempt to compete with subsidized production from the United States. These programs stimulate more production when Read the rest of this entry »
Steve Saint, author of End of the Spear and missionary to a tribe that killed his father, has some marvelous insights on the West’s tendency to project its “standards, values and perception of need onto others,” particularly when it comes to material needs (HT). When we do so, Saint argues, we often impose the opposite: poverty.
Unfortunately, this tendency has been evidenced no more energetically than by Western Christians.
From Saint’s own experience working with the Waodani people, the material needs are far less impending than the typical Westerner assumes. Indeed, the hustle-and-bustle of such outsiders is often deemed distasteful by the very people the West is attempting to “rescue” through material “fulfillment.”
As Saint explains:
When people visit the Waodani, they look around and think, “Wow, these people have nothing!” People from the outside think the Waodani are poor because they don’t have three-bedroom ramblers with wall-to-wall carpeting, double garages so full of stuff the cars never fit and, I guess, because they never take vacations to exotic places like Disney World.
Mincaye, on the other hand, sees the way we “Outsiders” live here in “The foreigner’s place” and makes comments like; “Why, never sitting, do the foreigners run around and around in their car things speaking to each other on their talking things but never hunting or fishing or telling stories to each other?” After traveling and speaking with me in the U.S., Canada and Europe, Mincaye is always greatly relieved to get back to his thatched roof hut, with the open fire wafting smoke in his face, eating whatever happens to be in the cooking pot.
As I have been arguing quite aggressively (here, here, and here), we mustn’t ground our views of mission or vocation or work or needs or productivity or value through our debased, earthly perspective (Romans 1, anyone?). By doing so, we will only dwell in our individual pride and arrogance, whether we think we are “doing good” or not.
By arbitrarily and impulsively acting for the sake of acting (not a good idea), we actually reject the true source of life. There is a reason that the Bible says that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” for without actually denying ourselves and submitting to him, we are nothing but Read the rest of this entry »
Conservatives and libertarians like to downplay privilege and focus mostly on merit. “Just work hard,” they’ll say, which is indeed part of the solution. Yet it is not the only element in play.
Watch the video here:
Here’s an excerpt:
[A]lthough our efforts certainly play a part in how well we succeed in life—and although they may indeed be a primary factor in some or most cases—are we really to ignore where we came from and how that came to be? After all, isn’t our ability to triumph and overcome obstacles only inspiring insofar as it contrasts with whatever little amount of privilege we had in the first place? What are “obstacles,” anyway, if not the things that don’t come easy? Do we marvel over the relative accomplishments of John D. Rockefeller’s children as much as we marvel over the striking ascendance of Rockefeller himself?
Yet while many in the “pro-capitalism” crowd downplay privilege too much, those in the Marxist camp twist it to be the determining factor of our existence: either our weapon or our prison:
Whereas the pro-capitalism crowd likes to pretend class privilege is a non-issue, the Marxist crowd likes to pretend that such privilege determines our very actions. If you are born poor, you are incapable of becoming wealthy, because if you are born wealthy, you are incapable of not Read the rest of this entry »
This week at Common Sense Concept, I discuss Tom Palmer’s new video on the “morality of profit” as a follow-up to my post on whether capitalism is compatible with Christian values.
Palmer uses the charity efforts of Bill and Melinda Gates as a launching pad for discussion, focusing on their professed desire to “give back” to society. The problem with such language, Palmer notes, is that “you can’t give back what you didn’t take.”
The Gateses did not, of course, take anything, as true free exchange would not permit it:
We are not forced to fill company coffers against our will. We are not doomed to buy oranges or apples if the price isn’t right. Instead, we are free to collaborate of our own free will and by our own consent. In such a world, profit is merely a symbol of community value. If we reject profits as immoral, we should be prepared to reject the community that empowers it. The tricky part, as I’ve mentioned before, is that this is most often ourselves. This is what the “morality of profit” all boils down to: whether mutual exchange is indeed mutual.
This tells us something about the morality of profit, but Palmer’s discussion also teaches us something about the nature of generosity — namely, that when we misunderstand the way wealth is created, we also misunderstand the ways in which (or through which) our generosity should be and can be channeled and expressed.
Indeed, understanding this process is crucial for understanding how God calls us to use our wealth:
By diluting our charity to some redistributionist obligation, we dilute the very potential of our charity, both for ourselves and our communities. How are we to maximize our generosity and distribute compassion effectively if we harbor faulty, guilt-ridden sentiments about Read the rest of this entry »
About a year and a half ago, some of our closest friends, Brett and Emily Geselle, started their own restaurant. In the time since, Tommy’s Malt Shop has become a huge success (no small feat in the middle of a recession).
Prior to starting the restaurant, Brett had a successful career in the corporate world. Leaving that path for the high-risk prospect of starting a burger joint was not necessarily the easy, secure, or comfortable thing to do (pursuing the proper American dream typically isn’t). Yet there was something about pursuing the restaurant that made it worth the risk.
Hear their story here (HT):
This is entrepreneurship — and Radical Individualism — at its finest. Brett’s initial vision was not based in a humanistic, materialistic desire for power, glory or wealth, and neither were the actions that brought his dream to fruition. Instead, it was based in the leading of his heart by the Holy Spirit. The subsequent process involved sacrifice, struggle, generosity, risk, wisdom, diligence, and hard work. That is how God works.
The result: a restaurant that meets community needs while also bringing the Geselles self-fulfillment and a realization of God’s provision. As Brett says in the video, “It has an impact on your heart and it will Read the rest of this entry »
Up until now, I have avoided any in-depth discussion about the Center for Public Justice’s Call for Intergenerational Justice, a document which “demand[s] that Washington end our ongoing budget deficits.” The document was signed by a variety of Christian leaders from across the political spectrum, and was designed to “start of a biblically grounded movement in which grandparents, grandchildren and everyone in between can join hands to promote a just solution to our debt crisis.”
The Call has garnered both praise and criticism, with much of the latter coming from friend-of-the-blog Jordan Ballor. To discuss their disagreements, Gideon Strauss of CPJ recently joined Ballor for a discussion at the Acton Institute. This week, Common Sense Concept took the conversation a step further by hosting a panel on the Christian’s role in the budget crisis. Included on the panel were Strauss, Ballor, Jennifer Marshall, Ron Sider, Ryan Streeter, and Pastor Jonathan Merritt.
Catch the conversation here:
But as an evangelical, I’d like to focus specifically on Pastor Merritt’s concers, particularly his (mis)perception of how conservatives and libertarians view poverty solutions — a misunderstanding that permeates evangelicalism at large.
Merritt, himself a self-proclaimed conservative, begins his response by countering Ballor’s claim that the Call does not do enough as far as “putting the church on the hook.” In an initially shocking statement, Merritt says that he’s tired of putting the church on the hook, wrongly assuming that Ballor wants the church to ramp up its political involvement. Going further, Merritt Read the rest of this entry »
First, here’s my quick re-cap of Clinton’s view, which is not particularly unique in the scope of human history:
Clinton’s main argument is that we need a society which meets all the needs of all its children (“Just imagine, bro!”). For Clinton, however, such ends are not to be reached by encouraging freedom, instilling dignity, or teaching the importance of self-government and charity. Instead, children are only to reach their ultimate state of nirvana if the State becomes the family itself. After all, much like those other pesky private institutions — churches, schools, businesses…that kind of thing — the private family simply cannot be trusted (fascism alert).
To illuminate the errors within such a view, I lean on economist Milton Friedman, whose widely circulated exchange on the distribution of income vs. wealth provides some good insights.
Here’s Friedman in his own words:
The thing that is amazing that people don’t really recognize is the extent to which the market system has in fact encouraged people and enabled people to work hard and sacrifice — in what I must confess I often regard as an irrational way — for the benefit of their children. One of the most curious things to me in observation is that almost all people value the utility their children will get from consumption higher than their own.
As for where I stand, I take a view quite similar to that I made in my recent post on WALL-E vs. the Jetsons:
When the material needs are met by utilizing the proper socio-political framework, we can then more easily progress as a society toward a proper spiritual orientation. If we take a different path, and attempt to Read the rest of this entry »
In a recent post at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Jeffrey Tucker tries to explain why modern religious people have such a hard time grappling with economics. (“Why Religious People Struggle with Economics”)
Indeed, although the discipline was originally systemized by Catholics in the 15th and 16th centuries (as Tucker duly notes), today’s Christians — whether Protestant or Catholic, progressive or conservative — often fail miserably in their attempts to comment on the subject. This, after all, is why I started this blog in the first place.
For Tucker, the roots of the problem go much deeper than a lack of mere knowledge:
It’s not just that the writers, as thoughtful as they might otherwise be on all matters of faith and morals, do not know anything about economic theory. The problem is even more foundational: the widespread tendency is to deny the validity of the science itself. It is treated as some kind of pseudoscience invented to thwart the achievement of social justice or the realization of the perfectly moral utopia of faith. They therefore dismiss the entire discipline as forgettable and maybe even evil. It’s almost as if the entire subject is outside their field of intellectual vision.
If one exists, lives, and thinks primarily in the realm of the nonscarce good, the problems associated with scarcity — the realm that concerns economics — will always be elusive. To be sure, it might seem strange to think of things such as grace, ideas, prayers, and images as goods, but this term merely describes something that is desired by people. (There are also things we might describe as nongoods, which are things that no one wants.) So it is not really a point of controversy to use this term. What really requires explanation is Read the rest of this entry »
More specifically, I examine the centrality of sacrifice in the Christian pursuit and the corresponding importance of grounding that sacrifice in the divine rather than the debased.
Here’s an excerpt:
We must move beyond our humanistic perceptions of generosity, pushing energetically toward a more heavenly orientation — one that is led by the Spirit rather than the flesh. As Kelly Kapic argues in his recent book, Jesus’ death on the Cross is not just a gift, but an invitation to participate in God’s unique movement of divine generosity.
To explore this point further, I look at a story in the Gospel of John in which Mary lavishes Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment. Judas scolds Mary for wasting precious resources, claiming that they would be better sacrificed on behalf of the poor.
Jesus responds with this: “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
As I argue in the post, Jesus is pointing to Judas’ fundamentally materialistic perspective of generosity — a view that sees human individuals (and their resources) as static and predictable variables to be manipulated through “generosity.”
As far as how this might contribute to our views about politics or Read the rest of this entry »