Posts Tagged Jesus

The Fairest Trade of All

In light of my recent posts on the inadequacy of fair trade (1, 2, 3 & 4), I thought this recent debate on the topic was well worth sharing. The discussion includes AEI’s Claude Barfield, World Fair Trade Organization’s Paul Myers, and Henderson State University’s Victor Claar.

Watch it here:

Barfield provides a good historical backdrop, but Claar, whose comments begin at 33 minutes, provides a strong and thorough critique of fair trade’s failures in both fairness and economic results.

Some of my favorite lines from Claar, in no particular order:

  • “The fairest trade of all is trade that is genuinely free—free from political logrolling by politicians desperate for votes, free from opportunistic lobbying by industries like U.S. sugar and cotton, and free from the harm to the global poor that well-intentioned rich Northerners like us can sometimes bring.”
  • “When the price of something is low–like coffee, or sugar, or cotton–market forces normally direct people to make less of it and move onto something else. But fair trade interferes with the signal that prices ordinarily provide; Fair Trade can never serve as a sustainable long-term development strategy because it will never make people significantly richer than they are today.”
  • “Putting at least some faith in markets to be a powerful force for change in the lives of the poor does not amount to abdicating our concern for the poor–instead opting to cavalierly put our hope in little more than faeries and magic dust. Just as we trust gravity to keeps us all affixed securely to the ground, and just as the principles of particle physics assure you that the chair you are sitting in right now will not let you slip through its seat to the floor, markets work invisibly, but in ways that we understand reasonably well…The laws of physics are part of God’s providence; so are the laws of economics. And we fail miserably in our obligations to our Creator when we ignore the fundamental truths of economics in our efforts to aid the poor—even if our efforts flow from the very best intentions.”

One other item of note is how little argumentation Myers delivers in his primary remarks, throughout which he manages to disregard economic efficiency (because the poor benefit from waste?), downplay petty old “freedom” (because the poor prefer enslavement?) and elevate “rules and regulations” (because the problem is obviously too much access to markets?)—all without providing a substantive argument for how price manipulation benefits the poor and how price accuracy (is there a better word?) hurts them. He provides plenty of anecdotes about how the poor need jobs and affordable goods (is this news?), but provides no cohesive argument for why fair trade fulfills these needs and free trade perpetuates them.

Fair Trade: Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution, Victor Claar, Acton InstituteI’m guessing this lapse was largely unintentional, and that, aptly representing Thomas Sowell’s “unconstrained vision,” Myers simply assumes that the (supposed) morality of fair trade is self-evident—that those who oppose it must simply value economic efficiency over the interests of the poor (and, to be fair, some do). Thus, fluffy anecdotes and pious platitudes about the struggles of the poor suffice for a moral indictment of free trade. Unfortunately, most free traders believe what they believe precisely because  they think it benefits the poor. Myers should start his argument there (when he gets around to making one).

If these assumptions about Myers’ vacuous, emotion-driven remarks are true, then Claar’s later emphasis of Matthew 22:37 is even more relevant than intended.

How do we truly love our neighbor if we are aiming only to elevate our own personal, abstract notions of fairness without checking them against reason or results? How do we truly love the Lord our God if we rely only on our “hearts” and “souls” and not also on our minds? Further, as I’ve indicated elsewhere (1, 2, 3), what does it say about our “hearts” and “souls” if they are detached from an intentionally holistic love of God that looks beyond earthly emotions and assumptions?

Click here to read my review of Victor Claar’s monograph, Fair Trade: Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution.

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For Unto Whom Much Is Given, Less Shall Be Required

President Obama recently spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, during which he furthered his usual conflation of Christian charity with progressive policies.

From the speech:

[W]hen I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.

Such “shared responsibility” can, of course, make economic sense—e.g., if rich folks aren’t already paying their “fair share,” if we actually can increase government revenues by further squeezing the rich, if government revenues are actually being used in ways that help poor/middle-class families, etc.

But particularly after a State of the Union address in which the President promised to ramp up spending across the board, it is ever more difficult to swallow the notion that spelunking the pockets of the rich will somehow alleviate the plight of “ordinary Americans.” Let us remember: This is a President whose solution for economic collapse is to inflate skill-heavy industries such as energy and high-tech manufacturing (the uneducated poor are likely unenthusiastic). This is a President whose solution for inflated tuition costs is doubling the number of minimum-wage work study jobs. You can tax the rich all you want, but until you cut your blind addiction to counterproductive spending, such an approach will make little “economic sense.”

But it gets worse. Obama then moves to argue that forced economic redistribution also makes spiritual sense:

But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required’… To answer the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” … Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need.

Setting aside the President’s peculiar tendency to use “I am my brother’s keeper” as an imperative for Christian service (“I really do know what happened to Abel!”), he is falling prey the most typical of progressive tendencies: (1) confusing Jesus’ call of radical obedience to God with a call of radical obedience to the State, and (2) debasing Jesus’ parables to be wholly materialistic in their scope.

God requires plenty from us, but he wants us to obey him, not the arbitrary dictates of political rulers. Just as he gives us much more than stuff, he also expects us to do much more than give our stuff away (or have it seized away). I have commented on these errors time and time again.

The irony is that the society in which an equality of outcomes is an overarching policy aim is the society in which the people “to whom much is given” start dropping like flies. When the moralistic bureaucrats on top of the hill try to determine how much has been given to whom and how much is too much, God is quickly reduced from being our ultimate source and guide to a mere excuse for government meddling. When leaders like Obama pretend that Jesus was/is encouraging us to blindly submit our resources to a massive inefficient bureaucracy, being a bond slave of Christ becomes no different than being a robot for Read the rest of this entry »

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Embracing God’s Message, Ignoring His Method

In what serves as a nice complement to my recent posts on obedience and the spiritual side of socio-economic decision making, PovertyCure recently posted a video of Peter Greer (HT), in which he adequately captures the church’s unfortunate tendency to embrace God’s message without seeking God’s method.

Watch the video here:

Economist Victor Claar captures similar activity in the first part of his critique of fair trade, documenting the modern church’s impulsive, near-trendy promotion of counterproductive trade schemes.

My question: When we see “good intentions” (quotes intended) result in something like the temporary inflation of a market — not to mention the subsequent destruction of otherwise beneficial and growing enterprises — what are we to assume the driving motivations are behind those specific decisions? Are such efforts to “help people” really taking a holistic Biblical approach? When our “charitable” endeavors fail miserably, should we use our Bibles to justify those actions, or should we deeply question whether those actions were all that “Biblical” in the first place?

Yes, Jesus told us to help the poor, but how do we do that, and what else did he tell us to do?

In the case Greer describes, the church may have achieved its short-term aim, but in the process, it did some serious damage to a local provider, and probably many others. This would seem to make the given community’s long-term prospects worse.

Is this what God wanted? Was it God’s intention to temporarily flood the egg market and put people out of business, only for the need to reemerge the very next year, but this time with a lack of suppliers? Was it the voice of the Holy Spirit that told this church to “give x to y!” or was it the voice of “Hey, I’ve got Read the rest of this entry »

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Chosen Instruments: Obedience and Socio-Economic Decision Making

Ananias restoring the sight of Saint Paul, Pietro De Cortana, 1631I have received a bit of criticism for my constant claim that obedience is the defining factor of the Christian life (e.g.), with most of critiques rooted in the belief that we are to instead focus on “sacrifice” or “love” (as if obedience to God would not involve either).

My questions are most simply: (1) love according to whom and (2) sacrifice for what?

I recently wrote about this very thing, emphasizing the need to follow the Holy Spirit in all that we do (hint: that’s why he’s here).

To further solidify this point, I wanted to take a moment to look at the Apostle Paul — a man who understood that “following the way of love” was interconnected with “eagerly desiring the gifts of the Spirit” (i.e. learning to hear his voice, discern it, and do what it says). As I have also previously noted, such an approach is extremely difficult because there is no hard-and-fast, legalistic solution. The Christian life is not a one-stop, altar-call sort of thing.

Paul had a good grasp of this, and made clear in his letter to the Philippians. Following a summary of his personal trials, Paul provides encouragement to the believers by honing in on the value that obedience will yield while also reminding them of the tensions it implies for their work here on this earth:

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

We all know what this means for our post-earth destination (or, I hope we do), but what does this mean for our own personal callings and struggles today? What does this mean for our socio-economic engagement with others?

First, it is clear that Paul has a purpose and that purpose is not his own. He did not endure imprisonments and beatings for nothing, yet he also did not endure them for personal glory or some lofty martyrdom status. Paul was not standing in the streets and blocking traffic for the mere purpose of being hauled away and lauded in the annals of do-gooder history. Paul was not offering himself as a firstborn calf on some altar of cultural symbolism or earthly greatness.

Paul was arrested for speaking the truth and doing what God told him to do. He was not seeking suffering as an ideal for himself (or anyone else). He was seeking the Glory of God to the point of suffering.

Likewise, Paul’s impetus did not come from some fleeting passion for “social justice.” Paul did not discover his life’s purpose from reading Barbara Ehrenreich in undergraduate school and getting worked up about class divisions and money-grubbing sinners. His purpose came from Read the rest of this entry »

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“Anti-Poor!” – More Demagoguery from the Evangelical Left

In a recent post at the Washington Post, Rev. Richard Cizik joins a growing chorus of progressive evangelicals in accusing conservative Christians of showing little concern for the poor.

This week at AEI’s Values and Capitalism, I offer my critique, noting that Cizik relies on the same demagogic straw-man argument that progressive evangelicals utilize time and time again: that conservative Christians oppose progressive policies not because we find them ineffective or counterproductive, but because we hate the poor and love corporations.

First, I try to examine the false assumptions underlying Cizik’s approach to socio-economic engagement:

What Cizik so clearly misses is that a proper view of collective responsibility cannot exist without a proper view of individual responsibility. It’s not about “embracing” one and “rejecting” the other, as most conservatives well understand. It’s about starting in the right place and achieving collective virtue authentically rather than forcibly.

If you doubt the need for such an integrated approach, look no further than the “Occupy” movement, in which masses of unproductive, self-absorbed blame-shifters assume radical, collective-centric poses so narrow that the “community” has become nothing more than a means for avoiding individual duties and fulfilling a lust for material security. Without a grasp of where responsibility begins, “promoting the common good” quickly diminishes into a short-sighted pig-out at the communal feeding trough.

Next, I move on to Cizik’s claims that conservative Christians are apathetic toward the poor (and the Bible?), as well as calculating political power-grabbers:

It’s not that we think supply side economics create strong economies and benefit everyone across the economic spectrum (including, ahem, the poor). It’s not that we think free exchange and accurate prices create opportunities for real, sustainable growth and economy recovery. It’s not that we think the modern public education system hurts the poor and minimum wage laws lead to poverty traps. It’s not that we think most progressive social programs lead to dehumanization, dependency and economic slavery.

No. It’s because we have a fetish for fat cats and we’re brainwashed by clever marketing. Obviously.

If Cizik is truly interested in a constructive conversation, he should recognize that it gets him nowhere to sideline our concerns about his “pro-poor” policies and elevate his progressive approach as the obvious fulfillment of the Sermon on the Mount. If he is really interested in persuading us toward his supposedly Christian outlook, he should start by explaining why and how these programs are, in fact, “pro-poor,” and how a proper Christian anthropology starts with coercion and manipulation. Instead of claiming our reasons to be purely political, he should explain how exactly his blatant desire to increase political power is somehow less so.

Read the full post here.

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The Disease of Self-Chosen Sacrifice

Abraham and IsaacI 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.

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes about this with precision:

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 »

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The Scope of the Gospel: Balancing the Spiritual and the Social

Wedding at Cana, Paolo VeroneseI have written numerous times about the tendency within human nature to embrace the Love of Man rather than pursue the Love of God. Even in our striving for compassion and through our attempts to help the needy, we tend to execute a Godly imperative according to our own debased ways.

As Russell Moore explains it in a recent piece, the tension often plays out as being between evangelism and “public justice” — spiritual transformation vs. social reconciliation. Yet this tension, Moore argues, need not be a conflict, and in turn, cannot be resolved through an “either-or” solution.

As Moore explains:

[The mission of the church] is summed up in the gospel as a message of reconciliation that is both vertical and horizontal, establishing peace with both God and neighbor. The Scripture tells us to love neighbor “as yourself” (Lk. 10:27-28).

Sound familiar?

Indeed, the call of the church is not to be founded on some gnostic, dualistic divorce of the spiritual and material – whether or not one prefers one or the other. Jesus didn’t spend all of his time praying on the hillside for soul-winning, yet he also didn’t perform physical miracles and wonders without transcendent, spiritual demands and implications.

This is not simply a “spiritual” ministry, as the example Jesus gives us is of a holistic caring for physical and economic needs of a wounded person, not to mention the transcending of steep ethnic hostilities. As theologian Carl F.H. Henry reminded evangelicals a generation ago, one does not love oneself simply in “spiritual ways” but holistically.

Of course, Jesus’ ministry would be about such things. After all, the Bible shows us, from the beginning, that the scope of the curse is holistic in its destruction—personal, cosmic, social, vocational (Gen. 3-11) and that the gospel is holistic in its restoration—personal, cosmic, social, vocational (Rev. 21-22). (emphasis added)

Moore then points to a similar(/interrelated) tension in the church as an example of Read the rest of this entry »

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Phantom Needs: Projecting Poverty Where It Doesn’t Exist

Mincaye, Waodani

Mincaye doesn't care about your cars and credit cards.

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 »

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Government Need Not Wash the Terrorists’ Feet

Jesus, Osama bin laden, George Bush, washing feetBy Josh Lowery, Guest Contributor

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, remembrance took many forms around the country and even the world. For my own part, 9/11/11 was more emotional than 9/11/01.

Ten years ago, the most lasting image came from sitting in an over-crowded student lounge where I watched the events live, along with about one hundred other people, on a big screen TV. As the first of the two towers began to actually fall, it was surreal, and as a self-absorbed, 20-year-old college junior who had a small world view and a very small frame of reference for tragedy, I watched in stunned numbness.

Ten years later, at about the same time in the morning as when the second plane hit, I found myself rehearsing music for my church’s 10:00 a.m. service. During a brief break on stage, the media guy played about 10 seconds of a video to test the sound. The video was a roughly 2-minute-long audio montage of distress calls, media reaction and on-the-street sound bites from that terrible day, coupled with a stream of quotes from world leaders and dignitaries encapsulating the unity, resolve and general “oneness” that we all experienced in the immediate aftermath. After hearing a mere five seconds worth of audio, I found myself cascading quickly into a visible emotional state. I began nervously pacing around in a 5-foot radius of where I was standing (I was wearing a guitar that was plugged in at the time). I’d been caught off-guard by those sudden, interrupting sound bites and had a much more emotional reaction in a very short period of time than I did on 9/11/01 when the tragedy itself was unfolding. 

What followed throughout the rest of that morning at church was a time of reflection ranging from inspirational to downright uncomfortable. There was an open mic (which is all you need know in order to imagine the possibilities), but all in all, the morning was memorable and served a good and proper purpose.

I then came home and was treated, courtesy of Facebook, to a host of 9/11 “reflection” articles representing an array of political persuasions. One in particular came from Tony Campolo’s blog, in which Kurt Willems, a self-identified Anabaptist, discusses the Last Supper.

Willems notes that despite Jesus’ “intel” on what Judas had already done (and was soon to do), Jesus nonetheless washed his feet along with those of the other disciples. Willems’ marveling of this as one of the most profound enactments by Jesus of his command that we love our enemies is something I absolutely resonate with. I would even go so far as to say that, short of perhaps the Crucifixion itself, this act stands above all other Gospel anecdotes in this regard. 

But after this point, the writer and I sharply diverge. Willems takes what is a beautiful, practical, spiritual lesson from the life of Jesus and uses it as a political springboard. It surpasses the ironic that this would come from someone who belongs to a community of writers and activists who sanctimoniously criticize the “religious right” for its uneasy marriage of faith and patriotism. According to Willems, we should view Jesus Christ Himself as equal parts God and policy wonk. We are to look on Jesus’ washing of Judas’ feet as an all-encompassing metaphor for how national foreign policy should be executed.

After conceding that “this humble act was contextual in its application for people in the First Century,” Willems abruptly changes his tone, ambiguously chastising a myriad of nameless American churches for Read the rest of this entry »

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Embracing the Mundane: Radical Discipleship vs. Spiritualized Escapism

I have often argued that radical individualism — i.e. radical obedience to God — often translates into unradical earthly action: building a family, giving to others, befriending a stranger, starting a business, working at a factory, etc. Whether or not our obedience is “radical” can only be defined by the extent to which we are willing to deny our earthly sentiments for the divine.

This, of course, says nothing about what the divine is actually demanding.

Yet many seem to miss this basic point, believing that following God to the fullest should automatically translate into things like preaching to millions or giving away all our possessions to the poor (insert cherry-picked Biblical anecdotes here). The popularity of David Platt’s recent book, for example, indicates that for many, radical obedience needs to translate into action that feels radical in some tangible, earthly way (going on a missions trip, capping one’s income at $X, building a church without air conditioning, etc.).

In a recent article for Relevant Magazine, Andrew Byers does a nice job of countering such thinking, arguing that “radical can be dangerous” and “monotony can be its own mission”:

Scripture calls us into radical service — but that does not allow others to eviscerate tedious, less “spiritually” glamorous tasks of their meaning in God’s Kingdom. Scripture also calls us to embrace the mundane and ordinary as holy and beautiful: “… aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Many of us want to do something awesome, something epic. We tend to think that the more normal, the less “spiritual.” So it is quite possible that our aspirations to be radical stem from dangerous ambitions to perform biography-worthy feats of global glory.

But radical discipleship is not adventure tourism.

Then, in a move that leads to some striking socio-economic parallels (unintended, to be sure — see here and here), Byers describes the real Christian pursuit as a bottom-up struggle, one filled with risk, relationship, faith, and Read the rest of this entry »

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