Tag Archives: welfare

Yeah…Jesus Didn’t Condemn Having Wealth and Resources

I saw two pieces on Facebook about five days ago about the top 1% of the richest in the US. The first was by fiscal Marxist David Fitch a professor of theology at Northern Seminary 🙂. I kid, I kid…you can see that article here.

The other was by my Facebook friend, Dwayne Polk, whom for purposes of credentials worked for Greg Boyd and is a graduate of ORU (Oral Roberts University) in theology. Here is what he posted:

“If I were President, Id just make a public call to the 1% to help *personally* fund the things we cant get past Congress that are needed. I mean, go straight to them. And on television. Social media. All that. Call out names. And id appeal to them as Americans and Americans OF FAITH and talk about the Golden Rule…and Loving the Neighbor as Oneself. I would put overt pressure on them to help the American people in a failing governmental system.

But thats just me.”

Eric Reitan, a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University had this to say:

“And then realize that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk both have well over 100 billion in personal wealth. Making $100k a year without taxes and it would take you a *million years* to achieve that level of wealth. Or invert it: Elon Musk could spend $1 million a year on his own pleasure (meaning about $950,000 a year on mere luxuries) and it would take him a hundred thousand years to exhaust his wealth–and he’s unlikely to live more than 40 more years. While money does add to happiness in the sense of ensuring needs are met, lifting away anxiety, enabling one to pursue meaningful activities and develop talents, and providing resources for sustaining meaningful relationships, the amount needed for this falls well short of a million a year. Meaning if Bezos gave away to those in need 99.99% of his personal wealth, he’d be left with far more than the maximum wealth required for optimal human happiness (and might be more likely to be able to access the other necessary conditions for true happiness, such as the cultivation of benevolence).”

Now, let me start off saying this.

A. Christians should struggle with their wealth and riches INTERNALLY. However, most of what passes for critical self (or otherwise ie., Christian community as a whole) is negative. It sees it FIRST in terms of what is said in the quotes above or, to put those quotes another way, it sees wealth and riches and capitalism in general, in terms of exploitation, or class warfare or oppression.

B. I’m a believer in “free markets” as far as markets are free. What I mean by that is not that a society can’t have government regulation, (I am not wholly put off by the government regulating when it should. This is really not much different than what Roger Scruton talks about when he spoke at his website about the environment. That is, for an example, if a private company spills waste into a river and pollutes it, it should bear the brunt of the costs of what it has done. This is only proper from a conservative point of view because at a base instinctual level one should care about the community to which they are attached to. However, this doesn’t rule out government intervention if need be. You can read Roger Scruton’s post here) but rather the market itself is very much one sided in terms of corporate pressure in marketing of said product(s) ie., as Cavanaugh asks, “When is the market free? How can we judge when any particular transaction is free?” Freedom isn’t merely negative ie., freedom from coercion (as Milton Friedman would have us believe).

Here’s my main point though that I posted to Facebook of which I think really get’s to the some of the assumptions that guys like my Dwayne and Eric Reitan are working with.

From Facebook:

“I’m not a full fledged libertarian, though I do think libertarianism makes some valid points, especially as it concerns economic inequalities. I mean there is this sin called, “envy” and it rears its ugly head in more ways than one—not just between individuals but between those who say they are advocating for the poor by criticizing those who have resources (which, for me, is quite a relative measure ie., one can complain about Bezos EXTRA BILLIONS that could go to the poor, which I’ve seen done even this week on FB, but those same folks have extra that they don’t need either and when you consider all us middle to upper-middle folks whom have “more than we need” then I wonder why there is no complaints or voluntary giving of THEIR over-and-above resources of which no one can really say what that amount should be). Anyhoo, most of what passes for “critical self-analysis” is negative in nature, as if there is nothing positive to ownership of wealth and resources. It is ASSUMED, as pointed out in question 40 in the book, that there is a connection between those who have wealth and those who don’t when in reality the problem isn’t Bezos’ billions but personal and social/governmental complexities.”

And then I go on to quote from the book mentioned above:

“38. What about the inequalities that capitalism creates? Economic inequality has always existed wherever there have been economies. In pre-capitalist days, having wealth often (but not always) entailed exploiting others who then remained poor. This is one reason we see so many admonitions against wealth in the Bible. It is also why many early church leaders and theologians decry wealth. It is only recently that being wealthy has not been associated with unjust acquisition of wealth but instead with the indication that mutually beneficial trade is occurring. Under free market capitalism, wealth must be obtained by effectively and efficiently providing value to others in exchange for their money. Whenever inequality indicates that the few are exploiting others and leaving them worse off, we should stand against it. But under conditions where everyone is better off and some are “more better off,” we can appreciate, if not applaud, the gains through exchange. Christians are often concerned about the well-being of others, yet it is all too common that concern over inequality is not about the wellbeing of those with less but a suppressed envy that arises because of perceived reasons behind the injustice. We must be mindful that we are not suppressing our envy when we advocate for the wellbeing of others. All too often the concern over inequality is not about the wellbeing of those with less but the perceived reason behind the perceived injustice. For example, while the purchasing power of the average worker’s wages has improved dramatically for several decades, the top I% have seen even greater gains. Many have pointed out that this is the reason to institute redistributive schemes to rectify the perceived injustice of inequality, even though everyone has gained financially (see Question 40).”—Faith Seeking Freedom: Libertarian Christian Answers To Tough Questions

And of course, Jesus NEVER condemned those who were wealthy but those who were wealthy by ill-gotten means or by exploiting others.


Private Charity? WWJD?

imageI was going to post a longer version of a response in a point by point fashion, but I think I’ll cover the gist of what Boyd is trying to say here (the link won’t work to Greg Boyd’s site. You will have to copy and paste in your url. Working on it.):
http://reknew.org/2012/08/shouldnt-preachers-rally-christians-to-fight-political-injustice-2/ In this post, Greg Boyd sees all earthly governments as inherently evil (as he has said in the past) and when you add into the mix the issue of Christians not doing their part, we essentially have incompetent Christians leaving it to evil government to help the poor.

There are a couple of points that I think should be noted.

1. There is the WWJD hermeneutic that Boyd works from. We’ll look at this a little more closely below. But suffice to say, Boyd seems to convolute things by talking about how much we don’t know about given situations (the ambiguity) that we are left with an almost paralysis with regard to the what we might do. Let me ask this: “What if Jesus actually were to “size up” a situation and then come away with the idea that government can play and indeed OUGHT to play an important role with regard to the poor, homeless and oppressed?” Admittedly, there is a truth to the ambiguity to situations, but what I will discuss below with regard to governmental involvement is really not affected by Boyd’s stance on this score ie., pitting the ambiguity question over against the governmental involvement question. Pitting ambiguity over against telling government what to do. It’s a category mistake.

2. There seems to be a smugness in this post because it is based upon a perceived understanding of the question of the homeless, the poor and the oppressed. Boyd tells us to, “Try to understand the issues surrounding poverty and everything else and make the best choices you can.” But that’s almost contradictory to what he said just above with regard to the ambiguity of situations, now all of a sudden, we are to try to understand the issues and make the best choices that we can. Hmmm…again, what if this were to include governmental involvement? I mean, is that to be ruled out?

OK…let me make the point even clearer. A number of years ago, Jim Skillen of the Center for Public Justice edited a book called, “Welfare In America.” In a chapter by, John D. Mason entitled, “Biblical Teaching and the Objectives of Welfare Policy in the United States,” Mason says under a section titled, “The Sufficiency of Private Charity” (quoted at lenght):

“The second argument I wi1l address is that of Marvin 0lasky. He reviews the American experience of private assistance concentrating primarily on the response to urban poverty in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,” identifies the attributes of effective charity, and offers these historical insights as the basis for reforming welfare today. Olasky chronicles and systematizes the voluntary efforts of primarily non-employed middle-class wives to address urban squalor and poverty, stressing particularly their willingness to ‘suffer with’ the poor (personal involvement)—and to exercise, in the process a form of tough love by categorizing and assisting those who were truly needy. These efforts largely were fueled by earnest Christians and Jews who were submitting themselves to the regular teaching about the importance of sacrificial ministry to the poor.”

According to the attributes of effective assistance as practiced in
nineteenth-century America, the conditions of any poor individual or family were investigated personally to determine whether they were truly deserving. Where behavioral traits contributed to the poverty, changes in these traits were made the condition for assistance. In-kind assistance was preferred to cash assistance, and dolegiving and almsgiving were discouraged because they broke down independence and undermined character. Olasky offers us mnemonic list of seven “marks of compassion,” which include (in addition to the items already mentioned) the importance of helping the poor find employment and of establishing a right relationship with God.

Although Olasky sugests that in the years prior to the 1930s
assistance was wholly in the hands of private agencies and individuals, he in fact records a considerable amount of local government assistance. This must mean that in some situations, at least public assistance may bear the marks of authentic compassion, even though Olasky is at pains to argue that bad (public) charity drives out good (private) charity. And while he rightly emphasizes the beneficial effects of a voluntary response, he also shows, but with less emphasis, that there existed a number of limitations on the adequacy of this response. He speaks of a number of places for instance, of “compassion fatigue” in the face of overwhelming squalor and seeming hopelessness. He bemoans, particularly, the post-Civil War movement of the middle class away from the central cities, thereby breaking the spatial proximity that naturally encouraged volunteerism. The emerging reality of middle-class suburbanization strained existing charitable organizations, forcing them to rely upon greater professionalism in both fund-raising appeals and the use of hired employee in place of volunteers.”

Writing of the early l930s, he notes that charitable organizations had their own short term exigences as the better off also were affected by economic pressures and as groups devoted personal interaction had trouble adusting to masses at the door. Sadly, just as the Depression increased demand–from 1929-32–at least four hundred of the nations private welfare agencies went under. But the problems of supply were also the result of a long-term trend toward personal contribution.

Olasky’s numerous examples of sacrificial effort and good works, as American citizens struggled amidst the growing strain of industrialization and urbanization, serve us well–as does his helpful catalogue of the nature of effective response. Yet, despite his own agenda, his history also helps us understand why this nation started down the road to government overseen welfare programs. Voluntary efforts, he shows became insufficient to the need early in this century. This was due in part to what he terms growing “economic segregation” by which the nonpoor increasingly separated themselves geographically from the poor and thus lost sight of them and their plight. But he points as well to another, and even more important, cause of the decline in volunteerism:

‘Throughout the nineteenth century the rock on which compassion was undergoing erosion. The chief erosion was theological: the belief that sinful man, left to himself, would return to wilderness, seemed harshly pessimistic. Other erosion toward the end of the century was political and eoonomic, as Social Darwinists and Social Universalists both assailed the idea that personal involvement could make a substantial difference. The erosion for a time did not seem crucial, but the long-term effect was severe enough to make the twentieth century not the Christian century, as celebrants in I900 predicted but the century of wilderness returning.’

lf 0lasky’s argmnent here is correct, then contrary to his implication, the all-too-reluctant entry by governments into the fight against poverty was an essential step, because the religious foundations of the earlier volunteer efforts had become seriously undermined. As the newly dominant congressional Republicans began in early l995 drastically to reform the welfare system, Olasky and his argument became identified with the view that private charity in the nineteenth century offered a more effective and efficient response compared to government-mediated assistance and that the poor of the nation today would be served more compassionately by returning to the earlier arrangement. However, his own historical account offers contradictory evidence of the sufficiency of the earlier response. Indeed, the longer historical record shows that an effective response typically has combined private and public efforts whether we range back to Talmudic teaching about care for the urban poor around 500 A.D., poverty relief in the Middle Ages and under Luther and Calvin, or look to colonial New England, which modelled its provisions consciously on biblical teaching. On what basis, then, can one call today for moving to primary reliance upon private assistance…”

So here’s the thing.

WHAT IF CHARITY IS NOT SO CHARITABLE?

Boyd, like most of those on the religious left, bemoan the fact that those on the right, will speak up against some moral issue or another (other than the poor and homeless, etc) and then they say that God is MORE CONCERNED for the poor and homeless and the oppressed and THEN, on this perceived, understanding of the issue, they speak about the problem which is simplified and polarized(ing).

There are a lot of reasons for people not giving to personal charity. It doesn’t simply come down to selfishness (as noted in Mason’s essay). I find it strange that for all the talk against consumerism and capitalism that Boyd would rather people keep more of their own money so as to be able to give personally to charity. Yet, history seems to indicate that the more money folk have at their disposal, the more they want to keep to themselves. Isn’t this essentially what Boyd is complaining about with regard to the 97% from the Barna survey?

If Mason is correct, then personal charities experience “compassion fatigue” for various reasons ie., geographical proximity and let’s not forget, that they too have a criteria by which they judge someone as “worthy” of charity.

Now, ask yourself, the WWJD question. If it is the case that private charity can’t or won’t or (what have you) do the job, what would be wrong with government stepping in? In other words, looking at this issue we have:

A. The poor
B. Private Charity
C. Government

If private charity can’t “do the job” (well enough) are we to really say that Jesus would insist that Caesar not “kick in help” as a part of it’s God given calling and responsibility? If Jesus were to “try to understand the issues and make the best choices,” would Jesus not look at what Mason is saying and conclude that there IS a role for government in helping the poor? All Boyd sees is one answer: Private charity. And because of his anabaptist ideology, can’t bring himself to admit that government can and should play a normative role in helping the poor, homeless and oppressed.