A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Economics in America, the 2010 Election, and the Church's Active Witness

Scot McKnight has written a helpful post on his blog entitled, "American Economics for Europeans." It's worth a read as well as the subsequent comments thread.

My major interest in mentioning Scot's post, however, is to highlight something Scot writes in the comments thread which encapsulates nicely what I refer to as the church's central political task as one of witness. I quote his comments in full and my italics highlight what I believe are the key observations. Words in bold get to the heart of the matter in reference to the politics of witness. (By the way, I do not assume that Scot would agree with everything in the way I frame the discussion, but we do have similar points of view on this subject.)

The sensibility of caring for others, charity etc, is written into the American fabric more through volunteerism than through taxation, though since mid20th Century and on it has become increasingly seen as the government's job. But the implication of assigning that task to the government requires more taxes, and that grates the nerves for many (if not most). Hence, we have expectations but don't want to do what it takes. I'm not sure there’s another way of saying it better.

How widespread? It's our ethos and our mode of being and it's written into the pages of our history. But, one can't speak for this being universal in the USA since many have needed governmental assistance and, frankly, our lack of checks and balances have at times created an almost dependence on the government for some.

I get what you mean by affluent vs. poor here, but I think it is more middle class and affluent than anything else. The Tea Party, which is making some of Thomas Paine's themes more prominent than they have been in years, is not really an affluent society group but a working class, middle class group.

The "freedom" point: well, it can be looked at in either good or bad directions. Yes, Americans want to choose to whom they give their money rather than to have the Feds tell us to give our money. So, the resistance to taxation is an expression of freedom not to … and there are many today, though I doubt a majority, who want to see charitable actions to be given back to the person and to the local community and removed from the purview and control of the Feds.

On intersection with the gospel, now you're meddling! It is a mistake for Christians to trust in the government to care for others; Christians ought to have the compassion to care enough for others that they voluntarily choose to help others. So, the question for the Christian is not "if" but "how" and "how is this done best?"

I believe followers of Jesus ought to be leaders in these areas. Local churches ought to be beachheads of compassion and justice for that local community. Christians ought not to be the ones who think poverty means, tout simple, laziness. Christians ought to be sensitive to systemic hermeneutics, but instead of being blamers they ought to be restorers.

But I'm not naive. There aren't enough Christians like this to solve the problems or meet the needs, so Christians ought to be able to make public appeals to Americans to consider the needs of others. That means I would support a mixture of faith-based compassion [and I'm happy to tell you that our church, Willow Creek, is a leader in these matters] and government-based assistance. But government-based assistance needs to be managed better and it needs to be remedial and temporary. We have a tendency to think that giving money solves problems.

The single-most important element in solving poverty in the USA is the creation of jobs, but that has to occur alongside immediate and urgent help of those in need. I don't believe we are doing enough to create jobs. Obama has had only two years but his focus on health care has eclipsed his concern with job creation too much. That is why the vote of Nov 2 happened as it did.

Anyone wanting to comment is welcome to do so.

1 comment:

PamBG said...

I'm glad to agree with most of what you have put in bold.

However, I'm still concerned with the American idolization of "voluntary" giving.

No, that doesn't mean that I think that giving taxes to the government to redistribute is in the bible.

But there is a kind of anti-community quality to the American view of life that I really don't think is biblical.

I think that, morally speaking if we call ourselves God's children, that considering the collective and community good is a Divine requirement. It is one of the marks of behavior on which we will be judged before God.

And I don't think that means giving to local congregations that function like social clubs. I think that God wants us to give to people who are really in need.

The Christian question is "How much of God's money do I keep?" not "How much of my money do I give to God?"