What Is “Social Justice”?

On Saturday, I posted remarks about the contretemps between Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis over the relationship between Christianity and “social justice.” As you can read, I don’t favor either side in that debate. Neither man is helping move the ball forward because one is tendentiously defining “social justice” and the other isn’t defining it at all. So, what is “social justice”? And how is it related to biblical priorities?

The thread is now open…

41 thoughts on “What Is “Social Justice”?

  1. Interesting post George but I don’t know how you can even compare or put Beck and Wallis in the same breath. Beck spews hate, distrust and negativity daily. The sad thing is thousands of Christians look to him for political/economic advice which is counterintuitive to biblical principles much of the time. Too many people look to political pundits for worldview discussion versus digging into the bible. Social justice to me is doing anything possible to help our fellow neighbor that is less fortunate or as Jesus says the “least of us”. I know the argument is always moved to the line of, should government do it. Well I would rather us as individuals do it but many of us have the money to buy i-phones, dvr’s, nice homes, etc yet we don’t help the forgotten billion sacrificially so to me the government is a good conduit to being a cog in the wheel to help the pain and suffering of so many here and around the globe. I compare the thoughts of people on the far left that have a utopian view of socialism and the utopian socialist movement were everyone shares and lives in community with people on the right that say “let us give to charity versus having the government do it, it’s all about personal responsibility” Call me pessimistic but there is a lot of wealth left over after the tax assault and there are still a litany of people struggling so I’m not sure this would change with lower taxes. Worldly desires have superceded the biblical call in a lot of our decision making processes. Ultimately we have been blessed with Gods resources for a reason right so let’s get these resources to the people that need them anyway we can, through government, personal giving, etc? Not to mention our government is a democracy which is suppose to representative of the people. I don’t know how you can ask us all to boycott Wallis? Does he make a lot of money from his books? Probably? Yet, most pastors I know have I-phones, nice homes etc too and we have millions dying from preventable disease everyday and Wallis has the foresight and bravery to bring our fellow global neighbors or local neighbors who die from lack of healthcare to the forefront from a biblical perspective. Meanwhile in the bible it says to take care of the poor. Prov- to help the poor is to honor god. John 3-17- if someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need and won’t help him, how can god’s love be within him?” I see a lot of need out there. “Rescue the poor and helpless form the grasp of evil men” to me this is God asking for us to believe and follow the move to total social justice (helping those that are in need in any way possible). In the end the bible mentions the poor in a mostly positive context 2003 times so I would say let’s stop talking about GLENN BECK as he doesn’t deserve the airtime and start focusing on how we can save lives of our global neighbors through sacrificial giving and time. Hopefully more leadership will follow Wallis’s lead and put the focus on the least of us as it is not about us. Mathew “When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing help to me”
    What don’t you like about Wallis’s politics? I’m keenly interested?

  2. Mike:

    The Bible commands us to help the poor. As individual Christians and as churches, evangelicals and Pentecostals disobey this mandate. Specifically, I disobey this mandate. I could more generous than I am, and I already give more than 10%. So, we’re agreed on biblical basics as well as Christian evasion of responsibility.

    Regarding Wallis, I agree with his general theological framework about the relationship of evangelism and social responsibility. Both are biblical mandates. The reason I disagree with his politics are several: In general: (1) I don’t think government is very good at redistributing wealth. (2)I think robbing Peter to pay Paul and then asking for Paul’s vote is inherently corrupting to a democratic polity. (3) I think government has a role to play in protecting the poor from force and fraud, but I’m not sure that redistribution is part of government’s role, especially given (1) and (2).

    Specifically: (4) I find Wallis’ critique of the alliance between evangelicals and the Right a bit hypocritical. He wrote a book called “God’s Politics” in which he, in my opinion, essentially tried to unite evangelicals and the Left. In other words, his own positions are a mirror image of the ones he critiques. (5) In line with this criticism, I don’t see much daylight between him and the Democratic Party. In other words, I don’t think he’s an honest broker of the relationship between evangelicals and the DNC because he is (or at least, I perceive him to be) a shill for the Democrats. This is the Ralph Reed-problem in mirror image. (6)As an activist, he sometimes seems to me to use dishonest tactics vis-a-vis his opponents. That was the basic point of my other post on the “social justice” brouhaha.

    Regarding Wallis’s good intentions, I believe he’s a man of integrity. I believe he lives what he preaches, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that he donates proceeds from his books to causes he supports. My point in the “social justice” post was that it is very easy to malign another person’s intentions, as Wallis easily maligned Beck’s. Why not assume that the other is honest, acts with integrity, and practices what they preach? Wouldn’t that be an application of the Golden Rule to political discourse?


  3. George,

    I completely see your point about redistribution of wealth but that is how it has been in the US since 1907 and has actually become much less progressive overtime. If I didn’t see a need and I saw other alternatives then I would have the same viewpoint as yourself. However the time is now. Thousands die due to healthcare in the US and to me this is a pro-life issue. I’m going to a funeral in 15 minutes for a friend who could of survived if he had healthcare and this happens A LOT on our watch while God is looking down on us. Not to mention the child that dies every 30 seconds from Malaria. I get chills knowing that the citizens of america are helping save lives through Bush’s Malaria funding and through private folks like Bill Gates. We have cut malaria morbility by 50 percent in places that get the resources. This is what god wants and if it is goverment providing the money so be it. Bring it on as we need all hands on deck.
    I would reccomend reading Sojourners or other folks like Shane Clairborne. You might think they are on the left but I personally think they look at every issue from the lens of the bible versus the lens of a political party. I don’t think this can be said for many christian pundits who look to their political ideology first and then the bible. If Wallis was a liberal then he would also be socially liberal but that is not the case in terms of pro-life and other social issues. I think he looks at it issue by issue versus a myopic political viewpoint.

    Just my take but I still can’t believe you put Beck and Wallis in the same argument. Beck in my opinion is part of a movement that is ruining this country and take this from someone who loves other conservatives like Prager (the best!!!!) and Medved. The key to discourse is for everyone to look at both sides. Read Wallis and Soujourners, Read Focus on the family stuff, listen to Medved, listen to Tom Hartman. The problem right now is most people are in an informational cacoon and it is affecting our discourse especially when you have people who distort truths and breed fear as a way to make money like Beck.

  4. My understanding is that the term “social justice” is a relatively new one that was coined in the 1800s. Although it could be broadly defined, I think it has always mostly connoted using social instruments (i.e. government) to bring about economic equality.

    Of course God’s people should always involve themselves with helping the poor. However, our commission as Christians is first and foremost to tell others about the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. Jesus never gave his followers a mandate to restructure societal institutions for the purpose of achieving some standard of egalitarianism.

    Equality is a laudable goal, but it can be defined in many ways. Furthermore, I would submit that equality is not actually served by the level of socialism that many who fly under the banner of “social justice” would propose.

  5. Derek- obviously we are going to agree as I don’t know what the negative is of us helping others. However one things you say is our commission as christians is first and foremost to tell others about the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. This is at the center of christianity of course but as Jesus says he two main commandments are to love him and love our neighbor as ourselves. In my mind I want to do whatever we can to help our global neighbors through economic solutions, education solutions etc. Not to mention from what i have seen and heard from agnostics is that they get inspired by action of christians versus the apathetic or the ones who express words alone. So if we go back to your point about spreading the word I think providing social justice for as many people as possible ultimately is a conduit to more people coming to Christ(again I wish we would do these ventures on our own but I think we need goverment to help be a cog as we are too taken by the way of the world and meterialism). As James said without works there is no faith. And I thinking people see this out there in the marketplace for ideas.

    Let me know if you have any other ideas to help our global neighbors since goverment is not a peice to the puzzle in your view?

  6. Mike:

    The question is not whether we expand access to healthcare, but how.

    Same thing with malaria. The question is not whether we do it, but how.

    The “how” is where the debate lies, or should lie.

    I put Beck and Wallis in the same category because of an intellectual dishonesty on both sides of their exchange. Is Beck ruining this country? No. Is he elevating its political discourse? No. But the same thing could be said of many people, including the politicians who currently control our federal government.


  7. The problem as I see it is in connecting the thrust of holy Scripture with our current political situation. I don’t mean this as some cheap “making-relevant” Christian beliefs or anything, but the simple recognition that the “political” situation is so drastically different that it is nearly impossible to make direct connections that cannot be contested by other readers of the Scriptures.

    Obviously there is nothing but a sheer abundance of passages in the Bible relating to “oppression of the poor (widow, orphan, foreigner et. al.).

    I’ll mention a couple passages, somewhat at random, that I believe are rather clear about God’s will that it is structural and public “justice” that He is concerned with.

    Pick any “Law” passage from the Pentateuch and notice that the Law is given to and the Covenant is with, Israel. That is, these are things corporately addressed to Israel as a nation: “There shall not be any poor among you (plural)” The Law is not some supreme universal ontological bundle of just ideas that Israel was given an advance “heads-up” on. The commandments come after they have Covenanted with YHWH as a nation, to which they as a nation-that is, structural/political/”public”/corporate body- are accountable in order that the “holiness” that is the Lords will be their own holiness. There are even radical ways to maintain a just and holy Israel such as the Jubilee proviso. These aren’t invitations to individual and subjective piety.

    Or take Psalm 82. Any critical read will view the “gods” being judged as both the “gods” and the “princes” of neighboring nations and races. Taking this read to be accurate, it becomes clear that YHWH is judging foreign nations for not being just. This in the end is proof positive of their idolatry. If those nations were worshiping the right God, they’d be nations concerned with justice. Again, nothing of quaint individual piety.

    Turning to the NT there is so much as to not be able to know where to start. Paul confronting the nations in the name of the resurrected Judge and Lord, Jesus’ words to John the Revelator concerning the nations, Jesus’ judgement on Israel…in light of how the prophecies of the OT were used it is rather clear that these discourses are on matters of public obedience to the law of God addressed to unfaithful nations, chief among these matters are the treatment of the poor.

    However else we want to argue for or against certain kinds of markets or politics, it is abundantly clear that Scripture has kingdoms in mind (uhh, the Kingdom of God!!) when discussing “justice.”

  8. Some of the comments above suggest a difference in people’s understanding of the separation of church and state. Simply because the church fails to accomplish something does not give the state the right, permission, or mandate to follow through.

    Furthermore, the command to “love thy neighbor as thyself” goes hand-in-hand with the admonition to give your shirt if you are asked for your coat; to walk two miles, if asked to walk one mile. The key concept is not a strict legalitarianism here but understanding the spirit of the law as a generous spirit. These admonitions are not commands to turn everything over; otherwise, how would we understand those passages that state a man is worthy of his wages and if he does not work, do not feed him. Jesus taught his disciples that we really are not created equal: we have different gifts, abilities, opportunities. Our eqaulity before God rests in our accountability to Him for our sin and our call to obedience. It is not a sin to be rich; it is a sin to be greedy. Neither is it a sin to be poor and we do not have to be poor to be holy.

    I think that before we as a nation can begin to understand the options of “how” we expand healthcare (or whatever the issue is), we must agree on the why. As a nation, are we called to provide healthcare to everyone? If the answer is yes, then why? Is it that we feel the need to give everyone equal opportunity? Then does opportunity mean a redistribution of wealth? As long as sin is present in this world, how will we ever find financial equality?

  9. Derek:

    In the history of its usage, you’re correct that the term “social justice” has a general left-wing orientation. That doesn’t necessarily disqualify it, of course. The term “capitalism,” in the modern sense of an economic system, came into prominence through the labors of Marx and Engels. But you’re right, “social justice” historically has a left-wing flavor. (Of course, if you’re a left-wing Christian, that just goes to show how “Christian” the term is.)

    But so what! The etymology of a term does not necessarily determine its present use. If even political conservatives associated with the Heritage Foundation can use the term, then in their usage, it has outgrown its provenance.

    And regardless of the history of the term, the concept of an equitable distribution of resources, goods, and opportunities is the pre-eminent question of political philsoophy, which thinkers have been attempting to answer for millennia.

    Is answering this question part of the church’s mission? Yes, and maybe. (a) Yes. In his discussion with the Corinthians regarding contributing to the relief of the saints in Jerusalem, Paul wrote: “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.'” Certainly equality within the church is part of the church’s mission.

    (b) Maybe. The church’s relationship to the broader society is a contested issue among Christians. We all agree that the church should be a new kind of community, but we’re not sure how that shapes the broader, unbelieving society. Certainly old-school Constantinianism is out of the question. My guess is that Amish-style communalism is also out of the question. What remains is a pretty big spectrum of options for how the church can exercise “salt and light” influence on society. Is evangelism the only thing we do? No, Jesus evangelized and healed and exorcized and fed the poor. That was his mission (Luke 4). How does this play out in terms of lobbying government for change? I don’t know.

    I agree with your evaluation of the inequity of socialism, although I don’t think Mike is arguing for socialism. (As a general point, the welfare state is not socialist; it is the statement’s attempt to manage the market without actually nationalizing it.)
    So many focus on the financial inequities that socialism would supposedly solve that they ignore the political or power inequities it inevitably creates. And given the corrupting power of sin, I have more to fear from a guy with a lot of power than a guy with a lot of money.


  10. Julie,

    You speak as if the “separation between Church and State” are a sort of given. No political situation is a given so long as it remains at odds with God’s will. Liberal democracy could be overthrown but the Church would remain and God’s call to us would stand.

    Besides that your comment demonstrates several times over that you either aren’t willing to engage political issues in depth or that you don’t but know politics from a rather ideological and surfacey standpoint. Nobody is saying that the State should provide health care. That’s just not what the legislation is proposing. Neither is anybody saying that a person’s work isn’t worth wages. Though Scripture does imply strongly God’s preferential care for the poor! And while it’s not a sin to be rich it is also quite difficult to enter the kingdom of God if one is rich…something about the eye of a needle and a really large animal.

    And at the end you almost resign yourself to giving a pass to sin, asking whether economic equality is even possible in a fallen world? That’s a rather unanswerable question, but where we find sin we should root it out not sigh in resignation to the principalities and powers.

    I don’t think we can come to an agreement on “why” either. The reason I think that as an organized society we should give up liberal freedoms in order to create a more equal and just society is because that is what I believe Scripture would enjoin us to do. But an atheist friend might have very different reasons for wanting to create a similar society. It is the “what” that we can agree on more than anything else, and even that we cannot agree on in any total way. There is always give and take.


  11. George– I almost entirely agree with your last post. One thing I would say is when you ask what can we do to eradicate Malaria? The key is to act or be a leader and articulate the message so others act. Evangilism 101. I feel as though everyone enjoys getting the wisdom of the bible and having dialogue and going to bible study etc but we all have a hard time putting our money and time where our mouth and wisdom lie. I personally feel leaders as your self and pastors around the world need to challenge christians to live out the bible and be christlike when it comes to the poor and the less fortunate.

    Julie- I don’t agree with much of what you say but I do respect the position and the knowledge. I just think the line being Rich isn’t a sin is a straw man and a talking point. I think your right at a macro level. But how can a rich person watch millions die around the world every year and not be sinning? I look at Rich people (I consider myself one since most in the US are in the top 5% of wealth in the world) to be part of the key to solving a lot of the hurt and pain the world as we have the resources that have been provided by God in order to do good things and help save the lives of gods children. Ultimately if we see the need in the world and we have the holy spirit inside it should lead us to action. James says it best when he talks about you can’t have faith without works. If you have true faith then it leads to works, you can’t have one without the other.

    I look at the movement at Francis Chan’s church and how many are giving up their 401 ks to the church and to the poor and actually living out a life that is dependent on christ at every level and truly sacrificial versus a surfacing or convenient relationship. Now I personally don’t if I will ever get to that level but if you look at the biblical text of “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needed than for a Rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” it is quite a scary proposition. There are many other texts too such as Luke 6-24 and James 5-1. Ultimately if you look at the bible as a whole Jesus is very sympathetic toward the poor and want us to help them or be judged.

  12. Sorry if I duplicated some of AdHunts post (although he is much more articulate) as we must have been concurrently responding.

  13. I’ll agree that my post was rather general in response, but I do take offense at the attacks on my knowledge and political experience. I guess it’s hard to make assessments of someone personally from just a few lines, but oh well.

    Yes, faith without works IS dead — how could it be otherwise? But our works do not save us either — we must be filled with the fruit of the spirit (which includes charity and gentleness and kindness).

    Yes, I agree about the rich man and the needle–the point is to be stripped of this world’s goods; we ALL must be stripped to enter the kingdom of heaven — the rich simply have more stuff, but the poor struggle with envy, lust, greed, too. Also, Proverbs is very clear about the sin(s) of greed and lust for money for a Christian. My references to those scriptures concerning labor were meant to add to the conversation the importance of following the spirit of the law and not merely the letter of the law. For example, a man who wants a loaf of bread, should work for it. But, if a man asks for the loaf, we should freely give. It is a beautiful relationship that enables each to glorify God. And, in His good judgment and mercy, God blesses some with riches so that they may help the poor and thereby glorify their God who is in heaven. Obviously, some are given much because much is required of them. That’s the point I’m making about the relationship between sin and wealth. Think of how God prospered Israel when she was faithful, which leads me to the connection b/t church and state.

    The point I was trying to make about the separaion of church and state is that just because the Church abdicates its role in helping the poor, we as individuals should not be forced by the state to give all that we have (at times blindly) to the state to do the church’s work. I would argue that when that happens, the Church is under judgment and like old testament Israel, we need to do some serious repenting and changing. IF the Church were meeting the needs of the poor, the needy, the hungry, the widows, the orphans, etc., at home and abroad, the state could stick to doing its business of protecting us from enemies, enforcing laws, and punishing crimes (just to name a few).

    As for my comments fitting in with the discussion, again I apologize for the weaknesses in development and significant proof texts to support my opinions. My original post and this are simply musings in reaction to the question about social justice and Beck’s comments. So, if they do not convey the depth of my knowledge and experience, I do apologize. I am fairly certain I am qualified to have a solid opinion on these points.

    And, if I offended someone specifically through a personal attack, I am very sorry.

    Grace & peace,

  14. Tony:

    In attributing surfacey thinking to Julie, you nonetheless missed her points at several points. (And just a warning, she’s the only one currently posting to have earned a Ph.D. Plus, I know her pretty well and know that she thinks through things carefully.)

    Her point about separation of church and state was a direct reply to Mike’s earlier comment about the state doing what the church did not do. As an argument, I think she’s generally right. Just because one social institution fails to do what it’s supposed to do does not require that another social institution step in to take its place. For example, using Mike’s logic, if the church failed to evangelize, would the state be required to step in and do the job? Of course not! So why, from a logical point of view, do we assume that the state must step in if the church or if individuals fail to do their duties? You haven’t answered that question. (And by the way, church-state separation was a principle long before liberal democracy was a gleam in John Locke’s grandfather’s eye. Ever heard of Henry at Canossa?)

    I think Julie is correct that total equality of income is unattainable. God has given different people different gifts. I know guys who are talented in business and make money just rolling out of bed in the morning. They’ll always be richer than I am, and they didn’t necessarily inherit their wealth or attend great schools. I’m gifted in different ways. By the same token, however, society–not just the state, but society as a whole–has varying levels of responsibility to help those less fortunate.

    I think Julie’s question about “why” we do what we do is a fair question. Too many people do not consider what the limitations of the state are or should be. By the same token, as you rightly point out, Tony, the current bill would require private citizens to purchase health insurance from Big Insurance. I think it’s legitimate to ask whether the state has the constitutional authority (or moral authority, for that matter) to force private citizens to purchase what they do not want to buy. But that’s just me.

    It is a fair question, however. And you haven’t answered it.


  15. Well George it’s good to know you’ve not lost your sharp mind. I’m not sure I missed the point though in regards to the “Church and State” interactions. The very way it is parsed is indicative to me that the commentators view the Church as having a “social function” vis a vis the “government” and society at large. This is frankly a confused understanding (in my opinion of course) of Church in the state that owes more to odd late medieval (or *cough* Church of England) ideas of church and state “roles.”

    The Church doesn’t have a social function in tandem with the state’s function. That puts the Church in submission to the State! The Church is it’s own end and the end of everything as it already has “all things” “en christos” and is itself Christ’s body. In all societies in which the Church finds itself, of course it is doing the work of Christ, but this is not a subset of the State: “The Dept. of Transportation” for roads and the Church for care of the poor. Talk about Constantinianism!

    So I disagree with the very premise, which is what I was trying to get at with the whole “given” thing.

    Now if I’m giving the impression that I’m looking for a perfectly even society that’s not what I’m getting at. I have no problem with some people having more than others…to a degree. But when the ability of some to extend their reach out in such ways that it creates greater and greater inequalities and opportunities: That’s something that I think is just silly, as if defending one persons “right” or even “ability” to make large sums of money and drive out competition and subsequently flatten out culture and working opportunities for those who are affected by said person’s ability is a thing to be defended “just because” “freedom” is objectively good? I don’t support that.

    I think, George, that you can tend to look at the Government like a “thing” and I look at it like an extension of the people. Even when, as now, it ceases to function as envisioned. So I do support having the “government” “force” us to buy health insurance as it saves mine and many other peoples lives and health. Not to do so “forces” me to be subject to oppressive economic situations created by laze fair (I know I know…I’m too lazy to look up the French spelling) regulations. Either way, someone is made to do something, but the one looks for the citizens welfare and the other the “market” and/or the “companies.”

    I think your statement George about fearing people with power rather than money is laughable. In our economy, those who have money have power.

  16. Julie- from my point of view you went from a conservative talk show pundit with some great talking points in your first post to an inspirational theologian in the second post. Congrats on your PHD. I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio and they are not fond of us that have graduate degrees as they say it skews our judgement due to liberal thought? None the less very impressive and I’m so excited to read that post as sometimes I feel like I’m reading a different bible then others when I hear conservative talking point based arguments versus biblically based thoughts. One clarification I would like to make is based on your quote “we as individuals should not be forced by the state to give all that we have (at times blindly) to the state to do the church’s work” I completely agree that this shouldn’t happen and it doesn’t from my vantage point. If you look at hisJulie- from my perspective you went from a conservative talking point episode in the first tory over the last 100 years we pay a meaningful amount less in taxes now then we used too. In addition we pay less then most developed nations around the globe. In addition we do have to pay for our defense that the conservatives are so adamant about— and lots and lots of money goes to this (from what I understand take out pre-paid SS and Medicare and it is half our budget) considering we have more nukes then the rest of the world combined. This is another viewpoint I share with Wallis and other Glenn Beck labeled evil progressives. I’m not sure Christ would be a big fan of us killing our enemies when we are suppose to love them all while concurrently killing thousands of innocent women and children. Another rant that gets no play from our leadership except the evil progressive Christians and another piece of the social justice movement. I’m not sure god would be too excited that we have spent billions on technology to kill millions of lives while millions of lives are being taken every year by preventable diseases. Yet this is a discussion for another time I assume, if ever in our standard discourse.

    George- are you not for our public schools to be able to talk about god or have any discussion of it? If that is the case then I can see your point on not having the state evangelize Christ. Otherwise you might want to take a second look on your post. Do you think your fellow neighbor should have access to life saving treatments if others around them have the resources to help them? Do you think my friend who died last week should have been able to get life saving treatment so his 13 year old son could have a father? If you don’t think the government should be involved in trying to provide this type of support then who should? Or in other words how do we make sure that all of our fellow neighbors have access to life? If you can give me some better answers I will jump on your bandwagon but until then I can’t sit back and watch people die when we have the resources to help them. Please show me another way as I need one to be able to sleep at night and be confident that my fellow man in the US has the ability to life saving treatment when they need it. Do you think thousands of your fellow neighbors dying because they don’t have money is a pro-life issue? Do you think the government is an extension of the population or an evil empire? I say put politics aside for a minute and think of what Jesus would do? Would he leave someone laying on the street when there were resources to help them. This isn’t about politics this is about helping our fellow neighbors. Please show me another way. I can’t sit back and listen to pontifications of the government shouldn’t do this, the free market should do that. The less fortunate need answers and not rhetoric and they need the answers now, like this minute. While I have written this 20 children with human eyes and marrow in their bones have died. Lets help these children through government if need be or through other solutions and methodologies. Just show me the way. Please show me the way.
    When you say (after insinuating I didn’t have any logic) that I think the state should intercede if the church failed to evangelize? Do you think that the government is an extension of the peoples and ultimately elected by a democratic process so if the people elect leaders who pass health care or in Bush’s case provide a life saving fund of 1.2 billion dollars this is the extension of the people of America? Are they right all the time, No. Do they listen to their constituents all the time. No. To be honest they listen to their lobbyist friends more then the public and this is why campaign finance reform is an imperative in the future to have a true democracy and the citizens ruling is a scary thing. However until someone shows me other solutions for the people dying every 30 seconds from Malaria, or even more dying from lack of water or thousands dying from lack of health insurance what else should I do. In fact I feel guilty writing this as this is rhetoric and rhetoric is cheap if there is no action. Action is what changes the world. It is my prayer and my hope that our Christian leaders will push us forward and challenge us to focus on action versus rhetoric as this is the only way we will change the world.

    Not sure if anyone watched Beck tonight but it was pretty funny. He first mentioned Social Justice and then started talking about secularism and how religion is in dyer trouble. I still can’t believe Wallis and Beck were put in the same post. When I read Sojourners or hear Wallis speak the main them is love, peace and helping others. I didn’t hear the word love in Becks entire hour and haven’t heard it while watching him for the last year.

    George- I ask for you to rescind your request for your friends and followers to boycott Wallis. Is he perfect? Of course not but he is speaking up for the least of us which from what I read everyday in bible is very important to Christ. I just don’t know how you can put Beck (politcal pundit in the same boycott as Wallis who is a poverty fighter)


  17. My observation is that the reason this is such a hot-button issue today is that social justice is about the only thing post-modern purists can hang their hat on at the end of the day. Generally speaking, I would say that those who are disposed to that paradigm tend to have disdain for Christianity’s claims of exclusivity. In some cases, Christ’s death serves more as an example of martyrdom than any atonement for the sins of mankind. Many literal interpretations of the Bible such as the Second Coming or God’s judgment of sin seem to fall by the wayside as well. What’s left? Social justice. It’s really the only thing left to be dogmatic about. For many, social justice has become the be-all and end-all of Christianity.

  18. Mike:

    There is a difference between educating public schoolchildren about religion and evangelizing them for religion. Surely you see that! And while I’m for universal education, I don’t know that government-managed schools are the only way to do that. Why not public funding of private-school students via vouchers? It accomplishes the goal of universal education in a way that allows parents and students to choose schools that teach the four Rs (reading, ‘ritin’, ‘rithmetic, and religion) in an integrous manner.

    My response to your argument for healthcare would be the same. If the goal is to expand coverage, then a full range of options should be considered, not just government mandated purchase (which is the Bill currently before the House) or nationalized medicine (a la Canada and England). The problem, of course, is that no matter what delivery system one adopts, there will always be rationing in health care provision. We see the rationing most obviously in the US where insurance is rationed largely on the ability to pay. (Although it should be pointed out that many of the uninsured choose not to insure because they are young and health, and that many of the government programs are underenrolled by eligible recipients). But rationing also occurs in countries that have nationalized their health care. There, as is the case with Britain, health care is rationed on the basis of a wide variety of triage principles: the younger you are, the more likely you’ll be eligible to receive more expensive treatments. The older you are, the more likely you’ll receive palliative care. The point being: Every system of health care uses rationing of one sort or another, so that health care will never be truly “universal” since in any mode of delivery, some people will not be treated.

    By the way, my father sits on the board of Cox Health Care System, the largest hospital system in Springfield. Anyone who comes into the emergency room is treated, regardless of whether they can pay. This is a legal requirement nationwide. This is about as close to “universal” a provision of emergency care as you can expect to get.

    I don’t disagree with you about your desire to extend health care as broadly as possible, both in the US and abroad. The problem is that I don’t think you’re thinking realistically about the “how” questions.

    You misread my statement about logic. I didn’t insinuate that you argued illogically. I said that the logic of your position would entail certain things that I don’t–and most Americans too–believe in, namely government doing evangelism.

    The “boycott” comment was tongue in cheek. I don’t watch either Beck or Wallis to begin with, so I can’t really boycott them either. If you find Wallis helpful, fine; read him. But I still find his initial response to Beck intellectual dishonest and sleazy. Of course, I don’t think much of Beck’s politics, as I sttated above in my reply to Derek.


  19. Derek

    I think your comment above captures the gist of the AG’s historic rejection of the “social gospel.” But, as my dad likes to point out, the social gospellers had rejected much of historic Christian belief. The difference is that evangelicals and Pentecostals–not just “postmodern purists”–see social concern a prominent part of the biblical testimony. Jesus saved. He also healed, exorcized, counseled, fed the poor, associated with the lowly, etc. And he expects his disciples to do the same.

    Compassionate ministry in this vein is not the social gospel; it is simply the lifestyle that flows directly out of the gospel.


  20. On the school discussion now that you distingish between the two I completely agree although liberals would argue with you until they are blue in the face. Ultimately I agree with vouchers, charter schools, private and public. Ultimately the free market is what proliferates quality improvements and better solutions. That is why I’m also for a public option in the H/C insurance model as the more competition the better. I work in the transportation industry and having the USPS involved in vital as otherwise we wouldn’t have mail also the provide another quality competitor in the market which lowers costs for all consumers and businesses and makes FedEx and UPS better at what they do. Do they lose a lot of money and need improvement– of course but without them business would have much higher transportation costs. I think the same model could work for healthcare as more competition the better—Economics 101. If you play game theory in economics with 1 competitor the results are similar to having a monopoly. Eventually with more competition margins are eroded and companies have to innovate to survive.

    Total understand that if someone is dying they can get life saving treatment. That is pretty well documented and known however what about the ones like my friend who’s funeral I just attended who didn’t have insurance or money so he didn’t go in to see a doctor after signs of heart pain and arm numbness?

    I think we can go around and around about this and that, and this system has flaws and that system has flaws but I don’t know how people can sit back and be apathetic to the causes that need our help. We need to do something if we are truly a pro-life and christ-filled movement. We have the abortion cause going in the right direction and millions heavily involved in that movement which is awesome and god pleasing. But what about the thousands that die due to no health insurance or the millions due to no water (even the thousands that die to war against enemies- I know a little more complicated). My whole point is we need to start driving toward action and results versus intellectual babble and accumulation of wisdom. We need more emotion and inspiration versus apathy and negativity. We as Christians can be the conduit to this reverse in discourse and behavior. There is never going to be a perfect solution for H/C but ultimately we should do what saves the most lives regardless of the cost or inconvenience to ourselves. This should be a vigorous part of the pro-life movement.

    FYI- I will keep following Wallis as to me this movement is the one living as biblically as possible as they take to heart the 2003 times the poor were mentioned in the bible and are honest and brave enough to put their whole lifes work into this cause in a christ-like way,

    Thanks for all the dialogue. Now I have to go make a buck in private sector. Fun stuff!!



  21. Mike:

    I appreciate the efforts of activists who seek to alleviate the suffering of the human condition. But I also appreciate the enterpreneurs and executives whose creativity and sound management provide the jobs that provide the only lasting poverty relief there is in this life.


  22. As do I George. I work for FedEx and we do a study called access every year and when there is access there can be intense poverty eradication. Just link at India and China. I subscribe to a hybrid approach called social business which is were you work within the capitalist model but have a large peice of your business model based in helping the less fortunate. IE-toms shoes, crochet kids or nearly every growing firm in India- Tata, Infosys (just see the most recent Harvard Business Review artical),

    That being said it is my assumption that we have plenty of business executives and not enough activists. Our churches and leaders should be moving more people to action versus moving more people to be apathetic through prosperity gospel syndrome.

    Just my peice but ultimately I think peoples life’s perspectives and ideologies when it comes to economic thought and political thought is based on our life experiences. I worked in the inner city at a public school which my mom gave her life to for 30 years and traveled the globe in a surfing career so I was lucky enough to have a worldview that has seen the struggles of the less fortunate on an intimate level be it hear locally or abroad. That is why I fight for them and not myself as they need the help way more then I do. I have a house, iphone and cash most of them have nothing,


  23. Tony:

    I apologize that I didn’t reply to your comment above. I read it, meant to reply to it, then got caught up in dialogue with Mike.

    So, here goes:

    For me, as for you, the church is proleptic of the kingdom of God. That is to say, it is-and it should be–an instantiation of the kingdom of God in the midst of the “world” and the “present age,” which are in rebellion against that kingdom. That is one insight of John Howard Yoder’s that has always stuck with me. As prolepsis, the church is “the politics of Jesus.”

    But even Yoder understood that “the politics of Jesus” both could and should exercise “salt and light” influence on the politics of the present age. You should check out his newly published “The War of the Lamb” (Brazos), edited by Glen Stassen and Mark Thiessen Nation. The question of that book is how to be “effective” but in a “faithful” way.

    I disagree with Yoder’s specific applications, but I think his broad point is valid.

    On church-state separation: You do realize that there are non-Constantinian reasons for this separation, don’t you? For two centuries prior to Constantine, the church told the emperor cult to shove off. The state was trying to bind Christian conscience in a way that led to idolatry. But if these early martyrs resisted the state’s decrees, then ipso facto, they believed those decrees were illegitimate for the state to make. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of Anabaptism and Baptist spirituality is freedom of the conscience, which entails a limitation of the state’s power over the church, not to mention other religions.

    Even after Constantine, bishops fought against encroaching power grabs by the state when it came to the appointment of bishops.

    The point I’m trying to make, from a broad point of view, is that there are Christian reasons for the separation of church and state, not just Constantinian ones.

    But your specific point was that a division of labor between church and state vis-a-vis the poor was reflective of a Constantinian arrangement. Certainly it can be. I didn’t speak very clearly on this point in my earlier defense of Julie, so let me take another crack at it. For me, society has a moral obligation to help the poor. This obligation creeps up in different ways, however, depending on the realm or sphere of society we’re talking about. Families fulfill their moral obligation by taking care of their own. Schools take care of the poor by educating them. Churches take care of the poor through poverty relief. The marketplace provides for the poor by creating jobs and exchanging goods competitively, which drives down prices for consumers. In my opinion, the state also has a role to play in this effort, mainly by making sure that the law prevents force and fraud. In Reformed social theory, this conceptual schema is known as “sphere sovereignty”; in Catholic social theory as “subsidiarity.”

    Is this a “Constantinian” arrangement? Not obviously. Different groups within any society have different purposes. In unhealthy societies, the various “spheres” are not doing their jobs. In totalitarian societies, the state sphere has overturned all others.

    So, does the church have a social function “in tandemn” with the state? Yes. Both church and state have roles to play in tandem. The key thing is, they’re not the same role, but they are directed at the same end, namely, the relief of the poor.

    You write about the inequity of the rich’s ability to drive out competition. I’ll be blunt and say I think you have a limited understanding of the history and function of markets. Take the internet, for example. Fifteen years ago, AOL was the hottest website on the web. It made its creator very rich, and every company was trying to figure out how to maximize their presence on AOL through AOL key words. Then Yahoo and other competitors came along. Then came Google, which forced everyone to change their internet strategies. Then came MySpace and Facebook, the latter of which just overtook Google as the most visited webpage. Of course, Google is now extending itself into the sofware business in direct competition with Microsoft and Apple. Apple is now going head to head with Amazon, which set itself up against brick-and-mortar bookstores, etc. This is the nature of markets. Microsofts, AOLs, Googles, and Apples rise and fall. And that’s only within one industry. In the process, the rise and fall of these companies has generally speaking enriched the marketplace and made people money. Indeed, it has helped the poor. A guy with no money can go to the public library and use Google to set up an internet domain for free. He couldn’t do that 25 years ago because of the prohibitive costs associated with personal computers and internet access. So, competition ends up benefiting the poorer members of our society by driving down costs for the consumer and increasing access to goods that were formally limited to the richer members of society.

    This example of the market at work could be replicated throughout a variety of industries. And it’s the absence of marketplace competition that, among other things, drives up prices and hurts consumers at the lowest rung of the social ladder.

    You’re right that the wealthy have a kind of power. But it’s not the same kind of power as the state has. In general, wealth gives a person power to do certain things, such as buy luxury goods or items not available to the general public. But the state has power over people. It can coerce them into doing things they don’t want to do, and it can punish them when they don’t do what they’ve been mandated to do. When you’re driving down the street, do you look out for the UPS truck or for the squad car. The latter, obviously, because the police can give you a speeding ticket or arrest you for outstanding warrants. UPS, and its wealthy owners especially, cannot.

    There’s power, and then there’s power. And there’s reason to fear the one but not the other.

    Of course, there are also businesses that collude with the state against their competitors, or the state co-opting control of certain business functions through regulations and mandates. It’s at that point that I begin to fear business. But of course, the reason I fear businesses at that point is because of their collusion with the coercive power of the state. I have nothing to fear from Bill Gates, as long as he doesn’t get a government mandate for citizens to buy Windows.

    I find it interesting that you support the government’s mandate to purchase insurance from private companies because it saves lives: “mine and others'” as you put it. If you have the money, wouldn’t you buy that insurance anyway because it’s the right thing to do? If not, you’re stupid. But if you’re not stupid, why do you need the government to mandate buying insurance? And if you or others don’t have the money to buy insurance, or don’t have the desire, why would you want government mandating that you purchase it in the first place?


  24. George,

    I’m gonna do it. But, I’m gonna do it right. I could just give you the one line summary, but I suspect it would be either too generic to be helpful, or it would be too easy to take the wrong way. Nonetheless, with a researched post at theophiliacs impending, I think Christian Social Justice is…the efforts the Church makes in proclaiming the principles of the Kingdom of God above the principles of human governments, and the work the Church does in enabling Christians to work for equality among all people of all nations.

    The intent of course is for Christian theology to provide the objective standard lacking in theories proposed by people like Rawls or deduced from Kant and Locke. The primary notion driving the theology being that God desires all of life (I might be able to soften that to “human life” for ecumenical purposes) to have value derived from his personal act of creation. In this way, Christian Theology informs all other attempts (philosophical, political et al) to enact justice on a social scale. It would provide a kind of foundational thought that can (and has to some degree) place checks on efforts to exclude or disenfranchise certain groups.

    I have a love/hate relationship with the way you draw me into research, George. This has been simmering in my mind for a few years now – after reading Volf, Yoder, Hauerwas, Ward, Pickstock, and many others (Wallis and Beck won’t even make the list, neither will any other pundits) I have been evading the need to try and synthesize it all – then you come along…. 😉

  25. George,

    Thanks for the reply, though it’s difficult to respond to every point as we’re at the point of pushing the reasonable limits of blog threads.

    But I’ll try to pinpoint a couple concise disagreements/agreements I have with your comments.

    I also agree with Yoder on this point. But it is this point which makes me hesitant to consider the Church as having a “social role” to play in tandem with the State. I imagine that we most likely agree here but for me the emphasis will always need to lay on the “superiority” of the Church so that the State is described in eschatological relation to the Church. It is rather the State which works in tandem with the Church.

    This may seem like semantics but I think it necessary because in my opinion the way you talk about the relationship between Church and State is far too Calvinist/Magisterial Reformation’ey. It is this tradition which gave birth to political utilitarianism and capitalism and both have ceded an independent life to the State and Market which through education and secularization has swallowed up the Church and transformed it into a quaint exercise of individual (the individual is key) subjective piety AND choice. That is, it has come full circle to make even the Church a matter of market. “Who’s got the best preacher?” “What kind of sunday school/childrens program/worship leader/lighting system do they have and how is it convenient for me/my family?”

    This is not a new observation, that we have turned into “Church shoppers” but the connection to capitalism and the expansion of a secular political cultural imaginary isn’t made as often because of our deep imbededness in it. I wish to challenge that because it’s atheism has proven to be the announcement of an alternative peace and eschatology so that as it is now, on a world stage, Western liberal democracy has a message of unlimited freedom and opportunity, and the alternative voices , politically weak voices, including religious voices, have become deeply marginalized.

    I resist the “Market” and especially a global market because I’m much more at home in a Thomist vision of society. I find it funny that you use those computer and internet giants to make your point because for me they make exactly my point. Over the last 30 years our technological live our “choices” have been dominated by a small handful of names whose near total dominance had drowned out the virtues of so many others who could have created more local solutions and creative ideas. And globalization has continually made the line between the authority of legitimate powers and those of big corporations blur, all the while making us more and more politically passive and prone to violence. We’ve been in a continual state of war since the end of the Cold-war and a “war on terrorism” is practically the admission of being a part of a never ending war.

    Anyway, back a bit more to the issue at hand. In the end I don’t want a politics and economics working to create more and cheaper products for me, I want “the good life” as Aristotle would put it, and even that should always be pushed on and out as “creation waits in anticipation” for God’s children to be revealed which I take to be the expansion of the Church to fill the whole world as the whole cosmos lauds it’s rightful Lord in praise. (I hope I can be forgiven for the doxological piety, I’m not trying to win my point with it, but I just get carried away)

    p.s. – I pretty much agree with Shawn’s “definition” of “Social Justice”

  26. Tony:

    Where to begin?

    You concede that the church and the state work in tandem. So, we’re in rough agreement there.

    You think I’m too Calvinist on church-state relations and blame that movement for the consumerism of modern American society. It’s a long way from Geneva to Willow Creek, my friend. There’s no direct line from magisterial reformers to modern American religious consumerism, so the only way you can draw one is by ignoring pretty much every other influence on modern American society.

    A Calvinist political economy is not utilitarian or capitalist. It may be republican, but a republic is not the same thing as a laissez-faire market, let alone a utilitarian state. Indeed, you do realize that laissez-faire and utilitarianism are opposites, don’t you? Under the former, the individual maximizes his goods through his own choices. In the latter, the state maximizes the greatest goods for the greatest numbers, which maximization often runs roughshod over individual choice.

    Politically weak voices have become deeply marginalized in western liberal democracies? You’re kidding, right? Western liberal democracies are often the only places where such voices get a hearing. And it’s thanks to the markets of western liberal democracies that we have an internet that amplify these groups’ megaphones.

    Why do you assume Thomas would be anti-market? You might want to check out Alejandro Chafuen’s “Faith and Liberty: The Economic Thought of the Late Scholastics.” Chafuen demonstrates that the many of these scholastics, especially the School of Salamanca, anticipated many of the conclusions of later “liberal” political economists. That certainly should lay to rest the notion that capitalism is tied to Calvinism or that a Catholic vision of society is inimical to it.

    You lament the fact that “computer and internet giants” have exercised “near total dominance” over that market and “drowned out the virtues of so many others who could have created more local solutions and creative ideas.” A simple question: Do we have more computer and internet options now than 30 years ago? Than 20 years ago? Than 10 years ago? Than 1 year ago? The answer is clearly yes. When I went to grad school, I purchased a Mac for $1500 and a laswer printer for $600. I can now buy an Acer mini-laptop for under $400, which is more powerful than my Mac, and a wireless printer for under $150, which is faster than my original printer. Indeed, I have so many options for purchasing both, and so many options in OSes and software applications, that I sometimes feel paralyzed by the choice. And if I don’t like any of the manufactured computers, I can go to Radio Shack and build my own, as my friend in Santa Barbara does. If I don’t like Windows or Apple’s OS, I can use Linux or some other open-source OS and write my own code. That’s about as local a solution as you will find.

    Honestly, Tony, sometimes I have no idea what world you live in.

    You seem to assume that the current collusion between Big Business and Big Government is the result of free-market thinking. It isn’t. Capitalist theory is pro-market, not pro-business. Businesses will collude with governments to enact regulations and mandates that favor them over their competitors. Government will collude with businesses (as in the Health Care legislation before the House) in order to find willing partners in its expansion of power. Either way, because competition gets crowded out, the little guy gets screwed. So, like I said, pro-market, but not pro-business. In my opinion, you need a little greater analytical clarity on what captialism is and isn’t.

    You’re complaints actually seem to me to be more directed at the managerial state, which is not classical liberalism.

    Why do you assume that the good life doesn’t include “more and cheaper products”? Certainly it’s not limited to that, but why can’t it include those things?


  27. George,

    You’re absolutely right that I need to hone my analytic skills. But that’s why I suffer debates with you! 🙂

    Alright, let me try and tie together some of the disparate things I was getting at in my head which I insufficiently demonstrated.

    I see Geneva and Willow Creek connected fundamentally. In rejecting the unity-by-relationship of western catholicism the protestant reformation was within a single century already so divided that it created christians and churches of choice. Certainly for a while ethnic and geographic relations were partly determinative of one’s christian affiliation but I maintain that it is protestantism itself that is the primary cause of christian division. And if divided, and if liberal capitalist, then choice. If recent sociological studies of young christians are any indicator, now more than ever christians look at dogma as a buffet.

    How this is not connected to political emphasis on the individual, freedom and the “choices” of the market is really beyond me. I’m not sure how you maintain a distinction. Most likely I take societal structures to be far more determinitive of a person than you do which is why I believe that choice/market/protestantism are so closely related.

    And while a utilitarian state and a laissez-faire economy seem to be at odds, and are in some ways, they have turned out to advance similar anthropologies. Utilitarianism looks to how goods function within a society and choices are made on account of how much utility comes of them. And the manner in which markets have been regulated or rather not-regulated also creates a situation where goods are made to serve the consumer; and the consumer is more often than not utilitarian, they want goods to serve them in whatever way seems best to them. I also take “cheap labor” to be the necessary flip side of “cheap products” and that is an objectively bad situation. My advantage as a consumer comes at the disadvantage of the oppressed worker. I would rather my disadvantage as consumer enable a more just society – and world, as often our cheap labor is overseas (out of sight out of mind)

    The problem as I see it is that both strip the society of pursuing the “Good” as such. I take localism to more perfectly enable participation in and creation of the Good by a wider segment of the population than market economics as they are currently practiced. Globalism especially puts more and more power in the hands of more and powerful economic elites which can only be regulated, even if poorly so, by stronger and more centralized governments.

    And I’m not kidding at all about politically weak voices in liberal democracy, especially as it is tied to large scale capitalism. Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, et. al. all suffer on account of our politically and economically marginalizing them.

    Does this perhaps fill in a bit more the “world I live in?”


  28. I wonder if I might be so bold as to recommend a resource? http://www.respublica.org.uk is a British political think tank that is in many ways the explicit outworking of Radical Orthodoxy’s political thought. Philip Blond is sort of the head brain and John Milbank often composes essays for it. I take their “Red Toryism” and “Blue Labour” as very appealing political proposals. Philip Blond is soon to release a book on “Red Toryism” that I am excited to read.

  29. Tony:

    You need to pick an ecclesiology and stick with it. The “unity-by-relationship of western catholicism” was an inherently Constantinian arrangement, which was perpetuated by the Augsburg/Westphalia formula of cuius regio, eius religio, which both Catholics and magisterial Reformers observed. It was the Anabaptists who taught the freedom of conscience–i.e., “choice” of religion–not Calvin and his proteges. That being the case, your affection for Yoder-type ecclesiology is curious. Of course, that’s the problem with the via media of Anglicanism. In attempting to be a “third way” between Catholicism and Protestantism, it often picks up the worst habits and deepest confusions of both.

    For the record, magisterial Protestantism was not and often is not “liberal capitalist.” It is anachronistic to speak of it this way. Calvin especially had a real appreciation for markets, but even he attempted to manage them in Geneva. And, of course, the state-church model of Calvin’s Geneva was anything but liberal. Republican, yes–to a degree. Liberal, no.

    The problem in your line of reasoning, apart from historical inaccuracies, seems to consist of two things: (1) You don’t like the way evangelicals currently do politics in America, so you’re trying to find some flaw in their historical lineage, which results in creating a straw man of that lineage. (2) You’re saying that because American evangelicals are capitalists, they must be capitalists because of their history, which is a post hoc fallacy.

    So, I say it again: There is no direct line between Geneva and Willow Creek. You have to go through quite a few centuries, quite a few changes of theological orientation, and quite a few historical developments to understand how Protestants ended up in the mess you find them in. Simplistic historical analyses simply don’t cut it.

    Your mode of economic analysis also seems too simplistic to me. (1) Consumer advantage does not necessarily arise from the oppression of workers, although it can, of course. In other words, cheap goods can, but do not necessarily come from the oppression of labor. If there is no necessary connection, then you can have a good conscience about the purchase of some cheap goods. (2) Cheapness of cost doesn’t necessarily arise from cheapness of labor, but from abundance of the goods. If, for example, you live in the country where you can pick wild strawberries, the price of wild strawberries in the story will be correspondingly low, not because pickers are paid low wages, but because anyone can pick the strawberries for free. In other words, the abundance of a good may drive the cost to the consumer down, which correspondingly drives down the wage paid the laborer.

    (2) The price of goods may also drop because of industrial manufacturing. A capital investment in an automatic loom, for example, will produce more rugs over time than an individual laborer can make. This drives down the cost of rugs overall. Obviously, this drives weavers out of business, or at least out of all but high-end niche businesses (in which their wages go up, not down). But it also creates new, relatively high-paying jobs for people with specific technical skills in industrial manufacturing.

    (3) Goods are judged by their utility in any society, not just in a capitalist society. What capitalist societies do is enforce quality controls through competition. East Germany made Trabants. West Germany made Volkswagens. Both were judged by their utility, i.e., how well they got you from point a to point b. Of course, Trabants were worthless pieces of crap, while VWs were and are beloved the world over for their quality.

    (4) Goods are made to serve the consumer. This is a bad thing? Surely you’re not suggesting that the consumer should serve the goods!

    Which comes first? Big Government or Big Business? Chicken or egg? I don’t know. All I know is that they are symbiotic. Historically, the biggest businesses were in the military-industrial complex. Want to shrink the size of that business? Shrink the size of government. Is Big Insurance too big? Then you must be against federal mandates that citizens purchase health insurance from insurance companies, since that only grows them. Is Big Finance too big? Then get the government to stop bailing out finance companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, and others.

    Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, et al don’t have enough voice in American society? America may have embargoed Cuba for these past 50 years, but no one else did. If a tiny island nation can’t make a good living with all the Soviet, European, Canadian, and South American money flowing into it, then the problem is with that country, not Cuba. And the problem has a name: socialist economics. Mexico doesn’t have enough of a voice in American politics? You need to live in Southern California for a while, my friend. Haiti doesn’t have enough of a voice? And yet we Americans–and the world over–give money in spades to the relief effort there. I think you’re confusing the fact that Americans don’t always do what those countries want us to do with not listening to them at all. As a thought experiment, when was the last time Cuba listened to America’s voice in its politics?


  30. Tony:

    I read Phillip Bond’s speech, “The Future of Conservatism.” I agreed with large points of it, disagreed with other parts of it. I especially like the part about how the modern welfare state accelerates the individualization of society by destroying “the associative society.” He gets in a few jabs at neo-liberal economics, the “Chicago School,” that I agree with less.

    After reading him, though, I was struck by the fact you’re identifying yourself with a self-identified conservative. I thought that was ironic.


  31. George,

    I’m not sure I’ve yet layed out an ecclesiology, let alone multiple ones. My Yoder knowledge is very limited as I’ve not read but an essay here or there by him. I was going off of the interpretation of Yoder that you gave which seemed reasonably right. As far as I’m aware Yoder was a congregationalist which I am not. So there would certainly be differences between us but I wasn’t attempting to give a systematic ecclesiology.

    I also think you’re wrong about “unity-in-relation” being a Constantinianism; unless the Apostolic Fathers or Irenaeus are to be considered Constantinian! Episcopacy developed with incredible rapidity in the early church and often to be greeted in a church one needed to have a letter of approval from ones bishop! And this was while they were still a persecuted minority not the Roman religion. Christianity in the West was utterly hegemonic pre-Reformation in that there was only seen to be one visible church. There were of course many contestations within the church but there weren’t thought to be many churches of equal legitimacy.

    And so in the end it doesn’t matter at all what Calvin or a Reformer or a Counter Reformer did or meant to do politically or religiously. On the one hand there is the problem of authorial intent, and on the other (I’m in this instance only concerned with how in the long term) the simple, empirical, factual reality of multiple churches brought about by the Reformation came to produce a sociological, economic, political, and religious Zeitgeist. It’s all connected to this series of events. If Reformation, then multiple churches (in the West); if multiple churches with threatened political authorities, then political and religious violence; if political and religious violence, then new attempts to solve problems of violence and poverty; if that, then new political and economic ideas including liberalism, capitalism, utilitarianism, volunteerism, etc…; and the rest is, as they say, “history.”

    Now we’re all in this together. In my opinion, and this has been genealogized by several people, that is to say it is not simply a figment of my imagination, the historical situatedness of us is determinative of how we think of ourselves. So an emphasis on choice, market, consumerism, etc… cannot but have a large effect on us as we think about faith in an insanely pluralized Christianity. This is clearly reflected in the marketplace of the churches. I get flyers from churches that attempt to entice me to their church in exactly the same way I get flyers to buy the latest energy drink. In a sort of logical extension, the Emergent movement are situated as the legitimate heirs of protestantism in their glorification of diversity and aversion to any spiritual authority.

    Now, with regards to markets and economics it’s clear to me that we simply differ on what constitutes the fundamental good. I realize that those things that you pointed out can be true but I don’t think that is the good thing you seem to think it is.

    Your point on carpet looms could just as easily have come from Engels himself. The continual creation of new means of production by the ruling class make the skills and jobs of the employed deeply unstable and subject to the creation of new means of production. That carpet manufacturing plant will soon close, their skills no longer needed, their jobs lost as a new competitor finds a way to do the same thing more cheaply, with less employees, and with no care or thought for the displaced workers. I think this is bad, you think the dialectical turning of the wheel of capital creates a better good, I simply disagree. I’m fine leaving it there.

    Re: “conservatism” – I think the line between radical communitarian conservatism and leftist communitarianism is somewhat fluid, as my mentioning of “Blue Labour” was meant to communicate. This would be especially true if we could rid ourselves of the Nation-State.

    All this is merely to defend myself against charges of simplistic history. You’re only half right in that I have problems with how Evangelicals have behaved politically. I have just as many problems with how the Mainline has so behaved. In fact Evangelicals have followed down the same exact track as the Mainline only with different theologies undergirding it. They both rely on the salvation-history of America, though Evangelicals have been much less rational in their appropriation of it: The Mainline was caught up in existential and liberation theology and Evangelicals were caught up in culture wars against swear words and homosexuals.

  32. On the way home from church this morning, I had the following thought: What if we used the word “righteousness” to describe the heart of biblical faith? It describes God’s character, the character of the society and the individual God desires us to have and to be, as well as the means by which he brings this about. Do you think we could unite around this concept?

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