Tag Archives: social justice

I’m sure this is a terrible idea

I have made my vow to avoid political discourse this year till the day before the November election, but I’m not gonna make it (and I wasn’t *really* serious…. I mean, not entirely….though I hate the vacuous and strident tones of American political discourse more than I hate middle-school bickering….which I hate very much).

But here I am, sucked in and posting. *sighs*
I’m referencing this article on Obama’s speech in Virginia about small business owners and the “self-made man.” You can read the article here.
First off, I’m not endorsing the blog at all. I think the article is snide and too biased to be a good discussion piece. But it’s where I found myself dropping into the conversation, so here it is.
The article quoted Obama’s comments about the myth of the self-made man, which have touched off a tornado of conservative ire.  Here are the Obama selections from the article:

      If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be ’cause I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something: There are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
      If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

And here are my comments that I posted in a Facebook discussion about it, because they are relatively succinct:

     Straight up: I think the attack on Obama’s speech is hearing something he isn’t saying. To insist that a single person can on their own create success is foolish and IMHO contra-biblical. American individualism is not necessarily a virtue.
I’m not here to defend Obama but I’m really tired of conservatives idolizing Ayn Rand. I think her ideas are dangerous and, above all, against the tenor of Gospel thinking.
I don’t really care whether Obama is referring to religious help or social or whatever. I just have to scratch my head and wonder exactly what people are angry about. I read the speech. I agree with him. My success as [anything] rests on the shoulders of many people who individually invested in my life PLUS the work of countless others who built the systems, institutions, and infrastructure which enable “success” for the average American.
Does that negate the requirement that I work to improve my skills, to get a job, to get an education? Of course not. But admitting — in fact, embracing — the reality that American individualism is a myth, and often a harmful one doesn’t deny individual responsibility.
As a Christian, I have to balance being a good citizen of this country with being a good citizen of the Kingdom. So I reject Rand’s philosophy as contra-biblical on most counts, especially its self-centered individualism because I cannot reconcile that with Kingdom ethics. And that leads me to question whether America’s obsession with being self-made men is healthy at all.

What’s happening here is a fascinating shift in my own perceptions of biblical ethics and economic policy. Capitalism =/= godliness. How did I not see this before someone pointed it out to me (at Covenant)?
I’m also struck by the absolute FEAR oozing out of this article.
I am *all for* private citizens being generous, for NGOs to take over programs caring for the poor and needy, for the Church to step up and do its part in communities, for government to shrink because people take responsibility. That is awesome.
But can someone explain to me why people are AFRAID to admit that they are not self-made men?
Are we so …racist? classist? selfish? individualist? ….that we cannot brook even the thought of someone getting something WE think they don’t “deserve” …. when really and honestly, I don’t “deserve” any of the help that people gave me?
Do we not see the huge disconnect between salvation by grace apart from anything I can do and a system of conservative ethics which refuses to offer aid to people who “need” it unless they can prove they’ve worked hard enough to earn it?
My friends, you need to stop talking about the Gospel….your actions are shouting too hard for me to hear what you’re saying.
PS. Maybe in a future post I’ll write about how terrified I am to find so many Christians quoting Ayn Rand as if she gave good ideas. I realize the antithesis runs through and not around all thinkers, and that people who are very wrong can sometimes be right. But I think it’s time we throw down the gauntlet and demand that people defend individualism as biblical (which I think will be very difficult apart from proof-texting or American-bias) OR, failing that, stop acting like it is.

Theology & Mercy: Separate yet inseparable

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a “culture panel” hosted by my friend Rebecca who teaches foreign engineers & businesspeople upper-level conversational English. For example, all of the 7 students in the class speak German & work for BMW.  Coart & I joined to help answer questions (and pontificate) about American culture in general, including “taboo” topics like religion and politics. Our discussion ranged from international affairs to the health care debate and American church/social history.

The experience was stimulating, refreshing … yet humbling. Question #2 from the students came from a lady who asked why America, being a Christian nation, seemed to have little problem with war. The issue of how much our popular media loves violence came up repeatedly. (One dear soul confessed that, thanks to her view of America’s love for its guns, if she were ever stranded somewhere and approached a nearby house for help, she’d get shot! We quickly assured her that’s not usually how we roll!)

A bit later, someone asked why America, being a Christian nation, cares so little for its poor. We tried to explain that Americans value having the opportunity to be charitable with our own money, rather than hand it over to the government to distribute.

In the second hour, one man (wisely) commented that Americans confuse nudity with sexuality. The Germans can’t comprehend why we care so little for human life and so much about body parts.

All but one of them are non-Christians. Many might be non-theist. Yet they attribute many aspects of American culture to Christian culture, and sharply note the discrepancies when they see them.

Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have understood these issues the same way. It’s taken the loving rebuke of Christian scholars and careful reading of the Word to change my myopic view of the Gospel. I read a Psalm a day to my homeroom class (this year, I have 7th graders) and daily the psalmists smack me in the face with the obvious connection between claiming to serve a God Who is Just and the necessity to see His justice expressed in human institutions. It’s an imperfect, difficult, frustrating, and sometimes impossible work (perhaps in my lifetime, anyway) but I cannot escape it.

Whether we Christians want it or not, the mantle of responsibility for the religious welfare of America’s citizens falls about our shoulders. The Gospel cannot be a merely individual proposition. Even the most hearty dispensationalist cannot scrub away the descriptions time and again in Acts: “And so ______ was saved, and his {her] household.” The Psalms (especially those of David in the first half) set up a vision of a Good King for the land of Israel:  a man who fears the Lord, who speaks up for the weak who are easy targets for oppression; who makes sure the poor in his kingdom are cared for.

America is the richest nation ever to exist in the history of the world. We celebrate our extreme good fortune by sipping $4 lattes and complaining when gasoline for our inefficient cars rises above $3/gallon.  Our population, 5% of the world as a whole, consumes 25% of the world’s resources. 

We revel in “the good life”:
Our cars are big.
Our houses are huge (by even European standards).
Our food is rich and fatty and caloric when 1 billion of the world’s population faces malnourishment this year due to the rapid rise in food prices the world over.
To Americans, our democratic political system is messy and inefficient; to the rest of the world, our openness, freedoms, and lack of corruption in government processes (comparatively) provoke green streaks of envy.
We hoard our riches, close our borders, and pretend none of us had to get off the boat in the loins of our grandfathers who fled the sickness of Europe (or Asia) for a better life.  Or maybe our ancestors were dragged here in chains. Either way, we’re faring better than the descendents of the native Americans we found here.

Last Monday’s German class humbled me.  It called me back to a “cruciform life” … no corner of my life can be left unturned by the Gospel.  When America speaks, thanks to the millions of Christians residing here in peace and prosperity, it speaks (and acts) with the stamp of the Church’s approval.  In a rare fit of agreement with Doug Wilson, I say our first duty must be to repent for not doing a very good job sometimes.

Mammon

I fear, as an American, God’s corporate judgment on America.

Jesus talks about God’s evaluation of nations as a whole in sheep/goat terms.  I’m not *really* scared — I understand redemption….

But I remember how sick I felt in my stomach as a kid when I knew I had disappointed my parents. I’m afraid that God will look at His rich American church in The Great Hereafter and we will feel sick… for we will see the weak, the poor, the minorities, the underprivileged, the starving, the hurt ones that we set aside because they weren’t neat enough,
clean enough,
rich enough,
smart enough.

I own an iPod, a television, a computer, a cell phone, a stereo, an XBox…. a college education, two master’s degrees, and hundreds of books. I go to movies a couple times a month, drink Starbucks lattes about once a week, and eat out occasionally.

I have friends in Christian ministry in America & around the world who have seen their support drop by half due to the economy.

I have brothers & sisters in Christ who will not eat much today because they don’t have much; fellow believers whose homes will be vandalized because they are Christian; whose jobs are the worst of their society because they aren’t following the preferred religion.

I enjoy multiple American comforts because immigrants (legal or not) perform the “worst” jobs so that I don’t have to. I buy cheap merchandise made by workers in developing nations who lack any basic guarantee of safety or fair income.  I teach at a school that barely 1% of people on earth could afford.  And, for the record, my parents could have never afforded NCS for me … as it was, they sacrificed every creature comfort to pay my tuition.

I share the planet with fellow humans who are starving, sick, and poor. Who live in cardboard houses, receive little health care, and will never need an iPod because their country doesn’t have a stable power grid to keep its battery charged.

I am ashamed and disgusted.

… we will answer for these things…

 

~~~~~~~~~~

This post originally appeared on my Xanga site. I want to include the comment stream as well:

Saturday, 15 August 2009

  • I fear, as an American, God’s corporate judgment on America.

    Jesus talks about God’s evaluation of nations as a whole in sheep/goat terms.  I’m not *really* scared — I understand redemption….

    But I remember how sick I felt in my stomach as a kid when I knew I had disappointed my parents. I’m afraid that God will look at His rich American church in The Great Hereafter and we will feel sick… for we will see the weak, the poor, the minorities, the underprivileged, the starving, the hurt ones that we set aside because they weren’t neat enough,
    clean enough,
    rich enough,
    smart enough.

    I own an iPod, a television, a computer, a cell phone, a stereo, an XBox…. a college education, two master’s degrees, and hundreds of books. I go to movies a couple times a month, drink Starbucks lattes about once a week, and eat out occasionally.

    I have friends in Christian ministry in America & around the world who have seen their support drop by half due to the economy.

    I have brothers & sisters in Christ who will not eat much today because they don’t have much; fellow believers whose homes will be vandalized because they are Christian; whose jobs are the worst of their society because they aren’t following the preferred religion.

    I enjoy multiple American comforts because immigrants (legal or not) perform the “worst” jobs so that I don’t have to. I buy cheap merchandise made by workers in developing nations who lack any basic guarantee of safety or fair income.  I teach at a school that barely 1% of people on earth could afford.  And, for the record, my parents could have never afforded NCS for me … as it was, they sacrificed every creature comfort to pay my tuition.

    I share the planet with fellow humans who are starving, sick, and poor. Who live in cardboard houses, receive little health care, and will never need an iPod because their country doesn’t have a stable power grid to keep its battery charged.

    I am ashamed and disgusted.

    … we will answer for these things…

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Comments (4)

  • We had a visiting preacher a few years back open out of Ezekiel 16. For all that Christians like to treat homosexuality as the *biggest* of the sins we don’t do; Jerusalem was called out for being *worse* than her sister Sodom. Why??

    And your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. Not only did you walk in their ways and do according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your waysAs I live, declares the Lord God , your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. Samaria has not committed half your sins. You have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed. Bear your disgrace, you also, for you have intervened on behalf of your sisters. Because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous. Ezek 16:46-52 esv

    Maybe the “powers that be” in the US today (who by some accounts seem bent on redistributing the wealth) are going to make us (the church) do what we were *supposed* to be doing all along. What good are we if we just say “be warmed and filled”??  [from Savage1992]

  • @Savage1992 – We read our OT so little, we forget that God talks far more about social sin and injustice than He does about what we consider “moral” crimes. It’s easy to stone a murderer.  It’s hard to take care of poor people over a lifetime.  [from lorojoro]

  • @LoroJoro –  Indeed!! Social injustice ranks WAY high on God’s care-o-meter. And just because it’s fun to say “shit”… my favorite Tony Campolo quote (that we’ve discussed before)…

    “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.” – Tony Campolo

    [from Savage1992]