Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

World Vision endorses same-sex marriage, denies Biblical definition of marriage

I frankly don’t care to link to any source on this story other than Al Mohler and Franklin Graham. Lapsed Christian organizations and secular news sources are celebrating this decision, but they will have nothing valuable to say to anyone who takes the Bible seriously as an authority on moral issues. Even though  I keep posting secular evidence and research to confirm what the Bible teaches, I still get my moral positions from the Bible. Clearly, this is not the case with organizations like World Vision any more.

Al Mohler first, on what happened:

The headline in the news story by Christianity Today made the issue easy enough to understand — “World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages.”

As the magazine reported, “World Vision’s American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.”

World Vision U.S. President Richard Stearns announced the change in a letter to World Vision staff. The organization, one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world, “will continue to expect abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage for all staff,” Stearns said. He then added that “since World Vision is a multi-denominational organization that welcomes employees from more than 50 denominations, and since a number of these denominations in recent years have sanctioned same-sex marriage for Christians, the board—in keeping with our practice of deferring to church authority in the lives of our staff, and desiring to treat all of our employees equally—chose to adjust our policy.” That led to the key change Stearns was then to announce: “Thus, the board has modified our Employee Standards of Conduct to allow a Christian in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision.”

Stearns basically claimed that the Bible is not clear on whether gay marriage is permissible. No theologians were cited, no Bible passages were references. He merely said that disagreement among denominations means that there is no right answer. Before continuing with Mohler, let me just point out the relevant quotation from the Bible.

Matthew 19:3-6: [NASB]

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”

And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,

and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

So Richard Stearns either doesn’t believe that Jesus said that OR he believes that Jesus was wrong, and therefore fallible. It’s one or the other.

Now, more from Al Mohler:

Richard Stearns has every right to try to make his case, but these arguments are pathetically inadequate. Far more than that, his arguments reveal basic issues that every Christian ministry, organization, church, and denomination will have to face — and soon.

The distinction between an “operational arm” of the church and a “theological arm” is a fatal misreading of reality. World Vision claims a Christian identity, claims to serve the kingdom of Christ, and claims a theological rationale for its much-needed ministries to the poor and distressed. It cannot surrender theological responsibility when convenient and then claim a Christian identity and a theological mandate for ministry.

Add to this the fact that World Vision claims not to have compromised the authority of Scripture, even as its U.S. president basically throws the Bible into a pit of confusion by suggesting that the Bible is not sufficiently clear on the question of the morality of same-sex sexuality. Stearns insists that he is not compromising biblical authority even as he undermines confidence that the church can understand and trust what the Bible reveals about same-sex sexuality.

The policy shift points back to a basic problem with World Vision’s understanding of the church. No organization can serve on behalf of churches across the vast theological and moral spectrum that would include clearly evangelical denominations, on the one hand, and liberal denominations such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ, on the other. That might work if World Vision were selling church furniture, but not when the mission of the organization claims a biblical mandate.

Furthermore, it is ridiculous to argue that World Vision is not taking sides on the issue. The objective fact is that World Vision will now employ openly-gay employees involved in openly homosexual relationships. There is no rational sense in claiming that this represents neutrality.

[...]Writing to the Corinthian Christians, the Apostle Paul stated: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” [1 Corinthians 6:9-10]

The leader of World Vision U.S. now claims that the Bible is not sufficiently clear on the sinfulness of same-sex sexuality and relationships, but he also claims a “mission of building the kingdom.” The Apostle Paul makes homosexuality a kingdom issue, and he does so in the clearest of terms.

Of course, Paul’s point is not that homosexuals are uniquely sinful, but that all of us are sinners in need of the grace and mercy of God that come to us in the gift of salvation. Thanks be to God, Paul follows those words with these: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Corinthians 6:11]

The worst aspect of the World Vision U.S. policy shift is the fact that it will mislead the world about the reality of sin and the urgent need of salvation. Willingly recognizing same-sex marriage and validating openly homosexual employees in their homosexuality is a grave and tragic act that confirms sinners in their sin — and that is an act that violates the gospel of Christ.

Now my comments. Be aware that I wrote the stuff below in 20 minutes and was very agitated and upset when I wrote it – it may be revised when I calm down.

My thoughts

I have a long-standing policy of NEVER, EVER, EVER giving money to Christian organizations who do anything except apologetics. I am willing to give money to groups who do pro-life apologetics and pro-marriage apologetics. I am open to giving money to Christian organizations who put forward good economic policy and good foreign policy, too, like the Heritage Foundation or the Family Research Council. But I think the safest thing to do is to take your money and give it to groups like Reasonable Faith, Ratio Christi, Faith Beyond Belief, Stand to Reason, Please Convince Me, Cross Examined, Reasons to Believe, etc. I just sent $300 to Ratio Christi for an event yesterday. So generosity is not the issue – stewardship is.

Apologetics groups are the SAFEST groups to give money to, because they are the ones who are guided by truthWorld Vision and other “works-based” groups, including some missionary groups are some of the WORST places to put your money if you care about theological accuracy. People don’t get into apologetics in order to feel good or be liked, they go into it to discover truth and defend truth. We are hard-core in this business. So again, if you want to be a good steward of your money, put your money into apologists who are active in research, active on the university campus, and actively engaged for the truth of Christianity.

I realize I am being controversial here, but trust me on this. There is something different about people who go out and study philosophy, history and science and then get into debates with people. There is something inside them that is resistant to the spirit of the age, which is secularism, postmodernism and moral relativism. A lot of non-apologists think that God is primarily interested in making people good, and making them do good things here on Earth. And that’s what leads to the apostasy that you see in groups like World Vision – this focus on doing good, rather than on having true beliefs first, then doing good second.

What does the Bible say is most important?

Look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40: [NASB]

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If people settle on a false set of beliefs about whether God exists and whether Jesus is Lord and Savior, it doesn’t matter how nice they are to other people – that’s not what God is looking for, primarily. Everyone has to answer the question that Jesus asked of Peter in Luke 18. “Who do you say that I am?”

Is World Vision right to focus on the poor rather than Biblical Christianity?

Matthew 26:6-11: [NASB]

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper,

a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table.

But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste?

For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.

11 For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.

So the real issue in this life is not being nice to people. That is a good thing, it’s not the main thing. The main thing is Jesus. Not a single verse in the Bible declares homosexuality to be anything other than a sin. By claiming that Christianity is somehow compatible with homosexuality, World Vision has ceased to be a Christian organization. My warning to you is to not focus so much on helping the poor at the expense of having true beliefs about God and Christ, and making those true beliefs known to others. We are here for just a few years and our purpose is not a worldly purpose. Our purpose is also not to feel good nor to be seen by others as kind, tolerant and compassionate. Be generous in your horizontal relationships, but not at the expense of that crucial vertical relationship.

UPDATE: My friend Neil wrote to me and suggested that I endorse giving to the poor directly, and I do endorse that. That respects the repeated Biblical commands to care for the poor, without getting in the mess described above.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What kinds of anti-poverty programs really work?

Christians ought to be concerned about poverty. Is there a way to help the poor without making them dependent on the government?

Yes! In this article, the American Enterprise Institute discusses a great program called the Doe Fund, which is run in New York City.

Excerpt:

[...][F]or more than 25 years, the organization run by George and Harriet McDonald has helped homeless men. The program they run is based on a clear contract between the shelter managers and the homeless men. “You get up every day and go to work and stay drug free-and we will pay you and house you and feed you. It’s as simple as that,” Mr. McDonald said at his shelter on 155th street in Harlem. Doe Fund facilities are funded by revenue generation from their maintenance and cleaning business, government funding for homeless services, and private donations. The breakdown is roughly one-third each.

Anyone who enters one of the four Doe Fund facilities in New York City is handed a paper entitled: “Some of the Rules that You Will hear ALL the time.” Among the regulations are Rule No. 4: No standing or loitering in front of the building at any time of the day. Rule No. 10: You must not drink or drug while you are in the program. Rule No. 11: No cellular phones are allowed while you are working.

In return for a roof over their heads and a salary, residents of the Doe Fund shelters clean and maintain commercial strips all over New York City-real jobs, with real demands and shifts that start at 6 a.m. The Doe Fund crews add an extra touch not provided by the sanitation and park employees of New York City, and every day workers face real customers who include not only local business groups who pay for their services but also residents and pedestrians who benefit from the improved quality of life.

Hourly wages start at $8.15, which gives shelter residents a chance to save, as room and board are provided. Some men accumulate as much as $5,000 while they are in the six- to nine-month program.

According to the McDonalds, over the past three years 57% of the men who completed the six-month program got jobs at an average wage of $10.86 an hour. And 65% of those retained the job for at least six months. A 2010 Harvard University evaluation found similar results. For a program that works with homeless men, many of whom have served prison sentences, those are solid results.

In addition to a strong work and drug-free requirement (enforced by random drug tests), the Doe Fund also requires the men who are fathers to provide financial support to their children and to identify themselves to the city’s child-support enforcement office to be sure they comply with their child-support orders.

What is important about the Doe Fund is that it explicitly links aid with a strong enforcement of the rules. Doe Fund managers enforce the rules by restricting noncompliant residents to the shelter, reducing benefits or referring them to another city shelter where these opportunities are not offered. The Doe Fund is not alone in its approach-there are similar setups across the country, but in most such programs it’s still rare to tie behavior to consequences.

Now, this is the kind of anti-poverty program that I support. It’s not just handing out money with no strings attached. It’s easing people into the work force in a structured environment. I think that deep down, poor people really want to work, and this program is exactly how we should be getting them started at that.

But there is one thing that might hurt this program, and the article mentions it. Can you guess what it is? Look at the hourly wages these entry-level workers are being paid.

Here’s what it is:

It is troubling that at the same time the president has announced a new focus on helping young minority men, one of his administration’s top legislative priorities is a substantial hike in the federal minimum wage-a mandate on employers that is likely to reduce job opportunities for the very young men the president wants to help with My Brother’s Keeper.

If we really wanted to help the poor, we should be LOWERING the minimum wage, and then maybe the government can make up the difference. I would much rather have the government subsidizing work by topping off lower salaries than subsidizing bad behaviors.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , ,

Should welfare be paid to able-bodied Americans indefinitely? Is dependency good for people?

Nancy P. posted this article from the Heritage Foundation, and I thought it would make a good blog post.

Excerpt:

Food stamp rolls have been growing rapidly. But what many may not realize is that participation among able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) has been skyrocketing compared to the total number of participants. That’s just one reason Congress should reform the food stamp program in the farm bill now under consideration. In just four years, the number of able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) on the food stamp rolls skyrocketed by over 2 million. While overall food stamp use grew by 53 percent between Fiscal Year 2007 and Fiscal Year 2010 (from about 26 million to nearly 40 million), it more than doubled among able-bodied adults without dependents during this time–from 1.7 million to 3.9 million–an increase of  roughly 127 percent.  Food stamp spending today is roughly $80 billion, double what it was in Fiscal Year 2008.

[...]While the recession no doubt plays into the increases in food stamp participation, policy loopholes have opened the doors to boost growth as well In his 2009 stimulus bill, Obama allowed states to waive the modest ABAWD work provision (which says that after 3 months ABAWDs must work or perform some type of work activity for 20 hours per week to remain on food stamps).

With the work waivers in place, ABAWDs can stay on food stamps for an unlimited amount of time without working or preparing for work. Without a work requirement  it is difficult to ensure food stamps are not going to those who could otherwise work.  A work requirement acts as a gatekeeper: those who really need assistance can still get it, while those who may not really need it will be deterred, thus targeting resources to the truly needy. It also encourages individuals to move towards work, and it can provide job training and other employment help.

Self-sufficiency for able-bodied adults should be the goal of any sound welfare policy. Unfortunately, most of the government’s 80-plus welfare programs–including food stamps–aren’t focused in this direction.

Helping those in need means helping them rise above government dependence. Unfortunately, self-sufficiency seems to be kicked to the bottom of the list all too often when it comes to reforming the nation’s broken welfare system. It’s time for Congress to realize that helping individuals means a hand-up, not merely a handout.

A long time ago, there was a reasonable, temporary safety net that was available to people who were in real need of relief. But now it seems as if the government is spending alot of money on these programs, and often to people who are not trying to get out of their dependency situation on their own.

Here is what I do not want to have happen:

  1. Government confiscates the earnings of job creators and employees through taxation
  2. Government keeps some fraction of the money for their salaries, benefits and pensions
  3. Government gives some of the money to Planned Parenthood and Solyndra
  4. Government gives some money to people who are likely to vote for them
  5. The people who get the money vote for bigger government, and are discouraged from working
  6. The children of the people who are dependent on government see a bad example of dependency

It seems to me that if you look in the Bible, there is no support for government-controlled redistribution of wealth as a cure for “poverty”. There is support there for industry and business, and voluntary charity. Most of the poverty in the USA is, in my opinion, either caused by government policies or caused by individual decisions, like dropping out of school or having children before marriage. This is a wealthy country, and people are very generous with charity. They would be even more generous if government were more limited so that they could keep more of their own money for charity. I think the problem with the left is that they think that people don’t give to charity, since they don’t, and must be forced to pay taxes. But we on the right are not like you. I would rather give away twice as much as I pay in taxes rather than pay what I pay in taxes. I love charity, and the only thing stopping me from giving away more is taxes.

This previous post about earned success references a Wall Street Journal article written by Arthur Brooks (president of the American Enterprise Institute) is also relevant, I think.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , ,

Is giving to charity more rational for religious people or atheists?

Well, let’s take a look at the numbers with this article by Arthur Brooks, published by the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

Excerpt:

How do religious and secular people vary in their charitable behavior? To answer this, I turn to data collected expressly to explore patterns in American civic life. The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (SCCBS) was undertaken in 2000 by researchers at universities throughout the United States and the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. The data consist of nearly 30,000 observations drawn from 50 communities across the United States and ask individuals about their “civic behavior,” including their giving and volunteering during the year preceding the survey.

From these data, I have constructed two measures of religious participation. First, the group I refer to as “religious” are the respondents that report attending religious services every week or more often. This is 33 percent of the sample. Second, the group I call “secular” report attending religious services less than a few times per year or explicitly say they have no religion. These people are 26 percent of the sample (implying that those who practice their religion occasionally make up 41 percent of the sample). The SCCBS asked respondents whether and how much they gave and volunteered to “religious causes” or “non-religious charities” over the previous 12 months. Across the whole population, 81 percent gave, while 57 percent volunteered.

The differences in charity between secular and religious people are dramatic. Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent). And, consistent with the findings of other writers, these data show that practicing a religion is more important than the actual religion itself in predicting charitable behavior. For example, among those who attend worship services regularly, 92 percent of Protestants give charitably, compared with 91 percent of Catholics, 91 percent of Jews, and 89 percent from other religions.

Socioeconomically, the religious and secular groups are similar in some ways and different in others. For example, there is little difference between the groups in income (both have average household incomes around $49,000) or education level (20 percent of each group holds a college degree). On the other hand, the secular group is disproportionately male (49 percent to 32 percent), unmarried (58 percent to 40 percent), and young (42 to 49 years old, on average). In addition, the SCCBS data show that religion and secularism break down on ideological lines: Religious people are 38 percentage points more likely to say they are conservative than to say they are liberal (57 percent to 19 percent). In contrast, secular people are 13 points more likely to say they are liberal than to say they are conservative (42 percent to 29 percent).

It is possible, of course, that the charity differences between secular and religious people are due to these nonreligious socioeconomic differences. To investigate this possibility, I used a statistical procedure called probit regression to examine the role of religious practice in isolation from all other relevant demographic characteristics: political beliefs, income (and hence, indirectly, the tax incentives for giving), education level, gender, age, race, marital status, and area of residence. The data show that if two people — one religious and the other secular — are identical in every other way, the secular person is 23 percentage points less likely to give than the religious person and 26 points less likely to volunteer.

Honestly, I’ve always struggled to understand how giving to charity could be rational, on atheism. If you are only alive for 80 years, and the purpose of your life is to be happy, then the only reason I can think of to give anything away to anyone is because it makes you feel happier or more respected or something. Maybe because you like thinking of yourself as moral, or maybe because you want to be seen as moral, or maybe because you want a tax deduction, or maybe something else. But if this is the only life you are ever going to have, and people are just collections of atoms, then why care about what anyone is doing? We’re all just accidents anyway, on atheism, and we’re going to die out eventually. One set of atoms giving some atoms to another set of atoms, and then in the end all the atoms get scattered: who cares?

Here’s something interesting I found about the leaders of the two political parties in this country.

Excerpt:

In 2009, the Obamas gave 5.9 percent of their income to charity, about the same as they gave in 2006 and 2007. In the eight years before he became president, Obama gave an average of 3.5 percent of his income to charity, upping that to 6.5 percent in 2008.

The Obamas’ charitable giving is equally divided between “hope” and “change.”

George W. Bush gave away more than 10 percent of his income each year he was president, as he did before becoming president.

Thus, in 2005, Obama gave about the same dollar amount to charity as President George Bush did, on an income of $1.7 million — more than twice as much as President Bush’s $735,180. Again in 2006, Bush gave more to charity than Obama on an income one-third smaller than Obama’s.

In the decade before Joe Biden became vice president, the Bidens gave a total — all 10 years combined — of $3,690 to charity, or 0.2 percent of their income. They gave in a decade what most Americans in their tax bracket give in an average year, or about one row of hair plugs.

Of course, even in Biden’s stingiest years, he gave more to charity than Sen. John Kerry did in 1995, which was a big fat goose egg. Kerry did, however, spend half a million dollars on a 17th-century Dutch seascape painting that year, as Peter Schweizer reports in his 2008 book, “Makers and Takers.”

To be fair, 1995 was an off-year for Kerry’s charitable giving. The year before, he gave $2,039 to charity, and the year before that a staggering $175.

He also dropped a $5 bill in the Salvation Army pail and almost didn’t ask for change.

In 1998, Al Gore gave $353 to charity — about a day’s take for a lemonade stand in his neighborhood. That was 10 percent of the national average for charitable giving by people in the $100,000-$200,000 income bracket. Gore was at the very top of that bracket, with an income of $197,729.

When Sen. Ted Kennedy released his tax returns to run for president in the ’70s, they showed that Kennedy gave a bare 1 percent of his income to charity — or, as Schweizer says, “about as much as Kennedy claimed as a write-off on his 50-foot sailing sloop Curragh.” (Cash tips to bartenders and cocktail waitresses are not considered charitable donations.)

The Democratic base gives to charity as their betters do. At the same income, a single mother on welfare is seven times less likely to give to charity than a working poor family that attends religious services.

In 2006 and 2007, John McCain, who files separately from his rich wife, gave 27.3 percent and 28.6 percent of his income to charity.

In 2005, Vice President Cheney gave 77 percent of his income to charity. He also shot a lawyer in the face, which I think should count for something.

In a single year, Schweizer reports, Rush Limbaugh “gave $109,716 to ‘various individuals in need of assistance mainly due to family illnesses,’ $52,898 to ‘children’s case management organizations,’ including ‘various programs to benefit families in need,’ $35,100 for ‘Alzheimer’s community care — day care for families in need,’ and $40,951 for air conditioning units and heaters delivered to troops in Iraq.”

The Democrats are the non-religious party, the Republicans are the religious party. The Democrats are also the talking party, as you can see, and the Republicans are the doing party.

By the way, Arthur Brooks eventually turned this research into a book called “Who Really Cares?“, and it’s a good response to atheists when they tell you that they can be moral without God. If it doesn’t make sense to be moral, then atheists aren’t going to do it. You can read more about that book here.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thomas Aquinas on law, economics and government

I found three posts at the AEI Values and Capitalism blog authored by a recent graduate of Grove City College.

Here the 3 posts:

I’m going to snip the most interesting parts from each of the 3 posts.

First post talks about the Bible and private property:

What, if any, role does government play in defining, bestowing and taking private property? This question underlies many modern-day political debates, but it’s actually an issue scholars have debated for centuries. At the heart of this debate is the tension between private property and government confiscation: Does private property exist? If so, does government have the authority to take it from the citizens it governs?

[...]“It is false to say that human beings are not permitted to possess their own property,” he writes, implying that individual human beings have a right to the external goods they own and no one else may possess ownership over their goods. The eighth commandment—”Thou Shalt Not Steal”—assumes the principle of private property. God, by commanding man to refrain from stealing from his neighbor, assumes that man can and does own material goods.

[...]In his book “Foundations of Economics: A Christian View,” Dr. Shawn Ritenour of Grove City College puts it quite simply: “Our property is God’s gift.” The socialist idea that property rights come from government is false. Property rights come from our Creator.

So that’s the first thing to get clear. The Bible assumes the concept of private property.

Second post talks about when the government is justified in taking the property of citizens:

Theft is not justified on an individual level or a state level. Stealing is stealing. But if this is true, does government commit theft when it taxes its citizens? According to Aquinas, not quite. “If rulers exact from their subjects what is due them in justice in order to maintain the common good,” he writes, “there is no robbery” (emphasis mine). Government may justly take from its citizens their God-given property only if it promotes justice for the common good of society.

But this criterion is vague. The common good may be defined in a variety of ways. But Aquinas does not leave the reader without qualifying his statement:

But public authority is committed to rulers in order that they may safeguard justice. And so they are permitted to use force and coercion only in the course of justice, whether in wars against enemies or in punishing civilian criminals. (emphasis mine)

Government may take from its citizens, i.e. taxes, for the two-fold purpose of defended them from foreign enemies and convicting domestic criminals.

So the government can take money from citizens for defending them from external threats and internal threats. But what about helping the poor? Who is going to help the poor, if it’s not government’s job?

Third post talks about whose job it is to help the poor:

We must help those in need directly, through private institutions and through the church, not allowing government to become a substitute for our individual responsibility of loving our neighbor. Aquinas writes:

But because many persons are in need, and the same things cannot assist everybody, the dispensing of one’s own goods is committed to each individual, so that each may out of them assist those in need. (emphasis mine)

Because of the magnitude and specificity of each individual’s needs, the government cannot adequately provide for every one of its citizens. As Christians, we must work to provide for our neighbors in accordance with the command in Scripture to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Property is a gift from God—not government—to his people for the purposes of self-preservation and assisting those in need. When private institutions, churches and individuals fulfill their mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves, no need for government involvement exists.

Just a helpful reminder to everyone about what one of the pillars of the Christian faith thought about fiscal policy and the role of government. By the way, if you’re thinking about studying economics and you’re a Christian, I recommend Grove City College.

Christianity and economics

Here’s an interview with Dr. Shawn Ritenour, economics professor at Grove City College. The interview is conducted by Dr. Paul Kengor.

Excerpt:

Kengor: …it seems that the very foundation of economics, not to mention the American republic in some respects, is the right to private property. Do you agree? If so, is that Scriptural?

Ritenour: The foundation of economic activity and policy is private property. All action requires the use of property and all economic policy is about how people can legally use their property. To benefit from the division of labor, we must be able to exchange our products, which requires private property. Private property is definitely Scriptural. The Bible explicitly prohibits theft, fraud, moving property barriers, debasing money, violating labor contracts, as well as coveting. These prohibitions apply to both citizens and rulers. In my text, I apply this conclusion to issues such as confiscatory taxation, government subsidies, business regulation, and monetary inflation.

Kengor: I find it very telling that Karl Marx was first and foremost against private property, not to mention against God as well. In the “Communist Manifesto,” he wrote plainly: “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in a single sentence: Abolition of private property.” And yet, there are some religious left Christians who claim that the Bible, especially in certain Old Testament passages, preaches a form of socialism and even communism. A student of mine had a teacher at a private Christian school in Ohio who instructed the class that as Christians they should be communists. Can you address this argument?

Ritenour: Communism can be condemned strictly on the basis of the Christian ethic of property (among other reasons). Nothing in Scripture either commands or implies that the means of production should be controlled by the state. There are passages in the early chapters of Acts that are often cited as promoting “Christian communism,” but, in fact, actually illustrate Christian sharing. The various Christians still owned their property, but were generous in sharing whenever they saw a need. When Peter rebukes Ananias in Acts 5, he explicitly says that both the property that Ananias and Sapphira sold and the monetary proceeds from selling it were theirs to do with what they wanted. That is not the gospel according to Marx.

Kengor: I like the way you turn the religious left’s thinking on private property on its head. You note that “God prohibits our coveting the property of others.” With that being the case, isn’t it wrong for the government to use the mighty arm of the state to forcibly remove property from one person to give it to another?

Ritenour: I see no other way around that conclusion, especially when we realize that, in our day of mass democracy, the state usually accomplishes policies of wealth redistribution by inciting envy and covetousness among the populace.

Kengor: What about profits? Reconcile the profit motive with the God of Scripture. We have people in this society who portray profits as greedy or unjust.

Ritenour: Profit is the reward entrepreneurs receive for more successfully producing what people want. This is no easy thing to do. Entrepreneurs must invest in present production of goods they sell in the future. Neither entrepreneurs nor government bureaucrats know exactly what future demand will be. Therefore, production necessitates bearing risk. If the entrepreneur forecasts future demand incorrectly, he will waste resources and reap losses. If he forecasts the future correctly, he serves his fellow man by producing goods people want. It seems only right that such producers are rewarded with profit. In a free market, the only way entrepreneurs earn profits is to serve customers better than anyone else.

If you would like to learn more about the relationship between Christianity and economics, then I recommend “Money, Greed and God” and “Indivisible” by Jay Richards. The former is about what the Bible says about economics, the latter is about developing a Christian worldview of fiscal and social issues. If you really want a comprehensive assessment of the Bible and politics, then I recommend Wayne Grudem’s “Politics According to the Bible“.

Further study

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