Liberals Think Good Thoughts, But Conservatives Do Good Things

When my husband David was a student at Harvard Law School, his fellow students couldn’t stomach his conservatism. [Read more...]

Does More Spending Equal More Compassion?

After watching Jim Wallis and Richard Land debate the budget on Bloggingheads and reading my colleague Jordan Sekulow’s Washington Post piece on the debt disaster, I realized once again that the religious left and the religious right seem to speak different languages when it comes to budgetary policy.

All too often it seems that the religious left virtually takes for granted that the hundreds of billions of dollars spent fighting poverty and funding education (to take two examples) represent money well spent and that cutting that funding is “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor” or “sacrificing our children’s future.”  Yet does more money equal better outcomes?  Consider the chart below:

poverty-rate-historical

And for a graphical look at education expenses, click here.

To translate from chart-speak, both show that hundreds of billions of dollars (if not trillions) in spending have not (1) lowered the poverty rate; or (2) improved educational outcomes.

Regarding poverty, the single-best indicator of family outcome is family status.  Simply put, intact families have a low poverty rate.  Single-parent families have a high poverty rate.  And to the extent government funding impacts family status, it often does so negatively — by making single-parent poverty more sustainable over the long term.

Regarding education, there is also strong evidence that family status is a prime predictor of educational outcome.  And anecdotal evidence from successful charter and private schools indicate that strong teaching can overcome even poor families — and this strong teaching comes from schools that have much lower funding levels (on average) than the public school system.

Our poverty and education problems are cultural, not budgetary, and we simply can’t print enough money to cover the social costs of illegitimacy and divorce.  It is a symbol of our nation’s underlying strength that we’ve been able to prosper for decades while diverting astounding amounts of money into ineffective programs, but we can’t afford such waste any longer.

 

A Mormon President: Are Souls at Stake?

I distinctly remember the days when I believed that salvation was a sales job. I grew up in a church that placed a premium on achieving “decisions for Christ” and that believed those decisions directly depended on my behavior.

First, there was the apologetics. I always had to have a “ready answer” for those who questioned my faith—and by that, my elders meant a snappy response to virtually any challenge, whether about the origin of scripture, the origin of the universe, or the ethics of Freud.

Then, there was the “lifestyle evangelism.” A “ready answer” is much less persuasive when it comes from an imperfect vessel. Thus, we had to live our lives with more joy, more wisdom, more love, more courage, and more perseverance than anyone else. What’s more, our friends and co-workers had to see our superiority so that one day they would turn to us and ask that magic question: “What is it that makes you so different?”

Finally, we worried about the competition. I sat through Sunday school classes about Baptists, about Calvinists, about Catholics, and about Mormons. I learned what “they” believed so that I could rebut it, so that my “ready answer” included a very specific defense of my very specific denomination. (Oops. I said “denomination.” I didn’t belong to a denomination but instead “the church.”)

The problem? The model couldn’t possibly work. No matter how much I studied apologetics, I’d never know more about evolution than a biologist, more about Kant than a philosopher, or more about Catholicism than a priest. I could have a ready answer about my faith, but about not much else.

As for my lifestyle? Simply put, I’m not that great. Why would anyone turn to me and say, “How can I be like you?” I struggle with a myriad of fairly obvious flaws and sins, and I’ve known people of many faiths who live with more courage, more love, and more wisdom than I ever have. I’m going to be the beacon that leads men to heaven? Really?

But—thanks be to God—Christianity is not a sales job. We’re not like used car salesmen, running flashy commercials with a shiny product asking our customers, “What can I do to put you in this car today?” In biblical Christianity, as opposed to consumer Christianity, God is the Prime Mover in our salvation, not man. And the goal is not life enhancement, but the reconciliation of our broken souls with a Holy God.

This is plain from scripture, from Jesus selecting his disciples, to Paul’s Damascus Road conversion, to the miraculous interaction between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, to the definitive declaration: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” In fact, since His strength is made perfect not in my awesomeness but in my weakness, my tremendous “lifestyle” wouldn’t be much of a draw anyway.

I haven’t thought much about the Bad Old Days of Sunday school, at least until I read Warren Cole Smith’s June 9 interview, where he stated “people’s souls” were at stake if a Mormon became president. What a perfect expression of consumer Christianity. Do our immortal souls hang on so fine a thread as the public image of politicians?

Sadly, if actions speak louder than words, I’d say that many Christians believe that “image is everything.” Slickly-produced stage-show mega-church Christianity is oft-criticized. But the yin to its yang, the “keepin’ it real” alt-culture of the emergent movement is just as image-conscious. Again and again, we worry about appearance and presentation and debate who is driving people away from God and who is pulling them close.

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” Why do we believe that God would entrust something as precious as the individual soul to something so trivial as our voting decision? That’s not to say that votes don’t matter. Politicians help shape our culture, they make life-and-death decisions, and they can impact (though we often overstate their influence) an economy that shapes the material dreams of our own lives and our children’s lives. But presidents don’t save or condemn us, and their influence is inconsequential in the face of a sovereign God.

Is there any good fruit to come from the circular, fruitless, and sometimes nasty debate about Mormons in the White House—when ignorance about Mormonism is often trumped only by misconceptions about the very nature of God’s interactions with man?

Perhaps yes. Perhaps we can use this debate to remind ourselves that it is God, not man, who governs the fate of nations, and God, not man, who draws our souls to Him.

Salvation isn’t a sales job. It’s a miracle.

 

If You’re an Evangelical and Don’t Like Mormons . . .

Then it turns out you’ve got a lot in common with the secular Left.  At Commentary, Jonathan Tobin breaks down a recent Gallup Poll showing that 22 percent of Americans won’t vote for a Mormon:

Still, in an era when religious pluralism is an unquestioned element of American culture, it is somewhat baffling that Mormons remain the object of hate. Some may put it down to the rigid beliefs of conservative evangelicals who think Mormons are not Christians, but considering the rude treatment the Mormons have gotten on both Broadway and HBO, it must be considered that some sophisticated liberals may be among the prejudiced 22 percent Gallup has discovered. Indeed, the survey says 27 percent of Democrats said they would not vote for a Mormon as opposed to only 18 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of Independents. All of which goes to show when it comes to religious bias, so-called liberals may turn out to be less tolerant than conservatives.

This is unquestionably true.  Secular leftists are often quite religious in their zeal to attack traditional values, and I’d say that they have Mormons in their crosshairs in large part because they’re quite effective in defending our culture.  After all, there’s only 6 million Mormons in America, yet the media Left — from HBO to PBS to Broadway — has spent much of the last two election cycles flailing away at the LDS church.

The secular Left hates Mormons because they see the LDS church as a part of the same Judeo-Christian tradition we belong to; the same Judeo-Christian tradition they so despise.  And you know what?  The Left is right, evangelicals who shun Mormons are wrong, and we’re all in this together.

 


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