An abortion is the intentional killing of an unborn child inside (or partially inside) the womb.
Social justice is . . . what exactly? [Read more...]
An abortion is the intentional killing of an unborn child inside (or partially inside) the womb.
Social justice is . . . what exactly? [Read more...]
It’s that time again — the time when the younger evangelical generation surveys our damaged nation, observes the terrible reputation of leading evangelical “culture warriors” in the pop culture and with their peers, and says, “You guys blew it. It’s time for a new approach, for a post-partisan approach. We’re not in anyone’s political pocket. We’re not focused on politics at all.” You look at books like Jonathan Merritt’s A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars and think, “Finally someone is speaking to us. We’re about Jesus — not about Republicans, not Democrats, just Jesus.” Young, post-partisan evangelicals, this letter is for you.
Dear fed-up idealists,
I used to be you. I know that’s hard to believe. After all, I’m pretty darn partisan. I’m a religious liberties lawyer, a pro-life activist, the founder of Evangelicals for Mitt, and the most recent winner of the American Conservative Union’s Ronald Reagan Award. I serve my country in uniform in the Army Reserves and am a veteran of the Iraq War. In other words, for a lot of you out there, I’m less role model than cautionary tale. I’m the guy you’re trying not to be — the guy you think is destroying our Christian witness. Heck, I’m the guy that even I used to hate.
How did this happen? Why did this happen? The short answer is that it happened because life happened — real life. So let’s take a trip back through time.
Step 1: Despising my elders. We called ourselves “Solomon’s Colonnade” after the temple area where Jesus delivered one of his many stinging rebukes to the religious leaders of the day. There were only a few of us, friends from college, but we were determined to upend the silly, partisan hypocrisy of the religious right. I blame Bono, really. I attended a U2 concert during the 1987 “Joshua Tree” tour, and was enthralled as Bono (a real rock star!) not spoke openly about his love for Jesus, he wound up his rousing mini-sermon with a passionate condemnation of the televangelists who were then dominating public religious life. His words were both shocking and exhilarating: “Here’s my message to the televangelists: get the f**k off my TV screen!”
Well, that generation of televangelists did eventually “get the f**k off” the TV screen — doomed by their own insatiable appetites — but that wasn’t enough for me. Simply put, I was convinced we hadn’t been doing church right, and my friends in Solomon’s Colonnade were going to do what we could to reboot the whole thing. We spent hours talking late into the night, discussing everything from ideal church governance to the right way to engage politics and the culture. We didn’t reach any consensus other than the consensus that we could do it better — whatever “it” was. And we had to do better.
I graduated from college, Solomon’s Colonnade faded into oblivion, but my goals didn’t change. Oh, I was philosophically conservative — a biblical literalist, an admirer of Edmund Burke, and very deeply pro-life — but I was convinced that the core, life-affirming values of my faith were being wasted and squandered by partisans and charlatans. Shortly after law school, while reflecting on the latest media-reported “outrage” from Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson or James Dobson, I remember emailing my friends something like this: “There has to be a revolution in American Christianity. The old guard has to go, and we have to put Jesus at the center of all we do. I don’t have to lead the revolution, but at least let me drive the tank.” How those words would come to haunt my conscience . . .
Step 2: Encountering life. I was living my dream. Sure, I was still pro-life (I co-founded Harvard Law School’s only pro-life student group), but you couldn’t categorize me! I had also written a then widely-read op-ed arguing that gay marriage was “inevitable” and that the state had forfeited any legal grounds for denying gay couples the “right” to marry. No labels for me!. Shortly after publishing that op-ed, I found myself not only leading a nonpartisan free speech organization but also being profiled in a progressive Christian magazine (sadly defunct or I’d link the article) as an example of nonpartisan Christian leadership. My friends in Solomon’s Colonnade would have been so proud.
But I soon realized that my nonpartisanship had a steep price. I could be pro-life, but not too pro-life. You see, if you’re too pro-life; if you talk about too much, then you can’t be post-partisan. One political party is completely dedicated to legal protection of abortion on demand. The other political party is completely dedicated to repealing Roe v. Wade. If you talk too much about abortion, others will define you, and if you’re defined how can you be independent?
“No problem,” my hip inner voice said. Pro-life is really whole life. Anti-poverty programs, environmental advocacy — that’s all ‘pro-life’ in the broad sense, right? Can’t I be pro-life and maintain my independence?” But my rational inner voice quickly rebelled. If I’m “whole life” without talking about unborn children then I’m functionally pro-abortion, but if I’m “whole life” and bring unborn children into that conversation in any meaningful way, then I’m right back where I started. Besides, the effect on life of driving a Prius over a pickup truck can’t be measured with a (metaphorical) electron microscope. But if an abortion clinic shuts down or a young mom is persuaded not to abort, a real live human being is born — a person of incalculable worth. Yes, I want them to grow and flourish in a just society, and yes I want them to have economic opportunity. But it’s tough to enjoy justice and opportunity when you’re dead.
So I was pro-life. Firmly. Actively.
I clung, however, to my marriage position — with even greater ferocity. But my rational voice rebelled once again against my hip inner voice. Didn’t no-fault divorce fly directly in the face of biblical marriage? Weren’t legal regimes that were focused entirely around adult self-actualization having measurable and devastating effects on our culture? Why then would we continue down the path of marriage as a legally recognized means of adult self-actualization rather than marriage as a legally-protected institution of cultural preservation?
Then, as a lawyer, I saw the catastrophic effects that normalization of same-sex relationships was having on religious liberty. And I realized I was wrong.
As I decisively entered the “culture war” I discovered something shocking: there aren’t that many of us. (What’s that? Are you telling me that Christians aren’t obsessed with gays and abortion? That’s what all the polls say!) As I traveled around the country and spoke at churches, Tea Party rallies, and conferences, I realized that the number of Christians who truly fight the culture war is quite small. How small? In 2011, I researched the budgets of the leading culture war organizations and compared them to the leading Christian anti-poverty organizations. Here’s what I found:
How do those numbers stack up with leading Christian anti-poverty charities? Let’s look at just three: World Vision, Compassion International, and Samaritan’s Purse. Their total annual gross receipts (again, according to most recently available Form 990s) exceed $2.1 billion. The smallest of the three organizations (Samaritan’s Purse) has larger gross receipts than every major “pro-family” culture war organization in the United States combined. World Vision, the largest, not only takes in more than $1 billion per year, it also has more than 1,400 employees and 43,000 volunteers.
In other words, Christians are overwhelmingly focused with their money and their time on the poor, not on culture war issues. Then why are Christians portrayed differently? Because the media is obsessed with the sexual revolution and demonizes dissent. If news outlets focus on Christians only when engaged on culture war issues and ignores the much more extensive work we do for the poor in Africa, in Asia, and at home, then it’s no wonder the wider world sees us as politically-obsessed. Anyone who believes that Christians are in control of their own public image does not understand how public perceptions are created in this country. No one is in total control of their own image and reputation. Not even the President — and shame on me for not realizing that in my days of naive rage.
Step 3: Becoming my elders: I’ll never forget the day I met James Dobson. I was preparing to appear on a Focus on the Family broadcast highlighting a number of my cases on behalf of Christian students. In a very real way that broadcast would cement my transition (not that anyone cared about that but me) from “post-partisan” to firmly, completely “religious right.” I was joining Focus and many others in their long fight against cultural and legal trends that result in millions of aborted babies, millions of broken families, persistent poverty, and increasing inequality. On that day, I was struck by Dr. Dobson’s humility and the humility of his staff. There was a palpable feeling that they were answering God’s call on their lives — serving their role in the Body of Christ, a role certainly no more important than that played by others but vital nonetheless.
Of course they’re not perfect. Of course I’m not perfect. Of course I’m in fact deeply flawed. But so are relief workers at World Vision. So is the pastor you may admire so much. So were each one of Jesus’s disciples and apostles. As we fight the culture war, we’re going to make mistakes, we’re not going to agree with each other, and sometimes I still get deeply frustrated at my own side. But I no longer believe the lie that there is a path for Christians through this culture that everyone will love — or even most people will love. I no longer believe the lie that American Christians are “too political” and if we only spoke less about abortion we’d be more respected (the mainline denominations have taken that path for two generations, and they continue to lose members and cultural influence).
So, “post-partisan” Christians, please ponder this: First, as the price for your new path, are you willing to forego any effective voice at all for unborn children? Are you willing to keep silent when the secular world demands your silence? After all, that is the true price of non-partisanship — silence. Second, if you believe that a more perfect imitation of Christ (more perfect than the elders you scorn) will lead to more love and regard for the Church, consider this: No one was more like Christ than Christ, and he wound up on a cross with only the tiniest handful of followers by his side.
Follow Jesus, yes, but don’t think for a moment that will improve your image, and don’t be surprised if He takes you down much the same path He took the generation before you.
In New Hampshire and South Carolina, we are now witnessing the economic equivalent of conservatives attacking a pro-life colleague using Planned Parenthood talking points. Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: Acting out of personal frustration and political desperation, three leading conservative politicians are faking outrage about Mitt Romney’s business practices and in so doing are actively selling poisonous moral and economic ideas to the American people. The language of the Occupy movement is infecting Republican rhetoric.
My concern is not so much for the twists and turns of any given political week but instead the larger, emerging meta-narrative that these Republicans are now feeding. The Occupy world sees a job as a right, not a privilege. The Occupy world tells Americans that their hard work is futile, and they can never achieve their dreams so long as the malicious 1% grow wealthier. The Occupy world sees ordinary Americans as victims. This is a narrative that is not only false but eats away at the soul of the American people.
Rebutting this narrative may be one of the great moral tasks of our time, and in rebutting that narrative we will not only reverse American decline but we will rescue millions of Americans from lives dominated by purposelessness, defeat, and dependency.
Here is the core truth about jobs, corporations, and personal responsibility: An employer does not exist to create jobs, rather a job exists to help an employer thrive. In other words, rational companies hire workers not simply because they can (hey, the money’s there, why not?) but because that worker will materially contribute to the company’s success. This arrangement provides a profound mutual benefit: the employer gets the fruit of the worker’s effort, and the worker not only gets a salary but also the great benefit of purposeful work.
Struggling companies and unions often lose sight of this social compact. Unions (and non-union employees) often see the employer as simply a source of jobs, not an enterprise to be sustained and nurtured. Employers will sometimes grow too attached to their employees and watch the enterprise flounder as too many people — or the wrong people — dominate the payroll. Employers will also fail by not providing sufficient compensation and treatment for the efforts they demand, leading to high turnover and constant employee discontent.
What do we do when a company struggles? What should be our priority? The answer is simple: seek a turnaround. Is it rational to look at falling sales, rising costs, and aging equipment and say, “No matter what, we will not cut jobs”? Businesses cannot possibly make such a vow. Even if it’s a goal, it can’t possibly be a promise.
What did Mitt Romney do? He invested in startups and struggling companies (the riskiest and most dangerous investments one can make — but also among the most crucial for the health of a free enterprise system) not with the goal of “creating jobs” but with the goal of making money. In other words, he had the same goal as virtually every rational business owner. But in the miracle of the free enterprise system, if he succeeded in turning around a failing company or in creating a successful new corporation, people got jobs — real jobs, purposeful jobs. Staples has gone from one store to more than 2,000 worldwide. Do you think that created jobs? Similar stories can be told of other Bain investments, like Domino’s Pizza or Sports Authority.
Of course not all investments worked. Not all businesses can survive. Then what do you do? You take what value you can and then give it another try, with another business at another location. The value you take becomes part of the investment in the next enterprise. This process is at the core of the free enterprise system.
To be sure, it is not at all painless. And in that pain comes political opportunity, as sometimes well-meaning and (more frequently) opportunistic politicians tell suffering people that they are experiencing an injustice, that they are helpless in their plight, and that only the intervention of the government can give them the security they crave. The South, plagued for generations with poor education, systemic racism, and simmering class resentments, has historically been particularly fertile ground for “people versus powerful” populism, and it’s hardly a coincidence that the attacks on Mitt are reaching a crescendo as we head towards South Carolina.
Ironically, we are now facing a primary campaign that is a virtual dry run for the general election, with the Republican front-runner getting hammered from the left by hysterical populist rhetoric. Perhaps this fight will serve to toughen Mitt Romney for the general election.
But there could be a more ominous outcome. Perhaps the attacks will work, and the Republican party will have lost the free enterprise argument by arguing against itself, and we’ll be left with two candidates — one from each party — who seek to attain power by pandering to the feelings dependence, powerlessness, and hopelessness of an increasingly economically ignorant population.
Why Mitt? I’m asked the question almost every day. Friends will pull me aside at church, casual acquaintances will stop me at Wal-Mart, and longtime colleagues will call for extended conversations. They see me as a rare breed: The “movement” conservative who is unabashedly, enthusiastically for Mitt Romney.
The answer begins with the time, this moment in American history. Every few decades, turns in the business cycle, changes in culture, and policy mistakes conspire to make us question ourselves. Is the American Dream still alive? Will our children do better than we did? Is America, after two hundred years of growth and hope, finally in decline?
The Great Recession may be over but what came afterwards — high structural unemployment and massive deficit spending — looks more like France than America. We’re worried. And with good reason.
Four years ago, a worried America turned to an untested, brand-new Senator from Illinois, a man who promised not just “hope and change” but that he could even heal our planet. But we’re wiser now. We’ve seen that behind the soaring rhetoric was the “Chicago way,” and an approach to fiscal policy that was unconventional only in its recklessness. A pork-laden stimulus package more costly than the Iraq War? Check. A health care plan rammed through with procedural tricks and against the express wishes of a majority of Americans? Check. Unthinking class warfare against job creators and job providers? Check.
We need a turnaround. And there’s no better-qualified politician in America to execute a turnaround than Mitt Romney. It’s what he’s done his entire career.
As a much younger man, Mitt Romney was named CEO of the struggling Bain & Company and brought it all the way back from the brink, leaving it financially healthy and prosperous. He helped found Bain Capital and turned it into an economic powerhouse, creating thousands of private-sector jobs and leaving it with $4 billion under management.
After his private sector success, he was called to save the Salt Lake City Olympics – the first post-9/11 games – from corruption and fiscal collapse. He turned an almost $400 million deficit into a $100 million profit - all while maintaining safety and security in tense times. Then, as governor of Massachusetts, he turned a $3 billion budget deficit into a $700 million surplus and left office with a 4.7 percent state unemployment rate.
Imagine for a moment you’re interviewing a job applicant. Your company is struggling, and you need somebody who can make you profitable again. Several of the applicants have impressive-sounding ideas, but only one of the candidates has actually made it happen — has actually executed the turnaround — not once, not twice, but three times, in different places and contexts. That person gets the job, and it’s not even close.
Yes, I know the presidency is about more than economics. We also look to our presidents to defend life and to be a force for good in our culture. And that’s what makes Mitt Romney’s record all the more impressive. In Massachusetts — one of America’s most liberal states — he won a political leadership award from Massachusetts Citizens for Life after he vetoed expanded access to the so-called “morning after” abortion pill and vetoed a bill permitting embryonic stem cell research. And in the battle for marriage, Maggie Gallagher, founder of the National Organization for Marriage, writes: “Mitt Romney didn’t just oppose court-ordered same-sex marriage with words, he fought hard, including behind the scenes.”
What does all this mean? It means that Mitt Romney — an admitted convert on the abortion issue — has a better conservative record than did Ronald Reagan before he became president.
Yes, Mitt Romney is the architect of “Romneycare,” but if you actually look at the history, you’ll see that he did exactly what we’d like to see blue state conservative governors do. Faced with veto-proof Democratic majorities committed to a punitive and destructive health-care reform, he expressly sought the counsel of leading conservative thinkers to fashion a much better alternative to the Democratic plan and then succeeded in passing it with overwhelming bipartisan support. No, it’s not perfect (as Mitt freely admits), but Massachusetts citizens have a far better health plan than they’d have if Mitt weren’t governor.
As for Romneycare’s differences with Obamacare, I can summarize them in two sentences: In Massachusetts, Mitt Romney balanced the budget then reached across the aisle to create a popular health reform program that was specifically designed for the unique needs of his state. Barack Obama, on the other hand, created a huge new entitlement program in an era of record deficits by ramming a possibly unconstitutional, one-size-fits all mandate through a reluctant congress and over the expressed objections of a majority of the American people.
Finally, I support Mitt Romney in part because of his faith. Faithful to his wife and an exemplary father to his sons, there has never been even a hint of scandal around Mitt. He is a man of integrity because of his faith, not in spite of it, and if he makes it into the oval office I’ll know his values are grounded in something far more profound than political expediency, opinion polls, or purely personal philosophies.
If you wondered why I’ve spent countless hours over the past six years arguing that Mitt Romney should be our next president. Now you know. Republicans should not think they’re “settling” for Mitt; instead they’re selecting the right man at exactly the right time.
Let the turnaround begin.
On life issues, no. On economics? Maybe.
I discussed the issue yesterday on Wallbuilders (click to listen).
Thanks again to the indispensable Walter Russell Mead, I ran across this piece from the Washington Post telling the chilling truth that 1 in 3 Americans who began their lives middle class has slipped “down the income ladder.”
It’s certainly true that this number includes hard-working Americans who’ve fallen on hard times, folks who’ve made all the best decisions but face involuntary job loss, medical bills, or other misfortunes. But who is hardest hit?
Downward mobility is most common among middle-class people who are divorced or separated from their spouses, did not attend college, scored poorly on standardized tests, or used hard drugs, the report says.
As Mead says, there is a fairly simple strategy for staying middle class: Go to college, get married, stay married, and stay off the hard drugs. There are no guarantees in life, of course, but do those things and the odds are with you. Deviate from that formula and your life is harder. It’s pretty simple in concept; sometimes difficult in execution.
I like Mead’s conclusion:
Do those simple things and the odds are on your side. The keys to a financially successful life seem to be family, education, sobriety. Seems boring and obvious, doesn’t it? But it also suggests that American life isn’t quite as bad as the press wants to paint it.
There are lots of scary economic trends out there, but pessimism can be overdone. Take a deep breath and relax, millennials. The press hypes bad economic news and troubling trends the same way it hypes hurricanes and for the same reason: panic sells.
America is still a place where hard work and smart thinking pay off; most of you are going to get out of your parents’ house sooner than the press would have you believe.
The connection of poverty and downward mobility to personal choices is a message of hope, not hopelessness. It is only in the bizarre world of political correctness and mindless self-esteem that this is considered bad news. To some it is apparently more important that we not assign blame than it is to confront reality. For any given individual, there is a path — not a guarantee, but a path — to prosperity.
Since my posts last week triggered such strong reactions from the Left — both here and on NRO — I thought I’d take some time to respond to some of the more thoughtful reader critiques.
First, from Mark Mays:
Any anti-poverty effort should include components aimed at getting kids to complete their HS degree and strive towards college. That should be a given, and many programs do. But the aims of any anti-poverty effort would be truly ill-served by the use of ridiculously hyperbolic and judgmental language like “depravity.”
As to encouraging people to stay married, it is ultimately a personal choice, and as a leftist it seems to me antithetical to the conservative position against interference in the personal lives of Americans. Shikata ga nai, as they say in Japan (it can’t be helped).
Of course the most successful preventative measures for decreasing the number of out of wedlock births, sex ed, contraception promotion, are pooh-poohed in favor of teaching abstinence or ignoring the matter until it is too late.
It serves no one to act as if it is still the 1950′s. The race has already started and us older married types w/ kids need to recognize the times have changed.
Yes, times have changed but biblical truth has not. Divorce (in many, if not most circumstances) and extramarital sex are sins. Drug abuse and criminality are sins. If we surrender to a culture that has allegedly progressed past such “1950′s” thinking then we surrender to the persistent negative cultural effects of this sinful behavior. Why should we do that? What compelling reason exists?
As for the effectiveness of contraception promotion and sex ed for preventing out of wedlock births, contraception has never been more available, non abstinence-based sex-ed is the norm, and it is even legal for mothers to have their unborn child killed in the womb, yet out-of-wedlock births are “soaring.”
As for the alleged “conservative” position against “interfering with personal lives of Americans,” I’d just say that’s a grotesque simplification of conservative thought. I’m not a libertarian. I’m opposed to no-fault divorce, opposed to abortion, and believe that the Supreme Court has stepped far beyond its constitutional bounds by concocting various individual rights that have no textual or historical basis in the Constitution.
At the same time, it’s simply not the case that my opposition to certain personal choices mandates a coercive governmental response. In other words, societal problems do not always necessitate governmental action, and the government can often do more harm than good. My core position is that the government has been wasting hundreds of billions of dollars fighting the wrong problem and that many Christians are failing to see both the poor and their own obligations clearly.
The Rev. David Willerup said this:
While the essay addresses the correlation between material and spiritual poverty in a tone that resonates with fiscal and social conservatives, it fails to address a crucial truth on its way to a severely simplified answer to a tremendously complex problem.
The author divides people into “us/we” who are educated, materially blessed and married, and “they/them” who are undereducated, materially poor and in or from broken relationships. They are depraved. We are not.
But depravity isn’t a condition belonging to the materially impoverished. Depravity is a condition common to all humanity, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is not one righteous non-depraved person among us. Not only does that make us all absolutely dependent on the grace of God for our salvation, but it also levels the playing field.
We’re all depraved, and that fundamental truth must inform all we do to alleviate poverty. From a spiritual perspective, it is arrogant and Pharisaical to assume that believers with cash are automatically qualified to determine what the materially poor need. Better by far to let the mind of Christ be in us and humble ourselves, to not grasp for the status of education or wealth, but to become servants who are willing to, as Isaiah says, “spend yourselves on behalf of the poor.”
That spending of self is not about educational programs or marriage enrichment. Such things are definitely helpful, but what matters more is relationship, the spending of self – not resources or political clout – but of time and caring and personal faith. To believe in someone who is also created in God’s image, for whom God sent his Son to die, and among whom God is, has been, and will be at work to show evidence of his grace, now *that* will break the yoke of poverty’s oppression.
I appreciate the thoughtful comments and civil delivery, but Reverend Willerup has erected a straw man. I’ve never argued that the the poor are depraved and we are not. I’ve never argued that the rich are more virtuous. In fact, as a Calvinist, I completely understand our universal depravity.
The rich, however, have greater capacity to absorb the consequences of their sinful actions, but persistent out of wedlock births, divorce, and other forms of sin (like drug abuse and criminality) do cause downward mobility over time — especially for those who have little margin to begin with. As I said on National Review, we can’t all keep up with the Kardashians.
The Reverend continues:
Why? Because, as cited by the International Monetary Fund, the poor do not describe poverty in terms of a lack of resources. It is about powerlessness, having no voice, feeling trapped, inferior and alone. When someone approaches such a person to tell them why they’re failing and what they have to do, that’s not heard as helpful. It reinforces that sense of entrapment and communicates blame. To develop ongoing independence a relationship rooted in the recognition of mutual poverty and brokenness is required.
The materially poor do not need more hoops to jump through. They don’t need more programs and requirements and policies. Give yourself, your love, your time. Listen for evidence of God’s grace. And don’t ever assume that because you’ve got money and education and marriage that you have the right to pop out of that servant’s position to assume a position of superiority. There’s no better way to galvanize someone’s sense of inferiority than to claim a moral high ground which no depraved person has the right to take.
Give Carson and Fikkert’s “When Helping Hurts” (Moody Press) a read. That book has changed my perspective on poverty completely.
Regarding the IMF, I think it’s useful here to distinguish between absolute poverty (such as experienced in parts of Africa, Asia, etc.) and the relative poverty of the prosperous West, where our “poor” live better than the vast majority of humanity. For those in absolute poverty lack of resources is a matter of life and death. My essay was not addressed to those individuals but instead to the realities of American poverty.
Biblical truth can be communicated in harsh and pharisaical ways, and it can be communicated with love and humility, pointing towards the Cross. The goal is to galvanize repentance and redemption, not to establish (mythical) superiority, and there’s simply no formula for redemption. After all, it is ultimately not in our hands.
This comment is from Louis Sanchez:
I have observed “the poor”, and worked with the poor, and was once probably considered poor myself. This idea of lumping “the poor” into one box with one solution is simply more talk and little action. The poor I have met and served are able to be put in several different categories, try these…. with teeth without teeth, (go try and get a job without teeth), Submissive and antagonistic, with capacity for love, no capacity for love, extreme psychological damage, Extreme abandonment issues, giving up on “being” normal and “middle class” successful. etc, etc, etc….
Louis is exactly right that you cannot lump the poor into one box. People are poor for many reasons, and there is no formula that guarantees success (just ask the hundreds of thousands of college graduates fighting to find jobs in this economy). However, when one looks at the problem of poverty as expressed in a nation of more than 300 million, certain trends do emerge. While marriage and an education are no guarantee of success, they undeniably give an individual a fighting chance.
At the same time, when Louis discusses the individuals he knows, he distinctly avoids any language of moral accountability. Does an individual have no teeth because they’re addicted to crack or meth? What about the person with no capacity to love? Has he made any choices? It is not harsh or judgmental or unbiblical to ask that our fellow citizens make better choices, and we do them no favors when we sometimes literally incentivize sin. Of course the manner of our service matters a great deal, but we should not infantilize our fellow citizens and treat them as if they are merely passive recipients of the cards life has dealt them. And yes, sometimes that means using the language of sin and repentance.
After all, Christ and his apostles did. We would do well to follow their example.
My statement that it is “simply a fact that people who work hard, finish their education, get married, and stay married are rarely — very rarely — poor” has kicked up a hornet’s nest here on the Revolution, on NRO, at the Gospel Coalition, and elsewhere. While I unpacked my theological arguments a bit more in this post, I thought I’d share some core facts about unemployment, eduction, education, and marital status.
Unemployment rate of civilians with less than a high school diploma: 14.1%
Unemployment rate of civilians with a high school diploma (but no college): 9.1%
Unemployment rate of civilians with a high school diploma and some college or an associate’s degree: 8.5%
Unemployment rate of civilians with bachelor’s degree and higher: 4.7%
Poverty rate of individuals who worked full-time, year-round: 2.7%
Poverty rate for all workers (including part-time): 6.9%
Median annual household income for a household with a married couple: $71,830.00
Median annual household income for a male householder, no wife present: $48,084
Median annual household income for a female householder, no husband present: $32,597
Poverty rate for a family with a married couple: 5.9%
Poverty rate for a family with a male householder, no wife present: 16.9%
Poverty rate for a family with a female householder, no husband present: 29.9%
These statistics don’t even include the effects of drug use and criminality. If we can easily identify the risk factors for poverty, shouldn’t our anti-poverty efforts be focused on those risk factors? Why do we de-humanize the poor by pretending they’re incapable of staying in school, of abstaining from pre-marital sex, of getting married or staying married?
No single person reading this blog can change the macro-economic forces that have driven factories out of cities and limited opportunities in vast areas of our country, but is your message to the poor that they should throw up their hands and give in to the temptations of destructive behavior? Or is your message something different: that their parents’ choices don’t define their destinies, that they can persevere, and when they d0 — even it is the challenge of a lifetime — not only will their lives be better but their children will have much greater prospects?
Or why leave your involvement with a mere message? After all, the thoughts in your head — even if passionately expressed on a blog comment board — are basically irrelevant to any person’s destiny. Why not invest yourself fully in individual lives? Mentor young people, take in foster children, think about adopting the orphaned and abandoned. Take action to counter the prevailing pressures of the poverty-stricken communities with your own, living breathing example. No one is righteous, but we can point our struggling neighbors to the One who gives life and hope.
But as you reach out, understand that you’re taking a risk. Hollywood endings are rare. I’ve been robbed, exploited, and left heartbroken by some of the kids I tried to mentor, but there are few greater joys than seeing the work of the Gospel in the heart of a young guy who was drifting into oblivion and witnessing a true transformation as cycles of poverty and despair turn into lives of virtue and promise.
The poor are accountable for their actions — as we all are — but with accountability comes hope. There is a better way.
Kathryn, thanks for linking to Rubio’s excellent speech. I completely agree with both of the Rubio quotes you highlighted. The free-enterprise system has lifted more people out of poverty than any government program, and yes, our “social problems create our poverty.” But there’s a tension inherent in these two points. It’s not precisely true that the free-enterprise system itself has lifted people out of poverty; it’s more true that the free-enterprise system has created opportunities that allow hard-working (or even moderately hard-working) individuals to succeed. But if you destroy the people’s industry and virtue, then all the economic liberty in the world won’t save them.
Kathryn, thanks very much for your question. When I’ve written about poverty’s connection to depravity (see here and here, for example), I have not at all been arguing that depravity is a phenomenon unique to the poor. Indeed, as a Christian (of the Calvinist persuasion), I understand that no one is righteous. In fact, it’s not merely that we’re “not righteous” — it’s a fundamental tenet of orthodox Christianity that no single aspect of our lives is perfect. Put another way, “We are completely sinful. We are not as sinful as we could be, but we are completely affected by sin.”
I am arguing, however, that American poverty is quite closely linked to individual moral choices. In fact, those moral choices are far more important than any other factor in determining whether a person is — or will remain — poor. For example, we’ve long known that a vast gulf exists between single-parent poverty and marital poverty (36.5 percent of female-led single-parent families are poor compared with 6.4 percent of married two-parent families, according to this Heritage study), and we’re now learning that cohabitation is bad for kids as well. Cohabitation, divorce, and premarital sex are all choices (though I recognize it takes only one person to initiate a divorce), and when you throw in additional risk factors like addiction, criminality, or academic failure, you have a recipe for poverty.
Read both posts and contribute to the discussion in the comments. It’s far more civil than usual!
The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums.
The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.