Must Everything Change? 13

Must Everything Change? 13 October 29, 2007

Part 7 of Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Changeconcerns the “equity” system, the system’s ability to balance resources among its people. The question that animates part 7 is this: Why are the poor poor?

The question for today and week: Assuming global and local inequity, what is the Christian response to inequities? Seems easy to answer — is it easy to answer?
The equity system attempts to regulate the prosperity system. And this equity system has four major dysfunctions:
1. It is programmed by the dominant framing story.
2. It is rigged to work for the insiders.
3. It was created for the nation-state in the industrial age.
4. It should not be expected that the equity system will change the system by which the rich insiders prosper.
There is a rising resentment — hate and fear — by the poor against the world’s rich.
Here are some figures Brian trots out:
1. The richest 1% own almost 50% of the total wealth; the richest 5% owns 70%.
2. In 2000 the G8 countries contributed 3% of the GDP; during that time the poor countries contributed back 6.3% of their GDP to the G8 countries to pay for debts. (The poor countries fell further behind.)
3. 6 million children die per year of starvation; that’s a holocaust every year.
4. The average Anglo is worth 5.5 times the average African American in the USA.
5. CEOs income to the average worker: In 1960 it was 12 to 1; today it is 301 to 1.
In the hearts of many poor the operative disposition is revolution.

"The "to what degree" question has been pretty well answered by this point. Don't hold ..."

Climate Change Deniers? (RJS)
"Lying is not illegal, except under oath or where extracting money from someone. "Equivocation" is ..."

Non-Disparagement Agreements And Truth-Telling In The ..."
"What is our responsibility regarding the environment? To treat it as God's property, I suppose. ..."

Climate Change Deniers? (RJS)
"I would agree with the a) b) c) solution. The main battle for me is ..."

Climate Change Deniers? (RJS)

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Attie

    Equity is big in South Africa. After 1994 companies were forced by law to make some of their stocks available to people from the previously disadvantaged communities as the vast majority of the prosperity of this country was in the hands of a small minority. On paper the principle appeared to be perfect. (Please note: I have no problem with the principle. I do have a problem with what happened in reality.)
    What happened in South Africa just underlines your # 4: “It should not be expected that the equity system will change the system by which the rich insiders prosper.” New people joined the insiders and they became richer. The richest people in South Africa today are also key roleplayers in the ANC. Mathews Phosa; Tokyo Sexwale. I have a lot of respect for both of these gentleman. All I am saying is that equity and black empowerment did not make a difference in the lives of the poor in Soth Africa.
    I would like to understand how Christians should respond to the issue. Apparently there is no easy answer.

  • I know some systems seem better overall in promoting wealth (like modern day capitalism over communism). I struggle as a Christian who embraces something of the Anabaptist vision to know how we as Christians should address this issue. Are we to be champions of one economic system over another? Or are we to champion what is clearly seen and taught in Scripture, that we are to act and speak on behalf of the poor, in our own communities, and around the world- the global community? And many Christians would say both.
    The problem comes in that it seems like what we’re championing is all on an equal level and paramount to even the kingdom of God in the here and now, or at least God’s will in the here and now in a broken, fallen world. But are we to accept that?
    I think all systems are flawed mainly because of the inherent greed fallen humanity has. Where I tentatively stand is favoring capitalism/free enterprise with more of a socialistic vision of distribution. This would maybe mean less wealth, but more evenly distributed.
    But where I really stand is that we as God’s people are to live out and speak for what we see clearly in Scripture, that we give to help those in need, and we help others to come to the place that they can give when we may be in need. Something like that.
    But I know economics has many tweaks and complexities. Good for some of the people who are gifted who can work well in that. But my plea is let’s facilitate an end to world poverty. So far, no dice.

  • kevin

    I don’t think “forced” wealth distribution is a good answer to the problem. I do know that some of the highest standards in the world come from capatalist-based countries where their poor is envied as rich in most of the poorer countries. Maybe what Brian is swinging a stick at is a checks/balances version of capatalism like we have here?
    I do know that “forced” distribution as evidenced in USSR, North Cuba, North Korea, and the list could go on proves to me that communism that emphasizes wealth distribution doesnt’ work.
    The CEO statistic makes me angry, by the way! But not nearly as angry as the number of children that are dying.

  • Diane

    Ted and Kevin,
    I agree with both of you. Especially the children dying and the CEO stat. –The CEO stat not because I necessarily want to deny people their things, but because it distorts everythingand fosters a sense of no matter how much I have, I deserve more. No matter how much I have, I’m underpaid. “I earn $200K, 300, 400K a year: that’s nothing, look at what CEOs earn.”
    Again we get back to Christianity: what’s needed is a transformation of heart and mind in which we start seeing too many things truly as a deprivation, when we look at our overconsumption as we do the Roman vomitoriums, and wonder why anyone would want that. We need to see overconsumption as a sickness and a distortion of God’s good. Churches can lead on this …

  • Diane

    There was a note of hope in a newspaper article on the very rich and glamor items. Since so many ordinary people now can and do afford status symbols such as Louis Vuitton bags, the rich are scrambling to differentiate themselves with consumption the unrich can’t afford to mimic. One way is huge contributions to charitable causes, which the rich are apparently at least doing somewhat more of. (I’m taking the word of the article as I haven’t seen any stats). In any case, perhaps it could spread and become something the less rich would want to imitiate rather buying designer bags. Nobody from the superwealthy class is giving sacrificially (I guess then they would no longer be superwealthy) but it is a step …

  • Rick

    I like Diane’s answer. Transformation is key. More Christians speaking up in the business world is needed. I pray for success of ministries such as Tim Keller’s in the heart of the business world.
    Meanwhile, the church needs to provide assistance itself, and needs to be an advocate for those suffering.
    I applaud McLaren for at least bringing up the question in a large way.
    On a side note, I apologize for a comment (#13) I left Friday on this topic that was meant to consider the underlying basis of thought for Brian’s claims. However, my comment was not beneficial to this on-going conversation and was more of a “cheap” shot. It was out of bounds for what has been an outstanding conversation by so many. My bad, and keep up the great thoughts!

  • Rick,
    Thanks for your confession.

  • Sage H.

    I think it is worth considering underlying beliefs held by some Christians, and how these affect acceptance of the above mentioned statistics.
    1) Wealth is wasted on the poor.
    2) Affluence suggests election.

  • These are important points. However, I wonder how the systems that create the poor today are really different from previous cultures and economies. How much are we dealing with new problems of a nation-state and post-industrial revolution economy, and how much of these problems are the state of a sinful humanity?
    How do we balance our responsibility to help the poor with Jesus’ statement that the poor will alway be with us?

  • Bryan

    While we are targeting CEOs, A-Rod just turned away a 250 million dollar contract presumably to make more money elsewhere. Our culture has decided that someone who can take a stick and knock a ball a long way is worth several million dollars a year. CEOs probably do make too much money but athletes are just as competitive with their salaries and we have a little more direct control over how much they get paid by our support. Why not cancel our season tickets and consider a better use for that money? I am a little tongue in cheek here and I think it is fine to pay to be entertained. I just think it is a little bit inconsistant to pay an athlete such a high amount while complaining about how much a CEO makes.

  • Bill Crawford

    Six million children die each year of starvation. Although the CEOs no doubt could solve this if they were more generous, I have to look at the plank in my own eye. After all, I’m the one professing to follow the One who said, “Love your neighbor” and “Do to others as you would want them to do for you.”
    I need to think about how the money I might spend on that book, CD or even donate to the local church would help a person dying of starvation or whose life would be saved by inexpensive oral rehydration therapy.
    Maybe if the corporation saw the church doing something other than mimicking it (pastor CEOs, large campuses, parking lots sprinkled with Lexus and Mercedes automobiles), then they might consider another way of “doing business.”
    If I can’t be as responsible as Jesus wants me to be with the few dollars he’s entrusted me, how can I with integrity criticize others’ spending habits?

  • Bryan,
    Tongue in cheek back — unless A-Rod signs with the Cubs.

  • RJS

    “Assuming global and local inequity, what is the Christian response to inequities?”
    On a systemic, institutional level this is not an easy question to answer. There is no simplistic solution – from the right or the left. In fact doesn’t history show, rather conclusively, that there is no secular political solution? The solution isn’t Capitalism or Socialism or any other ism. Real solution will require transformation within the hearts of communities and civilizations.
    On an individual level – possibly even a local church level – there is, if not a solution, an action item. We should be preaching the gospel (not the “prosperity gospel”) and reaching out to meet the needs of people where and when we can, sacrificially. Isn’t this seen in both the red letter and black letter portions of the NT? Frankly, until we embody and enact this I don’t think that we are even in the right frame of mind to start to address more systemic solutions.
    To Chris’ point – # 9 – there is no balance, only obedience. We help the poor. But we also realize that systemic change will only come from God.
    And of course using the statement of Jesus regarding a specific anointing of him – in the flesh (John 12:8) as a rationalization to avoid our responsibility to the poor is a gross misinterpretation of scriputre.

  • This is so relative. America’s poor is another nation’s rich. There is a lot of misconceptions about each party.

  • Why are the poor poor?
    Two reasons: bad luck or laziness.
    The Bible has a lot to say about both. In the OT, the method of helping the poor was to leave resources available so that they could get food (not harvesting corners of fields, etc). This took care of the bad luck folks. The lazy starved.
    NT approach was more direct — funds transfer among the believers from the haves to the have-nots with this caveat: If a man does not work, he shall not eat.
    I think these models teach us to consider why people are in the situation they are in and be careful to respond appropriately. For instance, I’m all for canceling debts of African nations with reasonable goverments. But nations with corrupt governments are going to use a forgiven debt as more money to give to the oligarchy. Then there’s Zimbabwe — a prosperous nation ruined in a generation by a ridiculous government.
    We’re not going to find a blanket solution. Western governments should provide pressure for reform where they can, and maybe they should stop sending them food/supplies and instead send money to trustworthy nations and groups.
    For Christians, though, I think the church’s response should be to take care of the believers in Africa and expect them to take care of their neighbors. Provide our people the resources to be agents of change in their nations and we help Africa and further the gospel.

  • “Why are the poor poor?”
    The answer is simple. It is the way we are born into the world and it is the normal human condition.
    The question presumes that our affluence is normal and that the poverty of others is an abnormal condition. The presumption is that we have to fix what is wrong with the system that causes other folks poverty. This characterization is completely upside down. The question is what has made the affluent affluent?
    Throughout the millennia of human history, the overwhelming majority of people have lived at bear subsistence. The typical number of children who died before there first birthday was 25%. Death in childbirth was common. Life expectancy was in the forties. There was no retirement. Your children provided for you in your old age (and fifty was old). Famine and plagues were ever present. Having any significant wealth beyond bare survival was very rare.
    As I’ve pointed out several times already, annual per capita income (in real dollars) was $90 in 12,000 BCE. It took nearly 14,000 years for it to double to $180 in 1750. By 2000 it was $6,600 a year! The number of people in the world living on less than a $1 a day (in real dollars) was 84% in 1820. Today it is less than 20% and expected to be less than 10% by 2020. All of this during a period when the world population grew from less than 1 billion people to 6 billion people! Furthermore, in all but a handful of nations the number of number of children dying before their first birthday has fallen to well under 10% (less than 1% in developed nations), life expectancy has risen by 50-100%. No nation that engages in open trade with other nations has experienced famine in the last fifty years. Disease after disease is being eradicated.
    We live in an era of the greatest expansion in widely shared wealth and health in the history of humanity! By historical standards, the last 300 years of human history are just stunning. And yet, from the framing of questions in EMC, you would think we lived in some ancient evil empire where darkness has fallen over the face of the planet grinding people into death and poverty.
    The question is how to spread the abnormal condition of affluence not to ask what causes the normal condition of poverty.

  • It is amazing what you can learn on the JESUS CREED comments page. Global Economics is not my field of training, but I am stunned at what Brian McLaren writes and how Michael Kruse (#16) responds. Who will answer Kruse’s question: “The question is how to spread the abnormal condition of affluence not to ask what causes the normal condition of poverty”?

  • #13 RJS
    Neither capitalism nor socialism are biblical economic systems because there is no economic system in the bible. What we have in the Bible is revelation about God’s character and the purposes of history. We have revelation about the telos and anthropology of humanity. We have ethical principles. And we have an authentic record of God’s dealings with specific people in specific time and space contexts that many times touch on what we would call economic issues. But there is no biblical economic system.
    Frequently, some attempt to bypass the debate of comparative economic systems in favor of a search for the biblical economic system, which doesn’t exist. What troubles me is that, in effect, this becomes a retreat into personal piety instead of wrestling with systemic issues. It vacates the field and leaves it to competing ideologies to define the terms.
    There is no biblical economic system but some systems comport better with the end purposes of God, with biblical anthropology, and with biblical ethics than others. It is my assertion market economies (and an economic system is just one subsystem of society) comports better with these considerations (by far) than others we have yet conceived.
    What is intensely frustrating for me in these discussions is that folks launch into extremely simplistic attacks on market economics with no alternative to offer. I come to the defense of market economics against the simplistic characterizations. Then I’m labeled a theocapitalist and accused of championing an “-ism” over biblical teaching when in fact I’m saying, “Look at what has worked and how it comports. Give me your alternative?” And what I feel like the answer is in response is, “No thanks. We’re content to occasionally lob grenades over the wall and retreat into personal piety.”
    I’ll go further to say that I think what lies behind much of the simplistic characterizations is a millennia old disposition in Western Christian traditions to distrust markets and the people who work in them. Ecclesial folks today fret about the degree to which capitalism is a anti-Christian product of Enlightenment/Modernism (despite the fact that proto-capitalism preceded the Enlightenment by centuries and most of the basic economic thinking that underlies capitalism can be found in Scholastic teaching preceding the Enlightenment.) But what they fail to realize is how closely their own perception of Biblical critique is wedded to the communitarian wing of the Enlightenment. Thus, the simplistic critiques of capitalism are unwittingly (and sometimes maybe not so unwittingly) Enlightenment communitarian critiques instead of biblical critiques. As I like to say, they frequently have more of the gospel of Marx than Mark in them. 🙂

  • With each paragraph of EMC I read, my head is going from nodding in the affirmative to an equally violent side-to-side motion. If I keep reading the book, I fear I shall re-distribute my wealth to my chiropractor.
    Let me resort to extravagant hyperbole to summarize what I think I’ve been hearing.
    The poor are poor because they have no money. Since we are no longer on the gold standard and our country can print money whenever it feels like it; I suggest that, rather than taking money away from those that have, Christians should just pressure the government to print and distribute funds so that there is some equality. Let’s say; everybody should have a net worth of a cool million; yeah, that should do it, I think.
    With a country full of millionaires, we have in one fell swoop eliminated all hunger, homelessness and poverty. Now that everybody is rich, they will stop lusting after the things that their neighbors have therefore we provide ultimate security and eliminate the police force. (Maybe we could put them to work taking care of the ‘grass of the field and the birds of the air.’)
    Having successfully eliminated all our social ills, people will hail the church for its creativity in leading such an effort and our churches will undoubtedly be full. We will live where ‘the lion lies with the lamb,’ for a thousand years of peace.
    Am I missing something here?

  • RJS

    When looking at “poor” and justice toward the poor from a Biblical – NT based point of view, shouldn’t we being using distinctions between poor and rich in that day-age-cultural surrounding? How big was the distinction between classes in that society? What actions toward remediation did Jesus expect/demand of his followers? Answering this question will probably give us a better guide toward expected action – in the now global world – today. This is not quite the same as your global averages which I would guess include many less developed cultures.
    But I agree with you that the simplistic attacks on market economics do not actually answer the necessary questions or provide solutions or even directions for action – nor does simplistic defense of market economics. But you don’t give a simplistic defense.

  • John W. Frye #17, quoting Michael Kruse in #16 “The question is how to spread the abnormal condition of affluence not to ask what causes the normal condition of poverty”? I entirely agree that is we could answer this question, at least the phenomenon of inequity might fade – at least temporarily.
    I am not be the right person to ‘answer’ this question. I think most of the questions that we are asking are very good ones and are all very difficult to definitively answer. But, the reason we are asking the questions, the hard ones, is that something about the prescriptions on offer makes us feel uneasy.
    I’m not too happy with Brian McLaren’s prescription, though I also disagree a bit with Michael’s (perhaps deliberately) provocative stance here. It isn’t ultimately a question of who has the better statistics. The reality is that suffering is prevalent in various parts of our earth. We do have to look at the phenomena globally. One cannot have a different standard for defining poverty in America, in Europe, in India and in Bangladesh “in real terms”.
    As Michael points out, per capita income has increased, but ‘per capita’ takes the total (say GDP) and divides it by the total population. It does not at all reflect how that income is actually distributed.
    The number of people living on less than 1$/day is much more meaningful but to look at percentages here is a bit misleading e.g. now if max 20% of 6.6 billion (

  • Sorry, that somehow got truncated. … 20% of 6.6 billion = 1.32 bln while the entire population of the earth in 1820 (hastily found stat) was 1.5 bln and 80% of that is 1.32 billion. So in spite of the industrial revolution and the green revolution, we have somehow managed to increase starvation, for, $1 a day will not keep a person alive even in India!

  • Bill

    You raise some excellent questions. Since I am not all that informed about economic systems I will be waiting to read the responses.

  • Correction on #22
    Oops again, excuse my very bad grammar –
    “that is 80% of 1.5 bln = 1.2 bln.”

  • The discussions here have been great. I love reading the comments as much as I love reading Scot’s summaries. 🙂
    I wanted to build off of what comment #19 ended with. Is the goal of God’s kingdom to make sure everyone has the same amount of wealth? Should we just give a million to everyone (as mentioned in the hyperbole) and consider it a victory for the kingdom?
    From what I can see in the OT and the NT, God wasn’t interested in abolishing a wealthy and not-so wealthy distinction. And he wasn’t calling for the end of caste systems, social orders, or the like.
    What does seem overwhelmingly evident is a call for those in power to exercise that power with wisdom. Forgive debts when appropriate. Leave opportunity for those without as much as you. Encourage and build up the strangers among you.
    In my circles, it seems that a lot of the talk about the poor centers around taking money from the rich and giving it away. But doesn’t that leave the real problem unaddressed? Those with money and power must live up to their position God has given (or allowed them to achieve).
    It’s not wrong to *have* wealth. The problems come from both how it’s acquired and then what you do with it when you have it.

  • Paul Johnston

    Evangelize the rich.

  • Jeff

    I think everyone’s understanding of these issues would benefit from seeing the TED presentation by Hans Rosling entitled “Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen”
    I don’t think posting links is allowed by you can do a search and find it very easily.
    It takes a little while to get going but it is worth the time.
    Let’s make sure we are not

  • MarkE

    It is interesting how many times we say “if only the Chistians/churches would…it could impact…”
    The implication seems to be that they aren’t doing what they should. Others claim that they are taking the lead in doing the right thing. Which is it?
    Has the church has met its match and been overwhelmed? or has it dropped the ball? I assume few Christians would claim the former. If so, then the church is broke and maybe we should talk about a systems change there.

  • #20
    “What actions toward remediation did Jesus expect/demand of his followers?”
    I would suggest that the question be “what ethics” rather than “what actions.” The world of Jesus was a radically different place from ours. Land and labor were by far the two primary means of production. (Earning your wealth through trade excluded you from the Senatorial, Equestrian, and Decurion ranks no matter how much you made.) Because land and labor were the only two means of production it was largely a zero-sum game. Slavery was an accepted status for human beings. Concepts like risk assessment, specialization of labor and mutual advantage through trade, factory production powered combustible energy sources, share ownership in economic enterprises were just a few concepts that were centuries away from being learned.
    I’m asking what ethics we learn from Jesus’ teaching. This cannot be divorced from the larger narrative of what God is doing in the world or from his teleological vision. I’m thinking once of again of the redemptive movement hermeneutic Scot has reviewed here at Jesus Creed. The scripture gives us ultimate ethics and the application of that ethic in a specific cultural time and space context. Just like with the issues of slavery and women in ministry, we have to look for the redemptive flow and not a simplistic application of culturally bound actions to contemporary problems.

  • First in response to Michael Kruse (#16), I think the question (why there are poor?) is more prevalent today is because most people believe that there actually exists the possibility of eradicating world hunger and poverty. The one percent of the population who control 50% of the world’s wealth, could, if they wanted, use their resources to change the situation (hence the comment to evangelize the rich #25). With worldwide communication the inequity is more obvious. [A side issue – much of that wealth is actually imaginary – or maybe more apparent than real. Net worth values or stock market wealth is an assigned value and would be worthless if everyone wanted to sell it at the same time and probably couldn’t be used for eradication of poverty.]
    Second, the causes of poverty (#15) are much broader than bad luck and laziness. Systemic issues (are Blacks really poorer per capita because of bad luck and laziness???), oppression, disease, war, and famine would be considered bad luck? Parents abandoning their children is bad luck? Slavery or child labour is bad luck? Please.
    Third the question posed was: “What is the Christian response to inequities? Seems easy to answer — is it easy to answer?”
    The temptation is to find an easy answer so that we can all go on living our lives and forget about the problem. Sorry to be so simplistic and “new agey” but … We are the answer. We each need to do the hard work of knowing who our neighbour is and doing what we can to help him or her. Unfortunately in most of the USA and Canada we are unwilling to accept that those in Darfur or Afghanistan or Burma or Iraq or in the slums of Bombay are our neighbours. Heck, we have a hard time treating that annoying, loudmouthed, messy, doesn’t-cut-his-grass, guy on the other side of the back yard fence like our neighbour. We certainly have a hard time treating the guy sitting on the sidewalk asking for spare change as our neighbour – except at Christmas.

  • RJS

    We can ask about ethics as a framework to carry forward a discussion – but in this case revolutionary ethic also demanded revolutionary action. The ethic does call the church and members of the church to sacrificial generosity and caring – independent of the economic or political system.
    This, of course, does not mean that it advocates forced redistribution and a socialist system.
    On the other hand it does not permit selfish accumulation and greed on the part of the Christ follower and it undercuts the notion of the prosperity gospel.

  • Mykl said:
    Systemic issues (are Blacks really poorer per capita because of bad luck and laziness???), oppression, disease, war, and famine would be considered bad luck? Parents abandoning their children is bad luck? Slavery or child labour is bad luck? Please.
    Perhaps “bad luck” was a poor choice of words. It was meant in the sense of “unfortunate circumstances outside of your [the poor person] control.”
    So, yes, oppression, disease, and bad parenting is “bad luck” in that sense.
    The temptation is to find an easy answer so that we can all go on living our lives and forget about the problem.
    Well, the usual answer is to throw money at the problem, and that’s been shown to be ineffective on any kind of large scale, so I think people are ready for hard answers if anyone has any actual ideas.

  • Following Jesus has, from the very beginning been about individuals who hear His voice and respond with faith – and obedience. Of course, as you point out, the answer, does lie with individuals deciding to “do something” about whatever they can identify as actionable.
    Beyond that though, there is also a question of the worldwide economic systems which have the effect of propagating the inefficiencies and therefore contribute to propagating the inequities.
    Manual stuff is outsourced to developing countries to take advantage of the disparity in lifestyle and wage. The total number of people in developing nations who have work due to outsourcing has increased but the wages that the individual earns have not. The mini-capitalists who are the go betweens end up capturing the difference.
    Take something like Medical Transcription as an example. American MTs were doing the work for 15c to 20c a line. The same work is now done in India or the Phillipines for 2c a line. But the American Hospitals are still paying over 25c a line for the work, while the difference goes to a series of middlemen. The result is misery on bioth sides. American MTs have lost a livelihood while 3rd world MTs are getting work but earning at a subsistence level.
    Certainly one positive, very positive, step to take is to make the world more productive by helping the systems to generate more wealth. As has been pointed out, in theory everyone will do a bit better. But, is this an adequate response to the existing inequities? We do have a responsibility to apply pressure to reduce the tremendous gap between rich and poor.
    I wonder though what would happen if we started to follow lifestyles that are radically minimal – without reducing our work or our incomes? Would one effect be to endanger the American economy – or would the whole system become better without all that waste?
    I also wonder, could we be a community that takes complete care of the needs of its own such that life insurance and medical insurance could be gotten rid of, for starters? Could we then extend this caring to others around us who are not so obviously “our own”?

  • Sam #21
    “It isn’t ultimately a question of who has the better statistics. The reality is that suffering is prevalent in various parts of our earth. We do have to look at the phenomena globally. One cannot have a different standard for defining poverty in America, in Europe, in India and in Bangladesh “in real terms”.
    “As Michael points out, per capita income has increased, but ‘per capita’ takes the total (say GDP) and divides it by the total population. It does not at all reflect how that income is actually distributed.”
    Sam, the stats I was quoting come from economist Brad DeLong. He tried to quantify economic activity in terms of dollars across cultures and adjusting for inflation. That gives you a sense of how much growth. That $6,600 number is the total GDP divided by the total population. You are right that this does not tell us about distribution. That is why I presented the UN numbers on the number of people living on less than $1 a day. I said under 20%. The actual projection is that currently we should be down to nearly 15%, or about 800 million people.
    Keep in mind what this means historically. An income of a $1 day is $360. Between 12,000 BCE and 1750 CE the per capita annual income rose from $90 to $180. Just 250 years later with a six fold population growth the percentage of people living above double the previous per capita income is almost 85%!
    There are two ways of looking at these issues: Cross-sectional and longitudinal. Both are critical. Think of cross-sectional as taking a snap-shot photo of an event and longitudinal as taking a video clip. I didn’t contradict anything Brian wrote nor did I justify it as the most desirable state of affairs. Brian is offering us a snap-shot photo and saying “Look how God awful this is!” I’m asking us to look at the video clip from which the snap shot was extracted and saying look at the trajectory. What was happening before the snap shot and what is the trajectory of movement?
    So Brian writes:
    “The richest 1% own almost 50% of the total wealth; the richest 5% owns 70%.”
    points out that there were about 300 members of senatorial rank in the first century C.E. Roman Empire. At least two senators had estates worth more than the total amount of commerce done in one year in the entire empire. (by contrast Bill Gates has a net worth of $56 billion in a $12.5 trillion economy.) The Senatorial, Equestrian and Decurion ranks made up less than 5% of the population and must have controlled well over 90% of the Empire’s wealth. Furthermore, there was very little mobility in wealth status in the Roman Empire while in modern economies there is considerable mobility (up and down) at all levels.
    Brian’s snap shot describes a remarkable improvement over historical conditions. And it is reasonable to conclude that if more people in the world were integrated in open trade, total wealth would both increase and become more diffuse.

  • Jeff #26
    Here is the link:
    Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen
    You’re right. It is awesome!

  • #32 ME
    Hmmm… Next to last paragraph should start with:
    James Jeffers points out…”

  • Sage H.

    Michael #18 & #28
    I’ll attempt to explain my simplistic thought grenade lobbing 🙂 .
    I fear we’ll keep talking past one another if I can’t make this point clear.
    “seek first the kingdom of God and his justice”
    I know that you desire that as much as anyone here, I don’t question that.
    Championing the free market as the means toward that end still puts the free market first and the kingdom second. It also makes possible the temptation to believe that the end justifies the means.
    Problem 2) Sloughing off the unfortunate problems generated by capitalism as sin (my hypothetical exagerated quote)- “well we are all born in sin and sinful creatures, so it is sin that is the problem really. It’ll all be made right later, after this life or at the end of history”. For me this has the danger of using the problem of sin to justify evil in this world, in this life.
    The Jewish solution to cracked eikons is tikkun, or tikkun olam, meaning repair of the world. Also translates as social justice.
    I think that the greatest contribution the emerging conversation has for us is a willingness to put first and foremost- what the call of our living saviour is for us now, in this life, second to nothing else, and not postponed for anything else.
    Once again, I am not anti-capitalist, I am pro-Matthew 25.

  • RJS

    Is the English word “justice” standing alone, with all that it means, the correct translation for this verse in its context?
    “seek first the kingdom of God and his justice”
    If so why? While justice may be appropriate – I am certain that the American connotation of “social justice” is not an appropriate translation.

  • In order to understand why the poor are poor, at least on a global scale, it helps to understand why rich nations are not poor. The answer, as Jeff Sach points out in “The End of Poverty” is the Industrial revolution. Before the Industrial Revolution, almost everyone on the whole planet was poor, and consumed all of their resources just to stay alive. Afterward, societies could produce more than they needed to stay alive and could use the excess to build for the future. So the developed nations of the world have a 200 year head start on nations in the Third World. It’s not so much that rich nations stole from poor nations (although that happened as well–no one will deny that.) It’s that richer nations figured out how to create prosperous societies and have been at it for several hundred years, while many poor nations are still living in the 1700s.
    The only place in the world where extreme poverty has been reduced in recent decades has been in China and India, because of the factories which have grown up there.
    Sachs, in a profile that appeared in the New Yorker made this point:
    “By now the anti-globalization movement should see that globalization, more than anything else, has reduced the numbers of extreme poor in India by two hundred million and in China by three hundred million since 1990,” he writes. “Far from being exploited by multinational companies, these countries and many others like them have achieved unprecedented rates of economic growth on the basis of foreign direct investment (FDI) and the export-led growth that followed.”
    The New Yorker went on: “The facts support Sachs: between 1990 and 2001, G.D.P. per capita rose by 5.5 per cent a year in East Asia and by 3.2 per cent a year in South Asia, and poverty fell sharply in both regions. Despite the claims of some analysts on the left, economic growth really is the best antipoverty strategy. If the rest of the developing world had matched the growth rates of China and India, victory over poverty would be in sight. Unfortunately, in sub-Saharan Africa, between 1990 and 2002, per-capita income didn’t rise at all, and the number of people living on less than a dollar a day increased by a third, to more than three hundred and thirty million.”
    Sach’s book, along with The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier and White Man’s Burden by William Easterly (both are former World Bank economists, should be required reading for any Christians interested in making poverty history. A Bread for the World economist put it this way, in an interview last year–economic development is the only cure for poverty.

  • BeckyR

    When political people, either those in positions or running for office, and those in favor of them, say this is the christian way, there are those of us who think a politial system does not cure the nature of humans. But rather, the hearts are to be changed, not political systems to change hearts and even if hearts are changed, that does not make a political system.
    Same here. I hear talk of this economy system or what to do with money or not do. I don’t think there’s a system to cure the broad inequities, I think it’s one by one, hearts changed by Jesus.
    I see economy stuff through these eyes, not theories – my brother has schizophrenia and if it were not for us paying his rent to live in a room in a house, just a room, not an apartment or a studio apartment or a small house, just a room, he would be homeless. He is 47 and all he can have is a room in a house. Now that, is where the rubber meets the road for me. He is finally getting disability payments, enough to pay rent to possibly live in an apartment on his own, but no car, no insurance if he could afford a car.
    As to poorer countries, dying children and adults, part of the problem is the corrupt governments and people taking the money before it even gets to those who could use it. The food or money never get to what it was inteded. We could change our ways, just some of us as professing christians, and give to the poorer countries, but first research must be made to make sure those who need it will get it. Here where I live we sent medical personnel to countries where people are in crises. Our money goes to their medical supplies, those going to help must pay their own airfare. We must make sure that what we give will get to the people and that what we give will not go too much to the american personnel running the company that give to the needy.

  • BeckyR

    I guess what I’m trying to say is we can get lost in theories about global economy whereas I see it as we do things one by one dependent on what we are able to give, monetarily or otherwise. I get lost in the discussion of economic theories and/or statistics. I read those and keep thinking that it comes down to your Jane and John Doe giving what they have. Jane may be able to give $1, John may be able to give thousands. We are to give what we can. We are to give according to where God directs to give. We have had years of not giving then sense Gods direction to give a lot to one place. It is not a demand, it is following the Spirit’s leadiing.

  • Sage H.

    #36 RJS
    Social justice is one way of translating tikkun olam. I was not linking it directly with the verse I quoted above that. I am not the sharpest scholar in the electronic box, so I’m sure I don’t understand it all. I don’t think that seeking God’s justice means helping to bring on the apocolypse though. Sorry, now I’m off track
    BeckyR- Exactly. That is how I frame up my view of things as well. Blessings to you and your family, and especially your brother. I know how it is to have someone you care about being so close to destitution from mental illness, so close to being thrown away by most, so much like those whom Jesus came to, and healed, and spent time with. Yep, one heart at a time, and through those eyes.

  • #37
    “Championing the free market as the means toward that end still puts the free market first and the kingdom second.”
    But championing opposition to free markets isn’t putting your economic perspective ahead of the kingdom?
    I’ve weighed the alternatives and concluded that markets are the best option. It is not a commitment prior to my commitment to Jesus Christ. It is commitment made in response to my commitment to Jesus Christ. It is a response to God’s compassion for the poor and to the vision of realizing a measure of shalom in the world. If I’m wrong, then the solution is very simple: Incorporating the end purposes of God, biblical anthropology, biblical ethics, human sinfulness, and practical wisdom we have gained over millennia of human history, give me the alternative that exceeds what markets achieve. I there with you in a heart beat.

  • Michael #34, I get your point about the trend being more positive. There has been some progress. T
    The questions that I would ask are, what has been Christianity’s contribution?
    Globalisation has had some positive effects on some parts of the world. Generally nations of S.E. Asia have been able to take advantage of the opportunities as have some South American countries but we see little progress in Africa and the whole belt of nations surrounding Russia and even Russia itself are at status quo or worse off than they used to be.
    In absolute terms the global capacity to generate wealth has increased. Accepting that the average income of $6,600 per annum (for year 2,000) is much better than it used to be, it is still way below what an American or European individual could dream of subsisting on, but would be about a middle class income in India or China. Disparities do exist, whether this is deemed a problem or just par for the course is something that we do have to ponder.

  • #39 Bob
    Well said! (I lean toward the Easterly analysis although I still need to read Collier.)
    #40, 41 Becky,
    Not everyone is willing or able to address these issues at the macro level. There are all types of folkis in the body of Christ. We need Christians wrestling with these issues all the way from personal ethics to global economic systems. I don’t think it is either/or.

  • #26 & #35…wow, indeed!

  • BeckyR

    Michael, I get lost in the globilaziton theories and econmic stuff going on here today so maybe I’m off on this, but you saying we need people thinking about these things in a broad sense, wouldn’t those who work for a christian america through politics say the same, only in different terms? But as I said, I can’t wrap my head around the broader stuff nor care to.

  • Sue Van Stelle

    I have not studied economics in depth, and so I cannot speak into this conversation on those terms, but the idea that to be poor is the way we are born and the “normal” way of things strikes me as an inadequate frame for addressing the question.
    We are also born unable to support ourselves on our legs or use our hands in many useful ways, and that is “normal.” But a person growing into adulthood unable to use one’s own legs and arms is called a quadraplegic. It’s not “normal.”
    And if one merely asks the question, “Why can’t that person get into the building?” and the answer one is satisfied with is “He can’t climb the steps,” well, then maybe we have asked the wrong question.
    Ask the question, “Do we as a society believe that handicapped people ought to participate in our communities as fully as they are able?” and you get a whole different set of answers. You get the Americans With Disabilities Act and you get ramps, guide dogs, books in Braille, lifts on buses and all kinds of assistive technology because the people with the power chose (or were persuaded) to use their power to create access.
    So maybe the next question ought to be, “Do we as a society believe that those who, by birth or misfortune, are suffering from economic handicaps ought to have access to what those of us with access enjoy?” And then, “What economic ramps and lifts do those of us with the power need to put in place so that the economically handicapped may more fully participate?”
    I don’t think this issue will be solved primarily by “fixing” the economy. It will be solved by the willingness of those with power and access to solve it.

  • Sage H.

    #43 Michael, I am sorry to question your faith. Please forgive me for that. I am (literaly) praying that I will be able to understand your faith perspective, even though I don’t experience mine in that way. I am really trying to understand that you have a “faith first” perspective, which informs every aspect of your economic perspectives. I will keep praying on that.
    A little clean-up business here, your quote
    “But championing opposition to free markets isn’t putting your economic perspective ahead of the kingdom?”
    I am not opposed to free markets, In fact I wish that they were more free than they are now. I am a big fan of the positive things that capitalism has done and can do. I am not working in opposition to free markets.
    The perspective I bring is not an economic perspective, it is my version of a faith first perspective.
    in #29 there was-
    [What actions toward remediation did Jesus expect/demand of his followers]”
    “I would suggest that the question be “what ethics” rather than “what actions.” The world of Jesus was a radically different place from ours.”
    I would answer that it is not so different a place when it came to the real needs that people still have, and the real call to action we have in scripture, and the example of Jesus.
    I think it always comes down to “what actions”. ethics by itself talks a good game, but show me some action.
    in #45, you point out the truth that some people CAN work at a macro scale. To me, that looks like Merck (giving 80 million $) working with the Carter center to save 25 million people from river blindness.
    In my way of thinking about it, The experience of the kingdom of God is anecdotal, not theoretical.
    Peace be with you.

  • Thanks for this series.
    I am about halfway through the book but am reading it s-l-o-w-l-y – digesting every thought, or trying to.
    Peace –

  • RJS

    I realize that solutions put forward in EMC may be a bit thin (be aware that as one of MN-Scandinavian descent understatement is my general style). I am not overly impressed with this book. We need real solutions – and real solutions are often not simple and are sometimes counterintuitive. Now I am not saying that you are making any of the following arguments or hold any of these opinions – but I want to lay out some thinking about problem and solution.
    It is foolish to argue that there are no poor or needy – in America or in the world.
    It is foolish to argue that there is no oppression or injustice – in America or in the world.
    It is also foolish to make what seems to be an argument that we should be satisfied with an overall rise in the standard of living as this brings up the entire distribution – bottom and top.
    It is foolish to argue that we have a fair system where merit is rewarded and failure to succeed is a sign of destructive behavior. Poverty is much more insidious than this. Success depends being born at a right time to a right family as well as on work ethic and ability.
    Capitalistic systems with an empowered populace may very well be the best secular way to enact changes. As one example – we worry about ecology in the US and Western Europe – and have seen conditions improve in my lifetime because we have an empowered populace that demanded changes.
    So we’ve beaten the horse until it is dead – Capitalism is not the villain. But Capitalism will not bring about the kingdom of God, any more than socialism, or even establishment of theocracy.
    What should the church be doing? How should the church respond? What does following Jesus demand of us?
    Clearly the NT does not teach a prosperity gospel. Wealth is not a sign of the favor of God (or the disapproval of God).
    The NT does teach us as Christ followers to be generous, to devalue personal treasure and wealth, to have compassion on our neighbors (i.e. all of human kind), to take care of those less fortunate in the church, to be servants, not hungry for power, wealth, or status, not exalting power, wealth, or status.
    Clearly the gospel does not teach that we should be concerned only with the “salvation” of our nonchristian neighbors, or consider efforts to meet physical needs a distraction from our real job (a view that is espoused in some pockets of the “conventional” church).
    Now – what do we do? The ethic of Jesus demands action – and action that puts others first, sacrificial action reflecting the servanthood of Christ followers, action that should result in God’s justice, God’s will on earth as in heaven.
    The atoning act of God through Jesus should empower us as his people – as individuals and communities – to make a difference. I would love to see a discussion of concrete positive action.

  • Sue Van Stelle

    I posted here about half an hour ago, but am not sure if it got through, so if this post turns out to be a ditto, please forgive me.
    I am not an economist, so cannot speak in a very informed way on this issue, but I wonder about the frame that is being used for answering the question, “Why are the poor poor?”
    To say that this is the way we are born and that it is “normal” seems an unsatisfactory way of looking at it. (#16)
    It is also normal that all of us are born into the world unable to support ourselves on our own legs and to use our hands to open a jar of peanut butter. But it is also recognized that things generally ought not to remain this way, and that if they do, something is wrong.
    And so to ask the question “What can’t she get into that building?” and to answer “She can’t climb up the steps; her legs don’t work,” is a very limited way of framing the issue.
    Instead we ask, “Do we value the handicapped as members of our society? and “Ought those of us with able minds and bodies create ways for the handicapped to participate in our community as fully as possible?” So those with the power then act to build ramps, train guide dogs, print books in Braille, install lifts on buses, and design all manner of specialized mobility and communication devices for those that need such things.
    So why not look at poverty the same way? Why not ask, “Do those of us with wealth value the poor?” “Ought we who have the power use it to create economic ramps and lifts for them to more fully participate in our global society?” and even, “What is affluence for?”
    Just my $0.02.

  • RJS #51
    You’re right that I’m going pretty heavy on the defense of markets. What I know many are hearing me say is that everything is dandy and markets will take care of it all. Not true. What I’m saying is that others are defining markets and capitalism as the cause of the problems and making restraint of markets the focal point of their mission to help the poor. I suggesting this strategy is misdirected and counterproductive. Markets are essential to achieving prosperity but they are not sufficient alone. I’d begin answering your question by reprising what I wrote in EMC #12 (slightly edited). We start with the mission of God in the world.
    Work and economic activity is not something we do as a consequence of the fall. Genesis 1 and 2 make clear (prior to the fall) that we were made to be co-regents with God over creation and that we are to “work the garden.” (stewardship) We were not made for mere subsistence.
    Stewardship is not passive oversight. Stewardship comes from the Greco-Roman idea of the oikonomos, or household manager. The household manager acted in the absence of the paterfamilias. He was to manage the household according to the values of the paterfamilias and was expected to manage the estate profitably; to make it as fruitful as possible. The vision God initiates is a world filled with his animate eikons bringing creation to fruition.
    We are stewards over creation (and human beings are part of creation.) We are to make creation as fruitful as possible. We are neither to abuse the world nor are we to be passive protectionists of it. Stewardship is both corporate and personal. Much of the Old Testament law is about protection of private property and regulation of methods of exchange. The Jubilee ensures that no one can be permanently alienated from their land. Private ownership of property is a given, but it is not absolute ownership. There are provisions about the poor gleaning from the edges of the field. There is the “tax” that is given to support the Levites. There are mandatory big blowout parties with God where people are expected to “waste” significant amounts of wealth in celebration.
    Stewardship requires private ownership and freedom. If you are without ownership, then you are not truly a steward of the resources. If you are without freedom, then you are an automaton and not a steward. Systems that destroy or radically limit private ownership and freedom negate stewardship.
    Finally, we will be resurrected with material bodies to live in a material world. We will be in eternal community with God and each other as we fill the earth as his eikonic stewards. Work and economic activity part of human ontology.
    Jesus announces the jubilee at Nazareth. Symbolically the land reverts back to the families and clan that originally owned. Debts are canceled and people are freed from oppression, even the oppression of physical ailments. They own their labor once again. The oppression and taxation of an enemy Empire is ended. They are freed to return to their status as stewards (both corporately and as individuals) over creation living, in response to God and bringing creation to its fullness.
    Pure redistributionist strategies are dehumanizing and reduce people to economic equations. People become mere units of economic consumption to whom adequate resources must be distributed so that we may all consume at a more equitable level. Dependency and entitlement inevitably follow. The human call is to stewardship, not consumption. Economic arrangements that pervert or prevent stewardship from emerging need to be challenged.
    (More to follow.)

  • RJS,
    I am impressed (not unuusal) with your comment #51.
    Same on your comment #53. I think you’re helping me see what you’re saying more clearly, in a better light. At the same time, living in a fallen world where fallen, sinful people make up the systems, I’m not impressed with the idea that all we need is the best ideal. And that means an element of law is brought to bear on others, making sure that “their fields” have something left for the poor.

  • I know too, Michael, that you bring that out, that that is inherent in the Law to Israel. But it’s not necessarily inherent in the laws and policies of free markets here.
    Trickle down economics for example sounds great, but it is a far cry from the Shalom of God in how it works out here and now.

  • RJS #51
    You ask what we do to address poverty. At the risk of sounding evasive I would have to ask at which locale are we talking about. I think instead we ask, “What do we know about societies that prosper?” (Sort of like a doctor asking what a healthy patient looks like before trying to diagnose illness.) Here are a few things we know that are central.
    First, the society embraces the idea of labor specialization and market exchange. Each person works to their comparative advantage.
    Second, there is a sound judicial system equitably enforcing the law.
    Third, there is an effective and efficient system of property rights that includes the overwhelming majority people and their property.
    Fourth, there is sound infrastructure for transportation, communication, energy and water.
    Five, there is high literacy and access to education, especially for girls and women.
    Six, basic healthcare is accessible and pollution is limited.
    Seven, there are social values that include high levels of trust for strangers and strongly internalized moral virtues about honesty, fairness, and benevolence.
    These are just a few standards we could hold up to any society and ask how it is doing. The problems vary from nation to nation and within regions of nations. But there is no “extreme makeover” version of economic development. If we have learned anything from the experiences of the World Bank and the IMF, I would hope it would be that it doesn’t work.
    We need more of what William Easterly calls “searchers” as opposed to “planners” in his book The White Man’s Burden:
    “A Planner thinks he already knows the answers; he thinks of poverty as a technical engineering problem that his answers will solve. A searcher admits he doesn’t know the answers in advance; he believes that poverty is a complicated tangle of political, social, historical, institutional, and technological factors. A Searcher hopes to find answers to individual problems only by trial and error experimentation. A Planner believes outsiders know enough to impose solutions. A Searcher believes only insiders have enough to impose solutions. A Searcher believes only insiders have enough edge to find solutions, and that most solutions must be homegrown.” (5-6)
    Searchers work knowing that something like the seven traits I listed above is where things need to end up. The metaphor of a doctor treating a patient with multiple ailments may be helpful. She has to be cognizant of how medications will interact with each other. She has to establish which things to treat in which order. She has to have a constant feedback loop of information. Each developing nation patient has a little different story. While wisdom learned in one place can be beneficial, there is no uniform solution.

  • Ted #54 and #55
    “And that means an element of law is brought to bear on others, making sure that “their fields” have something left for the poor. … (55) I know too, Michael, that you bring that out, that that is inherent in the Law to Israel. But it’s not necessarily inherent in the laws and policies of free markets here.”
    Free Markets, just like free speech and freedom of religion, is an important freedom that should be protected and promoted but it is not absolute. There needs to be a heavy investment by society in the lives of the poorest of our nation. Now I want to be sure what I just wrote was read correctly. I wrote “by society.” Society is not a synonym for government. Government is an institution within society and it has a role to play but the responsibility of for the poor is society’s role.
    Government aid can be exceedingly damaging. Arthur Brooks in Who Cares? points out that the group least likely to give any time or money is the folks who are on government assistance. The most generous with their time and money are the low income folks making the same amount as these folks on assistance. Assistance has destroyed their sense of community connectedness and has created a sense of entitlement. When AFDC was first introduced back with the Great Society push, it decimated low income families (particularly black families) by making it financially beneficial for a woman to be a single mother than have a low income father in the house.
    We have to quit thinking in materialistic terms of income redistribution and start thinking in terms of stewardship recreation and restoration.
    “Trickle down economics for example sounds great, but it is a far cry from the Shalom of God in how it works out here and now.”
    And do I hear on the heels of this sentence “Therefore we need extensive government imposed redistribution?” No economic system can create shalom. Period! That is why the amazing wealth generating system of free markets must be married to other healthy institutions and values in society. Among those are strong families, strong voluntary associations, and widely shared values of benevolence. These are values that the church should be inculcating in the culture but is not.
    I’ll say this again because I know it is going to be overlooked by some readers again. I’m not excluding a role for government in achieving economic justice. I’m saying you cannot get to economic justice and the restoration of stewardship by focusing your energies primarily on opposing markets and substantial economic redistribution through coercive measures.

  • Sage H.

    Perhaps as the body of Christ, we need our own version of
    the personal definition, from the urban dictionary-
    “The modern use of git r done was developed in the early 90’s by hard working white males who reached a point in their life where they wanted to actually accomplish something in life… instead of getting completely hammered and rebuilding transmissions, they started doing projects that really mattered – projects like fixing the mailbox, cleaning the house, possibly even taking a few loads to the dump. This sudden surge of progress made these men feel good, like they were doing something. So, they had to have a way in their simple minds to reaffirm that feeling of getting something done. Thus, “GITRDONE!” was born. This can be said before a task is completed to motivate them, or after a task is completed to celebrate. It is also used profusely during the process of completing a task for no apparent reason which is very obnoxious and ambient. Often used with a drawn out “Woooooo!” yelling before or after. GITRDONE!
    Buck: “Hey Stew, I just mowed the lawn and weeded the old ladies’ flower bed!”
    Stew: “GIT R DONE!!!!!!!!!!”
    Buck: “Woooooooooooooooo!”
    (end of dictionary entry).
    I kind of like the idea of the church tackling poverty from this end of things.

  • Brad Cooper

    Great discussion! Lots of wise counsel from so many! 🙂
    I don’t really have a lot to add but just to affirm what I think I’m already hearing from some above:
    I don’t think the issue is disparity of income. It shouldn’t matter to me or anyone that Bill Gates makes $56 billion. Be happy for him. The real issue is for those who struggle to survive. We should be sad for them.
    In other words, our goal/the solution should not be focused on the disparity of wealth but rather simply on how to solve the problems of the poor–just making sure that their needs are met. (And part of that solution might be in being more content with just having our needs met–including in the way we handle our church budgets and facilities vs. the prosperity mentality–and sending a big chunk of our surplus to some place like Compassion International or to the neighbor down the street.)
    I was reminded of the prayer found in Proverbs 30:7-9:
    “Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
    Michael Kruse,
    Thanks once again for sharing your expertise on the issues before us.

  • RJS

    This analysis is fascinating – but we can analyze to death. You may be responding to the course of action advocated by McLaren, or some of the others on the religious left. But I have said all along that I don’t think government can solve the problem – or legislate a solution. The best it can do is to create a facilitating environment. You have argued persuasively and thoughtfully about the kind of facilitating environment you think works best.
    I would like to see this discussion move beyond policy or theory to action – action to address very real current needs and action to provide the systemic changes to improve the future.
    We need to act –and “vote republican” or “vote democrat” is not a very satisfying (or useful) action. What action does McLaren propose? What action would you counter with? But more importantly what should Christians, individually and in local communities, be doing to bring about transformation? Clearly the most important issue here is working for foundational transformation in lives. But we need to do this in a context of care and concern for whole persons.
    What comes after the ivory tower analysis?

  • RJS #51 Now – what do we do? The ethic of Jesus demands action – and action that puts others first, sacrificial action reflecting the servanthood of Christ followers, action that should result in God’s justice, God’s will on earth as in heaven.
    Locally let’s start with the “fellowship of believers”- a term that rarely corresponds to anything! We have individual churches and a plethora of denominations, and now lot’s of independent fellowships also, but in any one town, do all those who are committed to the same Lord even feel comfortable about getting together? Brian’s point on community I think has to begin here.
    We will be surprised by both the diversity as well as the commonalities. We will find, when we do get together to identify and work on each community’s problems, that there are big differences in perspective, (just as we can see here in this discussion), but the prospect of differences should not deter us from trying to understand and work with one another – there has to be something that we can all agree on and get on with doing together!.
    On the national and global front, everyone who holds shares should look to the activities of the companies involved, as to whether they are trying to be fair employers, promote cleaner energy and reduce pollution, and whether their international trade policies are fair and non exploitative. That last sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it is a worthwhile goal. When companies are found to be lacking in conscience, before selling the shares, try petitioning the company and getting the word out on the net and in your blogs. Sometime, someone may be listening, and you may even begin a companywide change that is much more valuable to the world than just having the satisfaction of a 100% scrutinised portofolio!
    I would also suggest that when you feel led to give directly for charity work, do look into how much of that “non-profit” is actually eaten by administrative overheads. And, given that the internet makes communication with folks on the ground actually possible, try to locate some folks in churches in whichever part of the world to see if the organisation’s reputation and practices are really gaining local respect and actually making a difference.
    Finally, we could each try to live a bit more simply. I have found that just asking myself “do I really need this now?” can make a huge difference and that things that I have taken for granted were basic needs really aren’t.
    & #59 …action to address very real current needs and action to provide the systemic changes to improve the future.
    We do need to act. We do need to act in accordance with and in a way that reflects who our Lord is and what He is calling us to be and to do.

  • Diane

    RSJ brings up the right question: if not restraining capitalist systems, what actions should we take as followers of Jesus to live as his followers vis-a-vis the needs of the world?
    I believe it needs to start with churches living out an alternative vision. So many things come to mind but I’ll mention two:
    1. Pastors and church leaders need to model simpler living, and do so openly. Maybe this would help pastor burnout too. I am not suggesting pastors live in poverty, but to make gestures such as very openly moving from a bigger house to a smaller, or if that’s not possible because of housing allowances, visibly moving to a less expensive car … to giving up one expensive habit … anything that would encourage people to follow. First, encourage people to save, pay down debt and get their own houses in order by modeling lower consumption, then encourage people to give more and model lower consumption in their neighborhoods.
    2. Denominations need to be less concerned with their survival and more concerned with growing the body of Christ. I heard UCC pres John Thomas say he was sending pastors to fundraising school because bequests in wills to the UCC were falling … and he said pastors need to be savvy about convincing parishioners to leave money to the denomination. The intent was to do good work with the money … but why the denomination first? Why conform to secular principles of fundraising … I know why, but can’t have a bigger vision (I’m not UCC, so I’m using we generically). I like what I heard about the S. Baptists supporting the planting of nondemoninational churches (is this true) because it shows more concern with body of Christ than denom. And that needs to be the concern, imho.

  • RJS #60
    “You may be responding to the course of action advocated by McLaren, or some of the others on the religious left. But I have said all along that I don’t think government can solve the problem – or legislate a solution.”
    I think there are three general levels of response we make to economic justice questions. At the mirco-level are our own personal choices and lifestyles. At an intermediate level are the associations and organizations we participate in. At the macro-level are national and international economic arrangements. Our response to all of these come from a “framing-story.” Or as Brian’s earlier book title suggests, our response is based on the story we find ourselves in.
    Chapter 27 is McLaren’s opening chapter in the section on equity. The chapter is about macro level forces involved in inequity and how that squares with the framing story he is developing. I’ve been trying to stay on topic by limiting my discussion to the subject matter at hand. I feel rebuffs toward me for being to theoretical or ivory tower are a bit unfair. I’m happy to discuss my views on micro or intermediate level responses but that was not the subject matter of this chapter.
    “We need to act –and “vote republican” or “vote democrat” is not a very satisfying (or useful) action.”
    Just for the record, I’ve said nothing about political parties or who to vote for. I’ve not advoacted any legislative solutions. I realize it is probably impossible in our polarized culture war context to accomplish this, but I’m not intending my critique of Brian’s position to be an apology for why we should all vote Republican. I’m trying to demonstrate that investing enormous amounts of the people of God’s time, energy and resources in political progressivism isn’t going to get it done. Many of the things McLaren identifies as enemies are actually allies. His presentation is lacking in historical context and appreciation of trajectories. But it does not therefore follow that voting Republican is going to particularly help the poor either.
    My conviction is that the frontline of addressing poverty is in voluntary associations of people investing in the lives of the poor combined with efforts at all levels to nurture economic trade. Government, Republican or Democrat, plays only a supporting role.

  • RJS

    Fair enough on the topic of this chapter in McLaren’s book. On the other hand Scot’s question for yesterday the week was: Assuming global and local inequity, what is the Christian response to inequities?
    I have a problem with the macro approach – both from McLaren, and from some of your analysis – because I feel strongly that the church (gathering of Christians) is called to act bottom -> up. Only if we get our act straight here will we be an effective force to bring God’s justice into the world.
    On a side issue – for Christians addressing the issues of poverty should not be voluntary. I cannot be legislated from outside – and is not a way gain righteousness – but is an inherent part of who we are and what we are called to be. The word voluntary here has a bad connotation for me because I think that it undercuts the importance of obedience and transformation.
    Now top -> down is good and Christians should be involved in thinking about this, but I don’t think that this is the primary way God will work in the world.
    Maybe it will come up later – or maybe not – but I was looking for ways in which you think your analysis should influence the choices Christians make.

  • Michael #63, the frontline of addressing poverty is in voluntary associations of people investing in the lives of the poor combined with efforts at all levels to nurture economic trade
    I absolutely agree. Now if only we could get that ‘voluntary association’ part going – whether in or out of the church…
    From # 34, the first century C.E. Roman Empire. At least two senators had estates worth more than the total amount of commerce done in one year in the entire empire. (by contrast Bill Gates has a net worth of $56 billion in a $12.5 trillion economy.) I also wanted to comment that I don’t think that individual riches really is a good parallel. In today’s world it is the wealth wielded by corporations and indeed by nations that should be our focus. 1) is the money earned (at least relatively) fairly? 2) Is the resulting wealth being distributed somewhat proportionally to the shareholders (or citizens)? 3) How is the corporation/ nation behaving within the community of corporations/nations – are they setting high standards? 4) Is the corporation/nation treating its own workers/citizens fairly?
    Most importantly: What can we as individuals and associations of likeminded persons do to help them to improve?

  • Diane #62,
    Hey, friend! I completely agree. I’ve been processing some of the implications of reading Irina Ratushinskaya’s book “Grey is the Color of Hope” lately and have been struck by the way that the political prisoners in the Small Zone always shared everything they received–from any source-equally among themselves. They also made it a point to suffer together when any of their group were made to suffer.
    I find this very challenging and the place to begin dealing with this whole issue.
    If it, indeed, starts local–it doesn’t get much more local that our own homes and families. And I’m really thinking about some of the way we do things amongst the three boys that set them off envying and coveting and setting down roots of selfcenteredness.
    This from within a very humble home, where our children whine that they do not have cell phones and allowances and all the trendy clothes…ad infinitum.
    I am challenged, indeed…and more convinced that it must always start at home.

  • If the question of why there is poverty is going to be seriously addressed, then one must not expect it to be a simple question or to have a simple answer.
    Even in the Bible, it is not simple. While there are commands to help the poor, there are also commands to wary of those who can help themselves but do not, for example those who are lazy and do not work.
    In more recent times, there have been improprieties involving some charitable organizations, who misused funds sent to them. One can also question how funds are used by some such organization even when used properly.
    In regards to the poverty to countries, perhaps others questions should be asked–What kind of economic system do they have? Do they encourage people to work and earn or do they encourage a poverty and victimization mentality? How stable is the government and social structures? Are their conflicts that are keeping the country unstable? What about their religious, ethical, moral, and philosophical beliefs may be encouraging or discouraging people from getting ahead? Are the tax burdens so heavy that most cannot keep enough of what they earn to truly do more then subsist? Do the people have freedoms so that they can learn about new technologies and how to most profitably use them?
    It isn’t enough to simply point out that X% of people have X% of the wealth and goods, and call that unfair. Appeals to emotion may be fine to some degree, but if one system works at keeping a good majority of its people out of real poverty, then maybe instead of condemning it one may want to think how it may be used to help those in systems that are obviously not working.

  • #62
    I like what you said about pastors setting an example. But I think church leadership is larger than the pastor, or at least it should be. Perhaps we’ve made the institutional church into too much of a business? How different does the church look than any other organization or club?
    To really get a grip on serving the poor, the church needs to step outside itself and get involved in the community. There are plenty of organizations out there that do great work serving those who need a hand. Instead of creating new programs we should join forces with them…not so much as the church, but as people who live in the community.
    They get it….We need to get outside the walls and learn from them.
    Just my opinion.

  • We need to go Back to our Roots! sorry if I seem a bit Zealous.. im more sad of our present state if about love crying cold.. thats a understatment.
    In the book of Acts we see that we all shared everything and helped anyone in need we also see in the book of Acts that Christians from other areas sent money to less fortunate Christians in other areas in our Modern day its not common to have Christians in our Church going through money problems even losing there cars, and homes and no one helps?! If we can’t help other Christians can we really Expect to be able to help Non/Pre-Christians? ha Would it be possible to go back to the ways of the Early church? or has Materialism infected us beyond repair??
    Would you be open to sharing your car? Sharing your food? Sharing your extra money to help the less fortunate?
    Personally in my opinion the reason there is Starvation and homeless people is because we have all become bad STEWARDS. The Rich Live on 100 acre properties in huge houses with 10 cars while the poor sleep on the street? You know that you can Fit the whole worlds population into the State of Nevada and still have room?
    the Reason we have Starvation is Because the Government pays Farmers not To Cultivate the Land because if there is a Surplus of food prices would hit rock bottom and the stock market would be affected… so we have a couple choices lose money or …. feed the world… I try to not be political but there is alot of Injustice going on.. ha..
    Acts 4:32
    32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
    Acts 2:45
    45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

  • Correction *Love Growing Cold not Crying hahh

  • Rudy (69)
    — in our Modern day its not common to have Christians in our Church going through money problems even losing there cars, and homes and no one helps?!–
    I don’t know where you’ve been, but I can think of churches that have helped people a lot, both in the local sense and in the sense of helping in bigger disasters.
    –The Rich Live on 100 acre properties in huge houses with 10 cars while the poor sleep on the street? —
    Does doing justice to the poor involve promoting injustice against the rich?

  • Does doing justice to the poor involve promoting injustice against the rich?
    I hope you didn’t think I was saying we should start a Riot and bring the rich to the gallows
    I was just stating a Fact of injustice
    that the rich live on large areas of land
    I don’t think believe in Violent Change but to be able to change the mind of the rich to sell there extra land or to build housing for the poor seems like a impossible dream.

  • –I was just stating a Fact of injustice–
    I think you are stating a fact. Whether it is an injustice or not is I think not yet proven.
    For example, can you say that you are one who should fairly determine when a person has too much–too much land, too many cars, too much money? Can you fairly take into account all in that persons lie–the risks they have taken and the work they have put in–and rightly determine they have too much?
    Can you even look at a particular homeless person and determine what is far for him or her?
    That is what troubles me about such rhetoric. I have nothing against telling people about biblical teachings concerning generosity and helping the helpless, but to say that Mr. X has too much is I think making a judgment we should not make. We may look at how he spends and invests and gives, and maybe draw some conclusions from that, but to say that it is unfair that he possesses seems in turn to be unfair.

  • ha.. So Mr.X needs 10 cars right? cause we all know he can drive all 10 of them right?
    and Mr. X needs a Mansion with 100 acres right?
    he does not need all of that land, but he chooses it cause he wants to live large right?
    there is nothing wrong with driving in a nice car but having to buy the 07 and 08 cars ha? that is pushing it
    a person only needs one car and if a person has a bunch of kids then yes they probably do need a mansion for each one of them but for a person to have 20 un-occupied rooms that is not right
    and for me to say it not right is my understanding of Modesty and the bible the bible says to not store up wealth and if you have two of something to give it away if you have two computers give the other away if you have two homes sell one and use it to help people etc. but all of this is not the will of man its the will of God and if we listen then we would hear his voice whispering to us to help other people
    im guessing that you have alot of material wealth? because you seem a bit Sensitive about this issue?
    or is that assuming to much?

  • –ha.. So Mr.X needs 10 cars right? cause we all know he can drive all 10 of them right?–
    Upon such a basis, how would your life or my life balance? Do you ‘need’ most of the things you have? Do I?
    So Mr. X has ten cars. You seem to think that is something to be scorned. But without any knowledge of why he may have ten cars, I cannot follow you on that.
    Perhaps he has several children, some of whom are of driving age, and so have a few extras is handy. Perhaps he buys and restores classic cars, and several are ones he worked on.
    The land thing is even more suspect. You have said nothing about of what use he makes of it.
    You said that we are not to store up treasures on earth. Very well. But are you using that as some kind of positino against wealth as a whole?
    –im guessing that you have alot of material wealth? because you seem a bit Sensitive about this issue?
    or is that assuming to much?–
    You’re assuming and presuming way too much. I’m not even close to even a modicum of wealth.
    At the same time, I do not presume to judge those who have simply because they have.

  • jazzact13, Over at Ben Witherington’s blog he had this quote from John Wesley that may help put things in perspective.:
    “I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.”

  • I’ve appreciated what I could follow of these threads. These posts have certainly sparked alot of discussion. It helps me see what little I know- all the more- on issues like this.