AN EVANGELICAL DECLARATION AGAINST TORTURE: PROTECTING HUMAN RIGHTS IN AN AGE OF TERROR: 1. Introduction 1.1
The sanctity of human life, a moral status irrevocably bestowed by the Creator upon each person and confirmed in the costly atoning sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, is desecrated each day in many ways around the globe. Because we are Christians who are commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mt. 22:36-40), this mistreatment of human persons comes before us as a source of sorrow and a call to action.
All humans who are mistreated or tormented are somebody’s brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, parents and grandparents. We must think of them as we would our own children or parents. They are, by Jesus’ definition, our neighbors (Lk. 10:25-37). They are “the least of these,” and so in them and through them we encounter God himself (Mt. 25:31-46). “When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant,” Elie Wiesel declares. “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”1
However remote to us may be the victim of torture, abuse, or mistreatment, Christians must seek to develop the moral imagination to enter into the suffering of all who are victimized. Having personally witnessed the horrors of the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s, Robert A. Evans writes: “The motivation of basic human rights can never again become a matter of statistics, or theory, or strategy, or legislation, or judicial decision. It will always be, for me, the violation of the dignity of other children of God.”2 Commitment to a transcendent moral vision of human dignity which is rooted in the concrete reality of particular suffering human beings motivates the signers of this statement as well.
The authors and signatories of this declaration are evangelical Christians and citizens of the United States. As Christians, we long to obey the moral demands of our faith as articulated in the Scriptures. We seek to serve Jesus Christ, who alone is Lord of our lives, of the church, of our nation, and of the world. As citizens, we bring our Christian convictions to bear on the most important matters that arise in the life of our democracy, for the health of our nation and its impact on the lives of people around the world. We know that we may not always succeed in shaping the laws and policies of the United States in the way we believe they should be shaped. But we must, on all occasions, attempt to bear faithful Christian moral witness.
Wiesel, Elie. “Acceptance Speech for 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.” Oslo, December 10, 1986. http://www.eliewieselfiundation.org/ElieWiesel/speech.html, September 28, 2006. 2
Robert A. Evans and Alice Frazer Evans, Human Rights: A Dialogue Between the First and Third Worlds (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), 3-4.
The immediate occasion for this declaration is the intense debate that has occurred in our country since 2004 over the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of those who are detained by our nation and other nations in the “war on terror.”3 In 20052006 this debate evolved into a broader discussion of policies related to the legal standards that would be employed in detaining, trying, transferring, or punishing suspected terrorists in what is turning out to be a lengthy struggle against individuals and groups engaged in terrorist plots and acts against our nation.
This cluster of issues would not have arisen if not for the horrifying and heinous attacks of 9/11, which took nearly 3,000 lives and constituted a mass violation of the very moral standards we witness to in this declaration. The U.S. response to these attacks, including intensified intelligence activities, the invasion of Afghanistan, and later the much-debated invasion of Iraq, has led to the apprehension of thousands of “enemy combatants,” terrorists, suspected terrorists, and others. The question we now face is how we protect our society (and other societies) from further terrorist acts within a framework of moral and legal norms. As American Christians, we are above all motivated by a desire that our nation’s actions would be consistent with foundational Christian moral norms. We believe that a scrupulous commitment to human rights, among which is the right not to be tortured, is one of these Christian moral convictions. 2. The Sanctity of Human Life “And God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness. …So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26a, 27
We ground our commitment to human rights, including the rights of suspected terrorists, in the core Christian belief that human life is sacred. Evangelicals join a vast array of other Christian groups and thinkers—Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and others—in a long history of reflection and activism on behalf of this critical yet threatened moral conviction.
The sanctity of life is the conviction that all human beings, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every race, color, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, nationality, gender, character, behavior, physical ability/disability, potential, class, social status, etc., of any and every particular quality of relationship to the viewing subject, are to be perceived as sacred, as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity. Therefore they must be treated with the reverence and respect commensurate with this elevated moral status. This begins with a commitment to the preservation of their lives and protection of their basic rights. 3
We use quotation marks for this term because we are not convinced of the precision or cogency of a war on “terror,” which is at one level a tactic (terrorism) and at another level a feeling (terror). We do not use the term with quotation marks in order to downplay the significance of the terrorist acts that have been directed at other nations and our nation in the past two decades.
Understood in all of its fullness, it includes a commitment to the flourishing of every person’s life.4 2.3
Christian belief in the sanctity of human life is rooted in themes that work their way through the entire biblical canon as well as much of Jewish, Christian, and Western moral thought. Rightly understood, the sanctity of life is a moral norm that both summarizes and transcends all other particular norms in Christian moral thought.
Scripture reveals that life is sacred. Humans, in particular, are given life by the breath of God (Gen. 2:7) and are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). The imago Dei serves as a common denominator for all of humanity. Every human being, therefore, deserves respect.
The sanctity of life is emphasized in legal and covenantal texts in Scripture. Murder is forbidden because human beings are made in the image of God; this theme is evident in the covenants both with Noah and with Moses (Gen. 9:5-6; Ex. 20:13). Everyone has a duty to conserve and respect human life (Gen. 9:5; 4:8-10, 15), and to accept responsibility for the life of their fellow humans (Gen. 4:9; Dt. 21:1-9). Human life is sacred because it is “precious” to God (Ps. 116:15) and must therefore be precious to us as well. The prophets remind Israel of the value of human life, especially life at its most vulnerable (Is. 1:17; Jer. 7:6; Zech. 7:10).
The incarnation (Jn. 1:1, 14) permanently and decisively elevates the value of human life. It reveals a God who is not dispassionate, but deeply moved by the brokenness of creation.5 The incarnation demonstrates the extraordinary value God places upon human life. It also signifies a mysterious bridging of the gap between God and humanity. Henceforth, the human experience in its joys and sorrows is inscribed upon the very Person of God in a new way. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit participates in human pathos with groans and sighs too deep for words. The cries of the tortured are in a very real sense, then, the cries of the Spirit.
Jesus Christ, God-made-flesh, taught the dignity of human life and practiced it in his treatment of those around him. He reaffirmed the biblical commands which are intended to protect human life. He diagnosed the vicious patterns of sinful behavior that lead us to violate God’s commands, and the sickness of the heart and mind that lie behind that sinful behavior. He offered teachings amounting to transforming initiatives to enable us to obey God’s will. This is most clearly illustrated in his single largest block of teaching, the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7).
In his ministry, Jesus in all contexts treated persons as sacred in God’s sight. This was especially apparent in the way he treated the marginalized: women, the sick, the dead, the poor, people of bad reputation, children, and enemies of Israel such as tax collectors, 4 5
David P. Gushee, The Sanctity of Life: A Christian Exploration (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming).
IVP New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology, ed. David J. Atkinson, et al (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1995) 757-758.
Roman soldiers, and gentiles in general. He explicitly affirms the worth of human beings in his teaching (Lk. 12:24; Mt. 6:26; 12:11-12). He taught peacemaking rather than violence, and on the Cross forgave those who assisted in killing him. He also stood with both the Law and the prophets before him in condemning injustice in its various forms: economic, political, military, and religious (cf. Mt. 23). The justice teachings of Jesus are closely related to a commitment to life’s sanctity and serve as a fundamental building block of a Christian commitment to human rights. 2.9
For many centuries, Jesus’ teaching about the “least of these” (Mt. 25:31-46) has been especially significant for shaping a Christian moral vision of the sanctity of every human life. Not only does this familiar “sheep and goats” parable emphasize the centrality of practical deeds of service to the least, the last, and the lost, it also teaches us to see Jesus in the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned: “as you did it unto the least of these, you did it unto me” (Mt. 25:40). This dramatic shift of moral vision has profound implications for how we as Christians think about our nation’s imprisoned, sometimes hungry, sometimes sick, sometimes naked strangers.
Ultimately, it is the Cross of Jesus Christ that demonstrates how much God values human life. God-in-flesh dies, at human hands, for human beings who do not love him and are not worthy of his costly sacrifice. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Radical human equality is emphasized in the reason for this death, the universality of its scope, and the equality of its impact. At the Cross and in the Resurrection, by saying no to his Son’s cry of dereliction, God says yes to all of derelict humanity.
Considered etymologically, a sacred thing is something that has already been sanctified, dedicated, consecrated, venerated, or hallowed. One might say, then, that our holy God has transferred his holiness onto us and therefore sanctified each person. This confers upon each of us a dignity that our attitudes, attributes, and activities neither deserve nor can nullify.6
In his Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II asserts the sacred value of human life “from its very beginning until its end.” He urges a fight against “the culture of death” and a holistic and comprehensive struggle to protect vulnerable humans, sacred in God’s sight.
John Paul II is among those who have made the connection explicit: the concept of human rights is inextricably bound to the belief that human life is sacred and therefore must be held in the highest respect. “Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.”7 Indeed, by focusing on human rights, we direct our attention and energy to those who need it most—those image-bearers whose dignity is being violated.8 Human rights are not first of all about 6
Gushee, The Sanctity of Life, 3.
Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, (New York: Random House, Inc., 1995), 2-4.
Glen Stassen, “Foreword,” in Christopher D. Marshall, Crowned with Glory and Honor: Human Rights in the Biblical Tradition, vol. 6, 11-14, Studies in Peace and Scripture (Telford, PA: Pandora Press U.S., 2001), 11.
"my rights,” but about the rights of the vulnerable and the violated. And they are about responsibility, indeed obligation, to defend the weak. All people, all societies, and all nations have a responsibility to ensure human rights. 2.14
We believe that a commitment to human rights is strengthened profoundly by the kinds of theological commitments just articulated. They are certainly our convictions. We are very happy to work with persons of other faiths and no faith on behalf of human rights, but as evangelicals our convictions are rooted in God's love and the dignity it gives to all human beings. 3. Human Rights “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy.” Psalms 82:3-4a
Human rights function to protect the dignity of human life.9 Because human rights guard what God has made sacred, they cannot be cancelled by any other concern, nor can they be bracketed off as irrelevant in exigent circumstances. This is in contrast to the view that a right can be cancelled or overridden. Human rights are a decisive factor in determining how all persons must be treated in all circumstances.10 Rights correlate with duties— fundamentally, a duty to protect those whose God-given rights are about to be, or are being, violated.11 Those who affirm a belief in human rights implicitly accept for themselves a range of moral obligations.12 Affirmation of human rights and their corresponding duties is an important dimension of Christian belief, and also widely shared by persons of other faiths.
Human rights place a shield around people, even when (especially when) our hearts cry out for vengeance. It is precisely when we are most inclined to abandon a commitment to human rights that we most need to reaffirm that commitment.13 The creation of a social
Per Sundman, “Human Rights, Justification, and Christian Ethics” (Ph. D. diss., Uppsala University, 1996), 41.
Stassen, “Foreword,” 12.
Christopher D. Marshall, Crowned with Glory and Honor: Human Rights in the Biblical Tradition, vol.6, Studies in Peace and Scripture (Telford, PA: Pandora Press U.S., 2001), 34. 13
An example from another context helps illustrate our point. In 2000, a young teenage girl in New Zealand was abducted by a neighbor. She was sexually violated, and then buried alive. She died a horrible death. The murderer was tried, convicted, and imprisoned for life according to the laws of New Zealand, but this did not satisfy the girl’s stepfather. He was subsequently convicted for repeatedly hurling murderous threats at her killer. Hailed as a hero, the stepfather had overwhelming public opinion in his favor. One supporter said of the girl’s killer, “When you commit that kind of crime, you give up your rights. That kind of person is not even human.” A columnist for the New Zealand Herald, however, wrote in support of the judge’s
order in which such legal and moral norms are honored even in the teeth of popular sentiment is both a high human achievement, and a fragile one. 3.3
Human rights apply to all humans. The rights people have are theirs by virtue of being human, made in God’s image. Persons can never be stripped of their humanity, regardless of their actions or of others’ actions toward them. In social contract theory human rights are called unalienable rights. Unalienable rights are absolute and completely inviolable; a person cannot legitimately cease to have those rights, whether through waiver, fault, or another’s act.14 This is not biblical vocabulary, but it does seem to us consistent with a biblical understanding of human rights. Consider the way in which even Cain was protected by the divine “mark,” and legal provision to protect the rights of killers was made in the Old Testament through the cities of refuge and the processes of judgment required there (Num. 35:9-34).
Some Christians reject human rights language because they have witnessed its abuse. They have heard numerous groups claim a right to engage in certain behaviors as expressions of their human rights. Many morally troublesome agendas are punctuated with “rights-talk,” thereby cheapening those rights that are indeed both unalienable and threatened.15 But the solution is not to abandon talk of rights. It is instead to clarify the range of legitimate rights-claims.
A variety of approaches can be taken to articulate and organize claims about human rights. An expansive approach argues that there are three dimensions of human rights, and all must be equally valued by any society that respects any of them: the right to certain freedoms, especially including religious liberty, the right to participate in community, and the right to have basic needs met. 16
If one takes a more constrained approach to human rights, such as the view which confines human rights to “negative rights,” i.e., that which the state may not do to us, the issues under discussion in this declaration still fall well within the boundaries of legitimate human rights-claims.
Human life is expressed through physicality, and the well-being of persons is tied to their physical existence. Therefore, humans must have the right to security of person. This includes the right not to have one’s life taken unjustly (equivalent to the right to life), the right not to have one’s body mutilated, and the right not to be abused, maimed, tortured, molested, or starved (sometimes called the right to bodily integrity or the right to remain decision. Criticizing the public’s lust for vengeance, he insisted that even the murderers of children “still have basic human rights and a decent society ensures those rights are upheld.” 14
Sundman, 38, 44.
Mary Ann Glendon, Rights Talk. New York: Free Press, 2004.
Glen H. Stassen, Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (Louisville: Westminster/ John Knox Press, 1992), 138, 159.
whole). The right not to be arbitrarily detained (an aspect of due process) and the writ of habeus corpus are also based specifically on the concept of bodily rights. In particular, the writ of habeus corpus is based on the right not to have the government arbitrarily detain one's body. 4. The Christian History of Human Rights “Thus says the Lord: ‘Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed any blood.” Jeremiah 22:3 4.1
Contrary to a common misunderstanding, one that has weakened Christian support for human rights, human rights are not an Enlightenment notion, and certainly not to be seen as an Enlightenment fiction. Rooted in Scripture, the concept of human rights was suggested as far back as the 12th century, and can be traced into the modern period through a variety of routes, all of them versions of Christianity. Heirs to the English Christian traditions find especially important the work of Richard Overton, an English Christian thinker of the 17th century. In 1645, Overton wrote The Arraignment of Mr. Persecution, basing his argument on reason, experience, and Scripture. The book was penned during a time of great oppression of religious nonconformists in England. Overton proclaimed the equal rights of Jews, Muslims, atheists, Catholics, Protestants, and all humankind.17
Thus human rights ideas developed in the English-speaking world during a movement for religious liberty among “free church” Puritans in England, and later among religious dissenters in North America like Roger Williams, and not first among Enlightenment rationalists.18 The concept of human rights flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries with documents such as the American Declaration of Independence (1776), the French Assembly’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), and Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man expressing the belief in “natural rights.”19 More secularized versions of human rights should be seen as derivatives of an earlier, explicitly Christian, articulation.
The late 19th century proved an inhospitable environment for belief in “natural rights” worldwide, in both philosophical and political arenas. However, the totalitarian assault on human dignity in the first half of the 20th century, especially by Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Imperialist Japan, led to a reinterpretation of traditional natural-rights talk in the direction of “human rights.”20 Reacting to the devastation of the Nazi regime, and 17
Christopher D. Marshall, 148.
Michael Westmoreland White, "Setting the Record Straight: Christian Faith, Human Rights, and the Enlightenment," Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics (1995), 75-96.
Christopher D. Marshall, 29.
Christopher D. Marshall, 29-30.
responding to the struggle by colonies for independence from their colonial masters, human rights gained worldwide momentum once again. Shortly after World War II, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was written, and then signed by the vast majority of nations.21 The United States played a key role in drafting and advancing this UN Declaration. Many deeply committed Christians were involved in this process. Evangelicals struggled with the secular grounding of the Declaration’s norms, but both then and now embrace its primary principles. 4.4
The Roman Catholic Church and the second Vatican Council (1962-1965) brought about another development in the maturation of the concept of human rights. Strongly affirming religious liberty after centuries of teaching otherwise, the Vatican II leaders, as with Overton, articulated strong concern for world peace and drew the connections between war and the violation of human rights. 22 A similar emphasis on human rights appears in many of the documents of the global ecumenical movement, as well as mainline Protestant theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr. Meanwhile, the social movement of the 1950s and 1960s for African-American civil rights provided a powerful articulation of a heartfelt human rights ethic. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that an emphasis on human rights was very nearly a Christian consensus by the late 20th century.
Yet talk of human rights evokes opposition as well. We have already noted theological and philosophical objections. But throughout history the primary opposition to a concept of human rights has emerged most intensely from privileged groups (religious, economic, political, ethnic, etc.) determined to maintain their unjust advantages or resist challenges to their mistreatment of those whom they dominated. Meanwhile, support for human rights has helped to spread democracy and in general to break the power of unjust social structures.23
Love for one’s neighbor should motivate the believer to act in the interests of those whose rights we are responsible to defend. Commitment to human rights can be seen as a systematic way to look out for the interests of others, and thus as an expression of Christian love. This is now the overwhelming consensus of the Christian community. 5. Ethical Implications of Human Rights “Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing.” Psalms 68:5-6
Stassen, “Foreword,” 11-12.
Stassen, Just Peacemaking, 156.
Stassen, “Foreword,” 13.
It is vital for the future of any good society and for the development of democracy that we, as citizens of the United States and as Christians belonging to the Body of Christ, promote and protect the innate dignity of the human person and therefore honor human rights. In the last century we have witnessed far too many attempts to abolish that divine value in humanity, and to treat human beings in ways far worse than bestial. However, as Pope John Paul II stated, the sanctity of life is a value “which no individual, no majority and no State can ever create, modify or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect and promote.”24
Even when a person has done wrong, poses a threat, or has information necessary to prevent a terrorist attack, he or she is still a human being made in God’s image, still a person of immeasurable worth. The crime we abhor, but we must distinguish the error from the person in error. A person might do inhuman acts, but is never inhuman.25 This distinction is excruciatingly difficult to make, which is all the more reason why we must be vigilant in doing so. Responsibilities
Individual Responsibility As individuals we are responsible for protecting the dignity of others, as the Good Samaritan did when he went out of his way to minister to the victim he found along his path (Lk. 10:25-37). The Lord brings justice, and governments have resources not available to individuals, but that does not release each of us from the obligation to make an urgent and concerted effort to raise every bearer of the image of God to the dignified level at which he or she was intended by the Creator.26 We live in a free society, a representative democracy, and while only a few may be direct perpetrators of human rights violations or even torture, we all share the responsibility because we are the citizens on whose behalf interrogators and military personnel are working. Whether we commit an offense against humanity, or simply sin by refusing to speak up for someone who is being victimized, as individuals and a society we are accountable for the indignities that are authorized and carried out by our nation.27 We each have responsibility to exercise our right/obligation to participate in the deliberative processes of our democracy. Those who have greater social or political power have even greater moral responsibility to act. 24
Pope John Paul II, 129.
Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, 64, Austin Flannery, O. P. ed., PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD, “Gaudium et Spes” (December 7, 1965), 929. 26
Paul Marshall, "Human Rights," Toward An Evangelical Public Policy, ed. Ronald J. Sider and Diane Knippers (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 313. 27
Evans and Evans, 3.
The Role of the Church The churches have a very important responsibility to prepare their members to be faithful disciples of Christ who witness in and to the various contexts in which we find ourselves. Church leaders have a critical role in equipping Christians to think and respond biblically in all major areas of life, including the one we are considering here. One aspect of this discipling process is to help congregants prepare for the exercise of their citizenship responsibilities. Evangelicals alone make up one quarter of all voters in the United States. As evangelicals we are keenly aware of the gravity of our responsibility, and many of us have joined in articulating our own public ethical vision in a document released in 2004, and endorsed by all forty-three members of the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, “For the Health of the Nation.”28 The Role of the State The government inevitably plays a central role in a nation’s treatment of human beings and respect for human life. Unless human rights are embedded in a nation's constitutional documents, in its legislation, and in fair court procedures, and there is governmental respect for international laws that protect human rights, rights-claims can become mere abstractions that are not implemented in practice. In light of the sinfulness of humanity there is a need for the protection and restraint of laws.
Governments should be legally obligated to protect basic human rights. The U.S. government certainly is so obligated.
It is striking that calls in the 1970s and 1980s for the U.S. to advance global human rights initially assumed that human rights were an unquestioned part of our own constitutional order. The idea was to spread that vision around the world. Evangelicals have been deeply invested in that project. We have pressed for the rights of religious liberty, especially where religious minorities have been persecuted, for the rights of victims of sex trafficking, and for human rights in countries oppressed by dictatorships. Now we find ourselves having to turn our gaze homeward again, to the eroding human rights protections of our own practices.
The goal of a nation that advances human rights for all is one that has been articulated by our current president and members of his administration. President George W. Bush has described the United States as being born from a “simple dream of dignity.” 29 The American spirit, he has asserted, is “generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves.”30
“For the Health of the Nation,” in Toward an Evangelical Public Policy, ed. Ronald J. Sider and Diane Knippers, 363-375, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 363. 29
Julie A. Mertus, Bait and Switch: Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Routledge, 2004), 57.
This dream was not lost after 9/11. On October 31, 2001, Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, stated: “maintaining the focus on human rights and democracy worldwide is an integral part of our response to the attack [on 9/11]. ... We are proud to bear the mantle of leadership in international human rights in this century.” 31 President Bush’s speeches are full of belief in the dignity of every human life, regardless of political or national distinctions. “The American flag stands for more than our power and our interests,” he has said. “Our founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity, the rights of every person, and the possibilities of every life.” 32
In light of these appealing words, it is clear to us that the terrorist attacks that jolted the nation in 2001 have blurred our national moral vision. National resolve, normally a virtue, can be misdirected, leading to the violation of human rights when it is allowed to overthrow our better selves. As the founding fathers intended, we have checks and balances within our Constitution’s framework where Congress and the courts operate to check the presidency and thereby protect human rights. This is how it should be. Meanwhile, the United Nations Human Rights Charter and the great number of other human rights documents to which America has added its name serve as additional boundary-setters, so that the government does not act rashly or unjustly.
The current administration has at times used language that is rich with respect for human rights, even after 9/11. Today this language is less frequently heard, and our actions as a nation do not consistently reflect the values once articulated. Yet there is a structure of national and international principles and laws that can help us to regain our moral footing, and in some ways have already begun to do so. 6. Legal Structures regarding Human Rights “A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.” Proverbs 28:16 International Law
The Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and many other treaties outlining human rights are in place so each signatory nation is held accountable.
With a raging “war on terror,” American policymakers and interrogators have faced the temptation of looking to torture, and to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of their detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo, and other U.S. detention centers. Torture has often been a temptation (and far too many times a practice) in other countries facing
perceived or actual security threats. Despite these abuses, the articles of the Geneva Convention and of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights are unambiguous.33 6.3
Article 3 of the 3rd Geneva Convention (1949) says: Persons taking no active part in hostilities … shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: violence to life and person, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; an impartial humanitarian body, such as the international committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties in conflict.34
Article 5 of the same Geneva Convention states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” Article 9 reads: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.”35 The U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR--1966) states in article 7 that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Article 10 of the ICCPR also establishes a particular right to be treated in a humane and dignified manner for accused or detained persons deprived of their personal liberty.36 This code of conduct is further clarified in the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights Civil and Political Rights, Including the Questions of Torture and Detention (2005). According to the Geneva Conventions, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (CIDT), although falling short of torture, is still completely prohibited along with all forms of torture. “The overriding factor at the core of the prohibition of CIDT is the concept of [the] powerlessness of the victim.”37
International treaties provide no loopholes for justifying torture or any form of degrading treatment. The ICCPR treaty says that although “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation … the State Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, … no derogation from [article] 7… 33
David Gushee, “Against Torture: An Evangelical Perspective,” in Theology Today, 349-364, vol. 63, No. 3, (October 2006), 351. 34
Geneva Convention (III): Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Geneva, 12 August 1949).
Third Geneva Convention.
Civil and Political Rights, Including the Questions of Torture and Detention, 13.
United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, Civil and Political Rights, Including the Questions of Torture and Detention, United Nations Department of Public Record (Geneva, Switzerland, December 23, 2005), 13.
may be made under this provision.”38 The U.N. Convention Against Torture puts it this way: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture."39 6.6
The United States is a signatory to all of these international treaties. We have also historically incorporated their principles into military doctrine. However, these practices have come into question during the last five years. We believe that this has been a mistake, and we support a return to full adherence to the straightforward meaning of international conventions against torture. U.S. Law
The United States has often sought to position itself as being on the side of the oppressed, including soldiers imprisoned under unjust or cruel circumstances. During the American Revolution, our soldiers were mistreated by the British. Our nation has worked diligently since then to provide legal protection to any person in the custody of the enemy through laws of war.40 The Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols of 1977 are the most recent version of this protection. In 1996, the United States adopted the War Crimes Act to make it possible for our courts to enforce the Conventions, and so the U.S. had entered into enforceable compliance with these vital international safeguards.41 It must be remembered that the United States has historically been a leader in pressing for such safeguards, not just a reluctant signatory.
Since human rights first became a prominent issue in the 20th century, the United Nations and the United States have continued to make additions to former agreements, treaties, and statements in order to make them as comprehensive and relevant as possible. This is what a democracy should always be doing. Human rights have always been, and always will be, under attack. However, a democracy works to guard against such violations of human rights through its laws. Its very identity depends upon the confidence that violations of human rights, such as torture, are prohibited.42
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2200A [XX1] (16 December 1966), accessible at http://www.cirp.org/library/ethics/UN-covenant (September 15, 2006); (italics added). 39
David Gushee, “Five Reasons Torture is Always Wrong,” Christianity Today, (February 2006), accessed at www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/002/23.32.html, (September 3, 2006). 40
David Gushee and Cliff Kirkpatrick, “Rights of Detainees Must Not Be Violated,” Commercial Appeal, (September 27, 2006).
Gushee and Kirkpatrick.
Michael Ignatieff, “Evil Under Interrogation,” Financial Times (London, May 15, 2004), accessed at http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/news/opeds/2004/ignatieff_torture_ft_051504.htm.
Between 9/11 and January 2006, tens of thousands had been detained in U.S. detention centers.43 The vast majority of these detainees were released without charge. It is important to remember that detention policies pertain to persons, most of whom will end up being charged with no crime and being viewed as no threat to our nation.
The boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible in war have been crossed in the current “war on terror.” The evidence of acts of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment against U.S. detainees, especially in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, in Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base, in CIA black sites, and at the hands of other nations, has been documented by numerous researchers, including those serving the U.S. government itself. Revelations of these outrages against human dignity led to intense pressure on the federal government to return to its earlier rejection of torture and to clarify its detention and interrogation policies.
Commendably, the U.S. Army Field Manual, last revised in 1992, has recently undergone more changes in light of recent events. Specific cruel, inhuman, and degrading practices that had taken place at least sporadically from 2002-2006 are now overtly banned. In addition to the general language of the 1992 edition, which prohibited “acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, threats [or] insults, … as a means of or aid to interrogation,”44 there is now also more specific wording prohibiting military personnel from engaging in the behavior that put Abu Ghraib in the headlines. Beating prisoners, sexually humiliating them, threatening them with dogs, depriving them of food and water, performing mock executions, shocking them with electricity, burning them, causing other types of pain, and “waterboarding,” are all explicitly banned.45 The Pentagon is to be commended for this strong and positive revision of the Army Field Manual. It should become the policy of every agency of the United States government.46
Tragically, however, despite the military’s commendable efforts to remove itself from any involvement with torture, the current administration has decided to retain morally questionable interrogation techniques among the options available to our intelligence agencies. For some time it did so without any form of public disclosure or oversight. In
Katherine Shrader, “U.S. Has Detained 83,000 in War on Terror,” Associated Press, November 16, 2005, accessed online at www.sunherald.com, 11/25/05.
Gushee, “Five Reasons.”
“Human Intelligence Collector Operations.” U.S. Army Field Manual 2-22.3. September 6, 2006.
The U.S. has a moral obligation to train our military personnel in the best way to meet combat contingencies. That necessitates tough training in survival, escape, evasion, and rescue techniques. Also, history demonstrates that our enemies often do not observe standards of international law or the Geneva Convention. Therefore, part of military training involves sleep deprivation, exhaustive marches, food deprivation, and even some pain or discomfort. While this training is closely monitored to guard against abuses, it also must be sufficiently rigorous to arm the individual with physical, psychological, and mental coping skills to endure the unimaginable if taken as a prisoner of war. The signatories understand that this is part of military training and do not intend to condemn it.
2006 the administration moved its policies more fully into the light of day, pressing for legislation to authorize what it wanted to do. 6.13
The most recent legislation regarding these issues was signed into law in October 2006.47 From a human rights perspective, the Military Commissions Act includes numerous problematic provisions, such as one in which CIA officials are not required to submit to congressional oversight, and are not held to the same standards as the U.S. military. CIA “black sites” may continue to exist, with interrogation rules established by the president but not specified publicly and now removed from the ability of either Congress or judicial authority to review. 48 This could prove to be a recipe for cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees, without the Constitution’s checks and balances so crucial for American justice.
Various procedural issues in the Military Commissions Act are also troubling. The new law does not allow terrorism suspects to challenge their detention or treatment through traditional habeas corpus petitions.49 It permits prosecutors, under certain conditions, to use evidence collected through hearsay or through coercion to seek criminal convictions.50 The legislation also rejects any right to a speedy trial,51 and it empowers U.S. officials to detain indefinitely anyone it determines to have “purposefully and materially” supported anti-U.S. hostilities.52 These provisions are deeply lamentable, in part because of their substance, and in part because they create the conditions in which further prisoner abuse is made more likely. They violate basic principles of due process that have been developed in Western judicial systems, including our own, for centuries. Anti-U.S. “hostilities" is a vague term that a future administration can use against anyone perceived as its enemy.53 We see this as fraught with danger to basic human rights. 7. Conclusion: Human Rights in an Age of Terror “And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” Genesis 4:10 47
Military Commissions Act of 2006, 120 Statutes at Large 2600, Public Law 109-366 (October 17, 2006). Many of the act's sections are codified at title 10 United States Code section 948a and following.
President George W. Bush, in a speech made at the signing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Washington, D.C., October 17, 2006.
Section 7 of the Military Commissions Act, title 28 United States Code section 2241.
Section 3 of the Military Commissions Act, title 10 of the United States Code section 948r and section 949a. 51
Section 3 of the Military Commissions Act, title 10 United States Code 948b.
Section 3 of the Military Commissions Act, title 10 of the United States Code section 948a
Section 3 of the Military Commissions Act, title 10 of the United States Code section 948a.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the attacks that followed blatantly violated human rights in the most outrageous manner imaginable. We declare without hesitation that the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, London, Madrid, Bali, Casablanca, Amman, and other locations around the globe were heinous assaults on human life. We condemn these worldwide terrorist activities and the radical ideologues that foment them.
It is certainly the responsibility of a nation’s government to protect its people from such callous and cruel disregard of human life.54 Our military and intelligence forces have worked diligently to prevent further attacks. But such efforts must not include measures that violate our own core values.
Our current circumstances and national security concerns do not present us with distinctively new temptations regarding the violation of human rights in relation to interrogation policies, torture, and the legal rights of detainees. Our nation’s founders anticipated security threats in the 18th century; indeed, one could argue that they faced a far more threatening security environment than any that we have experienced since their age. Deterring evil ends without resorting to evil means are tasks in tension, but any democracy must face dealing with this tension.
A significant challenge presented to us as we focus on deterring terrorism is not that terrorism is unprecedented, but that as it spreads and intensifies, terrorism is deeply frightening to people and unsettling to our way of life. The principle that we must “discharge duties to those who have violated their duties to us” seems even more difficult to bear.55 It also makes it all the more necessary to be vigilant about guarding those moral boundaries.
Torture is but one of many violations of human rights. Sadly there are more. Even forty years ago, Vatican II was able to list the following such violations: The varieties of crime are numerous: all offenses against life itself, such as murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures, all offenses against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons: all these and the like are criminal: they poison civilization; and they debase the
The majority of the signatories of this document stand in the just-war tradition. Those who are pacifists believe government should carry out its important responsibilities using non-lethal methods.
perpetrators more than the victims and militate against the honor of the creator.56 7.6
Slavery, human and sexual trafficking, genocide, prison rape, abortion, euthanasia, unethical human experimentation—these are some of the other human rights violations listed by the National Association of Evangelicals in its “For the Health of the Nation” statement of 2004.57 As evangelicals, we are deeply concerned about all violations of human rights. We want to lead the way in honoring and defending human rights wherever they are threatened.
We gratefully acknowledge our brothers and sisters in other Christian traditions for their thoughtful and Spirit-led work in the area of human rights. In recent times, evangelicals have joined with others to articulate an increasingly vigorous human rights ethic. The Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing over 30 million evangelical Christians, in 2004 unanimously approved a statement of social responsibility, which declared that “because God created human beings in his image, we are endowed with rights and responsibilities. … Governments should be constitutionally obligated to protect basic human rights.” Among those rights articulated in this statement is the right to live “without fear of torture.”58 Little did the NAE know how relevant that particular provision would soon become.
As evangelicals, we are first obligated to be faithful to Christ and his teaching. We are to be Kingdom people, disciples who think biblically about all things. In this particular situation, discipleship requires a clear word from us to our nation and its leaders. We must continue to discuss the moral problems associated with our treatment of detainees both in recent years and still today. Indeed, all citizens in a democracy must step up to the challenge we now face. The enormous burden of defending the human rights of United States citizens while also respecting those of the (suspected and actual) enemy is not one to be carried by our president alone.59 As fellow Christians, fellow citizens, and fellow human beings, we let our leaders down by remaining silent.
When torture is employed by a state, that act communicates to the world and to one’s own people that human lives are not sacred, that they are not reflections of the Creator, that they are expendable, exploitable, and disposable, and that their intrinsic value can be overridden by utilitarian arguments that trump that value.60 These are claims that no one who confesses Christ as Lord can accept.
Vatican II, 928.
“For the Health of the Nation,”363, 370.
“For the Health of the Nation,” 373.
The most widely publicized acts of torture by the U.S. came on the heels of the 9/11 attack. As our nation mobilized, the eyes of the Muslim world were on the U.S. and how a Western civilization – in their eyes a Christian civilization – would respond to such barbarism. In this setting, that our actions were not bound by principles of human rights that we in the West profess was rightly seen by Muslims as hypocrisy and thus all the more damaging.
Human rights must be protected for all humankind. A commitment to life’s sacredness and to human rights is a seamless garment. It cannot be torn anywhere without compromising its integrity everywhere.
Therefore: (a) We renounce the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by any branch of our government (or any other government)—even in the current circumstance of a war between the United States and various radical terrorist groups. (b) We call for the extension of basic human rights and procedural protections to all persons held in United States custody now or in the future, wherever and by whomever they are held. (c) We call for every agency of the United States government to join with the United States military and to state publicly its commitment to the terms of the Geneva Conventions related to the treatment of prisoners, especially Common Article 3. (d) We call for the legislative or judicial reversal of those executive and legislative provisions that violate the moral and legal standards articulated in this declaration.
We make these renunciations and calls for action as Christians and as U.S. citizens. Undoubtedly there are occasions where the demands of Christian discipleship and American citizenship conflict. This is not one of them. Returning to the absolute commitment to human rights outlined here is right in terms of Christian convictions and right in terms of the interests of our nation. We commend these moral commitments to our fellow believers, and our fellow citizens, for such a time as this.
ARE EVANGELICALS GOING TO HELL? (Or: DO WE BELIEVE WHAT JESUS SAID?) Listening to Jesus is surely the best way to understand God’s heart. Jesus said bluntly that if we do not feed the hungry and clothe the naked, we go to hell (Matt. 25:41). If you judged simply on the basis of how much they spend on themselves and how much on the poor, do you think most American evangelicals believe what Jesus said is true? There are hundreds and hundreds of biblical verses about God’s concern for the poor. In fact, that is probably the second most common theme in the whole Bible. Do the evangelical preachers and leaders you know come close to talking about the poor as much as the Bible does? Who is wining the hearts of American evangelicals: Jesus or the advertisers promoting consumerism? Poverty is still widespread in our world. According to the World Bank, 1.2 billion people struggle to survive on just one dollar a day. Another 2 billion have only two dollars a day. Most Americans, on the other hand, are among the richest 20 percent of the world’s people. In fact, the richest 20 percent are 150 times richer than the poorest 20 percent in the world. But our congregational giving (as a percent of our income) has dropped almost every year since 1968. In 1968, the average American congregational member gave about a third (3.1%) of a tithe of their income to their church. It has dropped almost every year–as our income has gone up and up!–and now stands at less than a quarter (2.5%) of a tithe. Recently, congregational giving actually increased very slightly (from 2.39% in 1993 to 2.52% in 1998) but all of that increase has been in the area of congregational finances (buildings, salaries, etc., to serve ourselves). Benevolence (giving for causes beyond the congregation) has continued to decline (see 2_98). Does this kind of behavior make sense for people who claim the Bible as God’s revealed truth? I know the advertisements are seductive. But surely God’s word and the living Spirt of God are more powerful. As I summarize the biblical teaching about the poor and justice, all I ask is that you pray this prayer: “Please Lord Jesus, change me so that I begin to share your love for the poor.” Four biblical truths about the poor are essential if the church today is to be faithful. 1. Repeatedly, the Bible says that the Sovereign of history works to lift up the poor and oppressed. That teaching is especially clear when we look at the central points of
revelation history. Consider the Exodus. Certainly God acted there to keep the promise to Abraham and to call out the chosen people of Israel. But again and again the texts say God also intervened because God hated the oppression of the poor Israelites (Exod. 3:7– 8; 6:5–7). Annually at the harvest festival the people of Israel repeated this confession: “The Egyptians mistreated us. . . . Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt” (Deut. 26:6–8). God acts in history to lift up the poor and oppressed. 2. The Bible also teaches a second, more disturbing truth. Sometimes, the Lord of history tears down rich and powerful people. Mary’s song is shocking: “My soul glorifies the Lord . . . He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:46, 53). James is even more nasty: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you” (James 5:1). What is going on? Is creating wealth a bad thing? No. The Bible is very clear that God has created a gorgeous world and placed human beings in it to revel in its splendor and produce an abundance of good things. Is God biased? No. The Bible explicitly declares that God has no bias either toward the rich or the poor (Deut. 10:17–18). What then is the problem? The Bible has a simple answer. It is because the rich sometimes get rich by oppressing the poor. Or because they have plenty and neglect the needy. In either case, God is furious. James warned the rich so harshly because they had hoarded wealth and refused to pay their workers (5:2–6). Repeatedly, the prophets said the same thing (Ps. 10; Isa. 3:14–25; Jer. 22:13–19). “Among my people are wicked men who lie in wait like men who snare birds and like those who set traps to catch men. Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful and have grown fat and sleek. . . . They do not defend the rights of the poor. Should I not punish them for this?” (Jer. 5:26–29). Repeatedly, the prophets warned that God was so outraged that he would destroy the nations of Israel and Judah. Because of the way they “trample on the heads of the poor . . . and deny justice to the oppressed,” Amos predicted terrible captivity (2:7; 5:11; 6:4, 7; 7:11, 17). So did Isaiah and Micah (Isa. 10:1–3; Micah 2:2; 3:12). And it happened just as they foretold. According to both the Old and New Testaments, God destroys people and societies that get rich by oppression. But what if we work hard and create wealth in just ways? That is good and God is pleased—as long as we do not forget to share. No matter how justly we have acquired our wealth, God demands that we act generously toward the poor. When we do not, the Bible says, God treats us the same way he does those who oppress the poor. There is not a hint in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus that the rich man exploited Lazarus to acquire wealth. He simply neglected to share. So God punished him (Luke 16:19–31). Ezekiel contains a striking explanation for the destruction of Sodom: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and
unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. . . . Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (16:49–50). Again, the text does not charge them with gaining wealth by oppression. It was because they refused to share their abundance that God destroyed the city. The Bible is clear. If we get rich by oppression or if we have wealth and do not reach out generously to the poor, the Lord acts in history to destroy us. God judges societies by what they do to the people at the bottom. That is how much God cares for the poor. 3. The next biblical truth about the poor is this: The Bible says that God identifies with the poor so strongly that caring for them is almost like helping God. “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD” (Prov. 19:17). On the other hand, one “who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker” (14:31). Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats is the ultimate commentary on these two proverbs. Jesus surprises those on the right with his insistence that they had fed and clothed him when he was cold and hungry. When they protested that they could not remember ever doing that, Jesus replied: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40). If we believe his words, we look on the poor and neglected with entirely new eyes. 4. Finally, the Scriptures teach that God’s faithful people share God’s special concern for the poor. God commanded Israel not to treat widows, orphans, and foreigners the way the Egyptians had treated them (Exod. 22:21–24). Instead, they should love the poor just as God cared for them at the Exodus (Exod. 22:21–24; Deut. 15:13–15). When Jesus’ disciples throw parties, they should especially invite the poor and disabled (Luke 14:12–14; Heb. 13:1–3). Paul held up Jesus’ model of becoming poor to show how generously the Corinthians should contribute to the poor in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:9). The Bible, however, goes one shocking step further. God insists that if we do not imitate his concern for the poor we are not really his people—no matter how frequent our worship or how orthodox our creeds. Because Israel failed to correct oppression and defend poor widows, Isaiah insisted that Israel was really the pagan people of Gomorrah (1:10–17). God despised their fasting because they tried to worship God and oppress their workers at the same time (Isa. 58:3–7). Through Amos, the Lord shouted in fury that the very religious festivals he had ordained made him angry and sick. Why? Because the rich and powerful were mixing worship and oppression of the poor (5:21–24). Jesus was even more harsh. To those who did not feed the hungry and clothe the naked, he will utter a terrible judgment: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). The apostle John issues the same stark warning: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17). Jeremiah 22:13–19 is a most astonishing passage. Good king Josiah had a wicked son Jehoiakim. When Jehoiakim became king, he built a fabulous palace by oppressing
his workers. God sent the prophet Jeremiah to announce a terrible punishment. The most interesting part of the passage, however, is a short aside on this evil king’s good father: “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. ‘Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD” (v. 16, emphasis added). Knowing God is inseparable from caring for the poor. Of course, we dare not reduce knowing God only to a concern for the needy as some radical theologians do. We meet God in prayer, Bible study, worship—in many ways. But if we do not share God’s passion to strengthen the poor, we simply do not know God in a biblical way. I fear that many Christians today who think they are very orthodox are actually heretical at just this point. If Jeremiah 22:16 and 1 John 3:17 present one biblical criterion of genuine knowledge of God, what does God think about rich Christians who are living in countries that are 150 times as wealthy as the poorest one-fifth of the world’s countries, and yet give a mere one quarter of a tithe? Is that not heretical defiance of explicit biblical teaching? As we Christians examine our houses, cars, and family budgets, can we say our lifestyles are conformed to Christ rather than the world? Now please do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating poverty—or worksrighteousness or Marxism. You cannot earn your way into heaven by caring for the poor. The only way to stand justified before our holy God is to cling to the cross, trusting that God forgives our sins because of Jesus substitutionary atonement. Christians are justified by faith alone. But, as John Calvin reminded us, if we do not do the things that the Bible says people with saving faith do, then we probably don’t have saving faith at all. And one of the clearest things the Bible tells us is that God wants his people to share His concern for the poor. Nor am I advocating poverty or Marxism. I think creating wealth in just, sustainable ways is very good and urgently important. The unemployed need jobs. The Creator wants us to revel in the good earth given to us as a gift to treasure and develop. The biblical teaching on poverty and possessions contains a wonderful subtlety and balance. There is a materialism that is godly. According to the Scriptures, the material world is not an illusion to ignore or an evil to escape. It is a good gift to embrace. It is a ring from our Beloved. The material world is so good that the Creator becomes flesh, so good that we await the resurrection of the body, so good that all creation stands on tiptoe eagerly anticipating the restoration of the groaning creation. The Creator placed men and women in this fabulous world as stewards, uniquely shaped in the divine image to tend and care for God’s good garden. Tracing the steps of the Creator in science, technology, and the responsible production of more wealth is very good. Christians should rejoice in the way the modern world has been able to produce such an abundance that it would be possible—if we cared enough—for every person living today to have the opportunity for quality education and good health care—not to mention enough food, clothing, and housing.
The Bible, however, also issues a warning at just this point. Material abundance acquired justly is a good gift. But it is also dangerous. It is so easy to trust in our wealth rather than God (1 Tim. 6:9–10). It is so easy to treasure material things more than persons and God. We cannot serve God and mammon (Matt. 6:24). Strangely, growing wealth often hardens our hearts to the poor rather than sparking greater generosity. Our world desperately needs a biblically balanced understanding of wealth. And also poverty! Some people want to blame the victims for their poverty. Don’t the poor create their own misery by laziness and sinful choices about sex and alcohol? Others think a wicked “system” is entirely to blame. The real world is far more complex. Some people are poor because they make sinful choices. Others are poor because they believe a religious worldview that denies them dignity and discourages change. (Hinduism’s caste system, for example, claims that both the rich and the poor should accept their fate so they will be better off in a future reincarnation.) In both situations, people need to hear the gospel, embrace a biblical worldview about the dignity of all, and experience the redeeming power of Christ. Some people are poor because of natural disasters or inadequate tools and knowledge. They need Christians who will share emergency food and appropriate technology so they can produce enough to care for their families. Still others are poor because of injustice in the way the courts work, the laws are made, the land has been divided, or opportunities for education and jobs are shared. Earlier we saw the very explicit biblical teaching that sometimes people get rich by oppressing others. God wants justice for all. And justice, in the Bible, means that everyone has access to the capital so they can earn a living that enables them to participate freely as dignified members of their community. Many evangelicals, however, do not understand justice–partly because they neglect the full biblical teaching about sin. Contrary to the Scriptures, some modern Christians see sin almost exclusively in personal terms. Sin means things like lying, stealing, drunkenness, and adultery. Now those things are wrong, terribly wrong. But so are racism and economic oppression. The biblical understanding of sin emphasizes both personal and social sin. Amos announced God’s wrath both against those who trample the poor and those who commit sexual misconduct (2:6–7). Isaiah shouted God’s woe against those who deprive the poor of their land and homes and also those who fall into drunkenness (5:8–11, 22–23). In Amos 5, God explicitly condemned those who participate in an unjust legal system: You hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth. You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them. . . .
For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. vv. 10–12
According to the Bible, laws themselves are sometimes unjust because wicked leaders write and manipulate them for their selfish advantage. The psalmist denounced those who ally themselves with wicked rulers who legislate “mischief by statute” (Ps. 94:20 RSV). God speaks bluntly about unfair systems: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people” (Isa. 10:1–2). In fact, God is so angry with people who profit from unjust systems that he sometimes, as we have already seen, destroys them. Amos said the wealthy women of his day would be dragged out of the city with huge hooks in their noses. Why? “Hear this word, you cows . . . , you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, ‘Bring us some drinks!’” (Amos 4:1–2). According to the Bible, participating in unfair legal systems and unjust economic structures is wrong and displeasing to God. Robbing your employees of a fair wage is just as evil as robbing a bank. An Indian bishop once told me a story that underlines the importance of understanding social sin. There used to be a mental institution in India, he said, which had a fascinating way of deciding whether inmates were well enough to go home. They would take a person over to a water tap, place a large water bucket under the tap, and fill the bucket with water. Then, leaving the tap on, they would give the person a spoon and say, “Please empty the bucket.” If the person started dipping the water out one spoonful at a time and never turned the tap off, they knew he was still crazy! Too often Christians work at social problems one spoonful at a time. Too often we fail to ask how we can turn the tap off by changing legal systems and economic policies that hurt people. Of course we must lead individuals to Christ one person at a time. But understanding social sin helps us see more clearly how we can also improve society by reforming unfair systems and promoting justice. How do we do that? You can start by reading a book or article that helps you understand current proposals to empower the poor. Then you can contact your Senator or Congressperson urging them to vote for good laws that strengthen the family and reward those who work responsibly. You may want to join an effective Christian organization that regularly provides updates on current affairs. (For suggestions on all these, see Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America.) Biblical people know that bread and justice for everyone is very important. They also know it is not enough. The poor of the world also need Jesus. They need to know that no matter how despised, trampled, and famished, the Creator of the world loves them so much that Jesus would gladly have died just for them. They need to know that right now, the risen Lord longs to forgive their sins, transform their broken lives, and welcome them to life eternal. They also need to know that this same God cares especially for the
poor, hates injustice, and now invites them to become coworkers in transforming society. Think of what would happen if we shared this full biblical message with the more than one billion people who do not know either justice or Jesus. Of course, they won’t believe us unless we preach Good News to the poor the way Jesus did. He lived what he preached. He walked with the poor and met their material needs as he taught and preached. Think of the explosive power that would flow from a church today living as he lived. The poor of Jesus’ day never doubted that bringing Good News to the poor (Luke 4:18) was one central part of his mission. All they needed to do was look at what he said and did. But when today’s poor look at the church, they have strong reasons for doubting that we are serious about Jesus. Unless Christians today live sharing lifestyles that match God’s concern for the poor, our preaching will be weak and our faith heretical. On the other hand, imagine the impact if even a quarter of today’s Christians began to care about justice for the poor the way the Bible says we should. The result would be stunning. Skeptics would reconsider Christianity. Revival would break out. Untold numbers would come to Christ. Church planting would accelerate. Global tensions would decrease. The One who is both Creator and Redeemer would rejoice. Why would that make God happy? Why does God care so much about the poor? God does not love the poor one bit more than the rich. God cares equally about everyone. But the God who has created every single human being in the divine image longs for wholeness, goodness and joy for every person. Poverty crushes not just the body, but also the mind and the spirit of billions of persons whom the Creator tenderly loves as his children made in his image. Let’s ask Christ to change us so we share that love. Ronald J. Sider (Ph.D, Yale) is Professor of Theology and Culture at Eastern Seminary in Philadelphia and President of Evangelicals for Social Action, a national organization of biblical Christians promoting justice for the poor here and abroad. You can contact him at <email@example.com>. Part of this article is adapted (with permission) from Chapters 8 and 9 of his Living Like Jesus (Baker, 1999). For his two major works on global and domestic poverty, see: Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Word, 1997) and Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America (Baker, 1999).
Fifth Prize Award of $2,000
“CHRISTIANS SEEK LOVE, NOT HATE” Ronald J. Sider Ronald J. Sider (Ph.D., Yale) is a Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry and Public Policy and Director of the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy at Palmer (formerly Eastern Baptist) Theological Seminary and President of Evangelicals for Social Action. A widely known evangelical speaker and writer, Sider has spoken on six continents, published twenty-seven books and scores of articles. His Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger was recognized by Christianity Today as one of the 100 most influential religious books of the 20th century. Sider is publisher of PRISM magazine and a contributing editor of Christianity Today and Sojourners. He has lectured at scores of colleges and universities around the world, including Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford. Evangelists have a brief message for Fred Phelps, the famous Kansas pastor who travels around the country with his big sign, “God Hates Fags.” Apparently, he plans to visit Philadelphia this week. We say: “Please stay home.” Phelps’ sign and message are flatly unbiblical. God does not hate lesbians and homosexuals. God loves them. Perhaps the most oft-quoted text in the entire Bible makes that perfectly clear: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God loves the world in all its pain and brokenness. It is true that the Bible teaches that God’s will for sexual intercourse is within a life-long marriage covenant between a man and a woman. But God does not hate those who violate God’s standards (95 percent of whom are heterosexuals). God loves us even in our weakness and failure. Nowhere is that clearer than in the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. The harsh leaders who dragged her to Jesus wanted Jesus to condemn her to death. (That was the prevailing legal punishment.) But Jesus gently loved her, shaming her accusers into guiltily slipping away. Left alone with her, Jesus gently said: “Neither do I condemn you; go now and sin no more” (John 8:11). The moral norm was clear, but Jesus’ overflowing love was the central message. So many contemporary Christians lack Jesus’ balance. Rather than shouting the unbiblical, heretical message that “God hates fags,” biblical Christians ought to take the lead in condemning gay-bashing. We ought to 24
be in the forefront of condemning and ending the physical violence that gay Americans still sometimes experience. We ought to lead the insistence that gay partners have the right to choose to inherit each other’s property, visit each other in the hospital, etc. That does not mean that we must or should redefine marriage in public law. Virtually all civilizations for millennia have said marriage is between a man and a woman. There are still good reasons for that. But maintaining and defending that ancient wisdom should go hand in hand with an active love for gays and lesbians. Interestingly, few evangelicals have done that better than Jerry Falwell’s former vice president, Ed Dobson. A headline in Christianity Today, evangelicalism’s most prestigious magazine, says it all: “Ed Dobson loves homosexuals.” Dobson pastors the largest evangelical congregation in Grand Rapids, Mich. When a grieving mother asked Dobson to visit her son who was dying of AIDS, Dobson and his church cared for him until he died. Then Dobson visited the local AIDS Resource Center, asking how he could help. At first, the director was shocked that the pastor of the largest evangelical church cared about people with AIDS. But Dobson’s church started working closely with people at the center and welcomed them to their church. Hate letters poured in, warning that the church would be “overrun with homosexuals.” Dobson replied the following Sunday in his sermon: “When I die, if someone stands up and says, ‘Ed Dobson loved homosexuals,’ then I will have accomplished something with my life.” A little later, an astonishing editorial appeared in the local gay and lesbian newsletter. The article acknowledged that Dobson and his congregation considered gay practice to be sinful, but then thanked the church for their love and support. Sadly, Dobson is right that Christians are “often better at hating than at loving.” But the Bible calls us to do just the reverse. This week, as the gay Equality Forum holds its week of events, most evangelicals want dialogue and love, not attacks and hate. Precisely because we seek to hold fast to all biblical standards, we reject Fred Phelps’ hateful slogans.
EVALUATING THE FAITH-BASED INITIATIVE: IS CHARITABLE CHOICE GOOD PUBLIC POLICY?
The Sorensen Lecture, Yale Divinity School October 15, 2002
Ronald J. Sider
Professor of Theology and Culture, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary President, Evangelicals for Social Action
Ever since both Presidential candidates Albert Gore and George W. Bush embraced the Charitable Choice legislation and pledged to place faith-based initiatives at the center of their administration’s efforts to overcome poverty, the role of religion in public life has enjoyed unusually frequent and intense public discussion. Whether at elite academic centers, top Washington think tanks, or the front and editorial pages of our leading newspapers, religion’s role in solving America’s social problems has been a central topic of unusually widespread, vigorous debate in the last three years. I have chosen one important part of this debate–the legislation and policy popularly called Charitable Choice–as the topic for this lecture. First included in the 1996 Welfare Reform legislation and subsequently included in three other acts signed by President Clinton, Charitable Choice has become perhaps the most controversial item of the entire set of faith-based initiatives. Opponent Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has suggested that Charitable Choice “may be the worst idea in modern political history.”1 Proponent James Skillen, director of the Center for Public Justice, on the other hand, argued in a lecture at Princeton last year that “if the principles of Charitable Choice are implemented successfully and remain in place over time, . . . the outcome could well be a fourth order of pluralism” that would replace the understanding of American pluralism dominant in the courts and public life for the last half century.2 Both friend and foe acknowledge that what started as a relatively obscure section of the 1996 Welfare Bill, introduced by freshman Senator John Ashcroft, has become an important part of contemporary political life and debate. Even Wendy Kaminer–who despises the entire Bush faith-based initiative, labelling the new White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives the “office of sectarian initiatives” in an article entitled “The Joy of Sects”–nonetheless grudgingly acknowledges that “Ashcroft’s remarkably successful initiative is creating unprecedented financial partnerships between church and state.”3 Penn political scientist John DiIulio, first head of President Bush’s new White House office, notes that five years ago, Charitable Choice was a “little-noticed landmark,” but today it is “much noticed [and] mainstream.”4 In this lecture, I want to outline the basic provisions of the Charitable Choice legislation; sketch its brief history; spell out the strongest arguments for and against it; discuss in detail the hiring safeguard; outline the setting in political philosophy where Charitable Choice is most at home; and, finally, conclude with some brief additional comments on why I support it.
The Central Provisions of Charitable Choice Just what is Charitable Choice? The fundamental purpose of the Charitable Choice section of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 was to remove illegitimate restrictions on faith-based organizations so that when state and local governments using federal welfare block grant funds from the 1996 Welfare Bill chose to contract with non-governmental social service providers, all types of faith-based providers including very religious ones would experience a level playing field and enjoy full opportunity to compete with all other non-governmental providers on an equal basis. To protect both the non-establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom, the Charitable Choice provisions provided that religious organizations could accept government funds to provide specified services “on the same basis as any other non-governmental provider without 1 “Charitable Choice: A Very Bad Idea,” Civil Rights Journal, Fall 2000, p. 43. 2 “E Pluribus Unum and Faith-Based Welfare Reform,” The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, pp. 287-88. 3 “The Joy of Sects,” The American Prospect, February 12, 2001, p. 32. 4 “Compassion in Truth and Action,” in E. J. Dionne, Jr., and Ming Hsu Chen, editors, Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Should Government Help Faith-Based Charity? (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2001), p. 276.
impairing the religious character of such organizations, and without diminishing the religious freedom of beneficiaries.”5 To protect the autonomy of the religious organizations, the legislation specifically stated that an FBO receiving federal funding through the Welfare Bill retains “control over the definition, development, practice, and expression of its religious beliefs;” need not “alter its form of internal governance” or “remove religious art, icons, scripture or other symbols;” and retains the hiring safeguard specified in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlines the right of religious organizations to choose to hire only employees who share the organization’s religious beliefs.6 To protect the religious freedom of clients, the legislation stated that clients may refuse to participate in any religious practice and may request service from an alternative–secular if preferred–provider that is accessible to the client and of equal value. Furthermore, no participating FBO may discriminate against clients on the basis of religion. Finally, the legislation stipulates that “no funds provided directly” to FBOs may be used for “sectarian worship, instruction or proselytization.”7 (This stipulation does not apply in the case of indirect funding such as vouchers.) Finally, the Bush administration added a provision, based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Mitchell v. Helms (2000), that required FBOs receiving direct government funding to separate in time and place privately funded specifically religious activities from other government-funded activities.8 Probably the most innovative aspect of Charitable Choice is the clear abandonment of the principle that government funds dare not flow to so-called pervasively sectarian organizations lest government thereby “aid” religion. Charitable Choice follows the alternative strategy that the Supreme Court has come to adopt: to honor both the establishment and religious liberty requirements of the First Amendment, government should treat all potential partners the same, focusing not on whether they are religious, too religious, or secular, but on how well they can provide services. Charitable Choice focuses on outcomes and equal opportunity for all effective non-governmental providers rather than on the degree of religiosity of the service provider. The other striking development is the explicit provision that accepting government funds does not mean the loss of a religious organization’s right to choose to hire staff that share its religious beliefs. It would be a fundamental mistake to suppose that the Charitable Choice legislation represents a radical break with the past.9 For decades, religious colleges and universities, religious hospitals, religious foster care agencies and many other religious organizations have received government funding. Furthermore, a significant percentage of those organizations have been pervasively sectarian and used religious criterion in their hiring. In one study, for example, political scientist Stephen Monsma
5 Section 604a quoted in Stanley W. Carlson-Thies, Charitable Choice for Welfare Community Services (Washington: Center for Public Justice, 2000), p. 37. 6 Ibid., pp. 38-39. 7 Ibid. 8 Concerning grants with direct assistance, the controlling case is Mitchell v. Helms, 530 U.S. 793 (2000) (upholding federal program to supply educational equipment to k-12 schools, including religious schools). Mitchell is discussed in detail in Carl H. Esbeck, Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Statement Before the United States House of Representatives Concerning Charitable Choice and the Community Solutions Act, Hearings Before the House Subcomm. on the Constitution, House Judiciary Committee, 107th Cong. (June 12, 2001), reprinted at 16 Notre Dame J. of Law, Ethics & Pub. Policy 567 (2002). 9 For an excellent article placing Charitable Choice in the context of American welfare policy in the last one hundred-plus years, see Stanley Carlson-Thies, “Charitable Choice: Bringing Religion Back into American Welfare,” Journal of Policy History, Vol. 13, No. 1 (2001), pp. 109-32.
discovered that 28 percent of child service agencies that are pervasively religious receive over 60 percent of their funds from government.10 Monsma also points out, however, that fundamental ambiguity, contradiction and confusion exist in current law and practice. Although supposedly the reigning principle is "no aid to pervasively sectarian organizations," in fact such organizations routinely receive large amounts of government funding, and the courts may, or may not, challenge such partnerships. But such disjunctions between theory and practice leave organizations--and government--vulnerable. Furthermore, there is little consistency concerning religious hiring by religious organizations that receive government funds. Outside of government funds, religious organizations clearly are at liberty to take faith into account in staffing decisions. Some federal funding laws (e.g., the AmeriCorps legislation) do require all grantees to agree not to hire on a religious basis, but many other funding laws are silent about employment and some explicitly maintain the hiring right for religious organizations. On the other hand, some federal agencies require all religious organizations that seek funds to abandon their right to hire on a religious basis--even though the pertinent statutes do not contain that requirement. Charitable Choice, if upheld by the Supreme Court, would clarify what is currently a confused, contradictory situation.
A Brief History11 The story of how this piece of legislation entered American public life is fascinating. In the early 1990's, Carl Esbeck, a law professor at the University of Missouri Law School, concerned about the secularizing effects of government funding, agreed to do a paper on how religious organizations are regulated when they receive government funds. When he presented his paper at a conference in February 1995, Esbeck decided to enliven his lecture by offering draft legislation to correct problems he had discovered. Soon after the conference, Esbeck sent his paper and draft legislation to a recent graduate, Annie Billings who, just weeks before, had joined the staff of freshman Republican Senator John Ashcroft, an Assemblies of God layman from Missouri. As governor, Ashcroft had noted that FBOs seemed to do a better job so one day in the spring of 1995 as he was working on the welfare bill, Ashcroft asked his staff how the new bill might encourage more FBOs to provide welfare services. When Billings shared Esbeck’s draft legislation, Ashcroft decided to try to incorporate it in the legislation, eventually persuading Majority Leader Senator Dole to include it in the Senate bill. When the bill went to the HouseSenate Conference Committee in the fall of 1995, Billings had to work hard to persuade Republican members of the House, but they eventually accepted the Charitable Choice provision. Clinton, however, vetoed the entire bill at Christmas–and a similar bill in the spring of ‘96. Then in the summer of ‘96, Congress again passed the welfare bill with Charitable Choice in it and Clinton signed it into law. Perhaps the most amazing thing in retrospect is that the Charitable Choice provisions faced as little opposition as it did in ‘95 and ‘96. A substantial coalition of liberal civil rights groups (including the ACLU and Americans United) did object,12 urging that Charitable Choice violated the separation of church and state, but the attention of the Congress and the country was elsewhere, on the dramatic changes in welfare policy. Charitable Choice, Annie Billings told me, was “under the radar screen most of 10 Stephen V. Monsma, When Sacred and Secular Mix: Religious Nonprofit Organizations and Public Money (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996), p. 78 (see all of pp. 70ff). 11 Based in part on personal interviews with Carl Esbeck (May 11, 2002) and Annie Billings White (June 18, 2002). See also Julie A. Segal’s chapter, “A ‘Holy Mistaken Zeal’: The Legislative History and Future of Charitable Choice,” in Derek Davis and Barry Hankins, eds., Welfare Reform and Faith-Based Organiztions (Waco: J. M. Dawson Institute, 1999), pp. 9-27. 12 A “Working Group for Religious Freedom in Social Services” lobbied against and distributed a legislative briefing packet against Charitable Choice. This group included: ACLU, AJC, Americans United, Anti-Defamation League, Baptist Joint Committee, PFAW, PC (USA), RAC of Reform Judaism, etc.
the time. . . .” A Senator did move to strike out the Charitable Choice provisions in the summer of ‘96, but after just a few minutes of debate, the Senate voted 67-32 to retain Charitable Choice. Many Democrats including liberal Senator Wellstone voted to keep it in the bill. A law professor, his young student and a freshman Senator had succeeded in passing legislation that just five years later would seem far more important and become very controversial. Not until 2001, however, did Charitable Choice become highly partisan. Democratic President Clinton signed not only the ‘96 welfare bill with Charitable Choice in it, but also three other bills that included very similar Charitable Choice provisions: the Welfare-to-Work Program in 1997; the Community Services Block Grant in 1998; and the substance abuse legislation (SAMHSA) in 2000. The situation changed rapidly, however, when Republican George W. Bush became President in January, 2001, and promptly launched a very high profile new White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. When the Republican leaders of the House introduced legislation expanding the provisions of Charitable Choice to a much broader range of federal funding streams, most Democrats opposed the bill, called HR-7. Use of government funds for what was alleged to be “religious discrimination” in hiring was the most successful objection. Unlike the church-state argument in 19951996, the “discrimination” argument proved politically effective. HR-7 passed the House on largely partisan grounds with only fifteen Democrats voting for it, and the new Democratic majority in the Senate quickly made it clear they would not accept new legislation to expand Charitable Choice. As a result, Republican Senator Santorum and Democratic Senator Lieberman drafted a compromise bill (called the CARE Act) that embraced some of President Bush’s faith-based proposals but was silent on the hiring safeguard. The present Congress is very unlikely to include Charitable Choice provisions in any new legislation beyond the four areas where it is currently law. It is probable, however, that the most significant developments with regard to Charitable Choice are now occurring inside the Bush administration rather than in Congress. In August 2001, the new White House office issued its first annual report on the faith-based initiative. Entitled Unlevel Playing Field: Barriers to Participation by Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Federal Social Service Programs, this report pointed out that with one limited exception, “Charitable Choice has been essentially ignored by federal administrators” (p.19). That is now changing. President Bush has established five offices on faith-based initiatives in five key federal departments to transform the federal bureaucracy and its regulations to remove barriers to FBOs. Two studies by Amy Sherman (one completed in 2000 and the second in 2002) show that the number of FBOs accessing federal funds under Charitable Choice guidelines is growing very rapidly.13
The Best Case for and Against14 Proponents argue that Charitable Choice serves the poor and ends religious discrimination in a way that is constitutional, protecting both FBOs’ religious identity and beneficiaries’ religious freedom. Almost everyone agrees that the levels of widespread poverty and social brokenness, especially at the heart of our great cities, in the richest nation in human history, is both a moral disgrace and a threat to democracy. In many of the most desperate communities, houses of worship and their social service programs are among the very few remaining functional institutions. Furthermore, some of the religious 13 She found 84 FBO/government partnerships governed by Charitable Choice legislation in 2000 and 726 two years later. See her The Growing Impact of Charitable Choice (Washington: Center for Public Justice, 2000) and Amy L. Sherman, Collaborations Catalogue: A Report on Charitable Choice Implementation in 15 States (Hudson Institute, 2002). 14 One of the better summaries of both views is in In Good Faith: A Dialogue on Government Funding of Faith-Based Social Services, available from the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, Temple University, 117 S. 17th Street, Suite 1010, Philadelphia, PA 19103, pp. 11-15.
social service programs in the most desperate communities appear to be succeeding where almost everything else has failed.15 In addition, many of these highly successful FBOs believe that a central key to their success is precisely the strong faith component in their programs. Although there is a vast amount of research proving that religious faith contributes significantly to physical and emotional well-being,16 sophisticated, quantitative social science research has yet to prove two more specific claims: that deeply faith-based programs work better than other programs and that faith is a key causal factor in that success. If and when research does substantiate these claims, then surely all who care about reducing poverty and social brokenness should embrace this highly promising solution. Second, Charitable Choice reduces religious discrimination. For decades, billions of government dollars have flowed regularly to both secular (government and non-government) and religiously affiliated providers like Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services of America and the Jewish Federations. On the other hand, FBOs that visibly integrated substantial faith components in their social service programs (those considered “pervasively sectarian”) were often considered ineligible. But all of these different types of organizations are grounded in what is finally a religious worldview. “Secular” organizations are grounded in, and at least implicitly teach, a naturalistic worldview that claims that since nothing exists except the natural order, persons are essentially complex socio-economic material machines and therefore all we need to solve social problems is the best of the medical and social sciences. Faith-related programs that have religiously-motivated staff but no religious content in their social program seem to embrace a deistic worldview that acknowledges the Creator, but considers religious faith irrelevant for solving social problems. Deeply religious theistic providers, on the other hand, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, believe that persons are body-soul unities and that a right relationship with God contributes significantly to solving social problems. Spiritual transformation, they believe, is an integral part of their ability to achieve the public goods desired by government. Is it not blatant religious discrimination for government to fund only naturalistic and deistic providers and refuse to fund theistic programs? In our kind of society where government funds a large number of private social service providers, it is simply impossible for government to implement the “no aid to pervasively sectarian organizations” principle without religious discrimination. If government tried to implement this principle consistently in the funding of social services, it would end up funding almost exclusively the religion of deism or the quasi-religion of philosophical naturalism. Charitable Choice focuses on outcomes, on whether a social service provider produces specific public goods such as good job training or effective drug rehabilitation, not on the degree of religiosity in the program. Thus it removes government from the entangling and discriminatory task of deciding how religious an organization is and then favoring the more secular. Under Charitable Choice, government neutrality becomes the norm, because government no longer is biased against some and in favor of other religious providers, but rather simply offers a level playing field, choosing providers on the basis of their effectiveness in providing specified public goods. Third, Charitable Choice protects both the religious integrity of FBOs and the religious liberty of beneficiaries. Charitable Choice legislation contains powerful protections against the ever-present danger of creeping secularization produced by government funding and regulations. At the same time, clients may demand a secular provider and if they freely choose a religious provider they may opt out of specific religious activities (which in any case dare not be funded by government). It is likely that some case concerning Charitable Choice will eventually end up before the Supreme Court, allowing the court to reach a definitive decision on whether this historic legislation is 15 “Faith-based programs can enjoy success where secular programs have failed.” John J. DiIulio, Jr., in a speech to the National Institute of Justice, May 4, 2002, p. 21. 16 Byron Johnson, Objective Hope: Assessing the Effectiveness of Faith-Based Organizations: A Review of the Literature (University of Pennsylvania Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, 2002).
constitutional. Meanwhile, for more than a decade, the court has increasingly turned away from a strict separationist view that no government money may flow to deeply religious organizations.17 Many believe this principle hinders free exercise, makes government programs engines of secularization, and is impossible to implement without enormous intrusion and thus excessive entanglement.18 In Mitchell v. Helms (2000), the Supreme Court did not use the pervasively religious criterion as the determining factor in whether a religious organization may receive government funds to provide services. A number of cases including Rosenberger v. Rector (1999), and the 2002 Zelman case on Cleveland’s voucher program all suggest that the present court will probably uphold Charitable Choice.19 What is the case against Charitable Choice? Opponents of Charitable Choice believe it violates the Establishment Clause, promotes governmentfunded hiring discrimination, jeopardizes clients’ religious freedom and endangers the autonomy and vitality of religious liberty. By allowing direct grants for social programs to houses of worship or social service providers that integrate strong faith components into their programs, government inevitably–and unconstitutionally–advances religion. Second, the hiring safeguard means that religious organizations may use government funds to “discriminate” in their hiring activities against certain people on the basis of religious belief. In the case of private funds, religious organizations should enjoy this privilege, but not in the case of government funds. Third, in practice Charitable Choice will endanger the religious freedom of clients. In theory, they have the right to demand a secular provider or to opt out of religious activities, but in practice, clients may feel too weak to demand their rights and become a captive audience for proselytizing. Finally, Charitable Choice endangers the autonomy and vitality of religious organizations. As government rightly demands accountability for its funds, there will be excessive entanglement of church and state. Houses of worship receiving government grants may fear to use their prophetic voice to challenge misguided government policies. Different houses of worship may engage in politically messy, polarizing competition with other houses of worship for grants. Members of religious congregations may decide that private giving is not needed when government funds arrive. Government regulations may subtly secularize programs or encourage rigid bureaucratic responses to persons rather than flexible person-centered approaches.20
The Hiring Safeguard
17 See Marc D. Stern, “Charitable Choice: The Law as It Is and May Be,” in Andrew Walsh, ed., Can Charitable Choice Work? (Hartford: The Leonard E. Greenberg Center, 2001), pp. 156ff, esp. pp. 170-73; and Carl H. Esbeck, “The Neutral Treatment of Religion and Faith-Based Social Service Providers: Charitable Choice and Its Critics,” in Davis and Hankins, eds., Welfare Reform, pp. 173ff. 18 Esbeck, in Welfare Reform, pp. 175-76. 19 For the opposite argument, see Alan Brownstein’s “Constitutional Questions about Charitable Choice,” in Davis and Hankins, eds., Welfare Reform, pp. 219ff. 20 See for example, Melissa Rogers, “The Wrong Way to Do Right: Charitable Choice and Churches,” in Davis and Hankins, eds.,Welfare Reform, pp. 73-76; and Derek Davis, “Right Motive, Wrong Method: Thoughts on the Constitutionality of Charitable Choice,” in Davis and Hankins, eds., Welfare Reform, pp. 267ff; Elena Matsui and Joseph Chuman, “The Case Against Charitable Choice,” The Humanist, January/February 2001, pp. 31-33.
One of the most important and politically explosive objections to Charitable Choice has been the charge of “hiring discrimination” using government funds. Certainly in the last two years, this has become perhaps the most frequent and most politically effective objection to Charitable Choice. In fact, the vast majority of the American people agree with this objection. A Pew poll in the spring of 2001 discovered that 78 percent of Americans reject the idea that religious groups that use government funds should be allowed to hire “only those who share their religious beliefs.”21 Seventy percent of Republicans felt the same way. So did 65 percent of white evangelical Protestants.22 The hiring safeguard is at the heart of Charitable Choice’s attempt to protect the religious identity of FBOs that partner with government. If receiving government funds means that an evangelical foster care agency must hire wiccans and Planned Parenthood must hire pro-life activists, neither organization can retain its identity and mission. Section 702 of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act explicitly safeguards the right of religious organizations to use religious criteria in hiring employees with religious duties. In 1972, Congress expanded this right to cover all employees of religious organizations. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared this provision constitutional. Nor is it only at the federal level that this right of religious organizations is recognized; most state and local generally applicable civil rights codes include the same hiring safeguard. With one exception, federal and state court decisions have ruled that this hiring right is not lost when a religious organization receives government funds.23 I think the courts are right and the large majority in the Pew poll are wrong for at least the following eight reasons.24 1. A religious organization’s decision to hire staff who share its religious beliefs and practices is not intolerant discrimination but a good, positive act of freedom. In a free society enjoying freedom of association, a wide variety of organizations rightly are free to select staff who share their core commitments. Environmental organizations, feminist groups, unions, etc., all should be free to choose only staff who agree with their agenda. Nor should this right disappear if governments choose to request that these private organizations perform some desired tasks. Planned Parenthood, for example, should not lose its right not to hire pro-life staff simply because it has a government contract. To deny this right to religious organizations would be intolerant discrimination, not the promotion of an open, free society.25
21 Faith-Based Funding Backed, But Church-State Doubts Abound, p. 11; http://pewforum.org/events/0410/report/1.php3. Obviously, the wording of a question greatly affects the response. Probably there would have been a quite different response if the question had been put as follows: “Do you think a religious organization should lose its constitutional and legal right to hire people on a religious basis simply because the government has decided that the organization serves people so well that it wants to give it some government money?” 22 Ibid. 23 Dodge v. Salvation Army (No. 588-0353, S.D. Miss. 1989) is the exception. See Carl H. Esbeck’s (then Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General) detailed response (not yet published) to Question 13 from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Among the seven cases cited, see especially Hall v. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp (6th Cir. 2000) and Siegel v. Truett-McConnell College (11th Cir. 1995) where federal district courts upheld the hiring exemption on religious grounds even though the FBOs received substantial government funding. 24 In the following section, I am adapting slightly part of a recent article: “The Case for ‘Discrimination’,” First Things, May, 2002, pp. 19-22. 25 See, for example, Nathan J. Diament, “A Slander Against our Sacred Institution,” The Washington Post, May 28, 2001, p. A23.
It is confusion to equate this positive good with the evil of discrimination on the basis of things like race or disability. Whether or not one thinks that religion is a medieval superstition that rational folk ought to abandon or a true and good contributor to societal well-being, all who believe in religious freedom should insist that it is a good thing to be treasured and protected by law, not a bad thing to be restricted, for all religious organizations to have full freedom to hire staff who share their religious beliefs. 2. The ability to choose staff who share a religious organization’s core beliefs is essential if that organization wishes to retain its basic identity. As Justice William Brennan said in Corporation of the Presiding Bishop v. Amos (1987) (the unanimous Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the hiring safeguard on religious grounds): “Determining that certain activities are in furtherance of an organization’s religious mission and that only those committed to that mission should conduct them, is thus a means by which a religious community defines itself.” A Jewish organization forced to hire substantial numbers of Baptist staffers will not long remain a significantly Jewish organization.26 Having staff that share a religious organization’s essential religious beliefs profoundly shapes the identity of an organization in a wide range of ways. Shared motivation, common values, a sense of community and unity of purpose, shared experiences of prayer and worship (even if they are all outside work time in the organization) all contribute to an esprit de corps and shared organizational vision. As law professor Ira C. Lupu said in testimony before a House subcommittee (June 7, 2001), “ the sense of religious community and spirit on which success of the group’ s efforts depend “ may be hampered if they are forced to hire those who do not share the organization’s beliefs. This is important even when, for example, a faith-centered organization chooses to separate by location or time (and fund with private money)sectarian worship, instruction and proselytization in a program in order to receive direct government grants. This is true for several reasons. First, religious activities may be important to the social service program, even though they are voluntary, privately funded and segregated from “secular” government-funded activities. In such programs, holding certain religious beliefs and practices are legitimate qualifications for a staff position, equally as valid as having the right skills and experience. Second, forced religious diversity can have the effect of stifling religious expression of staff within the agency, creating a climate of fear of offending other staff with religious speech or actions. Since personal faith is very important to many who choose to work in a religious organization, such a climate can diminish staff motivation and effectiveness. Forced religious diversity can sap a program's spiritual vitality and lead toward its secularization. Third, staff often play multiple roles in small organizations–for example, an agency might seek someone as half-time youth minister and half-time social worker for their youth mentoring program. Implementing a policy in which religion could be considered as a factor in hiring for some job duties but not others within the same position would lead to unnecessarily complicated and impermissibly entangling regulations. Similar reasons show why any “grandfathering” compromise that accepts current staff selected on a religious basis but prohibits future staff selection on that basis is inadequate. It merely delays a bit the subversion of organizational identity. (If, as in the 1993 National and Community Service 26 See Jeffrey Rosen, “Why the Catholic Church Shouldn’t Have to Hire Gays - Religious Rights,” The New Republic, February 26, 2001, pp. 16-17.
Trust Act (which governs AmeriCorps), the prohibition applies only to a particular program, this problem is reduced, but by no means eliminated.) 3. Just because a religious organization accepts some federal funds, it (like other non-profits) does not cease to exist as an independent, autonomous entity and become an arm or agent of the government. In an article in The American Prospect, Wendy Kaminer argues that “private associations must, of course, give up private associational rights when they accept government support, and become, in part, de facto public entities.”27 But surely Kaminer is wrong. Law28, precedents, and common sense all argue that a private organization that accepts some government funds still retains its separate identity. This is clearly seen in such cases as colleges and universities receiving government funding, scholars engaging in federally subsidized research, and artists and artistic organizations funded by the Natonal Endowment for the Arts. All of these receive government funding; all maintain their autonomy and freedom of action. They maintain their academic or artistic freedom. They do not become agents of government. Similarly, a religious organization that receives government funds to provide a public service which we as a society have decided is for the public good must be free to maintain its identity and autonomy, and not be co-opted by government. Among other things this means it must retain its right to use religious criteria in making hiring decisions. 4. In American society today, permitting religious organizations that receive government money to provide social services the freedom to hire staff on the basis of religious belief and practice is the only way to avoid discrimination and governmental preference of one religious view over another. Today, vast sums of government money flow to many different types of non-governmental social service providers. Some of these providers include religious content (paid for by private money) in their programs and some do not. Some choose staff on the basis of religious belief and some do not. Using the typology of different types of faith-based organizations recently published by the Working Group on Human Needs and Faith-Based and Community Initiatives on which I served and which was chaired by former Democratic Senator Harris Wofford helps explain this point. Programs called “faith-saturated” and “faith-centered” both include substantial religious content in their programs and hire (primarily or entirely) employees who share their beliefs--precisely because their religious beliefs tell them that persons are spiritual as well as material beings and therefore the best results follow when spiritual and material transformation are combined. Programs called “faith-related,” “faith-background” and “secular” do not include significant religious content in their program or consider religious belief in their staffing because their religious beliefs/worldview tell them that all that is needed to correct dysfunctional social behavior and social problems is socio-economic, material transformation. All these providers, not just the first two, are grounded in an explicit or implicit worldview or religious perspective. Secular providers at least implicitly work within a naturalistic worldview (nothing exists except the natural world) which functions as a religious perspective. Functionally, faith-related and faith-background providers operate with deistic religious beliefs (God exists but never intervenes in the natural world of cause and effect). Naturalism and deism, however, are just as much particular religious worldviews as the historic theism that undergirds most faith-saturated and faith-centered programs.
27 “The Joy of Sects,” The American Prospect, February 12, 2001, p. 33. 28 A number of court cases reject the idea that the receipt of government funding at a private organization renders that organization’s action state action; e.g., Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 US. 991 (1982); Rendell-Baker v. Kohn (457 US. 830 (1982).
Obviously, if government only funds some of these private providers (i.e., the naturalistic and deistic ones which do not explicitly use religious criteria for staff), government clearly discriminates among religions. First it preferences some types of religious providers over others because of their more “acceptable”religious views--surely an establishment of religion. And second, it denies some beneficiaries the opportunity of having government-funded social services which work within their religious framework while offering that opportunity to others–an obstruction of free exercise.. 5. Refusing government funds to religious social service providers that choose staff on the basis of religious belief will hurt the poor. In an op-ed. (The Wall Street Journal, 7/23/01), Andrew Young asked: “Why should the [religious] organizations that are best at serving the needy be excluded from even applying for government funding?” Urging Senate passage of a bill expanding Charitable Choice, Young warned opponents not to play politics with the needy. Young’s premises of course may be wrong. His argument assumes that the poor need both moral/spiritual as well as material transformation and also that faith-based organizations often are more effective. We do not yet have extensive, sophisticated, comparative quantitative studies demonstrating that (other things being equal) intensely faith-based providers produce better or poorer results. (Obviously we urgently need such comparative quantitative studies to see which types of programs actually produce better results-i.e., more people off drugs, completing job training and staying employed, etc.). A lot of anecdotal data, however, clearly suggest that thoroughly faith-based programs are producing good outcomes in contexts where almost nothing else seems to work–a finding that fits with the vast number of quantitative studies that have demonstrated that faith contributes positively to emotional and physical well-being.29 Furthermore, these success stories often come from FBOs which are very certain that the religious components in their program are a crucial cause of their success. If they are right, then refusing to fund such agencies means denying many of the most needy citizens the best available help. 6. Since government is now asking religious groups to provide more social services, government should respect the integrity of those organizations. Religious organizations have been caring for the poor and needy for millennia. They will continue to do so regardless of what government says, or funds. They do not need government money to do what their mission demands. Today, however, federal, state and local governments are asking faith-based groups to provide more social services and offering some funds so they can expand what they are doing--partly because the available (still largely anecdotal) data suggest that FBOs often produce better results. Furthermore, religious institutions are frequently almost the only still-functioning institutions in very desperate neighborhoods. If government wants this additional help, it should respect and preserve the integrity of FBOs rather than destroying the very thing that makes them especially effective. The right to hire employees that share the religious body’s beliefs is the single most important way to do that. 7. Removing the right of religious organizations to hire staff on the basis of religious belief would require drastic, widespread change in current practice. Today, religious colleges and universities, religious hospitals, religious foster care agencies and many other religious organizations receive some government funding to assist in a part of 29
See above, n. 16.
their educational, medical and social services. Many of these organizations consider the existing, recognized hiring safeguard to be absolutely essential for any continuing provision of social services with government support. Those who oppose the hiring protection in Charitable Choice, if they are consistent, will seek to overturn and outlaw a vast range of situations where government currently cooperates with faith-based organizations. Hopefully, such a radical disruption of education, health care and social services will not occur. 8. Finally, the practical impact of the hiring safeguard will not entail significant harm. This last argument is fundamentally different from the previous seven. Thus far, I have argued that as a matter of principle, religious freedom is such a fundamental right that it ought to prevail even if on occasion embracing that overriding principle has the secondary effect of, for example, reducing the number of job opportunities for a particular group. For example, the Catholic Church must, as a matter of principle, be free to live out its religious belief (which I do not share) that only men should be priests, even though that has the effect of (slightly) reducing the number of job possibilities for women. My last point offers an argument, not about principle, but about practical effect. The recent suggestion that extending the hiring safeguard would in practice mean that African-Americans or gay Americans would suffer a substantive loss of job opportunities is simply wrong. There is a certain tension between two treasured values: on the one hand, protecting the religious freedom and identity of FBOs as they expand their effective services to the most needy; on the other, our societyâ€™s conviction that except in the case of a narrow range of specific situations, employers should not hire on the basis of religion. Would the hiring safeguard, even if Charitable Choice was substantially expanded to other government funding streams, really result in job deprivation? Hardly at all. First, we are talking about a small percentage of the total jobs in the society. Second, probably the majority of FBOs (e.g., most Catholic, Jewish and Mainline Protestant agencies) pay almost no attention to the religious beliefs of staff. Third, in the case of those evangelical Christian, Orthodox Jewish and Muslim FBOs that do, virtually all the different religious groups have their own FBOs which chose staff who share their own beliefs. For very understandable historical reasons, African-Americans have been concerned that racial discrimination might find cover under the hiring safeguard for religious organizations. This is extremely unlikely to happen. For one thing, federal law, and parallel laws in all fifty states, explicitly forbid discrimination on the basis of race. The Charitable Choice legislation was enacted with those laws in mind and in no way altered them. Furthermore, FBOs working in minority communities are run either by people of the same racial group or by whites who have been at the forefront of fighting racial prejudice. What about sexual orientation? Many FBOs do not ask about or select staff on the basis of sexual orientation. (The Salvation Army, for example, very explicitly does not.) It is true that a number of FBOs do say that staff should not be sexually active outside marriage. But is that really so terribleâ€“especially for FBOs working to overcome poverty in a society where a child growing up in a single-parent household is eleven times more likely to be persistently poor than a child growing up in a two-parent family? Even if the hiring safeguard in Charitable Choice were expanded to a lot more government funding streams, openly sexually active gay Americans would face extremely little job deprivation. The number in that group is very small and the number of jobs affected is a minuscule fraction of the total number of jobs. Gay FBOs exist and others can be formed that choose to hire those who share that ethical/religious belief. Surely the well-educated gay community does not want to block an enormously 12
promising way to overcome poverty and social brokenness for millions of desperate Americans to avoid what in practice would at worst mean only the loss of a handful of possible jobs.
Charitable Choice’s Intellectual Home Charitable Choice makes most sense within a political philosophy that affirms structural or institutional pluralism and understands that religion (at least some prominent expressions of religion) is very much a public, not just a personal private activity.30 Catholic social teaching (especially the principle of subsidiarity) and the Dutch Calvinist tradition of Abraham Kuyper more easily support Charitable Choice than the Lockean tradition of Anglo-American liberalism. The Lockean tradition tends to emphasize the individual and the state, placing less importance on a range of intermediary institutions including civil society. Neither the libertarian nor the statist versions of the liberal tradition fit well with Charitable Choice. Charitable Choice by no means assumes with libertarians that government has no responsibility for overcoming poverty and other social problems and that government can and should turn these tasks over to private groups and houses of worship. Charitable Choice assumes an important, ongoing role of government in both funding and regulating society’s social services. On the other hand, Charitable Choice rejects any statist notion that government should solve all social problems and that if government partners with other institutions in alleviating social ills, those other institutions become de facto and/or de iure arms of government. Rather Charitable Choice assumes that there can be a genuine partnership between government and other institutions in society–a partnership in which those other institutions retain their own identity and independence even as they cooperate with (and receive funding from) government in delivering specific public goods such as job training or drug rehabilitation. Nor does Charitable Choice fit well with an Enlightenment, Jeffersonian understanding of religion as a personal private affair that has no proper role in public life. To a significant degree, the strict separationist views and court decisions of the last few decades assume, as Chief Justice Burger said in Lemon v. Kurtzman, that the heart of religion is private expression. Or as Baptist separationist Derek Davis has said: “It is the private expression of religion in private spheres that is the heart of religion.”31 Historic Christianity, Judaism and Islam, however, understand religious faith to apply to all of life, both “public” and “private.” For Christians who believe that Christ is Lord of all, it is simply impossible to restrict religious belief and practice to some private sphere. One’s religious beliefs shape how you run schools and social service agencies. If government, as it has often done in the past several decades, only funds social service providers that are essentially secular, it not only is biased toward the religious worldviews of naturalism or deism, but also discriminates against historic Christian faith that demands a public expression of religious belief. Catholic social teaching and Dutch Kupyerianism provide a better home for Charitable Choice. The Catholic principle of subsidiarity affirms both an important role for the state, but also a crucial role for other societal institutions. Social problems should be dealt with at as local a level as can adequately solve the problem. And when government rightly plays a role, it must make sure that it does not undermine but rather strengthens and preserves the identity of the other important societal institutions–family, business, schools, religious institutions, voluntary associations, etc. Abraham 30 I am especially indebted in this section to unpublished papers by Stephen Monsma (“Myths, Lies and Soundbites: Reactions to President Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative”–the “Henry Lecture” at Calvin College on April 29, 2002) and Timothy Sherratt (“Government and Faith-Based Organizations” presented at Collegium Conversations on Public Policy in Washington, May 10-11, 2002). 31 Quoted in Sherratt, Ibid., p. 4.
Kuyper’s political philosophy with its doctrine of sphere sovereignty similarly emphasized the crucial character and independence of the non-governmental institutions in society. That is the kind of political philosophy where Charitable Choice is at home. Houses of worship and private faith-based organizations have their own independence and identity. They may choose to partner with government but do not thereby abandon their freedom, independence and unique identity. They remain free to understand human nature and define social problems and solutions from their unique religious perspective and they retain the freedom to hire staff that share the same vision. Political scientist Stephen Monsma likes the word “partnership” to describe the kind of “church-state” relationship assumed by Charitable Choice because “both partners work together to achieve a common goal, with neither partner dominating the other, and each making an independent contribution to meeting the public good.”32 I believe James Skillen’s discussion, in his Princeton lecture last year, where he describes four orders of pluralism in American history, can further clarify this discussion of where Charitable Choice most easily finds its home.33 The first order of pluralism runs from 1787 to about 1830. With the Bill of Rights in 1787, the federal government prohibited any governmental establishment of religion at the national level, but for several decades states still maintained established religions. As the states followed the federal government in rejecting established churches (Massachusetts being the last in the 1830's), the second order of pluralism emerged. Partly to inculcate a common morality to unify the nation, public schools emerged, reading the Bible and teaching a generally Protestant/somewhat deistic religio-moral perspective. Even though they explicitly taught specific religious beliefs shared by the majority of citizens, the public schools were called “non-sectarian” and received government funding, unlike the so-called “sectarian” privately funded Catholic schools. The third order of pluralism slowly emerged from the late nineteenth century through the mid twentieth century and has been dominant for at least the last four decades. Now “non-sectarian” means secular. “Sectarian” means any explicitly religious belief of any sort which is banished from the schools, indeed from all of public life. Secular views dominate public life. Skillen points out that the battle over the schools or Charitable Choice by people like Barry Lynn on the one hand (who as head of Americans United totally opposes Charitable Choice) and Pat Robertson (who, as leader of the Christian Coalition, supports Charitable Choice as long as people like Muslims and Buddhists are excluded) is a battle between second- and third-order pluralists. Both want the majority to have a monopoly of the public square with the right to determine who and what is sectarian. But whereas Robertson is a second-order pluralist who is willing to let secularists thrive in private where they cannot, for example, write the curricula for public school classrooms, Lynn wants a secular majority to control school curricula and define the terms of publicly-funded welfare services while making room for [Robertson] and other fundamentalist sectarians in private quarters alone. . . . Neither viewpoint can envision public pluralism.34 Charitable Choice points to a possible fourth order of pluralism–public, structural or institutional pluralism. This fourth order recognizes that many religions are profoundly public as well as private and that any attempt to banish religion to the private sphere is simply religious imperialism on the part of 32 33 34
Monsma, Henry Lecture, p. 11. Skillen, “E Pluribus Unum,” Princeton Seminary Bulletin, pp. 285-305. Ibid., pp. 296-7.
allegedly secular but in fact deeply religious Enlightenment deists and philosophical naturalists. In the fourth order of pluralism, the essential principle is “equal public treatment of all faiths, with none having the right, through control of government, to monopolize public policy and funding for its point of view.”35 Consequently, in the delivery of social services, government works with every effective provider without regard to whether they are secular or religious so that every person has the opportunity to receive services from a provider that shares their perspective. And government protects the right of every religious provider (including secular naturalists) to maintain their institutional identity by being free to hire staff who share their faith commitments. Charitable Choice does not call for special privileges for religious groups or a special pot of money exclusively for faith-based organizations; it simply requires the end to public discrimination against such groups. That, of course, amounts to the end of publicmonopoly privileges for “secular” moralists [i.e., third-order pluralists like Barry Lynn] as well as for “religious” moralists [i.e., second-order pluralists like Pat Robertson]. [This fourth] order of pluralism will mean that all of America’s communities will have the same legal protection to practice their religions and nonreligions freely and that they may do so in partnership with government in many instances. . . . This is genuine pluralism.36 I want to conclude by briefly responding to a few of the criticisms and summarizing why, on balance, I support Charitable Choice. I believe some of the critics’ concerns point to potential dangers against which we must be on guard. It would be a tragedy if new partnerships with government resulted in the churches’ loss of their prophetic voice. But vigilance and courage can overcome this danger. Houses of worship and FBOs already have many relationships with government and politicians without losing their ability to challenge wrong policies. For decades, the African-American church probably has had an especially close partnership with some politicians without becoming a servile lackey. There is a danger that over the long haul, government funding and regulations will result in slow secularization of FBOs. Again, vigilance can greatly reduce this threat. In his careful study of numerous church-state partnerships, Professor Charles Glenn concludes in his The Ambiguous Embrace that “government interference may be less significant than loss of conviction or lack of clarity” on the part of FBOs themselves about “the significance in practice of religious convictions, insights and actions.”37 Finally, rather than discouraging private giving, as some fear, additional government funding may encourage further private donations. If FBOs are careful to avoid excessive dependence on government funds (I recommend no more than 50 percent and preferably only 33 percent) and carefully explain to their religious donors that spiritual program components which government dare not fund are central to their success, government grants need not discourage private donors. In spite of the dangers, I believe the arguments on the other side are finally more persuasive. I am convinced that, other things being equal, deeply faith-based organizations will prove–when the social scientists eventually do the sophisticated quantitative studies–to be more effective than secular or nominally religious social service providers. If persons are body-soul unities, then programs that 35 Ibid., p. 298. 36 Ibid., pp. 301-02. 37 Charles L. Glenn, The Ambiguous Embrace: Government and Faith-Based Schools and Social Agencies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 255.
simultaneously offer both effective spiritual transformation and the best socio-economic and medical change will be more successful in producing the public goods desired by government than programs that only deal with one half of the problem and only offer one half of the solution. That is the case, as Luis Lugo says, “because they deliver these services in a qualitatively different manner, one that addresses matters of the heart by drawing on spiritual and moral resources that are beyond the competence of government.”38 Obviously, government funding of that kind of FBO raises important church/state issues. But I agree with Stephen Monsma that there is “a huge difference between funding a religious congregation in its core rituals and celebrations [which government should never do] and funding a religious group’s social services it is providing to the community.”39 I think Charitable Choice strikes the right balance between protecting clients’ free exercise rights and avoiding an establishment of religion while at the same time protecting the religious identity of FBOs. After all, it would be silly to encourage government to partner with FBOs because FBOs seem to work where everything else has failed and then allow the government partnership to destroy the very thing that makes some FBOs unusually successful. Second, I think Charitable Choice and its underlying assumption of public structural pluralism is really the only way to be fair to everyone in our enormously diverse society. Carl Esbeck is right that the principle of not funding “pervasively sectarian” FBOs is “hopelessly prejudiced in favor of secular liberalism.”40 President Clinton’s former Domestic Policy Advisor, Professor William A. Galston, is right that we should embrace “the principle of maximum feasible accommodation of diverse legitimate ways of life, limited only by the minimum requirements of civic unity.”41 Our society contains a vast range of both clients and providers with an enormous range of religious views that shape the services they seek to provide and want to have. It is simply unfair for government to force a secular client to go to a religious program or compel a religious person to receive services from a secular program that implicitly or explicitly denies the person’s deepest beliefs.42 The fundamental structural pluralism embedded in Charitable Choice is one of the best ways we have discovered to be fair to everyone. Finally, I am convinced that the new openness in Charitable Choice to government funding for all types of providers including deeply religious ones will help the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Houses of worship and deeply religious FBOs are sometimes the only remaining functioning institutions (except for liquor outlets) in their communities. All our communities, especially the poorest, desperately need the social capital that Robert Putnam has shown is in such decline in contemporary society. Putnam’s Saguaro Seminar has also found that “roughly speaking, nearly half of America’s stock of social capital is religious or religiously affiliated.”43 We need to use all constitutionally appropriate ways to encourage religious institutions to do more to empower the most disadvantaged in our midst. Charitable Choice, I believe, can become one significant way to do that.
38 Quoted in Glenn, Ambiguous Embrace, p. 240. 39 Henry Lecture, p. 4. 40 In Davis and Hankins, Welfare Reform, p. 193. 41 Liberal Pluralism (Cambridge: University Press, 2002), p. 119. 42 See Stanley Carlson-Thies in Davis and Hankins, Welfare Reform, p. 43. 43 Better Together: the Report of the Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America (Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, 2002) p. 65.
TOWARD AN EVANGELICAL POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
Ronald J. Sider
Professor of Theology and Culture, Eastern Seminary President, Evangelicals for Social Action
December 4, 1998
In the last few years, evangelicals have had more political influence in the U.S. than at any time in this century. But we are not certain what to do with it. Unless we find out, we will squander an historic opportunity to nudge this society toward moral renewal and justice for all. To be sure, there are many evangelical voices loudly promoting political agendas. But the voices are often confused, contradictory and superficial. Evangelicals lack anything remotely similar to Catholicism's papal encyclicals and episcopal pronouncements on social and political issues that have provided Roman Catholics with a careful, integrated foundational framework for approaching each concrete political decision. (This deficiency, as Mark Noll points out, is one important aspect of the "scandal of the evangelical mind.") On the other hand, when evangelicals have acted politically, we have usually jumped into the political fray without doing our theoretical, theological homework. That our confused, superficial activity has had little lasting impact should not surprise us. If that is to change, we urgently need to develop a careful systematic political philosophy to guide and sustain our activism. That, of course, is a task requiring years, indeed decades of communal work. Here, I want briefly first to illustrate some problems that arise because we lack an evangelical political philosophy; second, to outline how I try to move from a biblical normative framework and careful societal analysis to a political philosophy; and third, to point to a few ways to move forward. Some may object to my assertion that we lack an evangelical political philosophy by pointing to the fact that Reformed, Lutheran, and to a lesser extent, Anabaptist evangelicals all have developed systematic reflection on politics. One thinks, for example, of the marvelous Kuyperian tradition of political philosophy that James Skillen articulates so well. Careful political reflection within each of these evangelical traditions is very helpful for our work. But I do not think it is adequate to guide evangelical political engagement today and tomorrow. Why? There are a large number of evangelicals in this country and in many countries around the world who represent a vast array of different theological and ecclesiastical traditions. The Pentecostals, Wesleyans, AfricanAmericansâ€“to name a fewâ€“are not about to fully embrace a Reformed political philosophy even though they are glad to learn from Abraham Kuyper. But all these evangelicals from a vast array of traditions have some common sense of identity as evangelicals and to some extent want to work together on many things, including politics, in spite of their theological differences. In order to do that effectively, they need to embrace at least a common set of principles for a political philosophy.
PRESENT CONFUSION It is not hard to illustrate the way the absence of a foundational political philosophy leads evangelical political activists to rush off madly in all directions. (In the early years of Moral Majority, according to Ed Dobson, it was often â€œready, fire, aim.â€?) Take the area of moral decay. Virtually all Christians, and certainly all evangelicals, agree both that serious moral decay threatens this society and also that religious communities are the only place to look for that radical spiritual conversion that transforms persons and that such communities are the primary moral teachers of the virtues that decent societies require. Some evangelicals think the solution is a constitutional amendment to restore prayer in the schools . Others want constitutional, or at least legislative, action to guarantee equal benefits to adherents of all religious views. And other evangelicals think both of the previous proposals would violate the First Amendment and destroy both church and state. Or consider evangelical pronouncements on the role of government. Sometimes, when attacking government programs they dislike, evangelical voices adopt libertarian arguments that would preclude almost all government activity to promote economic justice ("Helping the poor is a task for individuals and churches, not the government"). Then when the issues change to abortion, family, euthanasia, and pornography, the same people loudly demand vigorous government action. There might be a good case to be made for private programs in the first case and legislation in the second. But if one uses arguments in one area that run counter to one's agenda in another, one appears confused and superficial. The absence of a consistent ethic of life leads to absurd inconsistency. Some evangelical political voices make the sanctity of human life (up to birth and just before death) the overriding issue and neglect the way poverty and smoking destroy millions. Other evangelicals point out that racism, poverty and environmental decay all kill and yet seem little concerned with millions of abortions each year. Some of our superficiality and confusion result from the fact that we have seldom taken the time to work out carefully the specific policy implications of biblical faith. Too often we just assume that traditional American values or the Republican (or, less often, the Democratic) Party's platform are right. Former Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed, for example, says that when he became a committed Christian and started attending an evangelical church, "my religious beliefs never changed my views on the [political] issues to any great degree because my political philosophy was already well developed." Without testing political agendas on the basis of biblical norms, Christians often uncritically endorse left-wing or (more often) right-wing ideological agendas. I need not go on illustrating this basic point. Evangelical political impact today is weakened because our voices are confused, contradictory, and superficial. We contradict each other. Our agendas are shaped more by secular ideologies than divine revelation. We have no systematic foundational framework for careful dialogue about our specific
policy differences or even for successful repudiation of extremists. And, oh, how the secular media love to publicize the worst examples such as intolerant attacks on the civil rights of gay Americans or the murder of doctors who perform abortions. Evangelicals urgently need some commonly agreed upon principles of a political philosophy. It would not solve all our political problems. But it would help. METHODOLOGY Here I want to sketch the methodology I seek to use in approaching political questions. A.
Jesus Is Lord
The centerpiece of all genuinely Christian politics is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that the Galilean champion of the poor and marginalized is the Creator of the galaxies, the Sovereign of the universe. Therefore all who believe in him seek to submit every realm of life--whether family, economics or politics--unconditionally to Christ the Lord. Christians therefore reject the uncritical embrace of any and every secular ideology--whether right, left, "Green," libertarian, or communitarian. The Christian's starting point must be the Word of God which is revealed partially in creation, more fully in the Bible, and most completely in Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word become flesh. Founding political engagement on ideologies of left or right rather than Christ is fundamentally un-Christian. B.
Starting with the Lordship of Christ, however, does not instantly provide detailed political guidance on specific policy issues. Nor does citing specific biblical texts instantly solve complex political questions. Serious Christian political engagement must recognize the complexity and ambiguity of political decisions. Every political judgment rests finally on a normative framework on the one hand and careful study of society and the world on the other. It is helpful to distinguish four different, interrelated components of every political decision: 1) a normative framework; 2) a broad study of society and the world; 3) a political philosophy; and 4) detailed social analysis on specific issues. Normative Framework. If one's political activity is to be genuinely Christian, then the guiding norms for one's politics must come from the core of one's faith. Since biblical faith teaches that some sense of the true and good is embedded in the human conscience, common wisdom (call it natural law if you like) can offer some guidance. Some Christians, especially Roman Catholics, believe that it is still possible to derive major input for one's normative framework from general revelation. My own inclination is to think that since the Fall has deeply clouded the understanding of God's law written on all hearts, general revelation by itself cannot be the primary source of the Christian's normative framework for political engagement. For clarity, therefore, I turn to the 1.
revealed truth of the Scriptures. Discovering relevant biblical norms for specific political issues is not, however, a matter of simple proof-texting. The Bible is full of commands, stories, proverbs--in short, a wide variety of materials written over many centuries. To develop a fully biblical perspective on political issues, we need two things: a) a biblical view of the world and persons (I call this the biblical story); b) an understanding of biblical teaching related to many concrete issues--for example, the family or economic justice (I call these biblical paradigms). To develop a normative biblical framework, we must in principle examine all relevant biblical passages, understand each text according to proper principles of exegesis, and then formulate a comprehensive summary of all relevant canonical material. The most sweeping comprehensive summary would deal with the biblical story. The other comprehensive summaries (or biblical paradigms) would cover things such as the poor, the family, work, justice, the dignity of persons, etc. Broad Study of Society and the World. By itself, however, the biblical framework is insufficient. Nothing in the Bible talks explicitly about the pros and cons of a market economy or multi-national corporations or the impact of five billion people on the natural environment around them. 2.
In addition to a normative framework, we need a broad, comprehensive study of our world. That study takes many forms. It includes reflection on the historical development of society, the economy, political systems, etc. (As finite, historical beings, we come to see some things more clearly as history unfolds.) It also includes, in principle, detailed, comprehensive socio-economic, political analysis of everything relevant to any particular political question. This careful study becomes central at two stages of analysis. One's analysis of the history of economics, politics, etc., helps to shape one's political philosophy (see B.3.). For example, as the Marxist experiment worked itself out in the course of the twentieth century, it became more and more clear not only that Marxist philosophy contradicted the biblical view of persons but also that in practice Marxism led to economic inefficiency and political totalitarianism. Similarly, it is becoming increasingly clear that substantial injustice accompanies the functioning of today's market economies. Detailed social analysis of everything relevant to a particular politician or piece of legislation is also crucial (see B.4.). 3. Political Philosophy. In addition to a biblical framework and a broad study of society and the world, Christians engaged in politics also need a political philosophy. It is simply impossible, every time one wants to make a political decision, to spend days (actually years) reviewing the mountains of relevant biblical material and complex studies of society. We need a framework, a road map, a handy guide--in short, a political philosophy. But we dare not adopt our political philosophy uncritically from some nonChristian source. It must emerge from our normative biblical framework and painstaking,
extensive socio-economic, political analysis. 4. Detailed Social Analysis on Specific Issues. Even after a Christian has a political philosophy shaped by both a normative biblical framework and careful study of society and the world, one still needs to do painstaking, detailed social analysis on everything relevant to a particular legislative proposal or a specific election. Two people could, in principle, have identical normative frameworks, identical historical analyses of modern society and identical political philosophies and still disagree on whether or not, for example, to raise the minimum wage. Why? Because they rely on different economic analyses of the actual effects of raising the minimum wage. The only way to make progress on settling such a disagreement is to go back together and do further detailed economic analysis. Careful detailed social analysis of all the available information relevant to any specific political judgment is the fourth essential ingredient of any responsible Christian political engagement. C.
Other Introductory Points
Complexity and Political Necessity. The method just described is complex--in fact, far more complex than I have been able to suggest here. Every one of the four steps intersects with all the others. Our reading of history shapes the questions we put to the Bible as we seek to develop a normative framework. That framework in turn shapes everything else. 1.
In real life, we cannot wait to make political decisions until we have completed all the study that is desirable. We must make decisions based on our best current understanding and then keep open to further insight and information. Cooperation and Humility. The kind of study required for faithful Christian political engagement is far too complex for any one individual. We need communal activity, teams of scholars and activists, and organizations and networks working together to develop a common vision and agenda. For successful Christian political engagement, then, we need groups of Christians who can integrate a normative biblical framework, study of society and world, a political philosophy (derived from the former two ingredients) and detailed social analysis as they all approach every major issue of contemporary political life. That means working out concrete public policy proposals on everything from welfare reform to family policy to peacemaking in Bosnia. 2.
Knowing the complexity of such political judgments and the possibility of mistakes at every step, we must always hold our specific political conclusions with great humility and tentativeness. But we should dare to advocate boldly for specific policies because we have sought to ground our specific conclusions in a biblical framework and responsible social analysis even as we invite friend and foe alike to help us improve our analysis of
both the Scriptures and society at every point. 3.
Resolving Disagreements. It would help immensely to reduce political disagreements among Christians if we would be more precise about where we disagree. It is unhelpful to confuse a disagreement over the proper interpretation of Matthew 25 with lack of compassion for the poor or disagreement over the relative merits of more or less government intervention in market economies. To the extent that we can be precise about exactly where we disagree, we can make more progress in overcoming our differences. 4.
Common Language. In a pluralistic society one additional crucial step is essential. Many citizens have no interest at all in political proposals advocated on the basis of a biblical framework. Therefore we must develop a common language grounded in the common good of all citizens when we take our specific proposals into the public realm. We must try to develop reasons for our policies that are intelligible and convincing to all people, not just Christians.
The Starting Point: The Christian Community. It is absolutely crucial, however, that Christians first articulate and develop their political agenda and concrete proposals within the Christian community on the basis of biblical norms. If we do not, we will end up adopting secular norms and values and their corresponding political ideologies. The result will be a compromised, often fundamentally un-Christian, political engagement. 5.
That is exactly what has happened with many Christians in politics. Too many Christians have uncritically adopted left-wing or right-wing politics. The result has been a subChristian religious right that correctly championed the family and the sanctity of human life, but neglected economic justice for the poor, uncritically endorsed American nationalism, ignored environmental concern for God's creation, and neglected to struggle against racism. Equally sub-Christian has been a religious left that rightly defended justice, peace and the integrity of creation but largely forgot about the importance of the family and sexual integrity, uncritically endorsed Marxism, the sexual revolution, and almost everything championed under the banner of gay rights, overlooked the fact that freedom is as important as justice, and failed to defend the most vulnerable of all, the unborn and the very old. This essay is written first of all for the Christian community. Therefore, it first outlines a normative biblical framework, and then sketches a political philosophy. Little attention is given to developing the common language for advocating these policies in the larger pluralistic society--although that is also an essential task. NORMATIVE BIBLICAL FRAMEWORK
The Biblical Story.
The biblical story provides an essential framework for Christian political thought. The entire created order is good and precious because it comes from the hand of a loving God. Persons created in the image of God are called to a servant-like stewardship of the rest of the Creator's handiwork. Tragically, humanity rebelled against God and the result is selfish persons, twisted social relationships and institutions and even a groaning, disordered creation. Unwilling to forsake fallen humanity, however, the Creator began a long historical process of salvation to restore a right relationship among God, persons, and the creation around them. At the center of that redeeming grace is Jesus Christ, Nazarene Carpenter and Eternal Word, who models perfect humanity, atones for our sins, and rises from the dead to break the power of evil. History is moving toward the Risen Lord's return when all things will be restored to wholeness. This biblical story provides a foundation for thinking about the nature, dignity, and destiny of persons, the status of the non-human world, the importance of the historical process, and the ultimate meaning of all things. From this biblical story as well as all the other relevant biblical material, we can develop comprehensive biblical summaries or paradigms of specific topics that are especially relevant to politics. The following are some of the most important. B.
1. The Special Dignity and Sanctity of Every Human Being Every person--and only human beings--are made in the image of God, called to stewardship of the nonhuman creation, made to find fulfillment only when rightly related to God, neighbor, the earth, and self, summoned to respond in freedom to God's invitation of salvation, and invited to live forever in the presence of God. We must act on the belief that from the moment of conception, we are dealing with human life. No extended biblical passage explicitly teaches that; none denies it. A number of texts use words for the unborn that are normally applied to those who have been born. For nineteen centuries, the Christian church has been overwhelmingly opposed to abortion. Modern science now demonstrates with astounding detail that from the moment of conception, a genetically distinct human being with a continuous biological development exists. If one is uncertain whether this developing fetus is a human being, one should adopt this as a working assumption. To do otherwise would be like shooting blindly into a darkened theater with the justification that we cannot know whether we will hit empty seats or murder innocent persons. The directly intended taking of innocent human life--whether in abortion or euthanasia--is wrong. 2.
Freedom of Belief. Throughout biblical history, God gives persons enormous freedom to respond in obedience or rebellion, unbelief or faith to God. Jesus' parable of the wheat and tares shows that God chooses to allow this freedom to persons until the final judgment. Therefore, religious freedom is an essential element of a good society.
3. The Family. Strong, stable families (persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption) are essential for a good society. Keeping marriage vows, accepting God's design that sexual intercourse be reserved for a man and a woman united in life-long marriage covenant, and valuing singles in the extended family are all important aspects of strengthening the family. 4. Justice. The two key Hebrew words for justice (mishphat and sedaqah) are used both to call for just courts and just economic arrangements. Fair courts require honest witnesses and impartial justice which is not biased toward rich or poor. Fair economic arrangements require--as the Old Testament treatment of the land (the basic capital in an agricultural society) shows--an arrangement where all families and persons have access to the productive resources needed to earn a decent living and be dignified participating members of society. Sometimes, of course, wrong personal choices rightly result in the loss of these productive resources for a time, but God does not want that to continue forever. Frequently, too, according to the Bible, powerful oppressive people seize these resources from the poorest. Justice requires restoration of equitable arrangements where all have the opportunity to work and thus obtain a generous portion of the necessities of life. In addition, those who are unable to work and provide for themselves must be cared for by their family and the larger community. 5. A Special Concern for the Poor. Hundreds of biblical texts declare God's special concern for the poor and demand that God's people imitate God's concern. One crucial measure of how obedient people judge societies and policies is by what they do to the poorest, weakest and most marginalized. This special concern to strengthen the poorest is not a bias toward the poor but rather a concern for equal justice for everyone. 6. Work. Work is essential to the dignity of human beings who are called to be coshapers of history with God. Every able person has the responsibility to work and people have the obligation to structure society so that every person can work in a way that respects human dignity and earns a decent living. 7. Peacemaking. Christians look forward to the time when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war anymore". Until the Lord returns, unfortunately, persons persistently resort to wars and rumors of wars. Many Christians believe they should, as the lesser of two evils, engage in just wars for the sake of preserving some order and peace. Other Christians believe that killing is always contrary to the teaching of Christ and that he calls us to overcome our enemies with suffering love rather than the sword. But all agree that Jesus' words "Blessed are the peacemakers" are urgent in our time.
8. Individuality and Community. Biblical faith holds together both the inestimable value of each person and each person's freedom to shape their own life and also the fact that persons are made for community and only achieve wholeness in right relationship with others in the family and the larger society. 9. Rulers. God ordains rulers both to restrain evil and promote good. In biblical thought, the justice which God calls the king to do (Psalm 72:1-4, 12-14) includes nurturing both fair courts and economic systems that strengthen the poor. God stands far above every political ruler. No politician or government has ultimate authority. The story of Naboth's vineyard demonstrates the rights of individual families over against the king. When the king defied God's law, the prophet challenged and condemned them. Everyone and everything, including rulers and government, have only a limited authority which is subordinate to the Divine Sovereign. POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY The Bible does not prescribe any particular political philosophy. Political philosophies emerge as people in community over a period of time integrate a normative framework and careful study and reflection on historical experience. As long as we understand our political philosophy as a useful guide (to be improved by further normative reflection and social analysis) rather than an unchanging dogma, it can be a helpful tool for navigating complex political decisions. The following components of a political philosophy are, I hope, consistent with biblical revelation and rigorous social analysis. A.
Democratization and Decentralization of Power
There is both a positive and a negative reason for decentralizing all forms of power. Each person is called to exercise her creation mandate and become a co-worker with God in shaping history. If a small elite makes most decisions, the majority cannot exercise their God-given mandate. Negatively, as Lord Acton pointed out, power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. Sinful people in a fallen world will almost always use unchecked centralized power to benefit themselves unfairly and oppress others. Therefore to avoid totalitarianism and injustice, power must be decentralized. The principle of subsidiarity in Catholic social teaching rightly stresses that other things being equal, activity should be undertaken by a lower level of government or by a smaller societal institution rather than a higher. At the same time, it must be clearly recognized that some things can only be done (or at least done well) in a more centralized way. Careful analysis is needed in each situation. B.
A concern for human rights, individual freedom, and the decentralization of power all lead to a democratic political order. When freedom of speech, secret voting and universal suffrage exist, people--at least in theory--have the political power to shape society for the benefit of the majority. Separating legislative, administrative and judicial functions and balancing national, state and local governmental realms also decentralize power. C.
A large group of institutions intermediate between the individual and government decentralize power and provide smaller contexts for human communities to flourish. These include the family, the church, the media, the schools, the economy, and a host of smaller voluntary associations. These intermediate centers of power provide a check on governmental power and thus are a significant foundation of freedom. D.
Private Ownership and a Market Economy
The history of the twentieth century has shown clearly that when the state owns and controls most of the economy, economic and political power is so centralized that totalitarianism is almost guaranteed. Genuinely decentralized private ownership, on the other hand, nurtures free individuals and serves as a counter balance to political power. Determining prices and production via supply and demand has also proven to be far more efficient than central planning. Huge privately-owned corporations, of course, can also become centers of enormous economic power. When the same corporations own the media and provide most of the funding for election campaigns, economic and political power is again dangerously centralized. A concern for justice and freedom demands a continuing vigilance against all forms of centralized economic power and constant effort to strengthen smaller centers of economic life including family-owned farms and businesses, cooperatives, and widespread home ownership.
Religious Freedom and Church/State Relations.
The first amendment's prohibition against the government's establishing any official religion or preventing its free exercise is a crucial aspect of a society that truly respects human dignity and individual freedom. Religious freedom is a gift from God, not the state. Government can only acknowledge and defend it. Avoiding established religion, however, does not mean that religious expression is banished to the private sphere. Everyone, including religious people, should be free to develop and state the implications of their deepest convictions for public policy. Faith-
based institutions have a long and venerable history of engagement in education, health care, and social welfare. When government adopts programs to enable the voluntary sector to serve the public good in these areas, there should be no discrimination in eligibility on account of religion, nor should there be exclusionary criteria that force these providers to engage in self-censorship or to otherwise abandon their religious character. F.
The right to life and freedom are inalienable because they come from God, not government. Government should recognize and protect freedom of religion, speech, and political activity. G.
Government rightly recognizes and favors the family (those related by blood, marriage and adoption) and especially the nuclear family (wife, husband and children) with its larger circle of extended family (grandparents, etc.) as an essential element in a stable society. The family, not government, has the primary responsibility for raising children. Religious institutions can do far more than government to strengthen the family, but government should do what it can. That includes discouraging (although not preventing) divorce and sexual promiscuity and recognizing that children are best served when they live with both of their parents. It also includes not broadening the definition of marriage to include gay partners and not defining family as any two or more people cohabiting. Government rightly offers tax and other benefits that favor marriage rather than cohabitation or divorce. H.
Care for Creation and a Sustainable Planet
Responsible care for creation flows from a biblical worldview. We face a longterm environmental crisis. Utilitarian attitudes must be balanced by a recognition of the intrinsic worth of all God's creation and human responsibility to act as God's faithful stewards. Human beings have far more worth than plants or animals. But very seldom, if ever, do we have to choose between taking a human life and destroying an endangered species. Usually it is a choice between growing affluence and obliterating the handiwork of the Creator. We must aim to develop sustainable economic practices that reduce the stress on natural systems and make it possible for us to pass on a lovely, sustainable planet to our descendants. The needs of the poor and most vulnerable must be central in all environmental decisions; the rich must pay the major cost of reducing environmental damage. We must encourage alternative sources of energy that decrease our reliance on non-renewal sources. We must balance the needs of workers and the environment. I.
The Role of Government Government should both restrain evil and promote the common good. Nurturing
an economic order where everyone, especially the poorest, has the resources to earn a decent living is a central concern of good government. Government is responsible for providing the legal and social framework in which the other institutions in society can flourish. Government should carefully strengthen rather than replace society's intermediate institutions when they experience trouble. What should be legislated and what not? Why should there be laws against something like racial discrimination in the sale of housing and not against an act of adultery? The following considerations are relevant: 1) Individuals should normally be free to harm themselves (e.g., get drunk regularly at home) but not be free to harm others (drive while drunk); 2) laws must be enforceable in a way that does not undermine other important values (e.g., even if it were good in spite of the first principle, to have a criminal penalty for adultery, it would be impossible to enforce such a law without the kind of police state that would destroy freedom); 3) laws have a teaching function--to some extent people think (wrongly) that what is legal is moral. J.
Work and Workers
Since work is essential to human dignity, every able-bodied person should have the opportunity to work at a job that pays a living wage that can support a family. An unemployment rate that denies the dignity of work to people other than those properly in transition from one job to another is immoral and socially destructive. Conversely, people who can work have an obligation to do so in order to earn their living. Welfare policies should assist those who cannot care for themselves but dare not discourage work and responsibility. Workers have a right to safe working conditions, a living wage and reasonable job security. The legal right of workers to organize unions counterbalances corporate economic power, encourages justice, and nurtures dignity and self-respect. K.
The Priority of the Poor
Poverty has many causes. Those who are poor because they are unable to provide for themselves should be given a decent living by their family and/or other nongovernmental groups where possible and the government where necessary. Those who are poor because of personal irresponsibility should suffer appropriate consequences. Those, however, who are poor--whether through accident of birth, or the neglect or oppression of others--because they lack the education and the capital to be productive, self-sufficient members of society should be empowered by both private institutions and government. Justice at least demands that every person has equal opportunity to acquire the basic capital (whether land, money or education) that will enable that person to earn a decent living and be a dignified participating member of society. Strengthening the poor by providing such opportunity should be a central concern of government. Every significant governmental decision should be judged by its impact on the poorest.
A Consistent Ethic of Life
The first and most basic human right is the inviolable right to life of every human being. The first and most basic responsibility of civil law is to ensure that this right is recognized and protected. Abortion involves the direct, intentional and violent taking of human life. No law which legitimizes the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion can be just. Therefore, we must work for the legal protection of the unborn, and oppose all public funding of abortions. At the same time, we must develop a wide range of alternatives to abortion--both to reduce the evil of abortion and also in recognition that two people are directly involved, not just one. A caring society will surround women with unwanted pregnancies with love and concrete support including financial assistance and better adoption alternatives. Euthanasia--the direct killing of the aged and infirm either with or without their consent--is wrong. That does not mean that it is immoral to refuse or withhold extraordinary medical treatment when death is imminent or inevitable. But we dare not blur the distinction between on the one hand allowing a person to die and on the other killing a person. Concern for a consistent ethic of life does not end with abortion and euthanasia. Life does not begin at conception and end at birth. Tens of millions of people die unnecessarily each year of starvation and malnutrition. Tobacco kills millions of people prematurely each year. Capital punishment kills human beings. We should seek to protect the sanctity of human life wherever it is threatened and violated. That is not to deny a significant moral difference between abortion and death from lung cancer caused by smoking. The direct, intentional taking of innocent human life in abortion, euthanasia, and genocide is morally more grave than the indirect, unintentional taking of human life in starvation or death from smoking. But all are wrong and all reflect disregard for the inestimable value of human life. Respect for human life is a seamless garment. A consistent ethic of life opposes and seeks to reduce not only abortion and euthanasia but also capital punishment, starvation and cigarette-induced cancer.
Those who threaten society, from within or without, must be restrained. Historically, that has usually been done through lethal force as a last resort. Historically, too, it is true both that vast numbers of people have been killed and also that a variety of
non-violent methods of conflict resolution have successfully replaced lethal force. The courts, for example, replaced dueling. In the twentieth century, Gandhi, King and a host of others successfully used nonviolent techniques to end oppression and seek justice. Christians today disagree over the extent to which nonviolent models of conflict resolution can successfully replace most or all use of lethal force. But all agree that the search for nonviolent alternatives must be greatly strengthened. Wherever possible, nonviolence must replace lethal force. TOWARDS AN EVANGELICAL POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY I have tried to sketch, very briefly, my own developing understanding of some of the principles for an evangelical political philosophy. But I am not content simply to have individual thinkers work on this in their academic and professional colloquia! I think evangelical leaders in this country need to come together and try to hammer out a declaration–let’s call it “Principles for an Evangelical Political Philosophy”–that could be endorsed across a broad range of evangelical traditions. I think the same needs to happen in every country where substantial numbers of evangelicals exist and are engaged in politics. It also needs to happen at a global level so that people from other countries can help us overcome our one-sidedness and blind spots. How might we arrive at such a declaration that would help us? It would be foolish to try to sketch a detailed process for developing a document on principles for an evangelical political philosophy widely embraced by a broad cross section of evangelicals in the United States. The venture is enormously difficult. Success can only come at the end of a lengthy journey that will inevitably involve detours and land mines. Pilgrims on the journey will need to improvise at each stage. However, three things, at least, seem clear to me. The process must include a wide range of evangelical voices; the goal should be limited; and the engagement of major evangelical gatekeepers is indispensable. If the result is to be of any lasting significance, then we must involve a wide range of evangelical voices. I could sit down today and sketch an evangelical political philosophy that many members of Evangelicals for Social Action would largely endorse. Gary Bauer could do the same for Family Research Council. What would help, if it could be developed, is a broad framework that both Gary and I, plus a wide cross section of people who identify as evangelicals, could embrace as a guide for our concrete political engagement. Second, our goal must be limited. Not even this raving optimist supposes that we could agree on a detailed, full-blown evangelical political philosophy across the range of views that exist within the evangelical community. For example, we do disagree, however incoherently, about the proper role of government. Therefore a comprehensive, common statement on the role of government
would be impossible. But would it not help if a broad range of evangelical voices could together reject both libertarianism and socialism and then together define some general criteria for when and how government should and should not intervene in market economies? The same would be true in a variety of areas. It would be helpful if we could agree together on the basic parameters of a consistent pro-life position, on how to balance the free exercise and non-establishment clauses of the First Amendment, and so on. If from the beginning we agree that our goal is a limited, incomplete evangelical political philosophy that different groups can develop further in divergent ways, we might at least be able to state a basic framework that would help us overcome some of our naivetĂŠ, confusion, and disagreement. At first glance, our task appears to be nearly impossible. Evangelicals do not have a pope or bishops who can, with some authority, articulate an evangelical political philosophy. Instead, we have a confused babel of more or less influential gatekeepers whose words are respected within their larger or smaller constituencies. Thus, the project will succeed only if leaders representing this broad spectrum within the evangelical community endorse the process and sign the resulting document. I have no illusions that most evangelical political disagreement would disappear even if multiple miracles produced a widely accepted set of principles for an evangelical political philosophy. Finite sinners that we are, we would still argue about its implications for specific public policy proposals. A common framework, however, would help in several ways. First, agreement on a basic framework would help us identify more common ground on specific issues, which could help us have a greater impact. Second, only if we develop a common vision that can sustain evangelical political engagement over the long haul will we produce any lasting political change. Third, if evangelical Protestants (I include African-Americans and theologically orthodox Christians in the older Protestant denominations) developed even the beginnings of a common political philosophy, we would be in a better position to cooperate with Catholics in shaping public life. Few potential political developments are more important. If evangelicals and Catholics learn how to cooperate, this majority could significantly reshape American politics. That brings me to my last point. I think one of the most urgent political tasks for American Christians is for white evangelicals, Catholics, African-American and Latino Christians to discover how to work together politically around a pro-life and pro-poor, pro-family and pro-racial justice agenda. A well organized coalition of those groups could significantly reshape our public life for the better. I see the beginnings of this kind of new coalition in several quarters. From the
liberal side, the Call to Renewal and from the conservative side the signers of â€œWe Hold These Truthsâ€? have formally embraced this four-part agenda. In practice, of course, conservatives still tend to major on pro-life and pro-family issues and liberals still emphasize economic and racial justice. These one-sided approaches need to end. I think the approach that I have sketched in this paper could help that happen. If a wide cross section of evangelical leaders prayerfully, thoughtfully sought to listen to what the Bible and historical experience tells us about principles for an evangelical political philosophy including the kind of balanced political agenda that reflects the full range of Godâ€™s concerns, then I believe we might be able to overcome some of our differences and work together in a way that could bless this society and the world.
For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility PREAMBLE Evangelical Christians in America face a historic opportunity. We make up fully one quarter of all voters in the most powerful nation in history. Never before has God given American evangelicals such an awesome opportunity to shape public policy in ways that could contribute to the well-being of the entire world. Disengagement is not an option. We must seek Godâ€™s face for biblical faithfulness and abundant wisdom to rise to this unique challenge. The special circumstances of this historic moment underline both the opportunity and the challenge. ! ! ! !
Although we have the privilege to help shape the actions of the worldâ€™s lone superpower, only half of all evangelical Christians bother to vote. The presence and role of religion in public life is attacked more fiercely now than ever, making the bias of aggressive secularism the last acceptable prejudice in America. Since the atrocities of September 11, 2001, the spiritual and religious dimensions of global conflict have been sharpened. Secular media outlets have long acknowledged evangelical involvement in prolife and family issues, but are taking belated notice of evangelicalsâ€™ global involvement in activities such as disaster relief, refugee resettlement, and the fights against AIDS/HIV, human rights abuses, slavery, sexual trafficking, and prison rape. Some key American political leaders now conceive of their roles in moral terms. And they see themselves as stewards of the blessings of representative democracy, religious freedom, and human rights in a world where many nations are endangered by the forces of authoritarianism or radical secularism.
Evangelicals may not always agree about policy, but we realize that we have many callings and commitments in common: commitments to the protection and well-being of families and children, of the poor, the sick, the disabled, and the unborn, of the persecuted and oppressed, and of the rest of the created order. While these issues do not exhaust the concerns of good government, they provide the platform for evangelicals to engage in common action.
Despite our common commitments and this moment of opportunity, American evangelicals continue to be ambivalent about civic engagement. In 1947, Carl F. H. Henry pricked our uneasy consciences and spurred us toward responsible social and political engagement. In the years since, the National Association of Evangelicals has routinely engaged our political leaders through its Office of Governmental Affairs and worked to educate member churches on current issues. In recent decades, a variety of evangelical political voices have emerged. Yet evangelicals have failed to engage with the breadth, depth, and consistency to which we are called. Scholars and leaders have inspired us by drawing attention to historical exemplars of evangelical public responsibility from Wilberforce and the Booths in England to Edwards, Backus, Garnet, Finney, and Palmer in America. Our spiritual ancestors did not always agree on the specifics of governance and the best roads to social reform. Yet their passion and sacrifice inspire us to creative engagement, even when we cannot fully agree on policy prescriptions. Against this historical background and in view of these common commitments, we offer the following principled framework for evangelical public engagement. THE BASIS FOR CHRISTIAN CIVIC ENGAGEMENT We engage in public life because God created our first parents in his image and gave them dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:27-28). The responsibilities that emerge from that mandate are many, and in a modern society those responsibilities rightly flow to many different institutions, including governments, families, churches, schools, businesses, and labor unions. Just governance is part of our calling in creation. We also engage in public life because Jesus is Lord over every area of life. Through him all things were created (Col. 1:16-17), and by him all things will be brought to fullness (Rom. 8:19-21). To restrict our stewardship to the private sphere would be to deny an important part of his dominion and to functionally abandon it to the Evil One. To restrict our political concerns to matters that touch only on the private and the domestic spheres is to deny the all-encompassing Lordship of Jesus (Rev. 19:16). Following in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, Jesus announced the arrival of God’s kingdom (God’s “reign” or “rule”) (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15). This kingdom would be marked by justice, peace, forgiveness, restoration, and healing for all. Jesus’ followers have come to understand the time between his first and second comings as a period of “already, but not yet,” in which we experience many of the blessings of God’s reign and see initial signs of restoration, while we continue to suffer many of the results of the Fall. We know that we must wait for God to bring about the fullness of the kingdom at Christ’s return. But in this interim, the Lord calls the church to speak prophetically to society and work for the renewal and reform of its structures. The Lord also calls the church to practice the righteous deeds of the kingdom and point to the kingdom by the 2
wholeness and integrity of the church’s common life. This example will require us to demonstrate God’s love for all, by crossing racial, ethnic, economic, and national boundaries. It will also often involve following Jesus’ example by suffering and living sacrificially for others. As Christian citizens, we believe it is our calling to help government live up to its divine mandate to render justice (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). From the teachings of the Bible and our experience of salvation, we Christians bring a unique vision to our participation in the political order and a conviction that changed people and transformed communities are possible. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we are compelled outward in service to God and neighbor. Jesus calls us as his followers to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our goal in civic engagement is to bless our neighbors by making good laws. Because we have been called to do justice to our neighbors, we foster a free press, participate in open debate, vote, and hold public office. When Christians do justice, it speaks loudly about God. And it can show those who are not believers how the Christian vision can contribute to the common good and help alleviate the ills of society. THE METHOD OF CHRISTIAN CIVIC ENGAGEMENT Every political judgment requires both a normative vision and factual analysis. The more carefully and precisely we Christians think about the complex details of both, the more clearly we will be able to explain our views to others and understand—and perhaps overcome—disagreements with others. Every normative vision has some understanding of persons, creation, history, justice, life, family, and peace. As Christians committed to the full authority of Scripture, our normative vision must flow from the Bible and from the moral order that God has embedded in his creation. Evangelical Christians seek in every area of life to submit to the authority of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11). Nevertheless, many contemporary political decisions—whether about environmental science, HIV/AIDS, or international trade— deal with complex sociological or technological issues not discussed explicitly in the Bible. As Christians engaged in public policy, we must do detailed social, economic, historical, jurisprudential, and political analysis if we are to understand our society and wisely apply our normative vision to political questions. Only if we deepen our Christian vision and also study our contemporary world can we engage in politics faithfully and wisely. From the Bible, experience, and social analysis, we learn that social problems arise and can be substantially corrected by both personal decisions and structural changes. On the one hand, personal sinful choices contribute significantly to destructive social problems (Prov. 6:9-11), and personal conversion through faith in Christ can transform broken 3
persons into wholesome, productive citizens. On the other hand, unjust systems also help create social problems (Amos 5:10-15; Isa. 10:1-2) and wise structural change (for example legislation to strengthen marriage or increase economic opportunity for all) can improve society. Thus Christian civic engagement must seek to transform both individuals and institutions. While individuals transformed by the gospel change surrounding society, social institutions also shape individuals. While good laws encourage good behavior, bad laws and systems foster destructive action. Lasting social change requires both personal conversion and institutional renewal and reform. The Bible makes it clear that God cares a great deal about the well-being of marriage, the family, the sanctity of human life, justice for the poor, care for creation, peace, freedom, and racial justice. While individual persons and organizations are at times called by God to concentrate on one or two issues, faithful evangelical civic engagement must champion a biblically balanced agenda. Humility and civility As sinners who are thankful for Godâ€™s grace, we know that we do not always live up to our civic responsibility. Christians must approach political engagement with humility and with earnest prayer for divine guidance and wisdom. Because power structures are often entrenched, perfect solutions are unobtainable. Because cultural changes produce problems that are often not amenable to legislative solutions, we must not expect political activity to achieve more than it can. Because social systems are complex and our knowledge is incomplete, we cannot predict all the effects of laws, policies, and regulations. As a result, we must match our high ideals with careful social analysis and critical reflection on our experience in order to avoid supporting policies that produce unintended and unfortunate consequences. We will differ with other Christians and with non-Christians over the best policies. Thus we must practice humility and cooperation to achieve modest and attainable goals for the good of society. We must take care to employ the language of civility and to avoid denigrating those with whom we disagree. Because political work requires persuasion and cooperation with those who do not share our Christian commitment, we must offer a reasoned and easy-to-grasp defense of our goals. When we as Christians engage in political activity, we must maintain our integrity and keep our biblical values intact. While we may frequently settle for â€œhalf-a-loaf,â€? we must never compromise principle by engaging in unethical behavior or endorsing or fostering sin. As we rightly engage in supporting legislation, candidates and political parties, we must be clear that biblical faith is vastly larger and richer than every limited, inevitably imperfect political agenda and that commitment to the Lordship of Christ and his one body far transcends all political commitments. THE STRUCTURES OF PUBLIC LIFE
In the beginning, God called human beings to govern and to care for the creation. Faithfulness to this call has taken different forms as human beings have lived in family groups, in tribes and clans, in kingdoms and empires, and now in modern nation-states in an increasingly interconnected global community. Today we live in a complex society in which few people are directly involved in governing and in which complicated problems do not readily yield straightforward solutions. God has ordered human society with various institutions and set in place forms of government to maintain public order, to restrain human evil, and to promote the common good. God has called all people to share responsibility for creating a healthy society. Human beings work out their different ways of obeying God’s call as spouses, parents, workers, and participants in the wide variety of human networks. Some, however, are called to particular roles of governance. We must support and pray for all those who shoulder the burdens of government (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Representative democracy We thank God for the blessings of representative democracy, which allow all citizens to participate in government by electing their representatives, helping to set the priorities for government, and by sharing publicly the insights derived from their experience. We are grateful that we live in a society in which citizens can hold government responsible for fulfilling its responsibilities to God and abiding by the norms of justice. We support the democratic process in part because people continue to be sufficiently blessed by God’s common grace that they can seek not only their own betterment, but also the welfare of others. We also support democracy because we know that since the Fall, people often abuse power for selfish purposes. As Lord Acton noted, power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thus we thank God for a constitutional system that decentralizes power through the separation of powers, fair elections, limited terms of office, and division among national, state, and local authorities. As Christians we confess that our primary allegiance is to Christ, his kingdom, and Christ’s worldwide body of believers, not to any nation. God has blessed America with bounty and with strength, but unless these blessings are used for the good of all, they will turn to our destruction. As Christian citizens of the United States, we must keep our eyes open to the potentially self-destructive tendencies of our society and our government. We must also balance our natural affection for our country with a love for people of all nations and an active desire to see them prosper. We invite Christians outside the United States to aid us in broadening our perspectives on American life and action. Just government and fundamental liberty God is the source of all true law and genuine liberty. He both legitimates and limits the state’s authority. Thus, while we owe Caesar his due (Matt. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26), we regard only Jesus as Lord. As King of Kings, Jesus’ authority extends over Caesar. As followers of Jesus, we obey government authorities when they act in accord with God’s justice and his laws (Titus 3:1). But we also resist government 5
when it exercises its power in an unjust manner (Acts 5:27-32) or tries to dominate other institutions in society. A good government preserves the God-ordained responsibilities of society’s other institutions, such as churches, other faith-centered organizations, schools, families, labor unions, and businesses. PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIAN POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT We work to protect religious freedom and liberty of conscience God has ordained the two co-existing institutions of church and state as distinct and independent of each other with each having its own areas of responsibility (Rom. 13:1-7; Mark 12:13-17; Eph. 4:15-16, 5:23-32). We affirm the principles of religious freedom and liberty of conscience, which are both historically and logically at the foundation of the American experiment. They are properly called the First Freedom and are now vested in the First Amendment. The First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech, association, and religion provide the political space in which we can carry out our differing responsibilities. Because human beings are responsible to God, these guarantees are crucial to the exercise of their God-given freedom. As God allows the wheat and tares to grow together until the harvest, and as God sends the rain on the just and on the unjust, so those who obey and those who disobey God coexist in society and share in its blessings (Matt. 5:45, 13:24-30). This “gospel pluralism” is foundational to the religious liberty of all. Participating in the public square does not require people to put aside their beliefs or suspend the practice of their religion. All persons should have equal access to public forums, regardless of the religious content or viewpoint of their speech. Likewise, judicial standards should protect and respect not only religiously compelled practices, but also religiously motivated behavior. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is directed only at government and restrains its power. Thus, for example, the clause was never intended to shield individuals from exposure to the religious views of nongovernmental speakers. Exemptions from regulations or tax burdens do not violate the Establishment Clause, for government does not establish religion by leaving it alone. When government assists nongovernmental organizations as part of an evenhanded educational, social service, or health care program, religious organizations receiving such aid do not become “state actors” with constitutional duties. Courts should respect church autonomy in matters relating to doctrine, polity, the application of its governing documents, church discipline, clergy and staff employment practices, and other matters within the province of the church (Acts 18:12-17). Religion is not just an individual matter, but also refers to rich communal traditions of ultimate belief and practice. We resist the definition of religion becoming either radically individualized or flattened out to mean anything that passes for a serious conviction. Thus, while the First Amendment protects religiously informed conscience, it does not protect all matters of sincere concern. 6
We work to nurture family life and protect children From Genesis onward, the Bible tells us that the family is central to God’s vision for human society. God has revealed himself to us in the language of family, adopting us as his children (Rom. 8:23, Gal. 4:5) and teaching us by the Holy Spirit to call him Abba Father (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6). Marriage, which is a lifetime relationship between one man and one woman, is the predominant biblical icon of God’s relationship with his people (Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:20, 31:32; Ezek. 16:32; Eph. 5:23, 31-32). In turn, family life reveals something to us about God, as human families mirror, however faintly, the inner life of the Trinity. The mutuality and service of family life contrast strongly with the hypermodern emphasis on individual freedom and rights. Marriage, sexuality, and family life are fundamental to society. Whether we are married or single, it is in the family that we learn mutual responsibility, we learn to live in an ordered society with complementary and distinct roles, we learn to submit and to obey, we learn to love and to trust, we learn both justice and mercy, and we learn to deny ourselves for the well-being of others. Thus the family is at the heart of the organic functioning of society. Government does not have the primary responsibility for guaranteeing wholesome family life. That is the job of families themselves and of other institutions, especially churches. But governments should understand that people are more than autonomous individuals; they live in families and many are married. While providing individuals with ways to remedy or escape abusive relationships, governments should promote laws and policies that strengthen the well-being of families. Many social evils—such as alcohol, drug, gambling, or credit-card abuse, pornography, sexual libertinism, spousal or child sexual abuse, easy divorce, abortion on demand— represent the abandonment of responsibility or the violation of trust by family members, and they seriously impair the ability of family members to function in society. These evils must be viewed not only as matters of individual sin and dysfunction, but also as violations of family integrity. Because the family is so important to society, violations of its integrity threaten public order. Similarly, employment, labor, housing, health care, and educational policies concern not only individuals but seriously affect families. In order to strengthen the family, we must promote biblical moral principles, responsible personal choices, and good public policies on marriage and divorce law, shelter, food, health care, education, and a family wage (Jas. 5:1-6). Good family life is so important to healthy human functioning that we oppose government efforts to trespass on its territory: whether by encroaching on parental responsibilities to educate their children, by treating other kinds of households as the family’s social and legal equivalent, or by creating economic disincentives to marriage. We commit ourselves to work for laws that protect and foster family life, and against government attempts to interfere with the integrity of the family. We also oppose 7
innovations such as same-sex “marriage.” We will work for measures that strengthen the economic viability of marriages and families, especially among the poor. We likewise commit ourselves to work within the church and society to strengthen marriages, to reduce the rate of divorce, and to prepare young adults for healthy family life. We work to protect the sanctity of human life and to safeguard its nature Because God created human beings in his image, all people share in the divine dignity. And because the Bible reveals God’s calling and care of persons before they are born, the preborn share in this dignity (Ps. 139:13). We believe that abortion, euthanasia, and unethical human experimentation violate the God-given dignity of human beings. As these practices gain social approval and become legitimized in law, they undermine the legal and cultural protections that our society has provided for vulnerable persons. Human dignity is indivisible. A threat to the aged, to the very young, to the unborn, to those with disabilities, or to those with genetic diseases is a threat to all. The book of Genesis portrays human attempts to transcend creaturely humility before God as rebellion against God. Christians must witness in the political sphere to the limits of our creatureliness and warn against the dangers of dissatisfaction with human limits. As many others in the West, we have had such faith in science and its doctrine of progress that we are unprepared for the choices biotechnology now brings us. We urge evangelicals with specialized scientific knowledge to help Christians and policymakers to think through these issues. As technologies related to cloning and creating inheritable genetic modifications are being refined, society is less able to create a consensus on what is good and what limits we should place on human modification. The uniqueness of human nature is at stake. Where the negative implications of biotechnology are unknown, government ought to err on the side of caution. Christians must welcome and support medical research that uses stem cells from adult donors and other ethical avenues of research. But we must work toward complete bans on human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research, as well as for laws against discrimination based on genetic information. We seek justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable Jesus summed up God’s law by commanding us to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:35-40). By deed and parable, he taught us that anyone in need is our neighbor (Luke 10:29-37). Because all people are created in the image of God, we owe each other help in time of need. God identifies with the poor (Ps. 146:5-9), and says that those who “are kind to the poor lend to the Lord” (Prov. 19:17), while those who oppress the poor “show contempt for their Maker” (Prov. 14:31). Jesus said that those who do not care for the needy and the imprisoned will depart eternally from the living God (Matt. 25:31-46). The vulnerable 8
may include not only the poor, but women, children, the aged, persons with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, minorities, the persecuted, and prisoners. God measures societies by how they treat the people at the bottom. Godâ€™s prophets call his people to create just and righteous societies (Isa. 10:1-4, 58:3-12; Jer. 5:26-29, 22:13-19; Amos 2:6-7; Amos 4:1-3, 5:10-15). The prophetic teaching insists on both a fair legal system (which does not favor either the rich or the poor) and a fair economic system (which does not tolerate perpetual poverty). Though the Bible does not call for economic equality, it condemns gross disparities in opportunity and outcome that cause suffering and perpetuate poverty, and it calls us to work toward equality of opportunity. God wants every person and family to have access to productive resources so that if they act responsibly they can care for their economic needs and be dignified members of their community. Christians reach out to help others in various ways: through personal charity, effective faith-based ministries, and other nongovernmental associations, and by advocating for effective government programs and structural changes. Economic justice includes both the mitigation of suffering and also the restoration of wholeness. Wholeness includes full participation in the life of the community. Health care, nutrition, and education are important ingredients in helping people transcend the stigma and agony of poverty and re-enter community. Since healthy family systems are important for nurturing healthy individuals and overcoming poverty, public policy should encourage marriage and sexual abstinence outside marriage, while discouraging early onset of sexual activity, out-of-wedlock births, and easy divorce. Government should also hold fathers and mothers responsible for the maintenance of their families, enforcing where necessary the collection of child-support payments. Restoring people to wholeness means that governmental social welfare must aim to provide opportunity and restore people to self-sufficiency. While basic standards of support must be put in place to provide for those who cannot care for their families and themselves, incentives and training in marketable skills must be part of any well-rounded program. We urge Christians who work in the political realm to shape wise laws pertaining to the creation of wealth, wages, education, taxation, immigration, health care, and social welfare that will protect those trapped in poverty and empower the poor to improve their circumstances. We further believe that care for the vulnerable should extend beyond our national borders. American foreign policy and trade policies often have an impact on the poor. We should try to persuade our leaders to change patterns of trade that harm the poor and to make the reduction of global poverty a central concern of American foreign policy. We must support policies that encourage honesty in government, correct unfair socioeconomic structures, generously support effective programs that empower the poor, and foster economic development and prosperity. Christians should also encourage continued government support of international aid agencies, including those that are faith based. 9
Especially in the developing world, extreme poverty, lack of health care, the spread of HIV/AIDS, inadequate nutrition, unjust and unstable economies, slavery and sexual trafficking, the use of rape as a tool of terror and oppression, civil war, and government cronyism and graft create the conditions in which large populations become vulnerable. We support Christian agencies and American foreign policy that effectively correct these political problems and promote just, democratic structures. We work to protect human rights Because God created human beings in his image, we are endowed with rights and responsibilities. In order to carry out these responsibilities, human beings need the freedom to form associations, formulate and express beliefs, and act on conscientiously held commitments. As recipients of God’s gift of embodied life, people need food, nurture, shelter, and care. In order to fulfill their God-given tasks, all people have a right to private property. God’s design for human existence also implies a right to marry, enjoy family life, and raise and educate children. While it is not the primary role of government to provide everything that humans need for their well-being, governments are obligated to ensure that people are not unjustly deprived of them and to strengthen families, schools, businesses, hospitals, social-service organizations, and other institutions so they can contribute to human welfare. At the same time, government must fulfill its responsibilities to provide for the general welfare and promote the common good. Governments should be constitutionally obligated to protect basic human rights. Documents like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights are attempts to articulate the kind of treatment that every person deserves from the government under which they live. Insofar as a person has a human right, that person should be able to appeal to an executive, legislative, or judicial authority to enforce or adjudicate that right. We believe that American foreign policy should reward those countries that respect human rights and should not reward (and prudently employ certain sanctions against) those countries that abuse or deny such rights. We urge the United States to increase its commitments to developing democracy and civil society in former colonial lands, Muslim nations, and countries emerging from Communism. Because the Creator gave human beings liberty, we believe that religious liberty, including the right to change one’s religion, is a foundational right that must be respected by governments (Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are closely related to religious liberty, and people must be free to express their vision for a just social order without fear of torture or other reprisal. We also oppose the expansion of “rights talk” to encompass so-called rights such as “same-sex marriage” or “the right to die.” Inappropriately expanded rights language has 10
begun to function as a trump card in American discourse that unfairly shuts down needed discussion. America has a tragic history of mistreating Native Americans, the cruel practice of slavery, and the subsequent segregation and exploitation of the descendants of slaves. While the United States has achieved legal and social equality in principle, the legacy of racism still makes many African Americans, Hispanics, and other ethnic minorities particularly vulnerable to a variety of social ills. Our churches have a special responsibility to model good race relations (Rom. 10:12). To correct the lingering effects of our racist history, Christians should support well-conceived efforts that foster dignity and responsibility. We seek peace and work to restrain violence Jesus and the prophets looked forward to the time when God’s reign would bring about just and peaceful societies in which people would enjoy the fruits of their labor without interference from foreign oppressors or unjust rulers. But from the beginning, Christians have recognized that God did not call them to bring in God’s kingdom by force. While all Christians have agreed that governments should protect and restore just and peaceful social orders, we have long differed on when governments may use force and whether we may participate in government-authorized force to defend our homelands, rescue others from attack, or liberate other people from oppression. The peaceful settling of disputes is a gift of common grace. We urge governments to pursue thoroughly nonviolent paths to peace before resorting to military force. We believe that if governments are going to use military force, they must use it in the service of peace and not merely in their national interest. Military force must be guided by the classical just-war principles, which are designed to restrain violence by establishing the right conditions for and right conduct in fighting a war. In an age of nuclear and biological terrorism, such principles are more important than ever. We urge followers of Jesus to engage in practical peacemaking locally, nationally, and internationally. As followers of Jesus, we should, in our civic capacity, work to reduce conflict by promoting international understanding and engaging in non-violent conflict resolution. We labor to protect God’s creation As we embrace our responsibility to care for God’s earth, we reaffirm the important truth that we worship only the Creator and not the creation. God gave the care of his earth and its species to our first parents. That responsibility has passed into our hands. We affirm that God-given dominion is a sacred responsibility to steward the earth and not a license to abuse the creation of which we are a part. We are not the owners of creation, but its stewards, summoned by God to “watch over and care for it” (Gen. 2:15). This implies the principle of sustainability: our uses of the Earth must be designed to conserve and renew the Earth rather than to deplete or destroy it. 11
The Bible teaches us that God is not only redeeming his people, but is also restoring the whole creation (Rom. 8:18-23). Just as we show our love for the Savior by reaching out to the lost, we believe that we show our love for the Creator by caring for his creation. Because clean air, pure water, and adequate resources are crucial to public health and civic order, government has an obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation. This involves both the urgent need to relieve human suffering caused by bad environmental practice. Because natural systems are extremely complex, human actions can have unexpected side effects. We must therefore approach our stewardship of creation with humility and caution. Human beings have responsibility for creation in a variety of ways. We urge Christians to shape their personal lives in creation-friendly ways: practicing effective recycling, conserving resources, and experiencing the joy of contact with nature. We urge government to encourage fuel efficiency, reduce pollution, encourage sustainable use of natural resources, and provide for the proper care of wildlife and their natural habitats. OUR COMMITMENT We commit ourselves to support Christians who engage in political and social action in a manner consistent with biblical teachings. We call on Christian leaders in public office or with expertise in public policy and political life, to help us deepen our perspective on public policy and political life so that we might better fulfill our civic responsibility. We call on all Christians to become informed and then to vote, as well as to regularly communicate biblical values to their government representatives. We urge all Christians to take their civic responsibility seriously even when they are not fulltime political activists so that they might more adequately call those in government to their task. We also encourage our children to consider vocations in public service. We call churches and transdenominational agencies to cultivate an understanding of civic responsibility and public justice among their members. Seminaries and Christian colleges have a special responsibility to imbue future leaders with a sense of civic responsibility. We call all Christians to a renewed political engagement that aims to protect the vulnerable and poor, to guard the sanctity of human life, to further racial reconciliation and justice, to renew the family, to care for creation, and to promote justice, freedom, and peace for all. Above all, we commit ourselves to regular prayer for those who govern, that God may prosper their efforts to nurture life, justice, freedom, and peace.
“God’s Special Concern for the Poor” from the Jesus Day Manual Ronald J. Sider
For more information on Jesus Day/March for Jesus, click here: http://www.jesusday.org Poverty Today In developing nations, according to the World Bank, 1.3 billion persons have to try to survive on one dollar a day. Another 2 billion need to live on two dollars a day. Most of us in the United States are among the richest twenty percent of the world’s people–and we are 150 times as rich as the poorest twenty percent! In the United States, over 35,000,000 people live in poverty in the richest society in human history. Their income actually dropped from 1974 to 1996. That is true both in comparison to the well-to-do majority and also in absolute terms. From 1974 to 1996, the bottom 20 percent lost 10 percent in real income (i.e., after taking inflation into account). The top 20 percent gained 39 percent, and the top 5 percent gained 65 percent. In 1997, 35.6 million persons–13.3 percent of the U.S. population–fell below the official poverty line. For a married couple with two children, the poverty level in 1998 was $16,530. This seems like a lot of money. In fact, it is if you compare it to the one dollar a day on which 1.3 billion people in the developing world live. On the other hand, the mean family income in the United States in 1997 was $56,902! Financially, it means stretching every penny and having no budget for many things such as furniture, vacations, recreation, private health insurance, and so on that most of us take for granted. Poor people, of course, do have some of these things. Somehow, they manage to spend less on food and housing, beg from family and friends, or do part-time work that is never reported to the IRS. This is what it means financially to live at the official U.S. poverty level. The vast majority of the 36 million people in the United States who are poor live below the poverty level. Forty percent of all poor families have incomes under 50 percent of the poverty level. Imagine a family of four living on $8,265 a year! American Christians give less and less each year as their wealth continues to grow. It is blatantly obvious that middle class Western Christians do not practice what we preach. Our hypocrisy turns secular neighbors from Christ. The richest 20 percent of the world’s people, including the vast majority of Western Christians, are 150 times as rich as the poorest 20 percent. That kind of abundance makes possible vast, generous sharing. Instead, the richer we become, the less we give. In 1968, typical church members gave about one third of a tithe (3.14 percent of their income). It has dropped virtually every year. By 1995, typical church members gave less than a quarter of a tithe (2.46 percent). Further, the vast majority of that giving stayed in their own congregation. What a blatant contradiction! Christians profess to believe what the Bible teaches. Yet we spend more and more on ourselves and less and less on others. Jesus must weep.
Each day, at least 50,000 die of starvation, malnutrition, and preventable diseases. Every day, about 50,000 people enter eternity without being told about God’s incredible love in Christ. Those dying without the knowledge of Christ are largely the same people whose lives are ravaged by hunger, malnutrition, and starvation. Do Christians care that one fifth to one quarter of their neighbors are both desperately poor and without any knowledge of our Lord? Would the way we spend our money suggest an answer to that question? Christians make up one third (33 percent) of the world’s people, but we receive two-thirds (66 percent) of the world’s total income each year. We spend 97 percent of that on
ourselves. We donate about 2.5 percent to charity. And all but a tiny fraction of that charitable giving stays with rich Christians running expensive programs in their own congregations and nations. The gap between rich and poor is stark—and growing. In 1960, the income of the richest 20 percent of countries in the world was thirty times as much as the poorest 20 percent. By 1990, the richest 20 percent took sixty times as much as the poorest 20 percent. Does it matter to God that even with growing wealth we give less than 3 percent to charity and spend most of that on ourselves? Biblical Teaching on the Poor The Bible says some explosive things about this question. Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats drives me to sober reflection every time I ponder it. To those who did not feed the hungry and clothe the naked, he will utter a terrible judgment: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). The apostle John issues the same stark warming: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17). The Bible is full of passages that underline God’s special concern for the poor. There are literally hundreds of texts. I once collected them all in a book called For They Shall Be Fed . Just the biblical passages on how God and God’s faithful people love the poor filled up almost two hundred pages. Four biblical truths about the poor are essential if the church today is to be faithful. 1. Repeatedly, the Bible says that the Sovereign of history works to lift up the poor and oppressed. That teaching is especially clear when we look at the central points of revelation history. Consider the Exodus. Certainly God acted there to keep the promise to Abraham and to call out the chosen people of Israel. But again and again the texts say God also intervened because God hated the oppression of the poor Israelites (Ex. 3:7–8; 6:5–7). Annually at the harvest festival the people of Israel repeated this confession: “The Egyptians mistreated us.... Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt” (Deut. 26:6–8). God acts in history to lift up the poor and oppressed. 2. The Bible also teaches a second, more disturbing truth. Sometimes, the Lord of history tears down rich and powerful people. Mary’s song is shocking: “My soul glorifies the Lord ... He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:46, 53). James is even more nasty: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you” (James 5:1). What is going on? Is creating wealth a bad thing? No. The Bible is very clear that God has created a gorgeous world and placed human beings in it to revel in its splendor and produce an abundance of good things. Is God biased? No. The Bible explicitly declares that God has no bias either toward the rich or the poor (Deut. 10:17–18). What then is the problem? Why do the Scriptures warn again and again that God sometimes works in history to destroy the rich? The Bible has a simple answer. It is because the rich sometimes get rich by oppressing the poor. Or because they have plenty and neglect the needy. In either case, God is furious.
James warned the rich so harshly because they had hoarded wealth and refused to pay their workers (5:2–6). Repeatedly, the prophets said the same thing (Ps. 10; Isa. 3:14-25; Jer. 22:13–19; Isa. 3:14–25). “Among my people are wicked men who lie in wait like men who snare birds and like those who set traps to catch men. Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful and have grown fat and sleek.... They do not defend the rights of the poor. Should I not punish them for this?” (Jer. 5:26–29). Repeatedly, the prophets warned that God was so outraged that he would destroy the nations of Israel and Judah. Because of the way they “trample on the heads of the poor ... and deny justice to the oppressed,” Amos predicted terrible captivity (2:7; 5:11; 6:4, 7; 7:11, 17). So did Isaiah and Micah (Isa. 10:1–3; Mic. 2:2; 3:12). And it happened just as they foretold. According to both the Old and New Testaments, God destroys people and societies that get rich by oppression. But what if we work hard and create wealth in just ways? That is good and God is pleased—as long as we do not forget to share. No matter how justly we have acquired our wealth, God demands that we act generously toward the poor. When we do not, the Bible says, God treats us the same way he does those who oppress the poor. There is not a hint in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus that the rich man exploited Lazarus to acquire wealth. He simply neglected to share. So God punished him (Luke 16:19–31). Ezekiel contains a striking explanation for the destruction of Sodom: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.... Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (16:49–50). Again, the text does not charge them with gaining wealth by oppression. It was because they refused to share their abundance that God destroyed the city. The Bible is clear. If we get rich by oppression or if we have wealth and do not reach out generously to the poor, the Lord acts in history to destroy us. God judges societies by what they do to the people at the bottom. That is how much God cares for the poor. 3. The next biblical truth about the poor is this: the Bible says that God identifies with the poor so strongly that caring for them is almost like helping God. “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord” (Prov. 19:17). Vinay and Colleen Samuel are making loans to the Creator of the universe! On the other hand, one “who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker” (14:31). Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats is the ultimate commentary on these two proverbs. Jesus surprises those on the right with his insistence that they had fed and clothed him when he was cold and hungry. When they protested that they could not remember ever doing that, Jesus replied: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40). If we believe his words, we look on the poor and neglected with entirely new eyes. 4. Finally, the Scriptures teach that God’s faithful people share God’s special concern for the poor. God commanded Israel not to treat widows, orphans, and foreigners the way the Egyptians had treated them (Ex. 22:21–24). Instead, they should love the poor just as God cared for them at the Exodus (Ex. 22:21–24; Deut. 15:13–15). When Jesus’ disciples throw parties, they should especially invite the poor and disabled (Luke 14:12–14; Heb. 13:1–3). Paul held up Jesus’ model of becoming poor to show how generously the Corinthians should contribute to the poor in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:9). The Bible, however, goes one shocking step further. God insists that if we do not imitate
his concern for the poor we are not really his people—no matter how frequent our worship or how orthodox our creeds. Because Israel failed to correct oppression and defend poor widows, Isaiah insisted that Israel was really the pagan people of Gomorrah (1:10–17). God despised their fasting because they tried to worship God and oppress their workers at the same time (Isa. 58:3–7). Through Amos, the Lord shouted in fury that the very religious festivals he had ordained made him angry and sick. Why? Because the rich and powerful were mixing worship and oppression of the poor (5:21–24). Jesus was even more harsh. At the Last Judgment, some who expect to enter heaven will learn that their failure to feed the hungry condemns them to hell (Matt. 25). If we do not care for the needy brother or sister, we simply do not know God (1 John 3:17). Jeremiah 22:13–19 is a most astonishing passage. Good king Josiah had a wicked son Jehoiakim. When Jehoiakim became king, he built a fabulous palace by oppressing his workers. God sent the prophet Jeremiah to announce a terrible punishment. The most interesting part of the passage, however, is a short aside on this evil king’s good father: “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. ‘Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord” (v.16, emphasis added). Knowing God is inseparable from caring for the poor. Of course, we dare not reduce knowing God only to a concern for the needy as some radical theologians do. We meet God in prayer, Bible study, worship—in many ways. But if we do not share God’s passion to strengthen the poor, we simply do not know God in a biblical way. I fear that many Christians today who think they are very orthodox are actually heretical at just this point. If Jeremiah 22:16 and 1 John 3:17 present one biblical criterion of genuine knowledge of God, what does God think about rich Christians who are living in countries that are sixty times as wealthy as the poorest one-fifth of the world’s countries, and yet share less than 3 percent of their abundance? Is that not heretical defiance of explicit biblical teaching? As we Christians examine our houses, cars and family budgets, can we say our lifestyles are conformed to Christ rather than the world? Now please do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating poverty—or Marxism. I think creating wealth in just, sustainable ways is very good and urgently important. The unemployed need jobs. The Creator wants us to revel in the good earth given to us as a gift to treasure and develop. The biblical teaching on poverty and possessions contains a wonderful subtlety and balance. There is a materialism that is godly. According to the scriptures, the material world is not an illusion to ignore or an evil to escape. It is a good gift to embrace. It is a ring from our Beloved. The material world is so good that the Creator becomes flesh, so good that we await the resurrection of the body, so good that all creation stands on tiptoe eagerly anticipating the restoration of the groaning creation. The Creator placed men and women in this fabulous world as stewards, uniquely shaped in the divine image to tend and care for God’s good garden. Tracing the steps of the Creator in science, technology and the responsible production of more wealth is very good. Christians should rejoice in the way the modern world has been able to produce such an abundance that it would be possible—if we cared enough—for every person living today to have the opportunity for quality education and good health care—not to mention enough food, clothing, and housing. The Bible, however, also issues a warning at just this point. Material abundance acquired justly is a good gift. But it is also dangerous. It is so easy to trust in our wealth rather than God (1 Tim. 6:9–10). It is so easy to treasure material things more than persons and God. We cannot serve God and mammon (Matt. 6:24). Strangely, growing wealth often hardens our hearts to the
poor rather than sparking greater generosity. A recent study of Christian giving illustrates the problem. In 1968 per capita income in the U.S. was $9,831 and church members on average gave 3.14 percent. By 1992, per capita income had grown to $14,515 (in constant 1987 dollars). But we only gave 2.52 percent! It is so easy to imitate the rich fool preoccupied with constructing ever larger barns (Luke 12:16–21) rather than the good wife of Proverbs who “opens her arms to the poor” (31:20). Our world desperately needs a biblically balanced understanding of wealth. And also poverty! Some people want to blame the victims for their poverty. Don’t the poor create their own misery by laziness and sinful choices about sex and alcohol? Others think a wicked “system” is entirely to blame. The real world is far more complex. Some people are poor because they make sinful choices. Others are poor because they believe a religious worldview that denies them dignity and discourages change. (Hinduism’s caste system, for example, claims that both the rich and the poor should accept their fate so they will be better off in a future reincarnation.) In both situations, people need to hear the Gospel, embrace a biblical worldview about the dignity of all, and experience the redeeming power of Christ. Some people are poor because of natural disasters or inadequate tools and knowledge. They need Christians who will share emergency food and appropriate technology so they can produce enough to care for their families. Still others are poor because of injustice in the way the courts work, the laws are made, the land has been divided or opportunities for education and jobs are shared. Earlier we saw the very explicit biblical teaching that sometimes people get rich by oppressing others. Christians need to work with all people of goodwill to create free, just social systems. God wants everyone to have the opportunity to own property and earn a living that enables them to participate freely as dignified members of their community. Biblical people know that bread and justice for everyone is very important. They also know it is not enough. The poor of the world also need Jesus. They need to know that no matter how despised, trampled and famished, the Creator of the world loves them so much that Jesus would gladly have died just for them. They need to know that right now, the Risen Lord longs to forgive their sins, transform their broken lives and welcome them to life eternal. They also need to know that this same God cares especially for the poor, hates injustice, and now invites them to become coworkers in transforming society. Think of what would happen if we shared this full biblical message with the more than one billion people who do not know either justice or Jesus. Of course, they won’t believe us unless we preach Good News to the poor the way Jesus did. He lived what he preached. He walked with the poor and met their material needs as he taught and preached. Think of the explosive power that would flow from a church today living as he lived. The poor of Jesus’ day never doubted that bringing Good News to the poor (Luke 4:18) was one central part of his mission. All they needed to do was look at what he said and did. But when today’s poor look at the church, they have strong reasons for doubting that we are serious about Jesus. Unless Christians today live sharing lifestyles that match God’s concern for the poor, our preaching will be weak and our faith heretical. What would it take for Christians today to convince the poor that we are truly disciples of Jesus? Jesus Day is a great day to start. Twelve Principles for a Just Society
The following twelve principles summarize the biblical norms and holistic framework for a just society: 1.
Made in the very image of God, every person enjoys an inalienable dignity and worth that society must respect.
Persons are not just complex socio-economic, materialistic machines, they are also spiritual beings enjoying God-given rights and responsibilities. Each person is a body-soul unity made for relationship with God, neighbor, and earth.
Because the trinitarian God created persons for mutual interdependence in community, society must be organized in ways that nurture the common good. Since persons reach their potential only in a multilayered community of diverse institutions (family, church, school, media, business, government), society must promote policies (consistent with religious freedom for all) that strengthen all institutions to play their full proper role.
Every policy, both public and private, must be measured by its impact on the poor and marginalized because biblical faith teaches that one of the central criterion by which God judges societies is how they treat the least advantaged.
Both because God wants all persons to be dignified participants in their communities and because centralized power is always dangerous, we must strengthen the economic and political power of the poor.
Renewing the family must be a central goal for both government and civil society. (A family is that set of persons related by marriage, blood or adoption.) While recognizing that today’s families come in many shapes (two-parent, single parent, blended), all policies, both public and private, should promote the biblical norm of mother and father (united in life-long marital covenant) with their children, surrounded by a larger extended family.
Every person and family should have opportunity to acquire and use (without discrimination based on religion, race or gender) the productive resources that, if used responsibly, will enable that person or family to earn a decent living and be a dignified participating member of the community.
Everyone able to work has an obligation to do so, and society, where possible, has the responsibility to make work opportunity available to all. Everyone who works responsibly should receive a living income.
Society should care–in a generous, compassionate way that strengthens dignity and respect–for those who cannot care for themselves.
Quality education must be available to all, regardless of family income.
Quality health care consistent with society’s present knowledge and resources must be available to all, regardless of family income.
Every community must enjoy public safety. Communities should be places where people normally feel physically secure, violence is rare, and the police and courts function without bias for or against anyone.
Loving the Whole Person the Way Jesus Did: Combining Evangelism and Social Ministry Genuine Christians love the whole person the way Jesus did. 6
Cassandra was a frightened single mom on welfare in one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. When her doctor told her she was pregnant again, she agonized over the possibility of an abortion. Fortunately, her doctor worked at a Christian medical clinic and suggested that she talk to one of the pastors of the church connected with this holistic community center. Cassandra expected a stern preacher to give her a fire-and-brimstone sermon. Instead she found a gentle friend. He listened, invited her to church, and told her about Jesus’ love for her. When she accepted Christ a few weeks later, a new peace and joy began to flow through her life. Her boyfriend, however, was suspicious. All her talk about Jesus and Pastor Grant made Showen jealous, but he could not deny that something beautiful was beginning to happen to his girlfriend. One Sunday, he decided to check things out for himself. After Pastor Grant’s sermon, Showen too accepted Christ. That was the easy part. It took Cassandra and Showen four more years of struggle to learn what it really means to follow Christ. “I had accepted Christ into my heart,” Showen reports, “but I had not made him Lord of my life.” Lovingly, patiently, Paul Grant and his wife Du Rhonda walked and prayed with Cassandra and Showen, who slowly grew in Christ until they decided to marry—the first Christian marriage in either of their immediate families! They asked God to use their marriage as a witness to their relatives about the goodness of Christ-centered marriage. God has answered their prayer. Several of Showen’s close relatives have also become Christians. Showen and Cassandra are not on welfare today. Cassandra works full time at Circle Urban Ministries (CUM), a multimillion-dollar-a-year complex of programs in remedial education, recreation, health services, job training, and small business development. Showen is now the General Manager of CUM’s most successful small business. On-the-job training developed Showen’s natural gifts. In 1993, the company he manages employed twelve people full time and cleared a net profit of fifty thousand dollars. God dramatically transformed Showen and Cassandra Franklin. How? Through Christians at this wonderful church and community center sharing the whole Gospel with them and then walking arm-in-arm as God transformed them into whole persons.1 I wonder what would have happened if Cassandra and Showen had wandered into a typical church. Many theologically liberal congregations would have gladly given them food baskets, health care, and job training. Tragically, however, they would probably never have gotten around to telling them that they could have a personal relationship with the Savior who longs to change their hearts and habits. Many theologically conservative churches would 7
have told them about Christ, but they might never have offered a doctor or a job, because that smacks of the “Social Gospel.” But Showen and Cassandra needed both in order to experience the wholeness God wants them to enjoy. Fortunately, God led them to Rock Church and Circle Urban Ministries, where faithful Christians care about the body and the soul—together. Like Jesus, they care about the whole person. The result for Showen and Cassandra was sweeping, lasting transformation that continues to ripple through a large extended family. Caring for the whole person, like Jesus, works miracles. Lopsided Christianity cannot. This story points to one of the most important reasons for the weakness of the modern church. The roots of the problem are complex, but at the beginning of the twentieth century, one branch of Christianity—the “Social Gospel” branch—realized the need to focus on social action. At the same time, another large group—the evangelicals—felt called to focus on evangelism. For decades they criticized each other. Social Gospel people claimed that Jesus and the rest of the Bible compel us to care about the physical needs of people. And they were right. Evangelical folk insisted that according to Jesus and the Scriptures, nothing is as important as a living relationship with God in Christ. And they too were right. Tragically, foolishly, each side used the other side’s sinful neglect of one half of Christian mission to justify their own stubborn neglect of the other half. The result has been lopsided, ineffective churches. How could people who confess Jesus as both true God and true man reject Jesus’ example? How could people who worship Christ as the Eternal Word become flesh ignore his perfect combination of word and deed? Jesus’ tender concern for the whole person—soul and body—is clear in every Gospel. He preached and he healed. He satisfied sick hearts and sick bodies. Matthew says it pointedly: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matt. 9:35). Why? Because he loved people—whole people. Again and again, the Gospels say Jesus healed people because he had compassion for them (Matt. 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 1:41). His tender concern for the widow who had just lost her son still moves us across twenty centuries: “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her, and he said, ‘Don’t cry’” (Luke 7:13). Jesus raised the boy because his heart ached for this lonely, weeping widow. The Gospels clearly demonstrate that Jesus spent a lot of time healing physical brokenness. But it was not because he thought life here on earth was the most important thing. Explicitly, pointedly, Jesus taught that even if one gained absolutely everything in this world, it would not be worth losing 8
one’s relationship with God (Mark 8:34–38). The Creator designed us to live forever with him. Absolutely nothing in the world—not even everything in the world!—is worth jeopardizing that relationship. Tragically, Christians often distort this important teaching. Some Christians conclude from Mark 8:34–38 that evangelism is the only thing that really matters. Saving souls is our central concern. Healing sick bodies and broken societies is unimportant. Jesus never said that. His actions prove exactly the opposite. Jesus could have spent all of his time preaching and urging people to repent. After all, he knew better than anybody else how important it is to come to personal faith in the living God. But a careful look at the Gospels shows that Jesus spent about as much time ministering to people’s physical needs as he did preaching. If Jesus is truly God in the flesh, then he is our perfect model. Since he cared for the whole person, so should we. If we don’t, we disobey the One we worship. Jesus cared about whole persons because he was the Creator. He knew we have been created, not merely as bodies and not merely as souls. Every person is a “body-soul-in-community.” Any view that reduces us primarily or exclusively to mere bodies or mere souls is simply unbiblical. Since we are not merely material beings, nothing in the material world can finally satisfy us. Material wealth, sex, political power are all finally inadequate. We are made for a relationship with God, and we are invited to live forever in God’s presence. Therefore, any solution to the human problem that focuses primarily on economic development or structural change via politics is bound to fail. On the other hand, our bodies are not a mere accident. The Creator made us body-soul unities. Even when Paul longed to leave the body and be with the Lord, he insisted that God’s final plan for us is bodily resurrection—that wholeness of body-soul unity intended by the Creator (2 Cor. 5:1–4; 1 Cor. 15:35ff.). If the body is so good that the Creator became flesh, rose bodily, and promises to restore the whole created order including our bodies, then any approach to human need that ignores or neglects physical needs is flatly heretical. Black evangelist/social activist John Perkins underlines this point. As he worked in the midst of white racism, whites often said, “John, I love your soul.” They wanted to lead him to Christ without struggling against racial and economic oppression. Perkins’ answer is profoundly biblical: “My soul is in a black body. If you really want to get to my soul, you’re first going to have to deal with this body.” Jesus’ teaching and example and the Bible’s view of persons are just two of many biblical reasons why genuine Christians 9
refuse to spend all their time and energy on evangelism. As we shall see in chapter nine, the God of the Bible has a special concern for the poor and weak, and he commands his people to share his concern. Furthermore, Christ is Lord of all of life, including economics and politics (see chapter eight). In chapter five, which discussed the church, we saw how being one in Christ means caring about the physical and spiritual needs of other believers. And when Christ returns, believers will be resurrected bodily, the groaning creation will be restored to wholeness, and the glory of the nations will enter the new Jerusalem. If the Bible is true, then physical work, human life, and history matter a lot to God. People are made to live on this good earth and enjoy its wonders for “three score years and ten.” The splendor of soaring Rockies, the ecstasy of a couple in love, and the beauty of Mozart and Michaelangelo are all astounding gifts from a boundless, loving Creator. But they are not the Creator. They are rings from our Beloved, not the Beloved Himself. But we are also made to live and reign forever with the Risen Lord in a restored world. Life then will be different from history as we now experience it. Nothing in the world we now enjoy is worth as much as a saving relationship with Christ who gives eternal life. If we keep our hearts fixed on the Divine Lover as we treasure and delight in his gorgeous gifts, we will be able to keep a biblical balance between evangelism and social transformation. What a tragedy that some Christians today are embarrassed to tell their friends about this wonderful Savior. What a tragedy that some Christians are so preoccupied with correcting injustice and restoring the environment that they never find time to tell dying persons that God invites them to eternal joy in the divine embrace. Nothing is more important for every Christian today than sharing Jesus with those who do not yet know him. Faithful Christians nurture a passion for evangelism at the center of their prayers and action. We evangelize because the world that he gave his not perish (John 3:16). If transforming love, how can embrace?
of God’s astounding love. God so loved only Son so that all who believe will we have been sought and embraced by we fail to lead others to that same
We share the Gospel because we understand the uniqueness of Christ. The Galilean champion of marginalized women, lepers, and beggars was the Eternal Word in whom God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell (Col. 1:19). If we believe the church’s central confession that the Creator of the galaxies once trod the dusty paths of our little planet to bring us salvation, how can we fail to tell others that long ago in Palestine God became flesh for us? 10
We tell others about the Savior because Jesus is the only way to salvation. With Peter, we confess that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NRSV). If we know he is the only way, how can we neglect to tell those who have not heard? We proclaim the Gospel in submission to his last command. Gladly, obediently, we go into every nation on earth inviting all people everywhere to become disciples, receive baptism, and obey all that Christ taught (Matt. 28:19–20). If we know who he is, dare we disobey his last command? We spread the Good News because Jesus is the best gift we have to offer. We know that there is absolutely nothing we could share with others that would bring them anywhere nearly as much joy and blessing as a living knowledge of our Lord. Can we love our neighbors and not share our best treasure? We also announce the Gospel because we know people are lost, both now and forever, without Jesus Christ. Knowing that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), knowing that some people will someday hear Jesus’ terrifying words, “depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41), we evangelize with a holy urgency. If we believe Jesus’ warning, how can we fail to shout in fear and trembling: Please dear son, daughter, neighbor, turn from the way of death to your loving Savior who seeks you with arms outstretched! We invite people to Christ because in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God has drawn back the curtain and offered us a little glimpse of the future. We know it is God’s good pleasure that eventually the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord (Rev. 11:15) and that even the groaning creation will be healed at Christ’s return. If we understand God’s grand design, how can we not eagerly invite people to enjoy its splendor? Finally, we share the Gospel so that the whole world may be full of God’s glory. Paul longed for the day when every tongue would “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). Having tasted the sweet, awesome splendor of God’s glory, will we not eagerly seek to spread it throughout the universe? Our broken world needs nothing as much as the Gospel. But it must be the biblical Gospel, not some watered down, lopsided version. Faithful Christians gladly embrace both evangelism and social concern. Biblical faith demands it. Jesus modeled it. And it works! We saw how Rock/Circle’s loving combination of word and deed radically transformed the lives of Showen and Cassandra Franklin. 11
But their story is not an accident or an isolated incident. Hundreds and hundreds of people have come to faith in Christ in the last ten years through the church and community center at Rock/Circle. The same thing is happening in scores of other holistic ministries that (like Rock/Circle) are part of the Christian Community Development Association. Consider, for example my friend Bishop Dickie Robbins, who pastors a church in one of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the poorest cities in the country. I first met Dickie Robbins when he took my class on holistic ministry. I soon discovered that he was already practicing what I was preaching about linking evangelism and social action. Thirty percent of the 230 members at Life in Christ Cathedral of Faith in Chester, Pennsylvania, have come to the church through its holistic ministry to people hooked on drugs and alcohol. In fact, other churches sometimes refer to this congregation as “the little drug church on Third Street.” In their Drug Free Ministry–and the many other social ministries run by this small congregation–evangelism is central. And people are transformed. When David Scott first got to know Bishop Robbins, his life was a disaster. David had been on drugs for twenty-three years and was facing a likely eight-to-fifteen year prison term. Bishop Robbins led him to personal faith in Christ and told him to marry the woman he was living with. Fortunately, David received eleven months on work release instead of time in jail and was able to work every day with Bishop Robins. The Holy Spirit used Robbins’s intense, extended discipleship program to work wonders. Today Elder Scott and his wife, Carol, are among Bishop Robbins’s most important leaders. David oversees all the church’s social ministries–and still finds time to serve on a board at Crozier Hospital along with one of the county judges. Life in Christ’s ministries are changing their community. Their Love in Feeding Everyone (LIFE) ministry provides meals for 150 people each week. Drug Free Ministry serves at least sixty people a week. Generation of Destiny tutors and mentors teenagers so they never get hooked on drugs. Eagle’s Nest Academy makes quality education available for about 130 kids, many from poor families, from grades K through 11. (The public school system is ranked last out of 501 districts in the state!) Each ministry will have its own 501(c)3 status, but Bishop Robbins chairs each board to make sure it reflects the church’s holistic vision. From the beginning, Bishop Robbins was determined to build a church that would transform people and the surrounding community. He told the local newspaper that he came to do “more than just set up another church.” He planned to “build a ministry.” In one of his powerful sermons, he compares churches to car repair shops. There are two types: “Both have the same equipment, but one produces fixed cars and one doesn’t.” Broken people come into 12
Bishop Robbins’s repair shop–and come out transformed. “The way to determine how effective a ministry is is to see how the people come out, not how they come in.” Gerald Pierce came in hurting. When Dickie Robbins returned to his hometown of Chester, he heard reports that his former classmate (and a gifted musician) was using drugs–even while serving as a church musician. His marriage was on the rocks and he had lost his kids. Bishop Robbins invited Gerald to join him. Robbins said he could not pay much money, but he promised tough discipling! Gerald agreed. Today Elder Pierce leads the church’s extensive program in music and fine arts: drama, praise dance, mime, step, and choirs. He just released an album called “Let It Rain,” which he wrote and produced. “The devil thought he had destroyed Gerald,” Bishop Robbins says, “but God has turned him around. Through his music and ministry, people are getting saved all over.” God has only begun to work wonders at Life in Christ Cathedral of Faith. The church has plans for ministries in economic development, prison ministry, and fine arts evangelism. But Bishop Robbins believes that it is crucial to wait until leaders have been trained. So he is investing in a training program in which each leader trains another leader. The congregation’s 230 members are committed. Before you can join the church, you have to complete a ten-week class for new members–and also sign up to work in at least one church ministry. This congregation is poised for explosive growth. That is good news. It is even better news that holistic ministries like Life in Christ in Chester and Rock/Circle in Chicago are flourishing all around the world. Vinay and Colleen Samuel’s similar programs in a desperately poor neighborhood in India serve 50,000 people and regularly lead persons to Christ. Ichthus Fellowship, with its emphasis on words, works and wonders among the poor of London, has grown from fourteen people to over two thousand in twenty years. I know of dozens of mature ministries serving the whole person all around the world. I have told some of the best stories in Cup of Water, Bread of Life. In the U.S. alone, the Christian Community Development Association has several hundred ministries seeking to develop in their local communities the kinds of holistic programs working so successfully at places like Rock/Circle. There is good reason to think that the tragic separation of evangelism and social transformation is coming to an end. At its international congress in Manila in 1989, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization insisted that “good news and good works are inseparable.”4 Evangelicals who had formerly majored almost exclusively on evangelism are now increasingly also doing social ministry. Other Christians who had been hesitant about evangelism have reaffirmed their commitment to spread the Gospel. 13
Think of the phenomenal growth of evangelical social ministries in the last few decades. World Vision exploded from a tiny ministry to Korean orphans to vast ministries in one hundred countries with an annual budget of $340 million (1994). Many other ministries like Compassion, World Relief, and World Concern raise tens of millions of dollars each year to feed the hungry and empower the poor. Nor is it just traditional evangelical groups that are promoting evangelism. The worldwide Anglican communion designated the 1990s the “Decade of Evangelism.” Pope John Paul II named 1990–2000 the “Universal Decade of Evangelism.” His recent encyclical Redemptoris Missio is a ringing plea for renewed attention to sharing the Gospel with those who do not know Christ. “The poor are hungry for God, not just for bread and freedom.”5 As the next two decades unfold, we could enjoy a better marriage of word and deed than at any time in the previous one hundred years. There are hundreds of mature holistic models like Rock/Circle and Calvary Baptist where evangelism and social concern walk hand in hand, transforming broken people and desperate neighborhoods. Their biblical balance and obvious success is inspiring thousands of newer ministers to imitate them as they have imitated Christ. We should pray and expect that God will raise up tens of thousands of ministries like Rock/Circle all around the world. In fact, would not a million please Jesus even more? That’s how I dream about the twenty-first century. I hope for a time when vast numbers of local churches have caught Jesus’ vision of love for the whole person. I see thousands of Christian colleges, Bible Schools, and seminaries all around the world captured by Jesus’ model, sending out tens of thousands of skilled, enthusiastic leaders every year to pastor biblically balanced churches. I imagine scores of books, Sunday School lessons, and seminars training the laity to combine evangelism and social passion. I dream of the day when the congregation that neglects evangelism or justice is the exception rather than the rule. I long for the time when most Christians are in congregations where each month they experience the joy of hearing about new people who have just begun to taste the goodness of salvation. I yearn for the day when most Christians are in congregations that walk with the needy, say no to all forms of prejudice, and reach out to heal broken communities. I long for the day when the church truly obeys Jesus’ last command: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). If even a substantial minority in the church ever dares to do it his way, strongholds of Satan will fall, the angels will rejoice, and the world will be renewed. 14
And more and more desperate people like Juan de Jesús will find astounding peace in Christ. In 1990, Juan was a bitter old drug addict dying of AIDS. In fact when Juan learned he had AIDS, he was so furious that he purposely infected about 2000 needles and syringes with his blood before selling them to drug users. Hundreds got AIDS. How then, five years later at Juan’s funeral, could his pastor say that Juan was the best example of the power of God to change a person that he had ever seen? Life as a young Puerto Rican in New York City was rough. His drug-abusing father and uncle taught him to use drugs and live off the prostitutes he conned as a fast-talking pimp. For years he lived in the fast lane. By the spring of 1991, however, he was hospitalized with an advanced case of AIDS. Each day he got worse. His doctor predicted that he would not see another birthday. Juan tried to commit suicide but the noose (of oxygen tubing) broke. There was just one ray of hope as Juan lay dying. One Christian visitor frequently visited the hospital, sitting quietly at his bedside, talking to him, and asking how he could help. He helped him drink his juice and bought him some socks. Finally angry Juan was ready to listen as this visitor told him about God’s love. One night soon after, Juan cried out: “Jesus, if you’re really God, let me know you before I die.” Slowly he began to improve. His friend made plans to find him a home after he left the hospital. But the hospital gave Juan his valuables about an hour before his scheduled departure. Juan left by himself and promptly spent his money on drugs. Despair flooded back into his life. Not long after, Juan again contemplated suicide as he sat alone and desperate in a park. Just then a young man came walking toward him. Juan’s first thought was to do what he had so often done in the past—knock him down with his brass knuckles and rob him. But the young man walked right up and announced: “Jesus loves you. My dad used to be an addict like you, and Jesus helped him stop.” Still Juan hesitated. Should he smack him? Juan wavered. Then, hesitantly he consented to go with the young man. Juan found a church full of love, joy, and exuberance. He came to faith in Christ and gladly accepted the church’s offer to find him a place in a Christian drug rehabilitation program. The only place they could find was in North Philadelphia near a holistic health center called Esperanza started by a very dear friend of mine, Dr. Carolyn Klaus. Esperanza’s doctors and nurses offer both excellent health care and the love of Christ. Working closely with local Hispanic churches, they integrate evangelism and medicine.
Esperanza’s Dr. Mike Moore became Juan’s doctor. When Dr. Moore first met Juan in January 1992, Juan was ill and depressed. That busy day, Dr. Moore had just enough time to give Juan some medicine and say a couple words of encouragement. He also gave Juan Scriptures selected for people with AIDS. At Juan’s next visit a week later, Dr. Moore was surprised to find Juan visibly changed. Moore discovered that John 3:16 had spoken powerfully to Juan’s heart. Dr. Moore walked closely with Juan over the next few months. He offered medicine, counsel, and prayer. Dr. Moore prayed that God would do what he could not. Soon Juan stopped praying for healing. Instead, he was content to ask God just to be “preserved.” The earlier doctor’s warning that Juan would not live to see another birthday proved wrong. God gave him three more years—and Juan used them to minister in a powerful, loving way to others dying of AIDS. Juan learned how to read so he could study the Bible. Then he hit the streets. But he was a changed person. On the street corners and in the parks, he told others about how Jesus had transformed his life. He visited people dying of AIDS in the hospital to bring encouragement and invite people to Christ. Dr. Moore sometimes asked Juan to visit other patients of his who were hospitalized with AIDS. Even when Juan himself had to be hospitalized, he continued to encourage other patients. Finally, in the last few months of 1994, Juan himself became much sicker. But even during the final stay in the hospital, Juan continued to grow in his trust in God. When Dr. Moore asked Juan what was most important to remember about him, Juan said: “That God is real and that he is living in me.” Juan died of AIDS on February 4, 1995. But as Dr. Moore says so powerfully, the Divine Healer had the last word: “When Juan’s strength was gone and medicine had done all it could do, the Lord saw fit no longer to ‘preserve’ him here, but to heal him in His own presence.” It would have been so much better if Christians who love the whole person had gotten to Juan many years earlier. Then perhaps he would have had a long, full life of joy and wholeness like Cassandra and Showen Franklin. But even after HIV had begun its deadly march through Juan’s body, the Divine Healer still worked powerfully—first to preserve Juan for three astonishing years of gentle, effective ministry here and then to heal him completely for joy unspeakable in the presence of the Risen Lord. An Historic Opportunity I am convinced that in the first five to ten years of the new millennium, Christians in the United States have a historic opportunity unparalleled in decades, perhaps in the twentieth century.
Dismayed by repeated failures to reduce poverty, secular policy elites are astonishingly open to faith-based proposals and contributions. With some old fears and battles resolved, the widely divided Christian community shows increasing signs of readiness to work together to empower the poor. With more empirical evidence emerging every year, faith-based approaches look increasingly attractive. It is realistic to think that a biblically based, empirically grounded holistic vision and strategy could become widely influential and dramatically reduce poverty in the next decade. American Christians stand at a historic crossroads. We face one of the greatest opportunities in our history. We have more material resources than ever before. Tragically, we are also more materialistic and more focused on individual self-fulfillment. Will we take the path of generosity and justice? Or will we slip slowly into ever greater self-gratification? Two Tools to Help 1)
The Generous Christians Pledge: I pledge to open my heart to God’s call to care as much about the poor as the Bible does. I therefore commit: Daily, to pray for the poor, beginning with the Generous Christians Prayer: “Lord Jesus, teach my heart to share your love for the poor.” Weekly , to minister, at least one hour to a poor person: helping, serving, sharing with, and, mostly, getting to know someone in need. Monthly , to study, at least one story, book, article or film about the plight of the poor and hungry and discuss it with others. Yearly , to retreat, for a few hours before the Scriptures to meditate on this one question: “Is caring for the poor as important in my life as it is in the Bible?” and to examine my budget and priorities in light of it, asking God what changes he would like me to make in the use of my time, money, and influence.
You can order multiple copies of the pledge, plus a Retreat Kit and books on how Christians can work to overcome poverty by contacting the Generous Christians Campaign (10 E. Lancaster Avenue, Wynnewood, PA 19096; Tel: 800-650-6600; Fax: 610-649-8090; E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). 2)
Network 9:35's vision is that every Christian congregation be engaged actively in holistic ministry – leading people to faith in Christ and working for social transformation. Network 9:35 accomplishes this by nurturing and strengthening local congregations, pastors, and lay leaders who are committed to and engaged in holistic mission. We offer materials, develop new channels of communication, and research what congregations most need to increase their holistic ministry. Through a collaborative effort of a number of agencies and churches, Network 9:35 provides services and resources to congregations and agencies engaged in holistic ministry. We
coordinate efforts among a growing group of diverse people and entities who desire to serve the church in an effective manner. Our mutual goal is to build relationships and thereby increase the ability of congregations to strategically and compassionately reach out to their communities through evangelism and social action. Network 9:35 provides a variety of venues for the exchange of information on holistic ministry and the practice of incarnational mission. A prime tool of the Networkâ€™s Partners and CoSponsors is the use of a web site (www.network935.org) on the Internet. To order a starter kit (containing books and articles) on how to engage in church-based holistic ministry, call 1-800-650-6600. For more information on Network 9:35, contact our Director, Rev. Phil Olson, at email@example.com or 610-645-9399, 10 E. Lancaster Avenue, Wynnewood, PA 19096. Note: Most of the above is used with permission from Ron Siderâ€™s Living Like Jesus (the textbook for Jesus Day) and Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America . Both books are available from Evangelicals for Social Action: 10 E. Lancaster Avenue, Wynnewood, PA 19096; 1-800-650-6600.
“I’m Not a Social Activist” Concluding Sermon ESA’s Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration July 27, 2003 By Ronald J. Sider
I’m not a social activist. I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Lord of the universe. In the inner-city congregation where my family worshipped for more than a decade, the choir often sang a song I still love: Jesus, you’re the center of my joy; All that’s good and perfect comes from you. You’re the heart of my contentment, Hope for all I do. Jesus, you’re the center of my joy. That’s what I want to talk about this morning. I’ve been blessed in so many ways in life: wonderful Christian parents who loved each other dearly and their Lord even more; a lovely gifted woman who has grown with me over forty-two years of joyful marriage; three wonderful children; a great education; ministry opportunities that vastly exceeded even the wildest dreams of this farm boy. At the center of all that goodness and joy stands Jesus my Lord. My parents taught me by their words and actions what the little motto they hung in my bedroom constantly announced: Only one life ‘twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Jesus will last. In college when classical intellectual doubt led me to question whether an honest thinker in the modern world could still believe in historic Christian faith, a brilliant professor helped me see that the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection was very strong. When the typical problems that invade every marriage threatened to destroy the joy and happiness that Arbutus and I had experienced for more than fifteen years, the commands and power of Christ kept us faithful to each other and enabled us to work through tough challenges and discover a better, stronger, deeply satisfying marriage. When new opportunities as an evangelical social activist opened up, leading me to modify my earlier sense of call to be an apologist for historic Christianity in the secular university world, I resolved to keep Jesus–the full biblical Christ–at the center of my heart,
theology and work–grounding my social activism in historic Christian faith and maintaining a strong passion for evangelism. Jesus, you’re the center of my joy. It is you I love, you I adore and worship, and you I have sought to follow and obey. Whenever I think carefully about Jesus, I am utterly astounded. About two thousand years ago in a little corner of the Roman Empire, an obscure Jewish carpenter claimed to be the long-expected Messiah who, his people expected, would drive out the conquering Romans and begin the new age of peace, justice and resurrection. But the authorities crucified him–using the most shameful and powerful death possible–to prove he was a fraud. But then just three days later, his astonished disciples reported, he rose from the dead. And within a very short time these strict Jewish monotheists, whose most basic belief was that there is only one God, started telling the world that the Carpenter from Nazareth was God in the flesh, Lord of the universe, reigning King although Caeser mistakenly thought he was in charge of the world. What an utterly amazing thing for a handful of oppressed Jewish colonials living at the edge of the powerful pagan Roman empire to believe and preach. Let’s explore this incredible development a bit more under four parts: Jesus’ Gospel Jesus’ Death and Resurrection Jesus’ Person Jesus’ Agenda Jesus Gospel Virtually every time Jesus talks about his Gospel, he says it is the Gospel of the kingdom–the fantastic news that the long expected Messianic kingdom was actually breaking into history in his person and work. If Jesus had said the Gospel was just the forgiveness of sins, then people could accept Jesus’ Gospel and go on living the same way as before with no change in their racist, adulterous or materialistic lifestyles. The Gospel of forgiveness would be a oneway ticket to heaven and we could live like hell till we get there. But Jesus said his Gospel was the Good News of the kingdom. In Jesus’ day, there was intense Messianic fervor and expectation. A number of Messianic pretenders arose and then were squelched decisively by Roman crucifixion. The Jews looked for a conquering military hero who would drive out the Romans and establish Jerusalem as the ruler of the nations. Sins would be forgiven, the dead would be resurrected, and a new age of justice and peace would prevail. Indirectly at first, but then more and more clearly, Jesus claimed that he was the expected Messiah. He offered forgiveness of sins on the basis of sheer divine grace and he began creating justice and wholeness in persons and society as people embraced his teaching. He and his new community of disciples challenged the status quo in lots of radical ways–its attitude toward the 2
poor and marginalized, lepers, women, and violence. The masses were excited, but also puzzled. Contrary to popular messianic hopes, Jesus rejected violence, calling on his followers to love even their enemies. The kingdom he announced was certainly a public, visible new social order where all broken social relationships were being healed, but it was not a new Jewish political kingdom to be established by military power. This Nazarene carpenter and rabbi also startled people with some of his claims. He not only claimed to be Messiah; he also claimed divine authority to forgive sins. At his trial, he claimed to be the Son of God. Jewish leaders considered this blasphemy, and the Romans viewed all Messianic pretenders as serious political threats to Roman rule. So they worked together to kill him. Since Jewish Messianic expectation declared that the Messiah would lead a successful military campaign to drive out the Romans and inaugurate the new age, crucifixion provided powerful, indisputable proof that this Messianic pretender was a fraud. There was only one conceivable conclusion for a first-century Jew on the evening of Jesus’ crucifixion: Jesus’ claims were false. He was finished. Jesus’ Resurrection That would have been the last word about the astonishing Nazarene carpenter, but for one thing. On the third day after his disgraceful death, first the women and then the disciples reported that they had found the tomb empty and then met the Risen Jesus. If that really happened, everything looks radically different. But can modern folk in our scientific world still responsibly assert that the tomb was empty and Jesus was raised bodily from the dead? Obviously, if one is a philosophical naturalist who believes that nothing exists except the material world that science can in principle fully explain, then that kind of miracle is impossible. But if a transcendent Creator God exists, then that God could raise a crucified carpenter from the dead if God so chose. As long as we start with an open mind, rather than a dogmatic philosophical bias against even the possibility of miracle, the crucial question is an historical question: What is the historical evidence for the early Christians’ astonishing claim about Jesus’ resurrection? I have just finished reading a massive, scholarly book on the resurrection by N. T. Wright, one of the most brilliant contemporary New Testament scholars. Professor Wright argues–in 750 packed scholarly pages–that the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is very strong indeed. The fact that women were reported to be the first to meet the risen Jesus is one strong piece of evidence. First century Jewish principles of evidence considered the word of a woman useless in court. So if the disciples had manufactured the resurrection stories, the last thing in the world they would have said was that women were the first to meet the risen Jesus. The only plausible explanation for the Gospel accounts that women were the first to meet the risen Jesus is that it really happened that way. 3
In the Gospels, Acts and Paul’s letters, it is perfectly clear that it was the empty tomb and resurrection appearances that transformed discouraged defeated disciples (who understood perfectly the implications of Jesus’ crucifixion) into daring, bold evangelists. Something dramatic had to happen to cause this astonishing transformation. At least two people–Jesus’ brother James and Saul of Tarsus–who had not followed Jesus during his lifetime became disciples after they met the risen Jesus. The early Christians, most of whom were Jews, started proclaiming startling changes in the Jewish Messianic expectation. They certainly believed that Jesus was the Messiah (that’s why they called him “Christ”) and they proclaimed that the new Messianic Age had truly started. But contrary to Jewish expectation, the old age continued. Furthermore, according to Jewish Messianic hope, the Messiah was to bring with him the general resurrection of the dead. But that did not happen. Jesus had been raised as a foretaste of the general resurrection which was still in the future. The general resurrection would only happen when Christ returned. Something very dramatic must have happened to transform the Jewish view of history. Jesus’ resurrection offers the needed explanation. The same is true of the fact that very early, the Christians started worshipping on the first day of the week rather than on the traditional Jewish Sabbath. Again, if the resurrection happened on the first day of the week, that would explain this surprising change. I could go on citing historical evidence, but what I have noted is enough to show that responsible intellectuals in the twenty-first century are on solid ground when they claim that Jesus’ resurrection is historical fact. Jesus’ Person The resurrection, of course, radically affected the disciples’ understanding of who Jesus was and is. Rather than discredited Messianic pretender, Jesus was clearly God’s Messiah. And almost immediately, these strict monotheistic Jews began to say even more. When he personally met the risen Jesus, doubting Thomas blurted out the incredible words: “My Lord and my God.” Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, one of the strictest monotheists of the firstcentury world. Greek and Roman polytheists ran around claiming that gods or goddesses appeared here in human flesh, but not Jews. Strict Jewish monotheists like Saul of Tarsus were the least likely people in the world to say that the carpenter from Nazareth was God in the flesh. But that is exactly what Paul believed and taught. In Philippians 2:10-11, Paul says “that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow . . . and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” This passage explicitly echoes Isaiah 45:20 ff., where Jahweh mocks the idols and rejects all other gods, claiming that he alone is God, concluding: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” Paul takes those words from the mouth of Jahweh and applies them to the carpenter from Nazareth. The word Paul applies to Jesus here is the Greek word kurios. When they translated the Old Testament into Greek and came to the word “Jahweh,” they used this Greek word kurios to 4
translate it. So when Paul says that Jesus is kurios, he means Jesus the carpenter is God. And in fact, the word Lord (kurios) came, along with Christ (Messiah) to be the most common titles for the Nazarene carpenter. Again and again, devout first-century Jewish monotheists, now convinced that God raised Jesus from the dead, make the most astonishing claims about him:
“He is the image of the invisible God . . . all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. For in him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:15-20). “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by the Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:1-3). “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God . . . . All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being . . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son” (John 1:1-3, 14). “There is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These are utterly astounding claims. That the Creator of 120 billion spinning galaxies should become a baby on one tiny planet circling one small star in one out of the way galaxy is utterly astonishing. That this Creator of the galaxies should model what human life should be, then die on a cross and rise from the dead is simply mind-boggling. One can only fall to one’s knees and worship. And seek and pray for the wisdom to tell others about him in the most winsome way possible. This is the Jesus I love. This is the Jesus I have tried to follow. Jesus, you’re the center of my joy. Jesus’ Agenda There is one more thing I want to say about Jesus–and that is to try to describe his agenda. Remember, Jesus claimed to be the Jewish Messiah who was inaugurating the new Messianic age when all things would be made new, when all things that sin had messed up, would be transformed to wholeness. The resurrection and Pentecost confirmed that Jesus was right, that the new Messianic Age was now breaking in. To be sure, the early Christians knew that the old age of sin and injustice continued. But they believed so strongly that Jesus’ 5
Messianic kingdom was now arriving that they believed that in the power of the Risen Lord and the Holy Spirit, they could now live according to the radical kingdom values that Jesus had taught. They embraced kingdom ethics and kingdom expectations of holiness. They believed, as Paul said in 2 Cor. 3:18, that daily Christians look with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord and daily “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” The transformation that comes with Jesus’ dawning Messianic kingdom affects every area of reality–from individual persons to social systems to the groaning creation. At the center is personal living faith in Jesus Christ the Lord whose atoning death provides free unmerited forgiveness for all who repent and whose Holy Spirit now transforms selfish, evil persons into Christ-centered wholesome human beings. Equally important is the fact that all believers become part of Christ’s new visible body where, when it is faithfully obeying all that Jesus taught, people can see a new redeemed society of transformed sinners now living a little picture of what heaven will be like. It is a terrible misunderstanding of what the early Christians believed to reduce Christian faith to a private personal relationship between me and Jesus. It certainly starts at that wonderful point. But the early Christians believed that the resurrection confirmed Jesus’ claim that the Messianic kingdom was now beginning to take shape on this earth. And that meant the transformation not just of individuals, but of society and the broken creation. That’s why the early Christians said Jesus was now King of kings and Lord of lords. That’s why they refused to worship the Roman Emperor. That’s why Paul said in Ephesians 2-3 that the new multi-ethnic body of believers (where the ancient ethnic hostility between Jew and Gentile was overcome in Christ) was part of the Gospel. When Paul says in Ephesians 3:10 that this mystery of the church as a visible, reconciled multi-ethnic community is made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, he means to say that the visible reality of this new Christian social order is powerful evidence to twisted social structures and the demonic powers behind them that their power is broken and the new Messianic social order is now truly breaking in. Every area of the created order is being affected. Forgiven individuals are now being sanctified. The church is a visible model of a redeemed social order. The power of the principalities and powers who have dominated fallen, twisted social structures is now being broken and society is slowly being transformed. Even the groaning creation, the non-human world of rivers, rocks and trees, which has been distorted by human sin, will at Christ’s return, “be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). At Christ’s return, too, according to Revelation 21 and 22, the glory of the nations, the best of human civilization, will be purged of its evil and taken up into the new Jerusalem, the glorious transformed earth where God will dwell with us. And the kingdoms of this earth will become the kingdom of our Christ. Because that is the agenda of the Risen Jesus, because we know that is where history is going, we work now to establish signs of that coming complete transformation not just in individuals but also in the new society of the church and even in the total social order and the 6
creation itself. Because, as the great Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper loved to say, there is not one square inch of this whole earth that does not belong to the Risen Lord. . Jesus’ Gospel, Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus’ person, and Jesus’ agenda must remain at the center of any faithful Christian social action. Social action without an evangelistic passion to share Jesus’ Gospel fails to convert the next generation of activists. Social action without Jesus’ resurrection has no power. Social action without Jesus, true God and true man, at the center is no longer Christian. Social action without Jesus’ agenda quickly loses its way. If ESA has accomplished anything in the last thirty years, I hope it is that we have played our part in nurturing a biblical social action that is thoroughly grounded and centered in Jesus. Jesus, you’re the center of our joy, our vision, our ministry. As I look ahead to the next thirty years, I see glorious opportunity. Of course there are enormous dangers in the world and devastating weaknesses in the church. But if we stay centered in Christ, there is truly incredible opportunity. We have made substantial progress in the last thirty years in helping significant numbers of Christians understand God’s special concern for the poor, the biblical mandate for holistic mission which combines evangelism and social action, and a balanced biblical approach to politics. All around the world today, there are millions and millions of biblical Christians who are enthusiastically leading people to personal faith in Christ and then throwing their arms around those broken persons, walking with them to correct whatever personal and structural brokenness sin has introduced. There are millions of Christians praying and acting, planting new churches and feeding the hungry, discipling new Christians and partnering in community development, praying for the sick and transforming unjust structures. The number of holistic local congregations offering the whole Gospel for the whole world has quadrupled and quadrupled again in the last thirty years. The same and much more could easily happen in the next thirty. Those of you who were too young to be at the beginning of ESA at the Thanksgiving workshop in 1973 must now become the leaders and seize this glorious opportunity. Those of us who were there thirty years ago will work with you as long as God gives us the strength. To all of us I say. We are not social activists. We are disciples of Jesus the carpenter, Creator and risen Lord of the universe. Jesus, you’re the center of our joy; All that’s good and perfect comes from you. You’re the heart of our contentment, Hope for all we do. Jesus, you’re the center of our joy. Amen. 8/12/03
Jesus' Call To Be Peacemakers by Ronald J. Sider Presentation to the Mennonite World Conference in Strasbourg, France in the summer of 1984. -----------------------------------Violent economic structures annually maim and murder the poor by the millions. Idolatrous nationalism, religious bigotry, racial prejudice, and economic selfishness turn people against people in terrifying orgies of violence in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Southern Africa, and Latin America. The competing self-righteous ideologies of the United States and the Soviet Union trample arrogantly on the people's dreams for justice and freedom in Central America and Afghanistan, the Philippines and Poland. Always, behind every regional conflict which kills thousands or millions, lurks the growing possibility of a nuclear exchange between the superpowers which would kill hundreds of millions. We teeter on the brink of nuclear holocaust. Our 450 years of commitment to Jesus' love for enemies finds its kairos in these two terrifying decades. This could be our finest hour. Never has the world needed our message more. Never has it been more open. Now is the time to risk everything for our belief that Jesus is the way to peace. If we still believe it, now is the time to live what we have spoken. To rise to this challenge of history, we need to do three things: 1)we need to reject the ways we have misunderstood or weakened Jesus' call to be peacemakers; 2) we need to embrace the full biblical understanding of shalom; 3) and we need to prepare to die by the thousands. Jesus' Call To Be Peacemakers First, the misunderstandings. Too often we fall into an isolationist pacifism which silently ignores or perhaps profits from injustice and war as long as our boys don't have to fight. Provided conscientious objector status protects our purity and safety, our neighbors need not fear that we will raise troubling questions about the injustice their armies reinforce or the civilians they maim and kill. The most famous advocate of our time, Mahatma Gandhi, once said that if the only two choices are to kill or to stand quietly by doing nothing while the weak are oppressed and killed, then, of course, we must kill. I agree. But there is always a third option. We can always prayerfully and nonviolently place ourselves between the weak and the oppressor. Do we have the courage to move from the back lines of isolationist pacifism to the front lines of nonviolent peacemaking? Sometimes we justify our silence with the notion that pacifism is a special vocation for us peculiar Anabaptists. It is not for other Christians. But this approach will not work. In fact, it is probably the last stop before total abandonment of our historic peace witness. If pacifism is not God's will for all Christians, then it is not God's will for any. On the other hand, if the one who taught us to love our enemies is the eternal Son who became flesh in the carpenter who died and rose and now reigns as Lord of the universe, then the peaceful way of nonviolence is for all who believe and obey him. Do we have the courage to summon the entire church to forsake the way of violence?
Sometimes we weaken and confuse our peace witness with an Anabaptist version of Martin Luther's two- kingdom doctrine. Luther said that in the spiritual kingdom, God rules by love. Therefore in our private lives as Christians, we dare never act violently. But in the secular kingdom, God rules by the sword. Therefore, the same person in the role of executioner or soldier rightly kills. I was talking recently with one of our Anabaptist church leaders for whim I have the deepest respect. He said that he was a pacifist and believed it would be wrong for him to go to war. But he quickly added that the government is supposed to have armies. The United States, he added, had unfortunately fallen behind the Soviet Union and therefore President Reagan's nuclear build-up was necessary and correct. I suspect he and many other American Mennonites and Brethren in Christ have endorsed the current arms race at the ballot box. If we want wars to be fought, then we ought to have the moral integrity to fight them ourselves. To vote for other people's sons and daughters to march off to death while ours safely register as conscientious objectors is the worst form of confused hypocrisy. If, on the other hand, we believe that Jesus' nonviolent cross is the way to peace, then we need to implore everyone to stop seeking security in ever more lethal weapons. Jesus wept over Jerusalem's coming destruction because it did not recognize his way of peace. Do we have the courage to warn the governments of the world that the ever upward spiral of violence will lead to annihilation? Finally, the affluent are regularly tempted to separate peace from justice. We affluent Anabaptists, in North America and Western Europe, can do that by focusing all our energies on saving our own skins from nuclear holocaust and neglecting the fact that injustice now kills millions every year. We can also do it by denouncing revolutionary violence without condemning and correcting the injustice that causes that violence. In Central America today, fifty percent of the children die before the age of five because of starvation, malnutrition, and related diseases. At the same time, vast acres of the best land in Central America grow export crops for North Americans and Western Europeans. Unjust economic structures today murder millions of poor people. Our call to reject violence, whether it comes from affluent churches in industrialized countries or middle-class congregations in Third World nations, will have integrity only if we are willing to engage in costly action to correct injustice. Thank God for the courageous youth that MCC has sent to stand with the poor. But that is only a fraction of what we could have done. The majority of our people continue to slip slowly into numbing, unconcerned affluence. Do we have the courage as a united reconciling people to show the poor of the earth our peace witness is not a subtle support for an unjust status quo, but rather a commitment to risk danger and death so that justice and peace may embrace? Embrace The Biblical Vision Of Shalom Acknowledging past temptations and misunderstandings is essential. But we dare not remain mired in our failures. Instead we can allow the fullness of the biblical vision of shalom to transform us into a reconciling people ready to challenge the madness of the late twentieth century. The richness of the biblical vision of peace is conveyed in the Hebrew word "shalom". Shalom means right relationships in every area -- with God, with neighbor, and with the earth. Leviticus 26:3-6 describes the comprehensive shalom which God will give to those who walk in obedient relationship to God. The earth will yield rich harvests, wild animals
will not ravage the countryside, and the sword will rest. Shalom means not only the absence of war but also a land flowing with milk and honey. It also includes just economic relationships with the neighbor. It means the fair division of land so that all families can earn their own way. It means the Jubilee and sabbatical release of debts so that great extremes of wealth and poverty do not develop among God's people. The result of such justice, Isaiah says, is peace (32:16-17). And the psalmist reminds us that God desires that "justice and peace will kiss each other" (Psalm 85:10). If we try to separate justice and peace, we tear asunder what God has joined together. Tragically, the people of Israel refused to walk in right relationship with God and neighbor. They ran after false gods, and they oppressed the poor. So God destroyed first Israel and then Judah. But the prophets looked beyond the tragedy of national destruction to a time when God's Messiah, the Prince of Peace, would come to restore right relationships with God and neighbor. (e.g., Isaiah 9:2ff; 11:1ff). And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4). Jesus, Christians believe, was the long-expected Messiah. And just as the prophets had promised, shalom was at the heart of his messianic work and message. But Jesus' approach to peacemaking was not to lapse into passive nonresistance; it was not to withdraw to isolated solitude; it was not to teach one ethic for the private sphere and another for public life. Jesus modeled an activist challenge to the status quo, summoning the entire Jewish people to accept his nonviolent messianic strategy instead of the Zealot's militaristic methods. Jesus' approach was not one of passive nonresistance. If Jesus' call not to resist one who is evil in Matthew 5:39 was a summons to pure nonresistance and the rejection of all forms of pressure and coercion, then Jesus regularly contradicted his own teaching. He unleashed a blistering attack on the Pharisees, denouncing them as blind guides, fools, hypocrites, and snakes -- surely psychological coercion of a vigorous type as is even the most loving church discipline which Jesus prescribed (Matthew 18:15ff). Nor was Jesus nonresistant when he cleansed the temple! He engaged in aggressive resistance against evil when he marched into the temple, drove the animals out with a whip, dumped the money tables upside down, and denounced the money changers as robbers. If Matthew 5:39 means that all forms of resistance to evil are forbidden, then Jesus disobeyed his own command. Jesus certainly did not kill the money changers. Indeed, I doubt that he even used his whip on them. But he certainly resisted their evil in a dramatic act of civil disobedience. Or consider Jesus' response when a soldier unjustly struck him on the cheek at his trial (John 18:19-24). Instead of turning the other cheek and meekly submitting to this injustice, he protested! "If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" Apparently Jesus thought that protesting police brutality or engaging in civil disobedience in a nonviolent fashion was entirely consistent with his command not to resist the one who is evil. Jesus would never have ended up on the cross if he had exemplified the isolationist pacifism of withdrawal. Nor would he have offended anyone if he had simply conformed to current values as we are often tempted to do when we abandon the pattern of isolation.
Rejecting both isolation and accommodation, Jesus lived at the heart of his society challenging the status quo at every point where it was wrong. Jesus upset men happy with the easy divorce laws that permitted them to dismiss their wives on almost any pretext. He defied the social patterns of his day that treated women as inferiors. Breaking social custom, he appeared publicly with women, taught them theology, and honored them with his first resurrection appearance. Jesus angered political rulers, smugly satisfied with domination of their subjects with his call to servant leadership. And he terrified the economic establishment, summoning materialists like the rich young ruler to give away their wealth, denouncing those who oppressed widows, and calling the rich to loan to the poor even if they had no hope of repayment (Luke 6:30ff). Indeed, he considered concern for the poor so important that he warned that those who do not feed the hungry and clothe the naked will go to hell. Jesus disturbed the status quo -- but not for mere love of change. It was his commitment to shalom, to the right relationships promised in messianic prophecy, that make him a disturber of an unjust peace. He brought right relationships between men and women, between rich and poor by his radical challenge to the status quo. Repeatedly in our history, the terror of persecution and the temptation of security have lured us to retreat to the safety of isolated solitude where our radical ideas threaten no one. But that was not Jesus' way. He challenged his society so vigorously and so forcefully that the authorities had only two choices. They had to accept his call to repentance and change or they had to get rid of him. Do we have the courage to follow in his steps? Jesus approach was activist and vigorous, but it was not violent. A costly self-giving love, even for enemies, was central to his message. He called his followers to abandon retaliation, even the accepted "eye for an eye" of the Mosaic legal system. He said that his followers would persist in costly love even for enemies, even if those enemies never reciprocated. It is hardly surprising that Christians have been tempted to weaken Jesus' call to costly self-sacrifice -- whether by postponing its application to the millennium, labeling it an impossible ideal, or restricting its relevance to some personal private sphere. The last is perhaps the most widespread and the most tempting. Did Jesus merely mean that although the individual Christian in his personal role should respond nonviolently to enemies, that same person as public official may kill them? In his historical context, Jesus came as the Messiah of Israel with a plan and an ethic for the entire Jewish people. He advocated love toward political enemies as his specific political response to centuries of violence. His radical nonviolence was a conscious alternative to the contemporary Zealots' call for violent revolution to usher in the messianic kingdom. There is no hint that Jesus' reason for objecting to the Zealots was that they were unauthorized individuals whose violent sword would have been legitimate if the Sanhedrin had only given the order. On the contrary, his point was that the Zealots' whole approach to enemies, even unjust oppressive imperialists, was fundamentally wrong. The Zealots offered one political approach; Jesus offered another. But both appealed to the entire Jewish nation.
The many premonitions of national disaster in the Gospels indicate that Jesus realized that the only way to avoid destruction and attain messianic shalom was through a forthright rejection of the Zealots' call to arms. In fact, Luke places the moving passage about Jesus' weeping over Jerusalem immediately after the triumphal entry -- just after Jesus had disappointed popular hopes with his insistence on a peaceful messianic strategy. "And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, 'Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!'" (Luke 19:4ff). Zealot violence, Jesus knew, would lead to national destruction. It was an illusion to look for peace through violence. The way of the Suffering Servant was the only way to messianic shalom. Jesus' invitation to the entire Jewish people was to believe that the messianic kingdom was already breaking into the present. Therefore, if they would accept God's forgiveness and follow his Messiah, they could begin now to live according to the peaceful values of the messianic age. Understood in this historical setting, Jesus' call to love enemies can hardly be limited to the personal sphere of private life. Furthermore, the personal-public distinction also seems to go against the most natural, literal meaning of the text. There is no hint whatsoever in the text of such a distinction. In fact, Jesus' words are full of references to public life. "Resist not evil" applies, Jesus says, when people take you to court (Matthew 5:40) and when foreign rulers legally demand forced labor (v. 41). Indeed, the basic norm Jesus transcends (an eye for an eye) was a fundamental principle of the Mosaic legal system. We can safely assume that members of the Sanhedrin and other officials heard Jesus words. The most natural conclusion is that Jesus intended his words to be normative not just in private but also in public life. We have examined the horizontal shalom with the neighbor which Jesus brought. But Jesus also announced and accomplished a new peace with God. Constantly he proclaimed God's astonishing forgiveness to all who repent. And then he obeyed the Father's command to die as the atonement for God's sinful enemies. God's attitude toward sinful enemies revealed at the cross is the foundation of nonviolence. Let us never ground our pacifism in sentimental imitation of the gentle Nazarene or in romantic notions of heroic martyrdom. Our commitment to nonviolence is rooted in the heart of historic Christian faith. It is grounded in the incarnation of the eternal Son of God and in his substitutionary atonement at the cross. Jesus said that God's way of dealing with enemies was to persist in loving them. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Why? "So that you may be sons and daughters of your Creator in heaven." In fact, Jesus went even further. Jesus said that God's way of dealing with enemies was to take their evil upon himself. The crucified criminal hanging limp on the middle cross is the eternal Word who in the beginning was with God and indeed was God, but for our sake became flesh and dwelt among us. Only when we grasp that that is who the crucified one was, do we begin to fathom the depth of Jesus' teaching that God's way of dealing with enemies is the way of suffering love. By powerful parable and dramatic demonstration, Jesus had taught that God forgives sinners again and again. Then he died on the cross to accomplish that reconciliation. The cross is the most powerful statement about God's way of dealing with enemies. Jesus made it very clear that he intended to die and that he understood that death as a ransom for others. That the cross is the ultimate demonstration that God deals with enemies through suffering love receives its clearest theological expression in St. Paul. Listen to Romans 5:8-10: "God
shows love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of God's Son." Jesus' vicarious death for sinners is the foundation of, and the deepest expression of, Jesus command to love our enemies. We are enemies of God in a double sense. For one thing because sinful persons are hostile to God and for another because the just, holy Creator cannot tolerate sin. For those who know the law, failure to obey it results in a divine curse. But Christ redeemed us from that curse by becoming a curse for us. Jesus' blood on the cross was an expiation for us sinful enemies of God. He who knew no sin was made sin for you and me. Jesus vicarious death for sinful enemies of God is the foundation of our commitment to nonviolence. The incarnate one knew that God was loving and merciful even toward sinful enemies. That's why he associated with sinners, forgave their sins, and completed his mission by dying for them on the cross. And it was precisely the same understanding of God that prompted him to command his followers to love their enemies. We as God's children are to imitate the loving characteristics of our heavenly God who rains mercifully on the just and the unjust. That's why we should love our enemies. The vicarious cross of Christ is the fullest expression of the character of God. At the cross God suffered for sinners in the person of the incarnate Son. We will never understand all the mystery there. But it's precisely because the one hanging limp on the middle cross was the word who became flesh that we know two interrelated things. First, that a just God mercifully accepts us sinful enemies just as we are. And second, that God wants us to go and treat our enemies exactly the same way. What a fantastic fulfillment of the messianic promise of shalom. Jesus did bring right relationships -- both with God and with neighbor. In fact, he created a new community of shalom, a reconciled and reconciling people. As Ephesians 2 shows, peace with God through the cross demolishes hostile divisions among all those who stand together under God's unmerited forgiveness. Women and slaves became persons. Jews accepted Gentiles. Rich and poor shared their economic abundance. So visibly different was this new community of shalom that onlookers could only exclaim: "Behold how they love one another". Their common life validated their gospel of peace. And so it must always be. Only if people see a reconciled people in our homes and our congregations will they be able to hear our invitation to forsake the way of retaliation and violence. If I am not allowing the Holy Spirit to heal the brokenness in my relationship with my spouse, I have little right to speak to my president about international reconciliation. If our Mennonite and Brethren in Christ congregations are not becoming truly reconciled communities, it is a tragic hypocrisy for us to try to tell secular governments how to overcome international hostility. It is a farce for the church to try to legislate what our congregations will not live. On the other hand, living models impact history. Even small groups of people practicing what they preach, laying down their lives for what they believe, influence society all out of proportion to their numbers. I believe the Lord of history wants to use the small family of Anabaptists scattered across the globe to help shape history in the next two decades. Die By The Thousands But to do that, we must not only abandon mistaken ideas and embrace the full biblical conception of shalom. One more thing is needed. We must take up our cross and follow Jesus to Golgotha. We must be prepared to die by the thousands.
Those who have believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives. Again and again, they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time. For their loved ones, for justice, and for peace, they have laid down their lives by the millions. Why do we pacifists think that our way -- Jesus' way -- to peace will be less costly? Unless we Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are ready to start to die by the thousands in dramatic vigorous new exploits for peace and justice, we should sadly confess that we really never meant what we said. We did, of course, in earlier times. In previous centuries, we died for our convictions. But today we have grown soft and comfortable. We cling to our affluence and our respectability. Unless comfortable North American and European Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are prepared to risk injury and death in nonviolent opposition to the injustice our societies foster and assist in Central America, the Philippines, and South Africa, we dare never whisper another word about pacifism to our sisters and brothers in those desperate lands. Unless we are ready to die developing new nonviolent attempts to reduce international conflict, we should confess that we never really meant the cross was an alternative to the sword. Unless the majority of our people in nuclear nations are ready as congregations to risk social disapproval and government harassment in a clear ringing call to live without nuclear weapons, we should sadly acknowledge that we have betrayed our peacemaking heritage. Making peace is as costly as waging war. Unless we are prepared to pay the cost of peacemaking, we have no right to claim the label or preach the message. Our world is at an impasse. The way of violence has led us to the brink of global annihilation. Desperately, our contemporaries look for alternatives. But they will never find Jesus' way to peace credible unless those of us who have proudly preached it are willing to die for it. Last spring I attended a large evangelical conference on the nuclear question. I shared my Anabaptist convictions and called for Christian nonviolent peacekeeping forces to move into areas of conflict such as the Nicaragua-Honduras border. A former chief of the U.S. Air Force who was there told me that he was ready to join in that kind of alternative. As we talked I realized he was so terrified by the current impasse of nuclear terror that he was ready to explore every nonviolent alternative for resolving international conflict. A number of us Mennonites are part of the Witness for Peace which now has a small nonviolent task force permanently located on the Nicaragua-Honduras border. To be sure, those few dozen Christians can offer only symbolic opposition to the weapons of war that flow both ways across that border. But think of what a few thousand could do! What would happen if the Christian church stationed as many praying Christians as the U.S. government has sent armed guerrillas across that troubled border? What would happen if we in the Christian church developed a new nonviolent peacekeeping force of 100,000 persons ready to move into violent conflicts and stand peacefully between warring parties in Central America, Northern Ireland, Poland, Southern Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan? Frequently we would get killed by the thousands. But everyone assumes that for the sake of peace it is moral and just for soldiers to get killed by the
hundreds of thousands, even millions. Do we not have as much courage and faith as soldiers? Again and again, I believe, praying, Spirit-filled, nonviolent peacekeeping forces would by God's special grace, be able to end the violence and nurture justice. Again and again, we would discover that love for enemies is not utopian madness or destructive masochism but rather God's alternative to the centuries of escalating violence that now threatens the entire planet. But the cross -- death by the thousands by those who believe Jesus -- is the only way to convince our violent world of the truth of Christ's alternative. I want to plead with the Mennonites. Brethren in Christ, and others in the Historic Peace Churches to take the lead in the search for new nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution. We could decide to spend 25 million dollars in the next three years developing a sophisticated, highly trained nonviolent peacekeeping force. The most sophisticated expertise in diplomacy, history, international politics, and logistics would be essential. So would a radical dependence on the Holy Spirit. Such a peacekeeping task force of committed Christians would immerse every action in intercessory prayer. There would be prayer chains in all our congregations as a few thousand of our best youth walked into the face of death, inviting all parties to end the violence and work together for justice. If as a body we started such a program, we could invite the rest of the Christian church to join us. In fact, as the Witness for Peace shows, other have already begun. If we are not careful, God will raise up others to live out the heritage we have feared to apply to the problems of our day. Together the Christian church could afford to train and deploy 100,000 persons in a new nonviolent peacekeeping force. The result would not be utopia, or even the abolition of war. But it might tug our trembling planet back from the abyss. I have one final plea. I know we live in a vicious, violent world. I know it takes more than winning smiles and moral advice to enable sinners to love their enemies. Sinners will never be able to fully follow Jesus' ethic. But they ought to. That they do not is the measure of their sinful rebellion. But regenerated Spirit-filled Christians can follow Jesus. Our only hope is a mighty peace revival that converts sinners and revives the church. In the next decades, I believe we will see disaster and devastation on a scale never before realized in human history, unless God surprises our unbelieving world with a mighty worldwide peace revival. Therefore, my final plea is that we fall on our knees in intercessory prayer pleading with God for a global peace revival. At the worst of times in the past, God has broken into human history in mighty revivals that led to social movements that changed history. The Wesleyan revival in the eighteenth century resulted in Wilberforce's great crusade against slavery that changed the British Empire. The same could happen in the next few decades. Pray that God revives millions of lukewarm Christians. Pray that God draws millions of non-Christians into a personal living relationship with the risen Lord. Pray that millions and millions of people in all the continents of our small planet come to see that Jesus is the way to peace and peace is the way of Jesus. Pray that with our eyes fixed on the crucified one, the church will dare to pay the cost of being God's reconciling people in a broken world. Today is the hour of decision. The long upward spiral of violence and counter violence today approaches its catastrophic culmination. Either the world repents and changes or it selfdestructs.
For centuries we Anabaptists have believed there is a different way, a better way. Our world needs that alternative. Now. But the world will be able to listen to our words only if large numbers of us live out the words we speak. Our best sons and daughters, our leaders, and all our people must be ready to die. The cross comes before the resurrection. There is finally only one question: Do we believe Jesus enough to pay the price of following him? Do you? Do I?