Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Practical Theology 2

One major myth regarding the political economy I believe Christians should reject whole-heartedly is the well-intentioned myth that the state is a benevolent instrument of social justice. Typically this myth is promoted by more progressive thinkers. Men like Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and Brian McLaren come immediately to mind. But they certainly are not lone wolves.

All of us want to alleviate poverty. All of us want to contribute to a just health system. All of us want to live on a clean, healthy planet. To suggest that one's hesitancy in entrusting government with the responsibilities is somehow anti-poor, anti-environment, racism, sexist, etc. is nonsense.

The reason why the state is not an instrument of social justice authors Chad Brand and Tom Pratt write in their book Seeking the City:
The myth of the state as an instrument of social justice dies hard. The literature providing the massive failures of governmental economic maneuvering and the welfare state in the United States go back thirty to forty years. (718)
They then provide the following evidence (taken from pages 718-719, emphasis original):
  • Government "scandal is almost always found to be about currying favor with economic interests." 
  • The "government itself through its bureaucracies in the primary recipient of welfare dollars through taxation is undeniable."
  • Minimum wage doesn't actually help those it is intended to help and actually makes "them less employable at a higher wage."
  • Affordable housing "legislation leads to ghettoization in the short run followed by gentrification of blighted areas and skyrocketing land values.
  • Governmental "licensing procedures, such as that for taxicabs in New York City, create markets that cannot be entered by anyone but the wealthy."
The authors then state:
The fact that all this is widely known and documented, without resulting in changes of policy or advocacy of more workable and less oppressive actions, tends to make the case that another agenda is at work - an agenda motivated by lust for power and control over people's lives, and perhaps the long-standing disdain of intellectuals for businessmen in general. If the welfare sate is the answer, exactly what was the question? (719)
Exactly. But as the authors conclude, such myth-believing leads to another danger. They write:
A clear corollary to this statist preference is that personal and nongovernmental charity becomes superfluous in the minds of many and noxious to others. After all, "charity" is demeaning and implies lack of just desert on the part of the recipient. This means that the biblical idea of communal and individual care and charity must be subsumed into political activism. Righteous or "good" deeds now become political deeds. Hence Jim Wallis and others can argue that governmental budgets are moral documents in state capitals around the country and in Washington, DC. Given his premise, not a biblical one, it is not hard to see how he could come to such conclusion. We need a corrective. (720)
I appreciate what the authors state here and I agree with their basic conclusion. Although I disagree with Wallis on most things, I do believe that public policy, including governments, do reflect the morality and theological presuppositions of the community. It is for this reason, among many others, that I am deeply concerned with the overspending of the federal government. I do not think the authors would disagree with me here, but such clarity is needed.

The point is, however, that the marriage of social justice (a problematic term in of itself) and government is one made in hell. We should not question the intentions of such progressive thinkers (we all share them). However, the damage government regulation does over individuals and the community is indisputable.


"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Preface

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 3

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 3
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 4
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 5

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 3

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Practical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Practical Theology 2 


For more:
"Flourishing Faith" by Chad Brand: A Review
Brand on Coveting and Classwarfare
The Secular vs the Sacred: Brand on the Influence of Luther
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