Interview with IFWE on my forthcoming book, ‘Called to Freedom’

Two IFWE alumni, Elise Daniel and Jacqueline Isaacs, have written a book with four other young Christian professionals. Their book, Called to Freedom: Why You Can Be Christian and Libertarian, explores the tension between the Christian faith and libertarian political philosophy and explains why someone could be both. After reviewing an early manuscript of the book and offering my critiques, I thought it’d be interesting to get Daniel’s and Isaacs’s perspectives on what they’ve learned in the process of wrestling with this area of faith and politics.

There’s actually another book titled Called to Freedom. It’s about liberation theology. I imagine your book is very different. 

JI: Almost all book titles were already taken! There were many titles we considered as we tried to find something that really captured the themes of the book. We polled a very active Facebook group of thousands of libertarian Christians, and the results of that lead us to the phrase, “called to freedom,” from Galatians 5:13.

Why did you write the book?

ED: If you go to conservative conferences like the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), you’ll see a lot of Christian universities and groups like the Faith and Freedom Coalition, but the same isn’t true at libertarian conferences. I’ve had many libertarians tell me you can’t be both Christian and libertarian for many different reasons. It made me feel alone and question whether or not my faith is compatible with my political views.

As I became more familiar with libertarian circles, I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. As I explored theology and political philosophy, I came to the conclusion that Christianity and libertarianism are compatible. To be clear, we are not saying Christians need to be libertarians to be good Christians. Just that the two make sense together.

We want this book to be a tool to encourage young Christian libertarians and equip them to articulate principles of liberty to their Christian friends, and, perhaps more importantly, articulate their faith to their non-Christian libertarian friends.

What did you learn in the course of writing the book?

ED: I learned a lot about the nuances of different libertarian Christian points of view. All of the authors fall under the libertarian Christian umbrella, but we come from different denominational backgrounds and our political views spread across the libertarian spectrum. We definitely don’t agree on everything. I learned the most from reading Jason Hughey’s chapter about the biblical role of government. His insights really made me think deeper about verses like Romans 13.

So, are Christianity and libertarianism compatible? Why? Where are they incompatible? At least, where is there the most tension, and why are these points of tension not deal-breakers for you?

JI: In chapter one, I outline a biblical framework that we try to use throughout the book to answer that question. IFWE calls it the four-chapter gospel, and at the American Studies Program, where I currently teach, we call it the C-F-R-C framework. This is the story of humanity that helps us understand human nature, why we act the way we do, and what our potential is. All of these are important factors when we consider political philosophy. The four parts of this story are Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation (or Reconciliation) – hence the C-F-R-C framework. We make the case that when we consider this biblical story, a libertarian political philosophy makes a lot of sense.

Similarly, this biblical story shows us where the tension comes from. Theologian John Stott talks about the tension of living between the “now and not yet.” Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, identifies this tension between our authority and vulnerability in his latest book, Strong and Weak, saying, “We image bearers are bone and flesh – strength and weakness, authority and vulnerability together, together.” There are many more examples of this. Tension in the Christian faith is normal. Almost everything about the gospel is in tension. Our flesh is sinful, yet we are being sanctified. Christ’s kingdom exists now, through the church, but is not yet in its fullness. Christ was 100 percent God and 100 percent man at the same time.

So when we find tension between our political philosophy and our Christian faith, we should not assume that something is wrong. A political philosophy casts a vision for what we want for our society. Leah Hughey does a beautiful job casting such a vision in her chapter. This vision is always going to be in contrast with the way things currently are. I want to encourage readers to embrace this tension because, as Christians, we also know that Christ is the answer to the tension and there is a plan for restoration.

What has the reception of the project been so far? 

JI: In early 2014, the six of us were invited to speak on this topic at the International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, DC. The room was filled with young Christians who were exploring this topic. That experience is what inspired us to write the book. There were clearly a lot of people out there asking these questions, and we wanted a way to meaningfully engage with them in the conversation.

Earlier this month, August 2016, Elise and I spoke at the Christians for Liberty Conference in Austin and presented our book and the process we’ve been through writing it. This audience was mostly adults and private sector business people and entrepreneurs, and it was a great opportunity to gain feedback from people who think about these things outside of Washington, DC. They affirmed to us that this conversation was going on in Christian communities all over the country, particularly in light of the current presidential election. Attendees at that conference pre-ordered hundreds of copies of the book through our Indiegogo campaign to use in their Bible studies, book clubs, and to give as gifts.

Orignially posted on the IFWE blog.

Soup kitchens and candlesticks

Too often, charities do more harm than good. Some create dependency, and others hurt local businesses by dumping free supplies. But as a critic of the bad economic models adopted by many faith-based charities, I’ve found it easy to forget the good that some charities, like soup kitchens, can do for the soul.

In “Defending the Free Market,”Father Robert Sirico tells a story about his experience working at a soup kitchen in Anacostia, a poor neighborhood in Washington, D.C. He describes the faith-based operation as a good and generous service. But one day after working at the soup kitchen, Fr. Sirico decides to eat at the fish and chips shop down the street, which is when he realizes the soup kitchen might be harming the local business:

My best guess was that [the owners] lived nearby, and probably had saved up sufficient funds to open this shop only with great sacrifices. […] And it struck me: we were this family’s competitors!

He goes on to explain the soup kitchen had an unfair advantage over the fish and chips shop since it was run strictly on a donation and volunteer basis. The soup kitchen owed no rent, paid no wages, and didn’t even pay for the cost of soup. Plus, the price they were offering was very competitive: it was free.

Though Fr. Sirico is very careful not to diminish the good work at the soup kitchen, he suggests there is a better charitable alternative for two reasons:

  1. Solidarity is key. The soup kitchen has room to improve in building relationships. It takes more than just a little chitchat over a bowl of soup to really understand how to best help the people you serving.
  2. The local economy must be considered. Certain charities do more harm than good by flooding the market in the community they intend to help with a free product, which effectually destroys local business.

Even though I agree with these points, I was skeptical of his conclusion. Do soup kitchens really do more harm than good?

Soup kitchens reflect Christ’s love

Father Sirico’s conclusion is correct only if the end goal is solely economic.

If the objective of a charity is to lift a whole community out of poverty, one soup kitchen or one hundred soup kitchens will never accomplish that. Economic transformation requires a long-term plan of action that creates wealth and provides jobs in a community.

But what if the end goal of a faith-based soup kitchen is just to emulate Christ’s love? Or to build community in a small way? Or just to remind someone that they are intrinsically valued?

The candlesticks in “Les Mis”

Just because the means of the soup kitchen are material (the soup) doesn’t mean that the ends are necessarily materialistic (poverty relief). Sometimes material means are used to reach spiritual ends.

Take the candlesticks in “Les Miserables” as an example. After Valjean is released from prison, he is caught stealing silver from Bishop Myriel. When the authorities bring him back to Myriel, he not only forgives Valjean, but also gives him two silver candlesticks. In this scene, God’s forgiveness and grace is wondrously displayed in Myriel—through a physical object.

Giving a poor man silver candlesticks will not automatically lift him out of poverty, but in this case, the gift acts as a powerful symbol of compassion that transforms Valjean’s life.

Of course, not everyone who walks through the door of a church-run soup kitchen will have Valjean’s conversion experience, but an encounter with Christ through a compassionate volunteer and a warm bowl of soup is well within the realm of possibility.

There is certainly room for privately funded soup kitchens in the marketplace, so long as we don’t expect them to meet unrealistic economic goals. While a bowl of soup will never give someone a job or a house, it can still do true good for the soul.

*Originally published on the V&C blog.

4 TED Talks to inspire your work

Feeling discouraged about your work? There is a lot of fresh thinking happening around work and creativity, and these ideas have motivated me to begin thinking differently about my work and the challenges it presents me on a daily basis. Here are four videos to inspire you in your work today.

#1: What If You Don’t Have (Just) One True Calling?

The notion of the narrowly-focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling. The idea that we each have one great thing that we are meant to do during our time on this earth… but what if you’re someone who isn’t wired this way?

Are you interested in many different things? Does the idea of just one true passion bore you? If you answered yes to both of those questions, you’re not alone. You might be what writer and artist Emilie Wapnick calls a “multipotentialite.” In this TED Talk, Wapnick details the three superpowers of multipotentialites and encourages them to find a job that is aligned with how they are wired.

#2: What Makes You Feel Great about Your Work?

If you think about mountain climbing as an example, it suggests all kinds of things. It suggests that we care about reaching the end, the peak. It suggests that we care about the fight, about the challenge. It suggests that there are all kinds of other things that motivate us to work or behave in all kinds of ways.

What is your motivation to work? Is it passion? Money? Joy? Behavioral economist Dan Ariley says what really motivates us in our careers is a sense of constant progress, growth, and purpose. In this TED Talk, Ariely details two experiments that illuminate our psychological attitudes about the meaning of our work.

#3: Be an Artist!

There are hundreds of reasons why we can’t be artists right now. […] Why do people instantly resist the idea of associating themselves with art?

Remember when you were a kid and you used to build sand castles, sing in the school musical, and go to piano lessons every week? Many of us abandon our artistic creativity as we grow older for various different reasons. But Korean author Young-ha Kim says this is not good. In this TED Talk, Kim explains why we all must become artists once again.

#4: Messy Problems Can Inspire Creativity

I think we need to gain a bit more appreciation for the unexpected advantages of having to cope with a little mess.

Do you get excited when you encounter an obstacle? Most of us don’t, but economist Tim Harford thinks challenges and problems might be the best way to ignite our creative process. In this TED Talk, Harford illustrates the advantages of working through messy problems as seen in the story of the best-selling solo piano album.

*Originally published on the IFWE blog.

How Pastor Rod Hairston fights to restore Baltimore

The first Baltimore officer involved in the Freddie Gray case faces trial for second-degree homicide. A conviction may bring justice, but it does not promise healing.

Memories of the April riots are still fresh, and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement proves wounds are still deep. In Time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar describes it, not as “a slight sprain in the ankle that we’ll be able to walk off by morning,” but “a violently shattered bone that will have America limping forward on crutches for months to come, maybe even years.”

But one pastor is bringing hope to the city of Baltimore, and not in the way you’d expect.

Rod Hairston, pastor of Messiah Community Church and former Baltimore Ravens chaplain, said when the riots started, he felt disconnected in the suburbs from what was happening in the city. Along with other pastors, he decided to take to the streets to begin the healing process.

Hairston believes the riots and looting not only came from a place of distrust in police, but a sense of economic hopelessness. Abdul-Jabberexplains,

Baltimore protestors weren’t just expressing their anger over the treatment of Freddie Gray; they were expressing their frustration over living in economic circumstances that makes them seem less than human to those in power. Worse, they have little hope that these circumstances will change.

Hairston believes the economic piece of the equation must be addressed in Baltimore’s healing process. This is why he is working with Jobs for Life, a non-profit that partners with local churches to provide economic opportunity in tandem with the gospel. The program consists of eight weeks of biblically-based training, mentoring, and a community of support to connect the unemployed to meaningful work.

In a Jobs for Life podcast, the non-profit’s CEO David Spickard interviews Hairston as they drive through Baltimore, visiting the scenes of the riots. They discuss racial injustice and lack of understanding from those outside the black community. The conversation soon turned to economics.

Hairston mentioned many of the blue-collar jobs that once held together Baltimore’s economy are no longer there. In 1970, about one third of Baltimore’s labor force held manufacturing jobs. By 2000, that number dropped to 7 percent. Today, boarded up row houses line the streets where construction and development once endured.

For some, the problem is lack of opportunity. For others, they’ve lost the will to work. The economic issue is also a spiritual one. Spickard reflects on the spiritual factors at play,

Gangs, drugs, violence, prostitution – and fear – are trademarks here now. As children, they learned to survive in a place absent of safety. In their search for love and acceptance, they find anything to help them survive (emphasis added).

Without their own power and control, the members of these communities watch outsiders attempt to create order for them. It feels oppressive, yet in their helplessness they surrender control. The internal feelings of shame, uselessness, and despair eroded their hope over time.

Though Hairston admits the work can be overwhelming, he’s confident that Baltimore—like so many other broken cities—has only one hope: the church.

Listen to the full podcast here.

Originally published on the IFWE blog.

New study reveals wage envy

If you only need $50 a day to live comfortably, would you be happier making $50 each day or $60?

The answer might depend on how much your coworkers are making.

A new study by a group of economists at the University of Zurich and Nottingham found that wage satisfaction is directly related to peer-coworker salaries.

On NPR’s Morning Edition, Shankar Vedantam reported most people are happier making $50 when their peers are making $40, than they are making $60 when their peers are making $70.

In the experiment, economists worked with a company looking for short-term workers.

Pairs of workers received a pay cut when their teams only received a partial pay cut.

The study found that when you suffer a pay cut and your partner doesn’t,

The effect on your morale and productivity is two to three times larger than the effect of suffering an identical pay cut but in a situation where your coworker also suffers a pay cut of the same size.

In other words, your satisfaction with your wage doesn’t have much to do with the amount of money you’re making or your ability to pay your bills and live comfortably.

Host Steve Inskeep suggests this preference is based on whether or not you feel like you are treated fairly.

Does the preference to earn less when your coworkers are earning less than you, instead of earning more when your coworkers are making more than you, really come from a desired sense of fairness? Or is it envy?

Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

In the case of the experiment, if an employee receives a more significant pay cut than his coworkers, with the perception he creates equal value to his coworkers, it’s no surprise the wage cut would have such an impact on his morale.

Wage should be tied to value creation.

Under the same circumstance, but with wage closely connected to value creation—he gets a larger pay cut because he’s creating less value than his colleagues—the worker’s dissatisfaction may be considered more envious than the first scenario.

We all have a drive for equality and fairness, but we cannot desire equality for equality’s sake. This drive is what leads to harmful and enslaving redistribution policies and unemployment.

On the show, Inskeep paraphrases an Alexis De Tocqueville quote from Democracy in America that illustrates this point.

The full quote reads,

There is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that spurs all men to wish to be strong and esteemed. This passion tends to elevate the lesser to the rank of the greater. But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.

God made us each with equal dignity. Equality under the law and equality of opportunity are ideals that have made America great. But when our drive for equality is rooted in envy, we forget the beauty of our uniqueness.

C.S. Lewis reminds us of the true nature of our equality in his essay “Membership:”

God is no accepter of persons; His love for us is not measured by our social rank or our intellectual talents. […] If there is equality, it is in His love, not in us.

Originally published on the IFWE blog.

Good anti-poverty policy: strong families

Panelists at the Values and Capitalism Fall Summit gathered recently to discuss the impact of the family on poverty.

According to Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, the retreat from marriage has increased child poverty and inequality, hitting low-income families the hardest.

While educated families are more likely to enjoy stable homes and employment, those without high school degrees see an increase in single parent homes, teen pregnancy, and incarceration.

They are also less likely to get married, which further limits their economic opportunity.

The graph below illustrates the retreat from marriage across time for three different education cohorts. The least educated (high school drop outs) see a larger drop in marriage from the 1970s to the 2000s, followed by the moderately educated (high school degree or some college), and the highly educated (college degree).

Elise Blog Graph

Declining marriage rates drive a deeper wedge in the socioeconomic class divide.

Studies show that men who marry work harder and make more money.

Family structure is also a strong predictor of a child’s chance of moving up the income ladder.

Unfortunately, less educated men are becoming increasingly disengaged from institutions of work, religion, and marriage.

Panelist Melissa Boteach of the Center for American Progress named three important family factors that we must consider when discussing policy solutions, what she called the three S’s: structure, strength, and stability.

  • Family structure: the composition of a family unit at a point of time.
  • Family strength: the quality of parents’ and other primary caregivers’ relationships with each other and their children.
  • Family stability: extent of transitions between structures and changes in strength factors over time.

Boteach pointed out it is not necessarily a matter of marriage or divorce. The issue is more complex.

For example, a stable single parent home may provide a better environment for a child’s future than a family with many marriages and divorces.

Panelist Jennifer Marshall of the Heritage Foundation emphasized the failed policy of the War on Poverty as well as the church’s unique role in addressing these issues.

According to Marshall, the poverty rate today is nearly as high as it was in the 1960s. For that reason, she sees the War on Poverty as a 20 trillion dollar failure.

The issues are much deeper than something money and government programs can solve. Instead, she argues poverty relief efforts should embrace shalom and the wholeness of the individual.

Marshall believes there is a lack of creativity in the Christian community in this space, which reflects a lack of confidence in God’s redemptive work. She encouraged the church to get involved in the messiness of peoples’ lives and to do the hard work of building deep relationships with low-income families in order to better understand their needs.

How can the church help?

Wilcox suggested marriage mentoring. Those who grow up without a healthy marriage model need mentor couples to walk alongside them and offer guidance through difficult times.

Strong families prove to be good antipoverty policy, as the panelists concluded, but not without the help of the church.