Category: Politics

The politically disillusioned Christian’s guide to watching tonight’s debate

If the Republican debate is something you’re not planning on watching tonight, read this first.

Plenty of Christians just don’t “do” politics. Only half of all evangelical Christians in the U.S. voted in the last presidential election. Millennials are the most politically disinterested generation, jadedScreen Shot 2015-10-28 at 1.32.36 PM by the church “culture wars” of their youth and disillusioned with the Republican Party (I know, because I am one of them).

It’s easy to let the shortcomings of our leaders and the endless Twitter wars squander our enthusiasm for election season. Politics is a dirty game sometimes, but we can’t let the partisan banter distract us from the important role government plays in our daily lives.

Staying informed on current issues and engaging in the public square is part of our call to community as Christians, and it’s a minimum requirement if the church wants to truly transform culture. Don’t let cynicism stop you from civic engagement. You will find goodness beneath the racket if you know how to look for it.

Before you make plans for this evening, let me share with you a few tips that might make your debate-watching experience a little less disillusioned.

1. Remember that all issues are moral issues

When it comes to social policies like abortion and marriage, Christians are known for speaking strongly. These are certainly important topics, but they’re not the only issue in which Christians can claim a moral argument. What about economic policy, like income inequality and health care? Christians are broadening their political palate because God cares about these things too, and it’s a high cost on human life when we get them wrong.

Economic issues are moral to their core because economics deals with human life and well-being. More people died from bad economic policy under totalitarian regimes in the 20th century than from homicide and genocide combined. Though thankfully we don’t experience extreme economic oppression in the United States, this horrific truth acts as a reminder of how economic policy can impact human life.

Regulation, the federal deficit, and the tax code may seem like trivial, technical policies unrelated to theology, but these issues can build or destroy human well-being, especially for the most disadvantaged.

When watching the debate, listen for the moral components of each issue and ask yourself, “How does this affect human life?”

2. Forget the noise – focus on the principles

Underneath the personal jabs and bold self-promotions, political debates normally exhibit basic moral principles—principles that may or may not be compatible with how God created mankind. When you watch the debate, think about the issues as they apply to the principles of freedom, fulfillment, and flourishing.

God created humankind to be free

God created us not only for inner spiritual freedom (Galatians 5:1), but also for external social freedoms. Christ came not only to heal our souls, but to heal our bodies. He cares about the blind man’s sight and the crippled man’s legs, affirming our physical nature in a way that symbolizes our spiritual nature.

Just the same, inner freedom should drive external freedom. God cares about our liberty so much that he gave us the freedom to choose right and to choose wrong. He gave us the freedom to choose whom to marry, what career path to follow, what to cook for dinner, and with whom to share it. Our human dignity is affirmed when we experience these external freedoms.

God created humankind to be fulfilled

God wants us to live a fulfilling life in every way possible, and one of the ways we can experience fulfillment is through our work. Although the effects of the Fall make our work toilsome at times (Genesis 3:17–19), God gave us work as a gift before the Fall (Genesis 2:15). In working, we express our imago Dei, our creativity, and our uniqueness.

We are created in God’s image to enjoy not only the work of God’s hands, but the work of our own hands as well. When we are free to fulfill out unique calling in life, we become more fully who God created us to be.

God created humankind to flourish in every sense

God created us to flourish spiritually, physically, politically, economically, psychologically, socially, and so on. Flourishing is the opposite of poverty. It is the restoration of our relationship with God, our families, our communities, and the rest of creation. It is happiness, fullness of life, wholeness, abundance. Flourishing is brought about by loving God, neighbor, and self (Luke 10:27).

3. Apply principles to policy

This is where the legwork comes in: critically apply the above Christian principles to the issues. This will likely take extra research in understanding specific policies and their intentions and unintended consequences. Ask yourself,

  • Which candidates uphold the dignity of the freedom or the sanctity of fulfilling work?
  • Which policies advance human flourishing and which policies unintentionally hinder it?
  • How might immigration policy promote freedom or entitlements affect our work?

Ultimately, we must discern which policies most allow us to live the freest, most fulfilling, and flourishing life as God intended. The church has a non-negotiable duty to carry out Christ’s transformational work in our culture through civic engagement in the public square.

For some, this probably means turning on the debate tonight and encouraging others to do the same.

*Originally published on the IFWE blog.

#WomenBetrayed by Washington

In response to Planned Parenthood allegedly selling baby body parts, an estimated 12,000 people in 65 cities across the US gathered at “Women Betrayed” rallies on Tuesday, July 28th, demanding to defund the organization.

Ben Carson

Speakers at the Washington, D.C. rally on Capitol Hill included presidential candidates Dr. Ben Carson, senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, news personality Matt Walsh, and several leaders from the pro-life movement representing the Family Research Council, Americans United for Life, Susan B. Anthony List, Students for Life, Alliance Defending Freedom, Concerned Women for America, and Silent No More.

The message presented at these rallies was clear: women have been betrayed, not only by Planned Parenthood, but by our government.

You get more of what you subsidize

When the government subsidizes Planned Parenthood, it lowers the cost of their services. When costs are lowered, supply rises. That means when the organization receives half a billion taxpayer dollars a year, they are able to supply more services, like abortions, than they would without the funding.

Allison  Howard

Alison Howard

On top of that, they are incentivized to use all the funding to show they need it, ensuring they will receive that funding again next year. This further incentivizes the organization to sell abortions, and, as the recently released videos show, the remnants of aborted babies.

When the government began subsidizing corn, the price of corn dropped. As corn became cheaper, we consumed more of it. In order to make more money from the lower cost of corn, farmers planted more corn. Cheap corn flooded the market. As a result, high-fructose corn syrup became a cheaper alternative to sugar, and began to show up in nearly everything – candy, burgers, sodas, and so on. In the end, the effects were costly to the environment and our health.

The government’s relationship with the abortion industry is similar. By subsidizing Planned Parenthood, the government treats human life as a commodity like corn. How much more costly is subsidizing a culture of death?

How did we even get here?

The commodification of human life

To Planned Parenthood, babies are goods to be harvested and sold. They’re not humans; they’re used car parts.

Allegedly profiting from the trafficking of fetal organs, babies are worth more dead than alive to Planned Parenthood. Perhaps what’s more disturbing is that our own government affirms the dehumanization of unborn babies by slipping money into their pockets.

One of the most disturbing things about the videos released from the Center for Medical Progress is the casual nature of the conversations over the commodification of human life. This is not a new way of thinking in our culture. Look at America’s history with slavery and the eugenics movement in the early 20th century. Will our grandchildren one day look back in horror that our government supports an organization that commercializes human flesh? Let’s hope so.

Though we fight against the black market of human trafficking, our economy and our government supports a market for baby trafficking.

Immoral incentives

Andrea Pearson Mev

At the end of the day, Planned Parenthood is a business much like any other. On top of the nearly $500 million they received from the government annually, they rake in $1 billion. They care about their bottom line just line and make their decisions based on profit incentives. When Planned Parenthood looks at the mother of an unborn child, of the remnants of an aborted child, why wouldn’t they see dollar signs?

As the recent videos suggest, Planned Parenthood even has the incentive to profit off the harvest of baby organs. To increase the quality of their organ sales, this means they also have the incentive to perform later term abortions. Alison Howard of Alliance for Defending Freedom explains why:

When Planned Parenthood […] said that they wanted lungs […] how many of you here know preemies that were born with underdeveloped lungs? Lungs are one of the last things to develop in a baby. Now you understand why Planned Parenthood has a vested interest in late, late term abortion. They have a vested interest in working against the […] bill that would restrict abortion after 20 weeks, because guys, they wouldn’t be getting the specimens they want.

Abortions are Planned Parenthood’s product, and they have an incentive to sell to their product to women. In doing so, they often mislead women with selective information.

When Andrea Pearson Mev took the podium at the rally on Capitol Hill, the energetic crowd fell silent as she shared her story of abortion and regret. She revealed to the crowd that when she walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic as a young pregnant teenager looking for help, she was told her abortion would be the healthy choice. She was promised relief, but found only depression and emptiness. She was never warned of such emotional damage.

Women betrayed by Washington

Matt Walsh

A morally numb culture has led to a twisted commodification of unborn babies and immoral business incentives for Planned Parenthood, but not without the government’s legal aid and praise.

Instituted to protect life, our government today is using taxpayer dollars to destroy it. At the Women Betrayed Rally, Walsh called out Washington saying,

It is not only Planned Parenthood who has betrayed us, betrayed women and betrayed children, you have betrayed us Washington. You have betrayed us over and over again. You betray us when you give half a billion dollars a year to a company that already earns over a billion in revenue. And whose primary source of revenue other than tax payer money is the mass slaughter of infant children. You betray us.

I’m convinced that as a woman, Planned Parenthood doesn’t have my best interest in mind. But the more heartbreaking fact is, neither does my own government.

*Originally posted on the IFWE blog.

Would Jesus raise the minimum wage?

Would Jesus want Congress to raise the minimum wage? One group of religious leaders seem to think so.

Last week, two public policy groups, Interfaith Worker Justice and Faith in Public Life, wrote a letter to Congress stressing the moral obligation to raise the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.

According to Catholic News Service, it was “signed by about 5,000 people, including more than 30 prominent religious leaders known for their work on social issues.”

The letter described increasing wages as “indispensable to ensuring that no worker will suffer the indignity of poverty.”

But the question shouldn’t be whether or not fighting poverty is a moral obligation—our call as Christians to help the least of these is clear. Rather, the question should be whether or not raising the minimum wage will actually help the poor.

Dr. Anne Bradley is not convinced it will:

Without looking at the long-term, often unintended consequences, we won’t see the full picture.

In fact, she says in this post that it will hurt them in two different ways:

  • A higher minimum wage raises the cost of employment for businesses, resulting in job losses. It becomes riskier to hire lower-skilled laborers, and studies have shown that lower-skilled laborers are actually becoming unemployed.
  • Raising the costs of employing workers means that firms often have to raise their prices to cover the difference. The increased price of goods and services disproportionately harms the poor because they don’t have the excess disposable income to absorb the rising costs of buying things they need.

So the very good intentions behind minimum wage policies often harm the very people we are trying to help. Instead of closing the opportunity gap, we widen it by cutting off opportunities for the poorest among us.

Public policy definitely affects the poorest and least powerful among us. It’s just not always apparent how. In this case, it’s easy to miss the harmful unintended consequences of raising the minimum wage.

What then should we do to help the poor?

Dr. Bradley proposes a solution: empower businesses owners.

If we want to care for the poor, and enable them to use their gifts to serve others, we must empower the people who stand ready and willing to employ them and not hamper those efforts. Only then are the poor able to get on that ladder of economic progress and escape the trappings of poverty.

One way to empower business owners is to support public policy that increases their economic opportunities instead of shrinking them.

But even if the religious leaders who banded together to write this letter failed to see the unintended consequences of raising the minimum wage, their involvement in the public square is an example for all people of faith to follow. According to the article,

Faith leaders and advocates for working people are writing letters, taking part in prayer vigils at state capitols, meeting with government leaders, and writing bulletin inserts on this issue.

If we really want to help the most vulnerable, other faith leaders and advocates should follow their example, but in support of free enterprise that creates more opportunities for the poor, not less.

*This article was originally published at the Creativity. Purpose. Freedom. blog.

Interview with a former communist, now fighting poverty with economics

Ismael Hernandez is the founder and executive director of the Freedom & Virtue Institute. He is an ex-Marxist Leninist from Puerto Rico. His father was a founding member of the Socialist Party on the island, and eventually Ismael joined the party with him. “America is the enemy of humanity,” was one of his father’s slogans.

Ismael’s mother, however, sneaked him off to Mass and fostered the development of a double consciousness in him. He later joined Jesuit Seminary, trying to make sense of these competing visions of the world.

After leaving seminary due to his inability to be sent to Sandinista Nicaragua, Ismael came to America. Here he eventually renounced Marxism and worked as the executive director of a Catholic ministry in the inner city for the Diocese of Venice.

Ismael founded the Freedom & Virtue Institute in 2008 to bring the ideas of individual liberty, limited government, self-reliance, and love for the poor to communities of color.

Ismael lives in Fort Myers with his wife and three children. He holds a Master’s Degree in Political Science and has lectured with the Foundation for Economic Education, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Acton Institute.

Image1. What does the intersection of faith, work, and economics mean to your life and your work?

The intersection of these things means something very different to me today than what it meant in the past. Growing up in a communist household and joining the party with a commitment to revolutionary activity, I thought that everything was about class.

Faith was collapsed into the foundation of class-consciousness, and work was integral to proletarian struggle. Work was what made the working class superior to the capitalist class. The latter was considered nothing more than a parasite feeding on labor. All aspects of human affairs were to collapse into the affairs and institutions of the state, as the embodiment of the quest for heaven on earth.

Having awakened from the nightmare of communist ideology, a story for another day, I see that faith, work, and economics intersect at the point of the human person.

The individual matters! Made in the image of God, the individual person is unique and unrepeatable, capable of moral self-realization, and called to actualize his or her dignity through work.

Work is a gift from God (Genesis 1:15) and economics is about the person actualizing that image. Faith is a sort of reminder of the wondrous work of grace in us and a voice calling us to live up to the meaning of what it is to be truly human.

2. Is the individual more important than the community? How should we think about individual dignity in relation to the Christian call to be one body of Christ?

The way the question is often presented offers a false dichotomy. One might better ask, what is the relative place of the individual within the community? Or, what is the meaning of living in community for the individual?

After all, there is no such thing as an unencumbered self, an atom that exists disconnected and disengaged. We did not drop down from the sky or pop up from the ground. From the beginning, the person is both unique and unrepeatable and a member of a social group.

Individuals simultaneously belong to a number of collectives. Our choices are our own, but they often have collective implications. Our dignity lies first in being made in the image of God.

The same God that knows our names individually made us with intrinsic capacities that must be actualized in relationship to others. That is why he invites us to be one with others in the body of Christ.

3. How does the Freedom and Virtue Institute live out a biblical understanding of faith, work, and economics?

The Freedom & Virtue Institute’s mission is built on the foundation of respect for human dignity, a dignity that is real because God is real and made us with his attributes embedded in our nature.

Created with reason and volition, we mirror a God who is both reason and creativity itself. Trust in the God who created us in such a magnificent way is the bedrock of our work with faith communities across the country.

Work is another gift bestowed on us by God:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).

Notice how work is given before sin enters into the picture. In the method of God’s design and government for man, work was seen as an essential feature. The word “economy” can be traced back to the Greek word oikonomos, “one who manages a household.”

Therefore, our institute believes in a God who created us with a dignity that is actualized through acts of creativity and stewardship. When man uses his hands and recreates his environment, he is managing the household of God.

4. How have you seen your Effective Compassion Trainings change the way a church helps the poor?

The first important change is in the renewal of the mind (Romans 12:2). People begin to see that the question, “What is poverty?” is not an important one. Instead, the key concept is human flourishing. Precisely because God has made us in his image, with dignity and creativity, we must begin to see the poor as subjects endowed with meaning instead of objects moved by outside forces.

A light is turned on when people ask the right questions and begin to see the poor not as victims but as agents of change.

When people are made aware of the facts about poverty, the history of the welfare state, and the values (or counter-values) that informed such a system, they are confronted with a decision: Are we to become faithful servants or the hired hand of the state? Are we going to join Pharaoh in keeping our people in bondage or assist in the journey toward the Promised Land?

Then it is rewarding as people explore the principles that informed Christian service for generations; the strength of our traditions and beliefs is there for the taking!

Finally, seeing people discuss how to bring about the changes necessary to move in the right direction through their initiatives is the most fascinating experience.

*This interview was originally published at the Creativity. Purpose. Freedom blog.

The Jesus Panel at ISFLC

Many Christian libertarians don’t see the connection between their faith and political views, or struggle to reconcile the two seemingly unrelated worlds. Meet five young professionals in the liberty movement who are libertarians because they are Christians. They believe principles of limited government and individual freedom are compatible with biblical principles, while holding fast to the absolute truth of Christianity. Can faith be the future of the liberty movement?

*Recorded on 2/15/14 at the International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, D.C.

Mike Rowe on wealth envy

Mike Rowe, the former host of Dirty Jobs, recently dismissed worries over income inequality on CNN. In an interview with Erin Burnett, he said,

The idea that everybody who’s poor, and everybody who’s in the middle, and everybody who’s wealthy stays there their whole life — that I don’t believe. I think there’s a lot of moving back and forth. And I think it’s dangerous to say, “This group is always going to be in this spot.”

He also spoke out against the idea of “wealth envy,” saying most of the people he worked with on Dirty Jobs didn’t even have time to think about who had more and who has less. He said,

I’ve spent ten years crawling through sewers, painting bridges, sexing chickens, milking camels. I work with people who don’t have time to talk about who has it worse and who has it better. The jobs on Dirty Jobs, to a T, were opportunities. And that was the big lesson. That’s what people looked at. It wasn’t about there’s more over here, there’s less over there. It was about, “What can I do to advance faster?”

We should approach the income inequality debate carefully as Christians, in a way that empathizes with those in minimum wage positions, but without attacking the wealthy. We can do this is by modeling Rowe in guiding the debate toward a more encouraging and hopeful conversation about equal human dignity, income mobility, and economic opportunity.

*This article was originally published on the Creativity. Purpose. Freedom. blog.

Learn economics from celebrities, like Ashton Kutcher!

Usually, I wouldn’t say you can learn much about economics from celebrities. Especially not from Russell Brand. But recently, Ashton Kutcher was the exception when he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

When Kimmel asks Kutcher about his current business investments, like Uber and Airbnb, Kutcher brings up the harmful effect of regulation and cronyism.

Lamenting about the difficulties city regulations presented for startup companies like Uber, he says Uber doesn’t exist in Miami because of “some dumb regulation,” calling the city’s mentality “Mafioso.”

Kutcher says:

You have old-school monopolies and incumbents and old-school governments that get kickbacks from various people that don’t want the new guy to come in and so they try to kick them out of their city.

This crony “Mafioso” mentality is not only unjustly exclusive, but it compromises the dignity of work and suffocates the entrepreneurial spirit.

Is there anything we can do to defend the vocation of the entrepreneur against cronyism and unfair regulation? Kutcher implies yes. He says,

But the people are going to have what the people want. The people say they want Uber and people say they want Airbnb.

Sometimes, supporting the new guys is the best way to fight against the injustices of regulation and cronyism and to defend those called to be entrepreneurs.

Next time I need a ride around D.C., I’m getting an Uber cab.

*This article was originally published on the Creativity. Purpose. Freedom. blog.