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.
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).
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.
On Thursday, I stood on the Capitol lawn with 50,000 others to watch the Pope’s address to Congress over a live Jumbotron feed. His speech was both encouraging and challenging as he called legislative members to action on the most pressing issues of our day.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the papal address to Congress.
The role of government: Francis called the preservation of human dignity and the common good the chief aim of politics. He uplifted the vocation of the legislator, whose role is to protect the Imago Dei of every individual.
You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics…. Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.
Freedom: The Pope suggested ways to protect freedom, later mentioning specifically religious and intellectual freedom and individual rights.
Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity…. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.
The Golden Rule: A common theme of Francis’s talks, he reminded us to give to the world what we want from it and to protect human life.
Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). This rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.
Poverty: The Pope acknowledges great progress in the global fight against poverty and encourages the American people to continue since there is still more work to be done.
How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.
Economics: The Pope called for greater wealth creation and distribution and proper employment of natural resources, as well as a harnessed spirit of enterprise.
It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129).
Though the pontiff’s speech seemed generally political, his overall message was one of love, generosity, and hope, pointing to God.
After his address to Congress, the Holy Father stepped outside. A roar of applause and 100,000 waving hands greeted him and he humbly asked for our prayers.
You can read the full transcript of his speech here.
*Originally published on the IFWE blog.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
You may not be able to start a nonprofit, but you can bring Nutella to someone. -Dr. Anthony Bradley
You don’t have to fly to Africa to fight for social justice. You can do it right now in your office, on your campus, and at home. Just by bringing someone Nutella? Yep.
I’ll explain the Nutella part soon – but let me first say I recently attended a lecture I’ll never forget. Dr. Anthony Bradley’s talk “On Love, Social Justice, Hospitality, and Nutella” at the 2015 Jubilee Conference is one that I found so simple yet so inspiring, and I want to share it with you. Dr. Bradley’s message was that you don’t have to wait to retire to start that nonprofit you always wanted to start, or until you graduate to join the Peace Corps. Justice is local and you can start fighting for it right now.
Social justice is as simple as loving your neighbor as you love yourself (Mark 12:31). But the second greatest commandment might not be as simple to obey as it seems.
What’s Stopping Us from Pursuing Social Justice?
I’ve heard people say our world is becoming less hospitable. We no longer open our doors to the sojourner. We are less trusting of people today, and we are more concerned about protecting ourselves. Dr. Bradley suggests it’s the fear of being vulnerable that’s stopping us from truly loving our neighbor.
Stepping into the messiness of other people’s lives is a very vulnerable act, and being vulnerable can be extremely uncomfortable. We risk rejection of our efforts, which might hurt us. Dr. Bradley calls this kind of vulnerability with others hospitality.
Hospitality in the Bible
When I think of hospitality, I think of hosting a fancy dinner party for my friends, or letting my cousin stay with me when she’s in town. But in the Bible, hospitality is often in reference to strangers, and it’s about much more than hosting dinner parties.
Matthew 25:35-37 says,
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
Biblical hospitality is giving someone what they need, not just physically, but also relationally. Hospitality is not just offering a home-cooked meal to a friend; it’s offering our friendship to a stranger. It’s not just inviting a stranger into our home, but into our lives.
Jesus is the ultimate example of hospitality. He made himself vulnerable to invite us in, freeing us to be vulnerable with others. To truly be hospitable means to offer ourselves—our friendship, our time, our gifts, and our resources—and to risk getting hurt in the process.
Fight for Social Justice with Hospitality
One way Dr. Bradley says we can fight for social justice with hospitality is by being in relationship with people who are different from us. Intentionally stepping into the life of someone you might not have become friends with naturally might feel uncomfortable, and it might not be that much fun. But hospitality is rarely comfortable or convenient.
Hospitality is uncomfortable. […] Do you feel totally content with your two or three great friends, and just don’t need to reach out to every crazy lady you meet? The trouble is, I am that crazy lady. And so are you. We are all on the margins sometimes. This is the heart of hospitality: finding people on the margins and bringing them in.
I’m sure you can relate to being that person on the margins too. We all know what it’s like to be “the new kid” at some point or another. When we bring those on the margins into community, they are known and their needs are known. Hospitality is making sure no one’s needs—spiritually, relationally, or physically—are left unmet.
Where Do I Start?
The next time someone pops in your head—whether it’s a friend, a coworker, a roommate, an acquaintance, or even someone you hardly know—consider that maybe God is asking you to pray for that person, send them a text to see how their day is going, ask them to lunch, give them a hug, or offer them a ride.
Fight for social justice in your community by spending time with someone you wouldn’t normally spend time with; someone different than you, someone who is disconnected from community, or someone who is suffering. Learn about their life and who they are.
Dr. Bradley says you can even be hospitable by just bringing them a jar of Nutella, because who wouldn’t be happy to share a jar of hazelnut chocolate spread with you?
*Originally published on the IFWE blog.
Whether or not you identify yourself with the social justice movement, as Christians, we are all for social justice because Jesus represents all that is truly just. No other institution on earth has a greater interest in justice and human flourishing than the church.
Social justice advocates are focused on fighting poverty from all sectors of society, especially through the church and the government. Whether it’s volunteering with a homeless outreach project with your church or protesting in front of the Capitol for economic justice, advocates recognize they must fight poverty from all sectors of society to be effective.
Different institutions can accomplish different things for poverty. If we want to be good stewards of our resources and meet the needs of the poor in the most effective way possible, we must deeply consider who does poverty relief best.
The answer to this question is exactly what the modern social justice movement is missing.
Who Does It Best?
How we do something matters just as much as what we’re doing. When it comes to issues of poverty and hunger, we seem to have the “what” down, but the “how” questions are much more difficult to answer.
If we want to take seriously our Christian call to love thy neighbor, we must ask, “Who does it best?” while considering three different institutions: church, government, and business.
The church, government, and business are all ordained by God and each have a very important role to play in poverty relief. But each exists for a much different purpose than the other. It’s important to take a close look at the strengths and limitations of each institution to understand the best way to promote the common good.
The Forgotten Institution (and Source of Prosperity)
Between 1981 and 2005, the World Bank reported the number of people living on $1.25 per day or less decreased from 52% to 26%. That’s amazing. In one generation, extreme poverty was cut in half. How did that happen?
Peter Greer, president of HOPE International, says this was not due to church charity or government programs, but business and job creation. Business is often the forgotten institution when the church comes together to fight poverty. In For the Least of These, he says,
For too long, capitalism was treated as a bystander in poverty alleviation and human development. Rock stars and air activists were calling for more charity and a greater response from the global community, but few were calling for investment in entrepreneurship and policies that promote economic development.
Why are activists coming together promoting business as a more effective solution to worldwide poverty than church charity or government aid? Only because business can do something neither the church nor the government can do: create economic prosperity over the long haul.
The church, private charities, and the government can transfer wealth from one person to another – a church through donations and a government through taxes. This can be a short-term solution to poverty. But only business offers a sustainable solution because it can generate the prosperity needed to reduce poverty over the long-term.
However, business can’t do everything for poverty. Just like any other system or institution on earth, it’s flawed. And that’s when we look to the help of charities and government programs.
The Most Effective Charity
The government plays an important role in securing individual rights and rule of law that make a just, free, and flourishing society possible. But one resource the government will never have is a personal relationship.
Your church can know a person’s needs in a way the government cannot because your church is closer to the problem. Your church can love a person in a way that a government cannot because your church is closer to the person.
We cannot forget the unique role God has given his church to reach out and actively care for the spiritual and physical needs of everyone—especially those in need—in ways that business and government will never be able to.
We need the church, the government, and business involved in alleviating poverty. Realizing the capabilities and limitations of each institution will help us better understand how to do that more effectively.
Is Poverty Too Big for the Church?
Poverty is too big for the church as a stand-alone institution, but poverty is not too big for the body of Christ.
The body of Christ is made up of legislators, entrepreneurs, and volunteers; courts, businesses, and charities. Each institution, each organization, and each person has a unique role to play in God’s Kingdom. Then who does poverty relief best? We do poverty relief best.
The church today is equipped now more than ever to take God’s call to help others flourish. The social justice movement is fueling the charge with energy and enthusiasm, but it will ultimately fall short without seriously thinking about who does poverty relief best.
Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of our institutions will change the way we fight poverty. Our efforts will be more effective. Our methods will be more dignifying. And the results will be unprecedented.
So what if we thought of entrepreneurs as someone God has called to create prosperity to lift their community out of poverty? And legislators as someone God has called to preserve justice for the vulnerable? What if we thought of the church as the primary social safety net?
That would be a taller order. But it would also look a lot more like social justice.
*Originally published on the IFWE blog.
On Monday, January 26th, faith leaders gathered in Washington D.C. to discuss restorative justice as a Christian approach to the criminal justice system.
The United States is home to more incarcerated citizens than any other nation in the entire world. With 25 percent of the world’s prison population behind bars in the U.S., prison reform is an issue of rising bipartisan support in Washington. It’s also a huge concern among Christian social justice advocates, especially since there is a strong link between incarceration rates and poverty rates and reform may greatly improve overall human well-being.
The event was hosted at the Family Research Council and organized by Justice Fellowship, an outgrowth of Prison Fellowship, Chuck Colson’s ministry to prisoners. Justice Fellowship was started to transform the injustices within our criminal justice system.
Heather Rice-Minus, senior policy advisor at Justice Fellowship, describes restorative justice as,
An approach to the criminal justice system that recognizes and advances the dignity of human life. It prioritizes harmed party participation, promotes accountability of the responsible party, and cultivates community engagement.
Two current legislative areas of focus for Justice Fellowship includes limiting debt penalties for responsible parties and improving the victim compensation system by increasing program efficiency, minimizing financial waste, and getting more money into the hands of victims.
Justice Fellowship is also focusing on making change in which you can participate directly.
Reforming Language to Reflect the Image of God
Rice-Minus believes language changes culture. She encourages everyone to refer to convicted criminals released from prison as “responsible parties” instead of “ex-offenders.”
“Responsible party” respects the dignity of the individual because it acknowledges their responsibility of a crime, but it is also a forgiving term that does not define the individual based on their past mistakes.
This will not only change the way the community views their relationship with those recently released from prison, but also the way those individuals view themselves: as someone who has fallen short but is offered forgiveness and healing.
This is a crucial element for a smooth transition of the responsible party back into their community, job, and family.
Perhaps changing the language is only “putting lipstick on the pig” as one attendee pointed out. But Rice-Minus believes this is a powerful cultural shift that must take place if we truly want to be advocates for restorative justice.
Getting Responsible Parties Back on Their Feet
Imagine being released from prison with nothing more than a bus ticket and fifty dollars. About 80 percent of ex-offenders end up going back to prison.
The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) located in Houston, Texas works to help former inmates start businesses. Rice-Minus mentioned PEP as one admirable organization working to restore justice.
After an application and screening process, top candidates are selected to participate in the program. In the program, they are linked with business academics in mentoring relationships and study a rigorous MBA-level curriculum in order to learn the business skills they need to become successful entrepreneurs.
100 percent of graduates have a job or start a business within ninety days of graduation. PEP is not just helping former inmates find work, it’s helping them rediscover their humanity, their Imago Dei.
Learn how to get involved here.
How Should Christians View Prison Reform?
Rice-Minus asked the group if they think Christians view prison reform through a lens of their faith. The general consensus was “no.”
- “Christians don’t get behind issues unless it’s black and white,” one attendee chimed in.
- Others voiced their concern that Republicans and Democrats were more involved with prison reform than the church.
The exact reason for the lack of church involvement in prison reform is unclear, perhaps because it’s more of a “gray” issue without an easy biblical answer, or maybe it’s just because most Christians just don’t have the luxury of spending time diving into the details of the problem.
Regardless, there is one thing all Christians can agree on: criminals are redeemable, and justice means treating them as such.
Rice-Minus calls the church to step up and act on the issue of criminal justice. She used Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s explanation of the three ways the church can act towards the state (Taken from Bonhoeffer’s The Church and the Jewish Question):
- ”Ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e. it can throw the state back on its responsibilities.”
- ”Aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.”
- ”Not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself. Such action would be direct political action, and is only possible and desirable when the church sees the state fail in its function of creating law and order.”
According to Bonhoeffer, the church is required to act if the law of the state is unjust. Whether it’s “putting a spoke in the wheel itself” through legislative action or “bandaging the victims under the wheel” through a simple change in language, the church can be a powerful force in restoring justice and helping responsible parties rediscover their Imago Dei.
*Originally published on the IFWE blog.