Tuesday, 7 April 2009

A prayer and a pledge for real change

Soon after the election of Obama in the United States, Sojourners Chief Executive Officer Jim Wallis instigated a campaign to send letters to the White House requesting action on several issues. This does not apply to me as I am not a US citizen or resident. But the letter seems designed to have broad appeal to Christians. I take issue with what the letter requests and I have been meaning to offers some thoughts on this. The problem I see is that the appeal is not as broad as some may think, and when requests are too broad, the solutions proposed by various people may be vastly different.

Sojourners started in 1971. Their mission is to
articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.
The letter covers 4 areas: poverty, war, respect for life, and climate change.

Here are my brief responses to the presentation of these issues.
Overcome poverty, both here in our rich nation and globally. Your efforts to resolve the economic crisis must include those at the bottom, the poorest among us. You pledged during the campaign to mobilize the nation to cut domestic poverty in half in ten years and to implement the Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme global poverty in half.
He has a point. If money is going to be distributed it is probably better to give to those who have true struggles rather than rich men who have made poor decisions. Though perhaps consideration should be given to giving out no money at all. Letting people live with the consequences of their decisions (to an extent) is one of the better ways to prevent further poor decisions whether one is rich or poor.

The bigger issue is how we define poverty. US "poverty" and global "poverty" are hardly synonymous. I tend toward an absolute definition: no food, no clothing, no shelter; whereas political definitions are generally defined relatively which favour socialist theories. The gini index and the poverty line (the percentage of households whose income is below x% (eg. 50%) of the median income) are examples; though these are better called inequality indices, not poverty indices.

Thus a call to end poverty may result in policy determined to decrease income inequality which many people claim is counter-productive because it decreases total wealth of a country.
Find better ways than war to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world. It is time to end the war in Iraq and emphasize diplomacy over military action in resolving problems in Iran and Afghanistan. We need better and smarter foreign policy that is more consistent with our best national values.
One does not want his leaders to be warmongers. And perhaps inadequate attempts have been made at diplomacy. But the idea that everything can be solved diplomatically is false. And avoiding war at all costs can mean inadequate opposition of despots and lead to abysmal living conditions. I make no claims in this post concerning what best be done about Afghanistan or Iraq currently, nor whether these invasions were wise decisions at the time. But the situation now exists and must be dealt with appropriately. Leaving may well be smart foreign policy. But this call seems to me to imply that war is always wrong and diplomacy always works. I am less than certain.
Promote a consistent ethic of life that addresses all threats to life and dignity. We must end genocide in Darfur, the use of torture, and the death penalty. I urge you to pursue common ground policies which can dramatically reduce abortions in America, and help bring us together on this divisive issue.
There are a multitude of issues with this request.

There is demand to leave Afghanistan and Iraq above, yet here is a demand to involve the US in Sudan. This does not necessarily mean the US places troops in Sudan, but what does the letter imply should be done if diplomacy fails. And if the US are to support United Nations troops in Sudan then why can the US not be involved sans UN. And if there is a moral argument for US forces with or without the UN in Sudan, surely there is possibly a moral argument for Afghanistan or Iraq.

Torture should be ended, though as much for perpetrators as victims. Evil men may well be deserving of pain. Shame and whipping may well be appropriate punishments; though this may possibly be defined as torture by opponents. But even if the recipient is indeed evil, the use of torture destroys the character of those performing it.

The use of "consistent" implies that all life should be preserved. This is not self apparent and may well be inconsistent. Many anti-abortionists also support the death penalty and a biblical argument can be made for capital punishment. And the call to reduce the death of innocents in the same paragraph as ending the death of the guilty seems morally confused. If a Christian is opposed to the death penalty and abortion, and he had the choice of ending one and minimising the other, it surely would be abortion that was ended.
Reverse the effects of climate change on God’s creation. We must learn a new way of living in America to end our dangerous dependence on Middle East oil. We need a spiritual commitment to stewardship and national policies that promote safe, clean, and renewable energy. You spoke of job creation and economic renewal with a new “green economy.”
I have previously indicated that I deny anthropomorphic global warming. I think minimising CO2 is both pointless in terms of the climate, and harmful in terms of the poor. It may be prudent to end dependency on Middle East oil, though a switch to Alaskan and offshore oil is perfectly acceptable. Private ownership of land will lead to better stewardship of the environment. While the government can introduce policy to maximise job creation and economic renewal, there are huge differences of opinion about what these policies are.

In conclusion I think there are several issues in this letter that are incorrect from a Christian perspective. Where there are issues of agreement (poverty bad, abortion bad, job creation good) the approach of various Christians to these ends differ dramatically. And a letter to a Democratic president, if effectual, is likely to lead to a socialist solution. From my point of view, while government action potentially could lead to improvements in such issues, the policies that will get enacted are likely to be counter-productive.

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