On the pursuit of social justice

The folks at Returning Church highlight Jacob Brunton for his attack on The Gospel Coalition as Marxist. Once one wipes up the coffee off the desk. Social Justice is rejected in preference for “charity” which is seen as an emblem of grace.

 if charity is a picture of the grace of God in the gospel, then what message are we sending about the grace of God, and about the gospel, when we preach that charity is deserved? Answer: We are teaching that God’s grace is, likewise, deserved.

What Brunton gets right is that the questions of poverty, and of response to social need are not defined by the person. The act of beneficence is important, but there’s more. Social need can and often is created by relationships, it is invariably political, in fact a matter of justice. This is the reality of power. 

The widow, the poor look to the king to remedy their situation; they are institutionally at the short end, taken advantage of. So the consideration of social justice is less about mercy than about the ruler exercising proper (and righteous) power. The righteous king exercises authority (justice, mispat) on behalf of the poor, the weak, the vulnerable to protect their claims and their standing.

To be trinitarian, the royal office is enabled by the Spirit, made possible by the Son’s sacrifice. The Cross and Resurrection have turned authority into something more ‘provisional’, into something like servanthood. Provisional authority does two important things: it allows us to fail, we can make mistakes; and it removes the absolute or polarized ideas, left and right — this royal authority listens.

The challenge of social justice is too often that we have not thought deeply enough about it, but settled only for the ethical scorecard, a zero-sum of winners and losers. Social justice as a trinitarian action gives a social dimension, of covenant keeping, extending the covenant blessings to others, acting to establish a better model of God’s covenant with us.

 

It was 20 years ago today…

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Amnesia can be wonderful thing, especially in politics. To listen to  John Kennedy, one may think that of course, the teacher pension problem is about poor planning. Then again, that may not be a flaw but a feature. He writes for the West Michigan Policy Forum:

It’s simple math. Today’s vastly underfunded teacher pension systems are not good for our teachers or students. Twenty years ago our state teacher retirement plan was fully funded, but due to poor financial planning assumptions and not meeting the annual funding requirement, there is now a shortfall of least $29 billion.

Here’s where amnesia takes over: twenty years ago the Engler administration raided the teacher pension fund as part of Prop A. Under that same plan, the Engler administration also shifted responsibility for increases in pensions to the local districts. The raid destabilized the funds and the cost shift meant that districts came into fiscal risk while simultaneously losing money to effectively teach their children.

And to spell this out completely: John Engler enjoyed some of his most significant support from the Republican party of W Michigan. This crisis is almost entirely one of their own making.

Bait and Switch?

Paul VanderKlay points to an interesting article at the BBC by Brandon Ambrosino, “The Invention of ‘heterosexuality.'” VanderKlay wonders, in an era of increasing sexual fluidity, might other items be at stake, as well?
The argument for the CRC embracing SSM is that “people are born that way and have no other choice. Are you heartless?” It increasingly looks like the 73 report won’t die for the reasons imagined even a few years ago, but because it dares to imagine people ARE “born that way”. Sexuality is fluid and to not celebrate whatever fluid moment is demanded in order to make the fluid feel validated is violence, oppression and the worst sort of evil (per a tweet from Rachel Hyde Evans).
I think the basic point of Ambrosino’s argument stands, that our sexual expression is culturally formed. E.g. how we understand marital relations today is really quite different from how marriage was understood 200 years ago.
What I find interesting is that this discussion of “fluidity” is unconciously part of the neo-liberal economic era. The notion that it is asserted or validated through violence points us in that direction.
When we had SSA as a physical or innate condition, we may have been making a theological statement but we were certainly claiming a political stance. If I am (physically) different, innately so, then I have a right to participate in society as that physical person. With an innate understanding of SSA then, to come out is to make a claim on societal resources; it is inherently political.
Now check in with fluidity. If identity is not located in the body (I.e. Externally) then how does it possess rights? The celebration of the self that chooses (this fluidity) lapses over into a participation in consumerism, in self-gratification. That matches with how we buy cell phones (iPhone v Android) — choices can participate in tribes, but the concept of rights? Of politics?
This fluidity is one more part of the post-modern era, but it still leaves the notion: how do we agree in common, on what basis? Even accepting this as a personal decision, how does one evaluate the choice; what makes one choice preferable to that of another? On what grounds? We are back to tribal identities and with them the determination of group relations by power equations: one wins the other losses; it’s all zero-sum, and very much part of the Spirit of the Age. Thus, this sense of fluidity is quite compatible with the restriction of human rights.
I think here is where the actual struggle takes place, where Christians engage: how do we relate to one another? On what basis? Christian thinking makes particular claims about bodies and selves. In the Western tradition it underlies, forms the bedrock for a political liberalism. And where I have an identity, then the subsequent question can be asked: to what purpose does that identity incline?

Pyrrhic Victory?

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The twentieth century struggle in American Protestantism was defined along the Fundamentalist/Modernist front. While the mainline reigned at mid-century, by the closing decade the conservatives had the upper hand, at least in professed believers. Some part of this growth was a Boomer phenomenon and the shift of population to the Sun Belt. One can mix in a bit of sexual anxiety that was the subtext of the 80s and90s — the prime family years of  the Boomers.

This religious growth was widely spread but it came with a catch: the growing conservative wing of Protestantism was also the wing for But something else was in the wind. Thsomething of a puritan movement had taken place.

these forces had been part of the fundamentalist community, particularly those in S California (see Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt). It was a potent stew: highly separatist adherents, a militant anti-communism, a Plain Folk distrust of elites; this was the gift of Orange County to the world.

But once you get past Reagan, what was the impact of this religious nationalism? More respectability, yes, and a new name (Religious Right) but still largely a failure argues George Hawley

(The Religious Right) was an effective fundraising tool for Republican politicians, but its lasting victories in terms of social policies are difficult to name. Stopping the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s was perhaps the movement’s sole permanent achievement. And that victory occurred before most of the major institutions of the Christian Right were even established. On abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and other social issues, conservative victories were typically fleeting.

But if it was a failure politically, it was worse for Christianity as a whole. The very political energy of the movement drove out the moderate  and liberals, not simply sending some to the mainline congregations, but completely out of the religious game. To the sidelines. As Hawley notes, “the finding that it expedited the decline of Christian identification and affiliation is a damning indictment.”

 

 

 

Second Chances

Andrew Zaleski reports on a very simple idea: instead of paying for a $40,000 prison cell, try education.

Why Boston Is Paying Ex-Gang Members To Go To College

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At $400/week that’s an investment in the future, and in families. While the criminal system asks us to look at the moment, a counter view is to look at the life. What happens next? What could happen next?

“I always wanted to do good in my life. I just felt like because of the area I lived in, because I got involved in gangs, I couldn’t do it,” he says. “This program is giving us a stepping stool to better our life.”

A story with great hope.

 

Finding Trump, Missing Jesus

Sometimes the pain of politics gets us, robs us. One plaintive cry from Facebook

I have been questioning Christianity since Trump took office. A lot of church members supported him (to my complete surprise) and I just couldn’t understand. I stopped going to church and I am now starting to question my faith, which makes me sad. I wonder “am I believing in something for good reasons or am I just following”. At first it just gave me pause for church but now has me questioning my faith. Does anyone have any advice?

Yes the faith map is so discouraging sometimes, especially if you are accustomed to gathering with conservative Christians of the Evangelical variety. So to break on politics means that you also give up a community that has in some sense nurtured you or given you a sense of place. Part of the underlying fear is that if you go to one of those “other” churches you will find an expressed faith that is not as vibrant, the thing that holds you currently with the church.

 
Spiritual communities give some needed resources in this time. First, there is simply the solace of friendship arising from a common task (not to dis the political, but in politics we tend to think instrumentally, that we are only as good as we give. the best spiritual gatherings have a sort of baked-in acceptance, as you are, where you are.) A second reason to consider a spiritual community is because the critique of this Trumpian time has such spiritual qualities, the turning away from others for the exaltation of self, say. The unwillingness to work for the common good. The shrinkage — the absence! — of compassion. Churches and other spiritual communities have some pretty deep wells that can help here.
 
And I do hear how alone you are in this. There are others of us out there, and we very much want you to know how embraced you are. Peace.

A Democratic raid on the country club?

Neil Carlson on Facebook points to a Jennifer Rubin column on the possibility that so-called County-Club Republicans may be in play. Carlson goes for the heart of Rubin’s column,

“These voters want a good education system, college tuition that does not break the bank, investment in R&D, a dynamic economy (which requires trade, immigration and U.S. leadership in the world), fiscal sanity and a spirit of sensible compromise. They want the U.S. to be respected in the world and not to bask in the approval of tyrants. They don’t want the government doing everything, but they know we aren’t going back to the pre-New Deal era. They support a safety net but want programs to “work” (meaning, result in fewer impoverished people). These are people who navigate in their daily lives by persuasion and compromise, not bullying and insults. They want, in short, some semblance of civil and effective government and international leadership grounded in American values.”

He then adds a point about pro-life that should not be missed by Democrats.

Got me about pegged; add something about respect for faith and respect for life without rigid dogmatism about how policy must reflect such respect, and you’re very close.

Pro-life and concerned with building the common good: I do miss those folk, but I wonder. As a Dem, I’m not sure I want this group, but not for the political reasons one might imagine. Our nation and neighborhoods get far better when two sides can dialogue and even disagree. A discourse expands the potential set of ideas, defeats groupthink, and builds a broad consensus — a real patriotism.

In the meantime, the dangers of a small nation leadership (Make America Great, indeed!), are such that yes, Dems should pursue this group. Regarding Carlson’s point about pro-life, one of the real tragedies has been the shrinking of the pro-life base so that it becomes an ideological property than a matter of common approach. There is a world of good that could be done. In the meantime, as a Dem, welcome.