Archive for social justice
This is part three of a series liveblogging Tim Suttle’s book, Public Jesus. You can read the introduction to the series here, my post on the first chapter here, and a discussion on Suttle’s Introduction here. Each chapter will be liveblogged.
Do you have a soul-crushing or a soul-sustaining job? In Chapter 2 of Public Jesus, Tim Suttle believes that if we are counting the right things in life, our work will be worship, not toil. Many of us view what we do as career, but few of us view what we do as a vocation. The difference is that a vocation is a calling in life, how we image God to the culture, while a career (apart from vocation) is “just work.”
Suttle connects work to our relationship with God. Vocation infuses labor with meaning. It is a spiritual thing, even holy. Nothing irks me more than considering work “secular” and ministry “sacred.” Such a dichotomy is toxic to our lives and to our culture. Those who view “ministry” as more important than what is usually considered “secular work” are missing the full impact of the concept of work.
Suttle is encouraging to those looking for a soul-sustaining vocation (not a soul-crushing job). To a degree, just changing our perspectives can change how we experience our work. Suttle writes, “Christians are supposed to be living into the reality that Jesus is Lord. We are meant to live each day as though eternity has broken into time. We have been created to organize our lives so that we image God, so that we become salt and light.” He contrasts two men who work the exact same job. One viewed it as miserable, the other thought it was the best job ever. The difference? To one it was toil. He was a slave, miserable. To the other it was holy. He was free, joyful. Suttle concludes, “If Jesus is making all things new, then Jesus is making our vocational life new.”
This chapter excited me for many reasons. It was highly reflective, asking as many questions as offering propositions. The majority of our days and the majority of our lives are comprised of labor, so it stands to reason that the concept of transforming how we view our labor is critically important. In fact, it can make or break a person. If you’ve ever been part of a soul-crushing job, you know what Suttle is talking about. Likewise, if your job brings you joy and fulfillment, you know what fulfilling your vocation feels like. This chapter offers relevant questions that point us in the right direction.
Our work is part of the mission of God to redeem the world. We find meaning in our work when we understand how it connects to the web of life. Suttle rightly understands that when we understand the big picture of what God is doing in Jesus, we will embrace our work as worship, not as toil.
As a Christian who has spent four years endeavoring to understand economics, Suttle’s work could go further if there were more room. At the end of the chapter, one question is, “How does what you do serve society?” For me, it’s impossible to answer that question without having the semblance of an economic way of thinking. If our vocation is to take care of the earth, knowing this isn’t enough to successfully do it. What kind of cooperation is necessary? How do we decide where scarce resources ought to go? What role does profit and loss play in resource allocation? What are the critical components of a stable economy? What happens when those stable factors become manipulated by the powerful? On a personal level, how does our role in the economy play a factor in social and productive progress? How would we view our jobs if we knew it was an unsustainable line of work that is contributing to economic collapse?
While some of these questions border on philosophical, it would be very difficult to answer these questions accurately without an economic way of thinking. Economics provides useful tools by which we can understand social cooperation and human action. I can think of nobody better than F.A. Hayek in describing the role of economics:
The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they know about what they imagine they can design.
Making work meaningful is a task for the long haul. It doesn’t happen overnight. Part of that task ought to be understanding how we fit into the bigger puzzle. Doing so requires that we embrace God’s vision for work, which means we take seriously what we do as serving God and our neighbor. It also means taking seriously the limitations of our human desires, and work within the constraints we have as humans and with a planet of scarce resources.
Tags: capitalism, F.A. Hayek, labor, profit, public jesus, social justice, Tim Suttle, toil, vocation, worship
Tim Suttle, whose first book I reviewed here, recently published his second work, Public Jesus. The copy the publisher sent came with an accompanying DVD and discussion guide, though these are optional (if you just read the book, you get a video transcript in each chapter).
Though we disagree on a few things, I’ve greatly appreciated Suttle’s take on Christians relating to society, and I believe libertarian Christians can learn from what his contribution to the faith. For those cynical about a Progressive contributing meaningfully to the libertarian paradigm of thinking, I’ll respond by quoting Steve Horwitz, “The world is not just about good guys and bad guys, but about real people whose ideas are good and bad in various mixtures. We need to appreciate them when they are good, even if it isn’t all the time. If we don’t, we will throw away good arguments for freedom.”
In the coming weeks I will be liveblogging all six chapters. For each I will share a brief synopsis, reflect on the content, contrast how I would have written the chapter myself, and explain why libertarians could benefit from what Suttle has to say.
If you’re so inclined, read it along with me. It is not very lengthy and is available on Kindle. In doing so, you could contribute in the comments and greatly add to the discussion. Expect a weekly posting, though I reserve the right to chew on a chapter longer than normal.
Tags: libertarianism, progressives, public jesus, social gospel, social justice, steve horwitz, Tim Suttle
Tim Suttle, author of An Evangelical Social Gospel? (which I reviewed here) recently posted an article in the Huffington Post Religion section titled, “What is the Chief Political Concern of the Bible?” Suttle comes from a neither-left-nor-right perspective, though seems to lean left in many areas. Regardless of his leanings, he seems to affirm the inherent toxicity of the “left vs. right” argument in politics.
Tim, here’s an invitation: jump ship entirely and join the Libertarian Christian movement! One of the more beautiful compatibilities between libertarianism and Christians interested in social justice is their respective concern for unjust power structures and institutions.
Now, I’m coming from what could be called the Austro-libertarian perspective, which is not your popular strain of libertarianism. In fact, it’s probably more critical of Big Business and institutionalized injustice than any libertarian perspective that I’ve stumbled upon. If the evils caused by money and greed are your root concern, look no further than the outright damnation of the Federal Reserve creating money for the rich at the expense of the poor! If Big Business “success” raises your blood pressure, the Austrians are there to explain economically and politically why their success is often unjust and deserves our scorn. If it’s the poor you’re concerned about, look no further than the Austrians to explain why sound economics are critical to the well-being of everyone, including the poor.
In his article, Suttle asked several high-profile theologians and thinkers like N.T. Wright, Brian McLaren, Stanley Hauerwas, and Walter Bruggemann what they believed the chief political concern of the Bible was. Their responses, while in context might represent particular manifestations of “left-leaning” institutions created and protected by the State, aren’t per se anti-libertarian. I’ll comment on a few of them.
“The chief political concern of the Scriptures is for God’s wise and loving ordering of his world to be operative through humans who will share his priorities, especially his concern for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. This concern was embodied by Jesus in his inauguration of ‘God’s kingdom’ through his public career and especially his self-giving death, which together set the pattern for a radically redefined notion of power.”
Wright is one of my theological heroes. He has a way of speaking for audiences both scholarly and popularly, and is widely acclaimed for his writings in both areas. His response is classical, with its use of phrases like “loving ordering of his world” and “radically redefined notion of power.” Which makes me wonder, What is more radical a definition of political power than that of the Austrian or Anabaptist tradition?! While Left and Right bicker constantly over their own visions of power over the rest of us, Austrians (and many Anabaptists) will say, “Maybe we should rethink this notion altogether and discover a better way for peaceful order.”
“I believe that the central political question is the management of public power in order that there should be an economically viable life for all members of the community. Thus justice is front and center and some texts, especially in Deuteronomy, are for the distribution of wealth in order that all may be viable. Obviously such justice is marked by mercy, compassion and generosity. The purpose is to create a genuine neighborhood for all the neighbors.”
Ah, yes, the “management of public power”! Such a wonderful topic among libertarians, Austrians in particular. Perhaps our goals aren’t exactly the same as Bruggemann’s, but justice is certainly front and center when it comes to issues of power. Creating a “genuine neighborhood for all the neighbors”? Austrians approach the issue as though everyone has authority over himself or herself. I have no right to trample yours, nor you mine. It ends there. Let’s cooperate! (A quick aside: while most Austrians are not minarchists, many libertarians believe that if a State must exist, it must do so only to ensure that cooperation takes place rather than coercion and fraud.)
“God’s solidarity with the poor, oppressed, outcast and forgotten.” Brian McLaren
I chucked when I saw McLaren’s brief response here. He’s naturally vague, which is fodder for conservatives to throw back in his face (he rarely returns the favor). Obviously, this statement is not anti-libertarian in the least. A free society certainly has room for this; indeed, this sort of solidarity might even flourish more without the State’s crowding out of true solidarity. Can you think of anything less truly unifying for a community than a transfer of wealth from some to another, most of whom don’t even know each other? I have a hunch that the goals of social justice isn’t fed hungry people or clothed naked people, but that all people experience solidarity and community.
Others answer with words like “health societies,” “revisioning communities,” and others reflect the nature of God’s intent for human well-being and God’s own glory. Suttle is on to something. God is indeed interested in how society is arranged. God sent Jesus to redefine what society ought to be. Jesus died in contrast to the violence of the kingdoms of this world.
Suttle’s theological influences are close to my own, and I believe they have much to teach libertarians who typically shy away from issues of social justice. At the same time, folks like Suttle might benefit from the economic analysis of society and the power structures that exist.
Nobody jumps ship so easily, especially when the sources and critiques are commonly thought to be on “the other side.” Yet because Suttle has made it clear he hasn’t stopped learning and journeying, let me switch metaphors and offer a more modest proposal: Come, taste and see the Austrian critique of power, the elite, and money. Let it whet your appetite for sound economic thinking on issues of justice, morality, and the common good.
Tags: Anabaptists, anarchism, austrians, Bible, Brian McLaren, common good, community, economics, Federal Reserve, justice, libertarianism, minarchism, NT Wright, politics, poor, social justice, solidarity, Stanley Hauerwas, tim subtle, Walter Bruggemann
It is certainly true that the Church has divided severely over issues throughout its 2,000-year history, but the last few decades have witnessed unparalleled division in recent memory. You’ll hardly hear someone offer that our country (and the Church) has become more politically united in the past decade.
Mike Slaughter and Charles Gutenson wrote Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide to both acknowledge and correct a growing problem in the Church. Not only is the divide creating disunity within the Church, it is causing a significant number of younger Americans to reject the church because of the close relationship between partisan politics and religion. Throughout much of the 20th century, the Church’s liberal/conservative polarization was related primarily to theological issues rather than political, Democrat/Republican concerns. Only in the 1980s did theological “liberalism” (or “conservatism”) and voting primarily Democratic (or Republican) become integrally connected.
Tags: Chuck Gutenson, church, conservatives, democrats, liberals, N.T. Wright, partisan politics, republicans, social justice, Stanley Hauerwas
In 2007 Barack Obama promised us Hope and Change. Change hardly came and hope is long gone. Even his most ardent supporters are pretty miffed. Glenn Beck — clearly not an Obama supporter or even admirer — predicted that John McCain would lose because he was not running for something. Obama won because he promised a vision of America that captured the hearts of many Americans (and the leg of one newscaster).
Ron Paul is clearly the only candidate not running against Barack Obama or against the other GOP candidates. He is running to promote liberty and a restoring of the Republic to the Constitution. He does criticize Obama, but more importantly he describes our social problems as stemming from something greater and more problematic.
Yet one thing doesn’t seem to be clear to Ron Paul supporters: Ron Paul is not the hope of America, or even the world. Bleeding Heart Libertarian Matt Zwolinski cautions Paul’s supporters into being overly excited about a Paul Presidency, and has taken considerable heat from it. In short, he said that the time supporting Ron Paul could be better spent. Maybe, but that’s too sharp a dichotomy for me. Elections are for a season. Supporting institutions like the Institute for Humane Studies can continue beyond the 2012 election cycle. Call me crazy, but I’m 100% sure Ron Paul won’t run for president again. So let’s seize the day. And if we have enough time and money, we can do both.
But Zwolinski hints at a deeper point that he doesn’t quite explicitly say: Ron Paul is not the ultimate solution to our social problems. To be fair, I truly, honestly, deeply believe that no Ron Paul supporter believes a Paul Presidency will usher in the New Millennium (or something like it). I’m an enthusiastic supporter of Paul (if you don’t believe me, check out my Facebook). Yet as a Christian I am reminded that the hope of the world doesn’t rest in worldly institutions, as much as they need dramatic reform. The hope of the world doesn’t rest in the administrations of men. It doesn’t come through mere human efforts.
A Ron Paul White House would yield tremendous positive results for society and the world. Fewer nations would be threatened by our military. Diplomats around the world might begin to trust our nation. Children will have their fathers return from foreign lands. Fewer troops will suffer from psychological disorders. The importance of sound money will become center stage in the national conversation. Those changes are truly needed. Let’s not underestimate or devalue those outcomes.
But the hope of the world doesn’t come through the actions of one administration. It comes from the members of society who are committed to change, starting from the inside out. Those individuals will shape the world around them. God’s will done “on earth as it is in heaven” will happen when the love of Jesus is demonstrated throughout society. When followers of Jesus funnel their gifts, talents, resources, abilities, and passions for the good of the world, they become God’s image to mankind so real hope is present.* And even though we are ardent supporters of Ron Paul, this thoroughly hope-filled belief is the true position of LibertarianChristians.com.
Perhaps former presidential candidate Barack Obama said it best: “We are the change we’ve been waiting for!”
* It’s far too easy to ignore the virtue of suffering, something Western Christians avoid at all costs. When we suffer along with our fellow human beings, we bring ourselves closer to each other and to God in a way unlike any other. True “social justice” (whatever that phrase implies) requires it, otherwise change is anything but real. But that’s for a future article…
Tags: 2012 Presidential race, Bleeding Heart Libertarian, Chris Matthews, constitution, Glenn Beck, Hope and Change, Matt Zwolinski, Obama, presidency, Ron Paul, social justice