Religion and Social Justice

by Kieran Healy on November 6, 2004

Mark Schmitt asks a good question:

The right question, I think, is not whether religion has an undue influence, but why it is that the current flourishing of religious faith has, for the first time ever, virtually no element of social justice? Why is its public phase so exclusively focused on issues of private and personal behavior? Is this caused by trends in the nature of religious worship itself? Is it a displacement of economic or social pressures? Will that change? What are the factors that might cause it to change. I need some reading suggestions here.

Well, here are four from the Sociology department. Bob Wuthnow’s After Heaven: Spirituality in American Since the 1950s might be a good place to get a sense of the shift from what Wuthnow calls “place-based” to “practice-based” spirituality in America. His recent Saving America? Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society looks at the social-service role of religions. Mark Chaves’ Congregations in America is built around the first nationally representative survey of U.S. congregations and emphasizes how small a role politics and social services play in the lives of churches. And The Quiet Hand of God: Faith-Based Activism and the Public Role of Mainline Protestantism, edited by Wuthnow[1] and John Evans, offers a survey of recent trends in the political involvement of the Mainline. (Full disclosure: Bob was one of my advisors, Mark is head of my department, and John is a friend of mine from grad school.) But I’m not a sociologist of religion, so there’s probably a lot of other relevant stuff out there I don’t know about.

fn1. Bob can write books faster than most people can read them.

{ 56 comments }

1

trotsky 11.06.04 at 5:01 am

Um, he’s mistaken. Who do you think volunteers for Habitat for Humanity? Runs hospitals in Haiti? Gives to orphanages in Africa? Donates time to homeless shelters? Not exclusively Christians, by any means, but they eat that stuff up. And good for them.

Let’s face it, honestly. Compared with the wealthiest country in Africa or Central America, there is no poverty in the U.S., so if Christians don’t spend all their time serving the poor, it is because capitalism has done a fine (if not perfect) job of ameliorating it.

2

jet 11.06.04 at 5:01 am

I’m far too intoxicated to read the last sentence of this post. But I find it hard to beleive that the religious right really plays a large enough character in the politics of america to realllyh matter.

3

Kieran Healy 11.06.04 at 5:08 am

Um, he’s mistaken.

Well I didn’t give him those books to read because they fully agreed with the premise of his question, as a casual glance at them will confirm.

4

ogged 11.06.04 at 5:24 am

And trotsky’s counter-examples don’t get at what I think Mark is addressing, which is the religious right’s legislative agenda.

Yes, abortion and stem cells are “moral” issues, but not quite what we’d normally call issues of social justice, which would be taking responsibility for the poor, the infirm, the discriminated against, etc.

5

one laura 11.06.04 at 6:02 am

I’m trying to think through the ways that I think this is relevant, but one of my favorite books to combine soc of religion and of social movements is Mitchell Stevens’ Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement. Its relevance to the current political/religious moment exists on many levels.

6

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.06.04 at 7:35 am

A) Just because your definition of social justice isn’t everyone’s doesn’t mean that other people don’t have a sense of social justice. Kind of self-centered to think so.

B) Christians do much more charity work at home than most other groups.

C) Christians do much more charity work in other countries than most other groups.

D) see Matthew Yglesias

7

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.06.04 at 7:41 am

Just want to make it clear that I’m responding to Mark’s original question. Kieran seems right on, especially with what I think he is saying in “how small a role politics and social services play in the lives of churches.” My parents are both evangelical Christians, and both are very deeply involved in charitable works, and only moderately involved in politics. Most of my mom’s time in 5 out of the last 7 years was spent teaching inner-city Hispanic kids English and how to read.

8

bad Jim 11.06.04 at 8:27 am

My mother is agnostic, although raised as a Lutheran. We, her children, are divided as to whether disbelief is inherited or genetic; my father was agnostic, although raised as a Catholic. The young pups often get religion from diverse sources (surfing with the pastor, good works in the Dominican Republic, working at the leper colony on Molokai, soup kitchens in L.A.) but they tend to lose it as they mature.

My mother was a council member and mayor in my town, and the environmentalist movement that got here there got our town in southern California a sizeable greenbelt, something familiar to any European but otherwise completely absent hereabouts. The difference is stark enough to appear on satellite photographs.

She and her cohorts didn’t save any humans, probably. Her beneficiaries have been rabbits and coyotes, ravens and wrens, and lots of chaparral. It was work worth doing.

9

bad Jim 11.06.04 at 8:38 am

Sigh. “inherited or acquired“. Also “that got her there”.

I blame the wine. A nice Sangiovese, fruit forward, but I should have been worried by the newfangled screw cap.

10

Scott Martens 11.06.04 at 11:00 am

No, not everyone who is conservative and religious is totally lacking in charity. However, unlike Yglesias and Sebastian, I think that part of what is wrong is that so very many religious conservatives are not even remotely charitable. When I start hearing evangelicals citing 2 Thessalonians 3:10 as a reason to end welfare, something new is going on, something new and very wrong.

Part of what has changed is that some Christian communities that once viewed their salvation as assured by faith and good works as a vocation, now tend to view their faith as the source of their authority and the culture war as their vocation. In the early 80s, you didn’t hear so much about “Christian values”, and you certainly didn’t hear people expeting the state to uphold them. In Canada, you largely still don’t hear such things. The first time I ever encountered it was in a very fundamentalist church in the early 80s, one where there was an explict hierarchy that ran from God to Ronald Reagan and then to the local pastor. That was still radically conservative in 1980. It’s not so much now.

There’s very little charitable about the Christian rock business, or the “Left Behind” novels, but there is a lot that’s partisanly political about it. The notion of a Christian culture that exists separately from the rest of American society was still quite weak when I first came to the US. Now, it’s hard not to notice it every time I go back to the States. That conception of Christianity as a segregated faith has replaced older models of Christianity as the spiritual condition of people who otherwise live in the same world as the heathen. Reinforcing that segregation has, for a lot of rank and file religous conservatives, completely replaced any positive sense of social justice. The world can only be right in the Kingdom of Heaven, so they see little sense in trying to right the wrongs here and now. But preserving their own alternate America, and making it grow into the dominant culture – that is something they are willing to do.

Again, this is not universaly true. Evangelicals are not a homogenous group – they don’t even all vote Republican. But the rise of the religious right has not advanced any conception of social justice, Christian or otherwise. These new warriors for Jesus are not more charitable. They eschew the inner cities more often than they try to do good for their denizens. Instead of turning away from materialism, they seek to Christianise it. Christian TV, Christian music, Christian knick-knacks like those WWJD? bracelets… so long as their marketing labels itself Christian, it passes.

11

aj 11.06.04 at 11:39 am

I think you might be able to find some historical literature on this as well. There’s an argument (sorry, I can’t seem to find the citation) that post-1950s evangelicalism has been greatly influenced by the culture of the Cold War, specifically the fight against “godless” Communism. It’s no coincidence that the “under God” part of the pledge of allegiance was added in the 1950s, along with other references to God in American public life.

Some kind of social justice ideals may actually still be a part of the current religious revival – but state-sponsored social welfare programs may be associated with the insidious creep of atheistic communism. Communists provided everyone with jobs. Communists confiscated property (i.e. taxed) in the name of the central state. Communists engaged in family planning. Even publicly operated day care programs could seem a threat to the family. Who wants their children raised by the secular state (or prevented from praying in its public schools)?

At the same time, aggregate standards of living certainly have risen since last century, even if statistics on real wages don’t always look so good. Coupled with this is the erroneous belief – not just among religious conservatives, mind you – that only leftists/Marxists/tenured radicals ever speak, or have ever spoken in the terms of class conflict. But guess who wrote the following passage?:

“The employer is no longer a workman with his employees; his work is mental, not manual; it tasks and strengthens all his powers; his faculties are developed, while those of the men who tend his machines are cramped. He has little personal acquaintance with his employees, and, with noble exceptions, has little personal interest in them. Thus these classes grow apart…And not only are these classes becoming further removed from each other, they are also becoming organized against each other. Capital is combining in powerful corporations and “pools”, and labor is combining in powerful trades unions. And these opposing organizations make trials of strength, offer terms and conditions of surrender, like two hostile armies.”

I suspect that many people would guess that these are the words of a labor agitator. In fact they are the words of Josiah Strong, one of the key figures of the social gospel movement – and they appear in a chapter of his bestselling work, _Our Country, Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis_ (1886). The chapter is dedicated to outlining the rising _peril_ of socialism. Strong hoped for an alternative to both socialism and the kind of capitalism that seemed to be producing it. Today America’s particular capitalism is defended at all costs; alternative capitalisms are denounced as socialism in disguise. Some may even see the idea of these alternatives as an affront to God.

Strong’s chapter has been posted here; there you can find other passages not unlike those you might come across in the works of Marx and Engels.

12

MDP 11.06.04 at 12:56 pm

ogged: Yes, abortion and stem cells are “moral” issues, but not quite what we’d normally call issues of social justice, which would be taking responsibility for the poor, the infirm, the discriminated against, etc.

Does “social justice” include taking responsibility for the weak and defenseless? Religious conservatives opposed to abortion and embryonic stem cell research think that zygotes and fetuses are “ensouled” persons who have a right to life. You and I may not share these premises, but we should at least acknowledge the existence of such beliefs and the moral conclusions they entail.

Scott Martens: In the early 80s, you didn’t hear so much about “Christian values”, and you certainly didn’t hear people expeting the state to uphold them.

Wrong and wrong. That decade was the heyday of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority”.

Scott Martens: … I think that part of what is wrong is that so very many religious conservatives are not even remotely charitable.

Compared to whom? And how many is “so very many”? This sounds like a groundless accusation, but if you evidence, (e.g., stats on charitable contributions) I’d love to see it.

13

Sam 11.06.04 at 12:59 pm

This question has ben well-addressed by Matt Yglesias and the comments section on his blog. Here’s one more critical point worth noting:

As has been discussed at considerable length below, many religious people (not just conservatives) feel that the government is actively hostile to religion. This perception (accurate or not) is likely to make them uninclined to lobby the government to become more involved in the lives of more people.

14

Jason Kuznicki 11.06.04 at 2:15 pm

Opposing gay rights is, for many, an issue of social justice, too.

One standard line is that gay rights advocates will fois an unhealthy lifestyle upon the children of America. Just as Christians opposed child labor, then, they will oppose homosexuality.

And again, homosexuality is said to break up families, encourage disease, and foster many related unhealthy behaviors. In many ways, opposition to homosexuality can be regarded as a latter-day echo of the prohibition movement. Both are wrongheaded and–I hope–destined to fail. But both are certainly questions of social justice.

15

Jackmormon 11.06.04 at 3:26 pm

A lot of the 2nd Great Awakening religions have parallel social services networks. The Mormons, for example, have a Welfare-like institution that is part of the non-profit “Deseret Industries.” Older members are assigned as responsibilities to younger members; shut-ins are regularly visited; young mothers are swooped down on with casseroles and lasagnas. There is a real sense of charity going on here, but it is well organized to be within the religious body. In fact, this social network is what makes the Mormon church attractive to converts.

On another side of the issue: the Mormon church has only recently become politicized. In the late 19th c., brother Brigham (Young) actually assigned his flock 50-50 Democrat-Republican registration, so that the feds would leave them alone as a split voting block. Up until the 1980s, there were still some Mormons in southern Utah who had respected Brother Brigham’s original assignation for their family. But now, specific social questions have changed the way the Mormon Church approaches politics.

The Church mobilized against the Equal rights Amendment. This may have been the Church’s first modern intervention into the political process. Later, in the mid-1990s, bishops in California were instructed to preach in favor of gay rights bans–resulting in one suicide in the Stanford U. ward, as my horrified cousin witnessed. And since marriage is literally the theological center of the religion, I’m sure that the Church was vocal during the current campaign.

Someone should take another look at their non-profit status…

16

David Weman 11.06.04 at 3:32 pm

The religious right weren’t on the social justice side of the tax referendum in Alabama.

17

Walt Pohl 11.06.04 at 4:21 pm

I would like to be the first to take the “social justice” defense to its logical conclusion: From the point of view of fundamentalists, the mere existence of non-Christians is a question of social justice. From their point of view, non-Christians are all going to be cast into the lake of fire. What could be more unjust than that?

I sometimes see people push the notion on these comment boards (sans evidence) that in the United States Christians are more charitable than everyone else. In terms of absolute numbers, sure, there must be more Christians doing charitable work than anyone else, but I know plenty of atheists who devote their lives to helping others.

18

Professor von Nostrand 11.06.04 at 4:31 pm

I certainly want to be careful with this story, but there seem to be some troubling numbers with regard to exit polls being way off in ‘E’states and way accurate in paper ballot states… is anyone watching this? My latest post provides some interesting numbers…

19

Scott Martens 11.06.04 at 4:39 pm

MDP, I lived in an awfully religious community in the States in the early 80s, and Falwell’s peak covered only a very tiny part of the community that thought of itself as religous and conservative. Note that the Moral Majority was dismantled in ’89 because it _failed_. Right-wing Christians went out of their way to distance themselves from Falwell, for fear of being seen as nuts. I sat in a deeply conservative and nationalist American church, watching people nod as the pastor preached against “those who would confuse what is Caesar’s with what is Jesus’.”

As for my evidence of lack of charity, how often do Christian conservatives bring up Matthew 25:35-45 compared to Mark 14:7 when discussing state welfare policies these days? When people start finding Biblical reasons to oppose public poverty support on principle, charity is long gone.

20

mona 11.06.04 at 4:51 pm

To help answer the question, I think it would be useful and interesting to have comparisons with other countries, for instance, in Europe or Latin America. There are significant differences in respect to religion and social justice. I guess it depends both on different religious denominations and different social and political contexts they operate in.

21

joel turnipseed 11.06.04 at 5:24 pm

I think it’s helpful in this discussion to break out two (overlapping, and not exhaustive) groups: sincere born-again Christians and what, for lack of a better word, I will call muscular Christians. The former include, say, the guy who partied until he got drafted, then came home bewildered from Vietnam and found religion. He is poor, works hard, and spends a ton of time helping the poor in this country and others, including having adopted two children with developmental problems. He is gentle and kind–and happens to think abortion is a horrible sin, as well as homosexuality, drug use, porn, along with a host of others. This guy is honorable, if overly judgemental.
The scary latter group, however, are using the former to reshape America in truly scary ways. If you know anyone who simultaneously reads Ayn Rand and the Left Behind series, these are them. If you know anyone who is an “executive coach,” these are them. If you know anyone who pays thousands of dollars to fly to exotic places to get “motivated,” these are them. They are building super-congregations as large as the Mall of America and their message is an All-American one: “You are Good, and You are Saved–and you Deserve Salvation.” There is no grace, no charity, and no humility in this strain and it is a virus that has grafted American Puritanism and Capitalist Greed into a single dangerous disease. These guys have power, money, a LOT of energy (all those damned pep talks), are well-organized and THEY delivered the election to Bush.

22

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.06.04 at 8:21 pm

Scott, “The notion of a Christian culture that exists separately from the rest of American society was still quite weak when I first came to the US.”

I think you are completely wrong about that. The idea of set-aside cultures has been a huge facet of American life from even before the Revolutionary War. I think you are having difficulty analyzing it because you are treating “Christian” as far too broad a label. Throughout most of US history there have been sects of Christianity, many of them quite large, that have tried to maintain a parallel culture. In the past, these parallel cultures were in opposition to what we see as mainstream US Christian culture– now they are in opposition to what is seen as a more secular culture. Trying to analyze it as a new phenomenon isn’t likely to be nearly as useful as analyzing it as part of the tradition of Christian sects trying to set themselves apart.

“When people start finding Biblical reasons to oppose public poverty support on principle, charity is long gone.”

A) Your idea of public poverty support is not the same as everyone’s. Are Christians opposed to poverty support, or merely your preferred method of doing it? For example, do they believe that HUD projects tend to reinforce poverty and drug abuse by centralizing them? If so, they might oppose large HUD projects and not be against publice poverty assistance.

B) Public poverty support is not the sum total of all possible or effective poverty support.

23

Matt McGrattan 11.06.04 at 8:41 pm

I think the operative term here is ‘social justice‘. Current ‘right-wing’ US Christianity seems, from my admitted outsider’s perspective, to be perfectly compatible with considerable amounts of charitable good work. Many ‘right-wing’ Christians are, personally, involved in charitable good works.

However, in the past many Christians have been committed to the idea of ‘social justice’ i.e. the idea that it’s somehow right and fair that the poor receive a greater share of a country’s wealth and that this rightness and fairness is not merely a matter of personal empathy or compassion but rather a substantive view about justice and what a just world actual constitutes. That the very nature of Christianity mandates some form of egalitarianism [even if that egalitarianism may have a distinctly different character from, say, secular socialism].

The fact that many Christians (on the right) are involved in charitable good works does not mean that they are committed to social justice at all. Especially if they act out of (admirable) personal compassion and empathy rather than out of some distinctly Christian (meek inherting the earth; rich men/camels through eye-of-needle; etc.) conception of social justice.

24

ruralsaturday 11.06.04 at 9:59 pm

trotsky- your comparative praise of capitalism would work as well for prosperous slavery, as long as the slaves were eating well.

Charitable works with a brand name woven through them are not charity, they’re proselytizing, spiritual tax-break-refunded donations. Anonymous charity would refute that but that’s not often a characteristic of Christian giving now is it? Like the Salvation Army, the work serves a “higher” purpose, which just happens to enrich the institution doing the giving – with power and constituents and money, and most importantly, influence.

25

asg 11.06.04 at 10:32 pm

I think that part of what is wrong is that so very many religious conservatives are not even remotely charitable. When I start hearing evangelicals citing 2 Thessalonians 3:10 as a reason to end welfare…

Isn’t voluntarism part of the meaning of “charity”? Giving away other folks’ money doesn’t strike me as especially charitable, regardless of how needy the recipient. Someone else got to this point later in the thread here when he posted that Christians who work for the benefit of the poor don’t necessarily believe in social justice, because social justice entails egalitarianism.

26

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.06.04 at 11:05 pm

“Someone else got to this point later in the thread here when he posted that Christians who work for the benefit of the poor don’t necessarily believe in social justice, because social justice entails egalitarianism.”

Yes, if your definition of social justice excludes the multitude of good things that Christian groups do to alleviate poverty, by definition Christians aren’t promoting ‘social justice’. But then you ought not ask why Christians don’t do social justice, since you defined them out existance. If you are limiting analysis to the short period of Christian history (1930-1970?)where concepts of Christian social justice coincided with leftist concepts of social justice the question might as easily be, “What went wrong with Christianity that much of it fell for leftism for 40 years?” as it might be “What went wrong with Christianity causing it to abandon leftist concepts of social justice”.

The Christian concept of social justice is not the same as the leftist concept. Some of its teachings obliquely informed leftist thought on the subject. But they aren’t identical. The fact that leftist egalitarianism has commonalities with aspects of Christian thought is unsurprising since leftist egalitarianism came from cultures which were very impacted by Christian thought. But to pretend they were ever the same thing and then ask why Christians have changed so much, is just silly.

And if you don’t think that the idea that teaching people to work is far better than welfare isn’t both Christian and having to do with social justice, I don’t really know what to say.

27

abb1 11.06.04 at 11:14 pm

Let’s see, what’s the question here – why aren’t the American wingnuts clamoring for social justice?

Lol. Is this the winner of “the most ridiculous item of the day” contest or something?

28

Matt McGrattan 11.06.04 at 11:22 pm

“The Christian concept of social justice is not the same as the leftist concept. Some of its teachings obliquely informed leftist thought on the subject. But they aren’t identical. The fact that leftist egalitarianism has commonalities with aspects of Christian thought is unsurprising since leftist egalitarianism came from cultures which were very impacted by Christian thought. But to pretend they were ever the same thing and then ask why Christians have changed so much, is just silly.”

I didn’t say that the Christian concept of egalitarianism was the same as the standard ‘left’ conception thereof. In fact, I explicit said that it might not be. Saying “That the very nature of Christianity mandates some form of egalitarianism [even if that egalitarianism may have a distinctly different character from, say, secular socialism].”

I’d also agree that the leftist conception of social justice has been heavily shaped by Christianity. Indeed a great deal of the history of British socialism, for example, has been precisely shaped (sometimes explicitly) by the Christian origins of many of the founder members of the various socialist movements of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

However, it’s a mistake to claim that the Christian egalitarian movement is a historically defined phenomena confined to a period in the middle of the 20th century. Indeed the established churches of England and Scotland still hold to a model much closer to that tradition than current US conservative Christianity.

Indeed Christianity throughout the world still seems, to my non-expert eyes, to have a lot more in common with the left-egalitarian model [often combined with more socially conservative views on the family] than it does with the current ascendency of the Christian right in the US.

And it doesn’t seem odd to ask why the US seems, in general, to be out of step in this respect with much of the rest of the developed and developing world.

29

asg 11.06.04 at 11:27 pm

Sebastian – down boy, I’m on your side. ;)

30

Tom T. 11.07.04 at 12:21 am

Just to throw some statistics into the mix, this article (no idea of its accuracy) asserts that evangelical Christians are among the most committed donors to charity, with 93% reporting charitable donations, in an average amount of $2476. Notably, other sub-groups with the highest average giving included born again Christians ($1651), Republicans ($1612), and residents of the South ($1281). Conversely, adults who do not attend a church reported one of the lowest rates of giving, with 27% reporting no donations at all.

As you might expect, the article points out that most of the donations from Christians was to their church (both evangelicals and African-American churchgoers directed 95% of their giving to their church). Thus, one’s view of the moral weight of this giving presumably depends on one’s opinion of the works of those churches.

31

James J. Kroeger 11.07.04 at 12:50 am

I would like to suggest that the “current flourishing” has lacked a social justice element because it has been largely driven by individuals—like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson—who have strongly identified with the Republican Party’s economic agenda. In other words, Christianity—in the hands of Republicans—has developed a “moral focus” that selectively ignores the teachings of Jesus that they find…well, a bit unwelcome.

After all, Jesus urged his followers to not concern themselves with their wealth (“…sell all you have…”) and to be wimps when confronting bullies. Republicans find themselves not wanting to follow such teachings because they sense that obeying them could end up threatening their privileged positions in society. So they’ve tended to focus attention on moral “issues” that do not threaten their economic fortunes in any way, like abortion and homosexuality. Republican strategists who have felt some identification with Christianity have simply turned this intuitively sensed “interest” into a weapon that they’ve been able to use in the political arena to advance their economic agenda.

The time has come for Democrats to put Republican Christians on the defensive. The first thing we need to do is accuse them of wrongly suggesting that Jesus would be a Republican if he were a United States citizen today, instead of a Democrat. It is easy to point to specific teachings by Jesus that would clearly define him as a bleeding-heart liberal. Indeed, most Republicans would be quick to describe him as “far to the left” of the majority of Democrats. Did he not teach his followers to give freely of their possessions to others, and to respond to any attack by an enemy from another country with acts of loving kindness? Can there be any doubt that Arnold Schwarzenegger would call him a “Girly Man?”

When the arguments start, Democrats need to point out that it is only logical for us to conclude that Jesus told us which moral issues were the most important to him by the amount of time he spent commenting on them. Which moral issues did he emphasize the most? There is little doubt that he thought it was especially important for his followers to be willing to deny themselves materially if that was what was required in order to obtain the benefit others. He repeated this theme more than once.

We might then want to point out that neither abortion nor homosexuality were addressed by Jesus. Does that omission mean that neither of those practices is wrong? Of course not. But it does strongly suggest that even if it seems obvious to us that Jesus thought homosexuality and abortion were sinful practices, it should also be obvious to us that he didn’t perceive them to be as alarming as the other imperfections he saw within human souls.

If he did think that abortion and homosexuality were more serious “crimes” than failing to love your enemy, then why did he not mention them when he had the chance?

If one examines closely the words that were attributed to Jesus by the authors of the Gospels, there is no evidence that he believed abortion and homosexuality were more offensive than the failure of a rich man to deny himself for the benefit of others. Democrats are clearly justified in believing that they have a stronger claim to a true identification with Jesus than Republicans do.

Doing this would immediately put Republican Christians on the defensive. Whenever they try to defend themselves from the charge of hypocrisy, all Democrats need to do is ask them why it is that they can’t follow Jesus’ teaching re: social justice? Why is it that they are concerning themselves with the motes they see in the eyes of others when they have beams in their own?

Is it because they like to willfully ignore Jesus’ teaching? We need to start publicly pressuring Republican Christians to agree with us that Jesus’ specific teachings on moral issues should be taken more seriously than any advice on other moral topics that followers or predecessors might have expressed at other times.

If we do this in good faith, we will be able to bleed away some of the support that Republican Christians have enjoyed because we will have made it safe for many devout followers to see that one can be a good Christian and also a Good Democrat at the same time. After all, Jesus was just such a man.

http://www.taxwisdom.org

32

Jackmormon 11.07.04 at 1:06 am

James, you’re right when you say that Jesus didn’t mention abortion or homosexuality. But both the Old Testament and Paul had plenty to say about the latter; most of the doctrine of Christianity was shaped by Paul, like it or not.

(A quick look in the index of my Salt-Lake-City-approved Bible shows that even the Mormon church couldn’t find a reference to abortion, but then my edition is an older one…)

I have two reasons to keep bringing up the Mormon church. One of them, as is obvious from my handle, is that I am very familiar with this church’s reasoning and organization. The other is that the left tends to overestimate the Baptist and southern evangelical traditions’ importance to the religious right. The mormons, seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s witnesses, etc. are all decried as heresy religions by the Baptists and Evangelicals, but the former groups overcame that theological division to vote overwhelmingly with the religious right. I do think that the Mormon church–whose beliefs, agendas, and cultural history should not be confused with those of the Southern churches–has a very influential role on swinging votes in the West towards the right.

Anyway. My hobbyhorse, clearly.

33

John Quiggin 11.07.04 at 1:49 am

Following up on Tom T., it’s clear that a large component of giving to a church is in the nature of a club membership. This has to be netted out, before you can get a real idea of what people are actually doing in terms of genuine charitable contributions.

I’m not aware of any large charities (as opposed to proselytising agencies etc) operated or funded by the big US evangelical churches, but then, I wouldn’t be. Can anyone provide information on what kinds of charitable work these churches are doing?

34

Sam 11.07.04 at 2:56 am

John,

It’s important to note that for most devout believers (including, but not limited to, evangelicals) religion is pervasive; thus, any evangelical work will be religiously based.

That said, some examples of charities and “social justice” organizations whose support is primarily evangelical.

Voice of the Martyrs (monitors and opposes persecutions of Christians)

Prison Fellowship (prisoner rehabilitation) and Angel Tree (tries to help children of prisoners)

Food for the Hungry (food and medical aid in desparately poor countries)

Mercy Ships (hospital ships)

CRWRC (various–ministry of the Christian Reformed Church)

Baptist World Aid (various–ministry of some Baptist Churches)

Crisis Pregnancy centers (there is not one overarching network, but almost every city has a crisis pregnancy center–Good Counsel Homes, Bethany Christian Services, and LifeCall are three enabling groups)

Sorry I don’t have links–I can’t figure out how to get URLs to work.

Sam

35

aj 11.07.04 at 3:20 am

“If you are limiting analysis to the short period of Christian history (1930-1970?)where concepts of Christian social justice coincided with leftist concepts of social justice the question might as easily be, “What went wrong with Christianity that much of it fell for leftism for 40 years?” as it might be “What went wrong with Christianity causing it to abandon leftist concepts of social justice”.

Sebastian, this is a key point: there is a tension between leftist concepts of social justice and older Christian ones. But you’re wrong about the 1930s-1970s as being a narrow, exceptional period. Here is Rev. Josiah Strong (I’ve also quoted him above) of the Home Missionary Society writing in his bestseller _Our Country_ (1886) about the problems of industrial capitalism – in a chapter that is unquestionably _anti-socialist_:

“This is modern and republican feudalism. These American barons and lords of labor have probably more power and less responsibility than many an olden feudal lord. They close the factory or the mine, and thousands of workmen are forced into unwilling idleness. The capitalist can arbitrarily raise the price of necessaries, can prevent men’s working, but has no responsibility, meanwhile, as to their starving. Here is “taxation without representation” with a vengeance. We have developed a despotism vastly more oppressive and more exasperating than that against which the thirteen colonies rebelled.”

Elsewhere in his book Strong considers the apparent resemblances between socialist ideas and his own (particularly those concerning property) in order to show how his are not just different, but are also aimed at undercutting the foundations of socialism. Today’s evangelical movement (except, of course, for those not on the right) would never have to make such a fine distinction. Given the longer (at least pre-1900) history here, it remains a valid question to ask why this has changed.

I think there are three keys to understanding the shift that has made such sentiments as Strong’s seem the exclusive province of the left: 1) real progress in improving the baseline standard of living; 2) the failure of (formerly) existing Communism; and 3) Christian anti-Communism. Furthermore, many people now seem to confuse diagnoses with prescriptions, leading to a tendency to label criticism of systemic/structural problems as a mark of “leftism.”

But just as that kind of analysis does not necessarily have to lead to “leftist” solutions, the discrediting of many “leftist” solutions does not mean we should just throw out that kind of analysis. A focus on hard work, responsibility, and good individual choices is extremely important, but there are limits to what this alone can accomplish. Work is certainly better than welfare, but the existence of some form of the latter (and I really do think it needs further reform) does not preclude the practice of the former, even among its some time recipients.

Oh, and just to make a long post longer, why hasn’t anybody objected to the characterization of today’s Christianity as _unusually_ concerned with “private and personal behavior”? How many of the people involved in the campaign against that “pillar of barbarism” (not my term), polygamy, were actually directly affected in their own personal lives? Not many, but it sure didn’t stop them from enlisting the power of the federal courts. And in the 1830s, Sylvester Graham waged war on the evil of masturbation (but his solutions came in the form of mildly sweet crackers, not ballot initiatives.)

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h. e. baber 11.07.04 at 3:30 am

Why should Christians work for social justice, contribute to charity or work politically through their churches when there are secular organizations that are more specialized and do a better job–like Oxfam and party political organizations?

Most Americans are religiously affiliated, but most also support secular charities and lots support social justice and political activist programs. Before concluding that “religious faith has no element of social justice” you need to calculate what church-goers are contributing to secular organizations.

I’m a Christian but I don’t contribute any more to the church than is necessary to keep the priest paid and the church roof patched up. For social justice I contribute to Oxfam, UNICEF, the NAACP, the Fund for an Open Society and the Democratic Party. Why should I fund amateurs when there are professionals to do the job?

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asg 11.07.04 at 3:56 am

Which moral issues did he emphasize the most? There is little doubt that he thought it was especially important for his followers to be willing to deny themselves materially if that was what was required in order to obtain the benefit others.

That strategy may work someday, but it would certainly have required a different Democratic ticket, given both Kerry and Edwards’ willingness to pay the absolute minimum possible taxes on their enormous wealth.

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bob mcmanus 11.07.04 at 4:24 am

Some quotes from G K Chesterton:

“From the standpoint of any sane person, the present problem of capitalist concentration is not only a question of law, but of criminal law, not to mention criminal lunacy.” – “A Case In Point,” The Outline of Sanity

“Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be a usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution.” – What’s Wrong with the World

Our society is so abnormal that the normal man never dreams of having the normal occupation of looking after his own property. When he chooses a trade, he chooses one of the ten thousand trades that involve looking after other people’s property.” – Commonwealth10-12-32

“The real argument against aristocracy is that it always means the rule of the ignorant. For the most dangerous of all forms of ignorance is ignorance of work.” – NY Sun 11-3-18

And a recent commenter:

I was not aware that Chesterson harbored so many socialist sentiments.
Most of these were uttered by a stupid ass; a real shame as I previously admired Chesterson.

Ah well.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 11.07.04 at 4:33 am

“I’m not aware of any large charities (as opposed to proselytising agencies etc) operated or funded by the big US evangelical churches, but then, I wouldn’t be.”

I think the problem in analyzing it that way is that evangelical churches tend to be relatively autonomous and often work locally. When taken together, their work would be equal to that of a ‘large charity’ but they won’t hit your radar because many of them are a lot of little charities run locally. It would be like decrying the lack of large-scale barber shops. There are lots of barber shops all over the country, but other than supercuts none of them would count as ‘large’. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of haircutting being done, it just isn’t done by large organizations.

But there are also quite a few large organzations which Sam lists.

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vernaculo 11.07.04 at 7:06 am

We’re all in this together. Full stop.
We’re all in this together meaning those of us who belong to a particular group or aggregate of groups.
We’re all in this together meaning those of us who belong to a particular group. Full stop.

“Society” from which “socialism” gets its import, once meant fellowship, companionship – companion meaning originally someone “with” whom you ate “bread”.
Socialism the word is now a brand name for a way of organizing a capitalist economy. But, happy day for the greedheads, it can easily be expanded to include anything that smacks of responsibility of one for all.
The benefits of living in a group that takes care of all its members aren’t the same as those that come from living in a group that takes care of itself and all its members. Without long-term goals socialism is a puddle of goal-less inertia.
And neither of those come close to the excitement of living in an economy where “devil take the hindmost” has replaced the golden rule.

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Russkie 11.07.04 at 9:58 am

Quoted text in main post:

…why it is that the current flourishing of religious faith has, for the first time ever, virtually no element of social justice

When was it established that there’s some dramatic new flourishing of religious belief in the US?

I never heard anything about it till the end of last week. I must have missed something.

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abb1 11.07.04 at 11:55 am

May I suggest a couple more questions of the same profundity:

– why the national-socialists in 1930s Germany were nothing like the usual socialists?

– why the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia is neither liberal nor democratic but an extreme right-wing party?

– why do the Fox News people insist that they are ‘fair and balanced’ when they are not?

– generally speaking: why do wingnuts like to think of themselves as the ‘good guys’ – christians, fair, balanced, freedom lovers, pro-life, moral, etc., while in reality they are exactly the opposite?

Discuss.

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mona 11.07.04 at 12:14 pm

Charity is not social justice.

Matt is right: Indeed Christianity throughout the world still seems, to my non-expert eyes, to have a lot more in common with the left-egalitarian model [often combined with more socially conservative views on the family] than it does with the current ascendency of the Christian right in the US.

Christianity includes all sorts of views, from left to right, and it does adapt to different cultures and societies. It also depends on which Christian church you’re talking about. For instance where Catholicism is the predominant religion, you see a stronger presence of egalitarian views.
I don’t think it’s religion itself that shapes these differences. I think it’s a two-way process, but mostly it works the other way round – existing national, cultural and social differences shape different views of Christianity in relation to social matters. So you need to look at those factors.

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Richard 11.07.04 at 2:08 pm

What the right has done effectively in the UK and the US (it seems) is to tell us that God will look after the good guys and guns the bad guys. The thing the right doesn’t want us to do is get real and develop collective political and social action – the only thing that works. There’s nothing new here – just making sure the divided and ruled stay that way.

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Richard 11.07.04 at 2:09 pm

What the right has done effectively in the UK and the US (it seems) is to tell us that God will look after the good guys and guns the bad guys. The thing the right doesn’t want us to do is get real and develop collective political and social action – the only thing that works. There’s nothing new here – just making sure the divided and ruled stay that way.

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Richard 11.07.04 at 2:11 pm

What the right has done effectively in the UK and the US (it seems) is to tell us that God will look after the good guys and guns the bad guys. The thing the right doesn’t want us to do is get real and develop collective political and social action – the only thing that works. There’s nothing new here – just making sure the divided and ruled stay that way.

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asg 11.07.04 at 3:36 pm

Generally speaking, why do lefties like abb1 think of themselves as open-minded, well-read, skeptical, critical-thinking types, when in reality they are the opposite? Discus.

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bellatrys 11.07.04 at 7:01 pm

Whoah, I missed that by trotsky.

Somebody *really* thinks there’s no poverty in the US?

They should try living on $.75 to the male dollar, where there are no good jobs, with no health insurance, with the cost of living rising – or maybe they could just, you know, go do some inner city social work.

If that were the case, my liberal church wouldn’t have extended its alternative Spring Break program to Appalachia and inner-city MA, as well as the Caribbean.

It’s amazing how ignorant some people are!

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John Quiggin 11.07.04 at 8:19 pm

Looking at the list provided by Sam, I thought a reasonable starting point would be to compare the activity levels of evangelical and secular charities. Food for the Hungry has an annual budget of $27 million. This doesn’t seem like much, given that the numbers cited imply total church-based giving in the tens of billions. For comparison, Oxfam (UK) has a budget of more than 100 million pounds, drawn from a much smaller population.

Maybe there is a more systematic study somewhere. At least as far as monetary contributions go, I remain sceptical of claims that churches are particularly active.

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Jason G. Williscroft 11.07.04 at 8:24 pm

Bellatrys…

I recall an interview that Terry Gross did on Fresh Air a few years ago. She was interviewing a prominent Ethiopian activist (I don’t recall his name) who had spent much of his life in prison there, and who had recently emigrated to the U.S.

She asked him why, after sacrificing and enduring so much on behalf of the Ethiopian people, after finally procuring his own release and securing many of the changes he had sought for so long, he had decided to leave his native country.

I will never forget his response:

“Terry, I decided that, before I died, I wanted to live in a place where the poor people are fat.”

Poverty is very much a relative term.

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Uncle Kvetch 11.07.04 at 11:52 pm

Poverty is very much a relative term.

So we’re doing even better than Ethiopia? I guess Bush’s rising tide really has lifted all boats, after all.

Sorry…here I am getting all catty with Jason again. Jason, in all seriousness: do you realize that when you say “poverty is a relative term” you’re essentially supporting Bellatrys’ assertion that there are, in fact, poor people in America?

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Chris 11.08.04 at 2:20 am

This is kind of funny. I hear the bitter ‘why aren’t Christians out helping the poor, they are such f*cking hypocrites’ stuff occasionally.

Here in Australia we have problems of conflict within the church over adopting standard PC values. Whether appointing bishops who bat for the other team is OK or not…?

Meanwhile the people who are sincere christians are supporting kids via World Vision, they are the anonymous donors to aid and famine relief campaigns, they are visiting the sick and those in prison. They cook casseroles and take them to a newly-widowed neighbor, they organise a working bee to clean the yard of a single mother. Just as do many non-Christians.

The believers of Western Societies are literate, heterogeneous (do semiotics on THAT word!) and motivated by the same stuff as everyone.

Your original question is a fraud, a baseball bat for hitting your morally inferior opponents who for some reason are the scapegoat du jour. What could you be seeking to blame others for right now?????… oh right.

Democrats lost this election because DEMOCRATS voted Bush.

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abb1 11.08.04 at 9:58 am

Asg,
Generally speaking, why do lefties like abb1 think of themselves as open-minded, well-read, skeptical, critical-thinking types, when in reality they are the opposite? Discus.

I think you’re confusing ‘lefties’ with ‘liberals’ here. I don’t think we, the lefties, think of ourselves as open-minded, etc. We have our dogma and that’s all there is it – no need for the critical-thinking stuff, who needs this shit. But we do really care about Social Justice.

Now, the liberals – yes. They do indeed fancy themselves as open-minded, etc. And judging by this thread where they discuss such nonsense at such length they really are open-minded, not to mention ‘well-read’. Not that anything’s wrong with that.

Thanks.

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mona 11.08.04 at 12:20 pm

Hear, hear…

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james 11.08.04 at 11:57 pm

You mean Christian charities like the Salvation Army or YMCA. For the Oxfam guy – Feed the Children (Christian charity) $504 million in projects. $575 million budget. Most Christian charities are not well known. Much of the charity work is done on a church by church basis.

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John Quiggin 11.09.04 at 6:40 am

Feed the Children does not appear to be particularly relevant to the current debate, since the vast majority of its budget is in-kind gifts of surplus food from businesses, not charitable donations from individuals or churches.

The Salvation Army is a notable instance of an evangelical church that does a lot of charitable work, but that only points up the apparent inactivity of the others.

I still haven’t seen anything to suggest that any more than a tiny fraction of the money donated to churches is spent on charitable works.

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