Sunday, August 2, 2009

Outsourcing Social Justice

For some time now Mark and I have been talking about many denominations and their Washington lobbying offices, several of which are located in the "Methodist Building". While we are still working through a more academically rigorous draft of a paper concerning how people in the pews interact with these offices we have just received notice that a smaller version will be recorded in a middle of the road publication: Presbyterian Outlook. This news came only two days after a presentation of this paper to some First Presbyterian Havana Church members and others in the community.

There were two verses that God pointed out to me Romans 12:2 and Isaiah 54:6. The presentation was fantastic and this will be the first part in talking about it.

Romans 12:2
The pattern of this world has been to outsource social justice from the church to the government.
Some regular readers of the blog may have heard me talk about the Gruber and Hungerman article on Faith Based Charities and crowd out. Crowd out means that when public expenditures on an activity increase that private expenditures towards that same activity decrease. For example, in their paper they found that when New Deal expenditures on social welfare programs increased, the church began to spend less on similar programs. While the introduction of New Deal spending caused an almost immediate drop, it caused an even greater downward trend in church social justice activities. That transfer of responsibility reminds me of a snowball rolling down a hillside picking up size.

The church recognized this transfer of authority to the government and moved to Washington to lobby. This action made complete sense at the time. Many other major organizations were organizing in similar fashions due to the high costs of long distance communication and high transporation costs. Among other organizational advantages it made sense for the church to move to Washington. This has had a part in solidifying the notion of pursuing justice through lobbying activity.

Moreover, this call to justice through the government inevitably leads our special clergy to support specific policies -policies which people in the congregation (even experts within the congregation) might disagree with. That has been the cause of some tension which leads the the congregation to withhold funds for financing these activities. The Washington office then responds by saying that the church is not capable of solving larger social problems. We elaborate more on these interactions in the paper.

One of the micro reasons I think we have also adopted this style of social justice is that it requires less from us. Maybe we prefer "justice with distance" because we know God desires us to pursue justice but trying to orchestrate just outcomes through government intervention seems easier than the alternatives that require more individual work than casting a vote.

Isaiah 54:6
Maybe the reason that God guided me to this verse was to express His desire for a more organic form of justice. He will call us back as though we were a wife deserted and distressed. The church rather than being a radical force that impacts the world through decentralized acts of love has become a divided house in many ways. I do not believe that anybody would object to any individual church doing more to minister the message of God's love for the world to those in need within the community.

We then talked about what could be done in Havana, FL which is more interesting even than this brief summary I've given here. More to come soon . . .

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