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July 31, 2014

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It just goes to show - If you look hard enough, you can find good Christians in history who really tried to help the poor and downtrodden. Can you think of any similar examples in 21st-century America?

How about Kent Brantley in Africa and Nancy Witebol? I know Kent personally, had him in my classes at school, and did missions training with some of his family. He went to Africa and willingly and decided to stay during the ebola outbreak in Liberia and Sierra Leone (because of this decision, lives were saved). Due to treating his patients, he has now contracted Ebola. They sent an experimental drug to Africa, and he willingly chose to give it to his colleague Nancy Witebol. These are living examples of people with extreme Christian character. You can read about them as they are all over the news. There are thousands and thousands of examples like these people.

>> If you look hard enough, you can find good Christians in history who really tried to help the poor and downtrodden.

Pity that Melinda's fine series is lost on a few folks. You need not look at all. Just allow for honest Christians to be about the daily life of faith without snarky suspicions that they are really up to no good.

Place the shoe on the other foot. Do we go about saying whether if we look hard enough, do we find new atheists in history who have really tried to help the poor and downtrodden? And if we do, do we attribute it all to a natural sense of humanitarianism and not to their atheism?

As a foundation to understanding Christian zeal to impact society and history, I would suggest reading Alvin J. Schmidt's How Christianity Changed the World (Zondervan, 2001; originally published under the title Under the Influence, a name I was happy to see revised). It is a refreshing rebuttal to a coarse secularism that would deprive Catholic family services from adoption activity in states that would widen the concept of family beyond that of Catholic teachings.

“Can you think of any similar examples in 21st-century America?”

Hi John,

I’m not sure if this is a serious question, but I’ll bite anyway. If you are interested in seeing the works of “good Christians” in 21st century America, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find churches in your area with feed the homeless missions, prison missions, foreign missions, prolife missions, disaster relief missions, good Samaritan missions, and many more.

I didn’t notice that my daughter’s softball coach was Christian until my younger sister told me that she sees him and his wife every time she volunteers to feed the homeless.

OK, I'm glad to hear about these great Christian people doing work that Jesus Christ would actually approve of.

How about if we elect some of them to Congress? That's what I was mostly thinking of, because Congress seems particularly vicious these days in opposing any proposal that might help the poor, or even the middle class.

Putting the shoe on the other foot? Ha! It's hard enough to find atheists in history at all, much less virtuous ones. But at least atheists don't claim to be virtuous.

John, you're confusing the political question with the moral question. The moral agreement is, "Let's help the poor." The disagreement is a political one about what actually helps the poor. But you'll find that the people who disagree with you politically are doing exactly what they think will help the poor and the middle class.

Maybe they're wrong, but don't assume that the people who disagree with your political strategies about how to help the poor don't want to help them. I actually think many plans being promoted and enacted today, however well meaning, are harmful to the poor. I'll bet you'd disagree. And I'll bet you might even be particularly vicious in opposing any proposal that I think actually would help the poor. But that doesn't mean you don't want to help them; it just means you disagree on what actually will help them.

Many Christians make a distinction between the role of government and the role of individuals, private associations, and the church. For this reason, studies have shown that religious people give more time and money than non-religious to charities (even non-religious charities), and conservatives give more of their time and money than non-conservatives. Just because they don't think this role should primarily be held by the government, don't discount the ways they are fulfilling this role themselves. There are other institutions besides government (churches and charities for example), and that's where these Christians are doing their work, not through the government. This is easy to find and see if you look.

See Poverty Cure or Acton, for example, for more if you want to understand the differences in approaches.

And that's as far down that road as I'm going to go right now because it's getting wildly off topic.

I totally understand what you're saying, Amy, and in most times I'd agree with you, but today's extreme partisan politics are different. I'm not one of those liberals who just want to take from the rich and give to the poor, but what we see in Congress today is a cynical attempt to block any and all legislation. I say it's cynical because the members of Congress are only thinking about upcoming elections, and who they can blame. They aren't even trying to help the American people. I don't want to be "vicious" about this, but I think you're naive if you believe Congress is trying to help the American people right now.

If there were any Christian heroes like Wilberforce and Kent Brantley and Nancy Witebol in Congress, they would make bipartisan deals, and they would compromise and pass some legislation that at least helped a little bit - because they would love the American people so much that they wouldn't be able to sit there and do nothing at all.

John, you're just back to saying that if the other side really cared about poor people, they would join your side to "get things done"—which, of course, translates to doing the things you think will help, but the other side thinks will hurt, and that's exactly what I was addressing above. It's not cynical at all to fight for what you think will be the best for this country. And sometimes that means blocking the things you think will hurt.

I don't say this to defend anyone in congress, just to ask you to at least give people who disagree with you the benefit of the doubt. If the other side were trying to pass something you disagreed with, you wouldn't say your side was cynically blocking them, you would agree with your side's attempt to block it and call it heroic. I'm just trying to reduce the name calling here by getting people to recognize that you shouldn't assume people have bad motives just because they don't agree with what you'd like to do.

Consider this scenario: Imagine if pro-life legislators wanted to pass a personhood law that declared all unborn children to be persons, and the other side fought it tooth and nail. Would it make sense, in that situation, for me to say that the pro-choice side is "just trying to get elected," and if they really cared, they would "make bipartisan deals, and they would compromise and pass some legislation that at least helped a little bit" by declaring every unborn child over 20 weeks to be persons? Can you see how unfair that accusation is? I've just smuggled in my idea of what "helps a little bit"—an idea that the pro-choice side doesn't accept. The point is they don't agree that a compromise on this law will "at least help a little bit" by saving more unborn children, so it would be unfair of me to say that they obviously don't love the American people because they're sitting there not doing anything at all to pass pro-life legislation.

My interest here is not even to argue for one side or the other, but to try to break through some of the rhetoric that's flying around in this country making polite discourse difficult. Just try to understand things from the other perspective, and I think that will help.

No, there's a big difference between bipartisan compromise and "join your side." There are more choices than just the extremes of capitulating and totally blocking.

This is the problem - extremist thinking that doesn't see any middle ground. But there really are areas of agreement between the two sides. It's not all black-and-white.

Your abortion scenario is a great example because you and I actually agree on many aspects of that issue. I think I could easily work with you across the aisle to pass some laws that would protect the unborn.

So it's ironic when you say "Just try to understand things from the other perspective," because I already see your perspective, and we have some areas of agreement. And you didn't seem to know that!

All I'm saying is that a great Christian would surely have good motives and feel an urgent need to get something done to help people, instead of doing nothing.

John, it's extremely difficult to be a Christian and also a politician. Some Christians that became politicians have actually come to the position that it's just not compatible, and left their political career. It's highly likely that many politicians that claim to be Christians are not sincere. Power is not good for any human being and very few people can handle power and manage to not be corrupted by it. I hope that there are sincere Christian people that are true disciples of Jesus in congress, but I imagine that there are just a few. Politicians are usually not a good example of what a Christian is supposed to be. Wilberforce is the exception to the rule by and large. There are some examples of Christian politicians that stayed true to Christian principles throughout their careers, but please understand that Republican is not equal to Christian or Democrat for that matter. Also, you do not have to be a "conservative" to be a Christian. Many Christians believe in socialism. Myself, I do not consider myself either conservative or liberal according to what those terms mean. On the other hand, Christianity is just not an apolitical religion. It is a religion that is completely political and is meant to act in every part of a person's life. But if you are looking to politicians as an example of good Christian leadership, you are likely looking in the wrong place.

JBerr

" There are thousands and thousands of examples like these people. "

You are absolutely right...as long as it is in another underdeveloped country where you can get more bang for your financial buck. But when it costs to help those in need and you could only help one or two with the money that could help thousands in another country, those two are left behind. This makes me ask the question "Is it about the numbers or is it about compassion?" Is it just keeping score because our competitive society demands a high score for there to be recognition and approval or feeling a sense of gigantic accomplishment because of the numbers. Have we forgotten that it is quality that matters, not quantity? At least in this area. Have we forgotten "Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Her gift probably didn't rack up the numbers either, but in Jesus' eyes the numbers didn't matter....quality did.

John,

I think Amy is getting at the help just a little bit line in your reasoning.

Wilberforce, on the issue of slavery, aimed for the whole thing, not bits. Slavery is that sort of issue. Not all issues are that sort of issue. One would have to define what one thinks is / is not that sort of issue.

Personhood is the end of all metaphysical regression within the Triune God of the Christian, and, therein, defines nearly everything. Whereas, all other views suffer somewhere with a degree of a blind leep between the "A" and the "Z" when it comes to the value of the person.

Compromise on slavery could perhaps have been employed as an intended stepping stone to a greater end. "a bit less slavery...." That would have to be defined as well in/on some issue of today. Either way, the help at least a little bit line needs to be qualified on several levels and cannot just be a stand-alone platform.

Knowing what I know about Truth, about Person, about the actual state of affairs, about reality, I suppose if I were to be faced with "Do X" and thereby help many good things get done, and add a bit of slavery, or, "Do Nothing" and fail to help those many things get done, and add exactly zero slavery, well, I may be accused of being a lazy, do-nothing, immoral person. One would need to qualify / clarify many, many things of me and in me to make such a claim. They could be right, but, the lack of action is - of itself - exactly no help at all in answering the question being asked. But then, human worth and the end of slavery means a lot to me.

Then there is the reverse. If by "Do X" I know that as a necessary consequence slavery here will rise while slavery on the whole will - two steps later - suffer great losses, well then, I may "Do X". Those opposed to slavery would consider the presence of action, the fact that I did not insist on doing nothing, as an immoral line within me. Of course they would be wrong. Once again the action / lack of action means exactly nothing and helps us exactly not at all in answering the question at hand. Such lines and contours would all have to be qualified, clarified, and brought to the surface - as well as my own sense of weight and urgency and goals would all need to be expunged and laid bare. And so on.

Some may argue that if "Do X" means - two steps later - ending a large percentage of slavery, but, right here right now, for the first step, slavery will increase somewhat, then the Christian must do nothing, because a move which enables step one is wrong regardless of one's intent/aim at step two and three.

That to me (Do X or not in that situation) is a far more interesting question than this sort of blind axiom question of whether or not [action / no action] = [moral / immoral].

Jesus healed on the Sabbath, but, of course, we all have our lines somewhere and "Any Means for X Ends" falls into absurdity at some point - unless One's Means and Ends are - both - Immutable Love, as in the case with God Who makes of Himself Man's Means and Who makes of Himself Man's Ends. The Triune God of the Christian presents us with the only metaphysical regression anywhere wherein the Ends justify the Means, and, too, lest we miss it, the Means justify the Ends.

Louis:

Have met a guy in Oklahoma with a flourishing antique business. He started a massive ministry to the poor and homeless in Oklahoma city building it piece by piece from the ground up, even planting a church in the same place where they distribute food. He sacrificed the prosperity of his business in order to basically to run what is a full on service to the poor in Oklahoma City. They lift people out of poverty, help alcoholics recover, distribute huge amounts of food, and all sorts of other things. He works at this almost full time, say 20 percent of his time working at his business, 80 percent on the ministry. There are thousands of examples in the United States. No need to go abroad. Not saying everyone is called to do that sort of thing. The point is, John seems to wonder if there are modern day examples of these types of people like Wilberforce. The answer is a resounding yes.

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