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I am sorry Kristof, but you can’t have it both ways.

March 1, 2010 7 comments

Here’s the article

The gist is simple: Christians need to spend less time focusing on “moral” issues of abortion and gay marriage and more on “social justice” issues of aiding the “poor” and “needy”. Christians and liberals can unite on these social issues where liberals seemed to have had the upper-hand.

It definitely is an argument that needs to be made and I praise him for at least pointing out how many Christians have already done incredible work in trying to roll back the growing wave of injustice in this world. A bunch of friends (Christians mostly) have been touting this article and while I found its contentions promising I found a couple points a bit trying too hard to be equivocal in its approach.

For instance he writes,

For most of the last century, save-the-worlders were primarily Democrats and liberals. In contrast, many Republicans and religious conservatives denounced government aid programs, with Senator Jesse Helms calling them “money down a rat hole.”

While he could argue that certain believers conflate conservative and Christian positions, that doesn’t seem to be the argument he makes. Instead its a convenient way for him to straw-man Christians in multiple ways by lumping them with conservatives like Jesse Helms. While this makes for excellent rhetorical effect, its also fallacy. While Hitler was a vegetarian this does not translate then that all vegetarians are suddenly fans of eradicating the Jewish race. Likewise, Christians can’t all be clumped as apathetic to social needs in foreign countries just because the party that they commonly are associated with or one its most polarizing leaders does.

He also does a nice little slight of hand here shifting the framework of being opposed to “government aid” as a meaning Christians intentions were not to be save-the-worlders. I think its important to note, because he lauds the organization World Vision later in the piece (which kind of refutes his notion that only secular liberals cared about the world before). Perhaps Christians like myself (although I do not speak for Christians as a whole) think that the proper place of aid is not through the bureaucratic mess we know as the federal government, but more efficiently disbursed through more intimate programs. Certainly this view is not unique to Christians, for example, Nigerian economist James Shikwati.

He writes later interestingly,

A root problem is a liberal snobbishness toward faith-based organizations. Those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals. They’re also less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda. If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.

So I am curious if he writes this, what his problem with Christians is in comparison to liberals. The read I am getting is liberals sneer and Christians give more money and sacrifice more of their time as well as resources. Yet Christians need to learn to hold off on the “sanctimony” and liberals need to sneer a little less? My point is not that Christians have the upper hand on social giving, but why does he even need to make these distinctions in the first place?  (and shouldn’t liberals find this somewhat offensive?) Its certainly a convenient way for him to show how he disagrees vehemently with Christian social positions. I am sorry but this “sanctimony” with issues regarding sex, abortion etc. is also the very “sanctimony” that compels Christians to do missions work in foreign country even without proselytizing.  You can pick and choose what you like, Mr. Kristof thats your prerogative, but Christians are then “sanctimonious” in espousing certain doctrinal positions on BOTH social justice issues and sanctity of life issues.

Overall, this piece is a bit condescending but I can’t totally blame the author. I do think if anything it should compel Christian to make more clear why we serve others in social justice. While feeling good about ourselves and helping others in some sort of Kumbahyah, “We are the World, way is nice and convenient, I find it utterly incomplete. Kristof criticizes the idea of pro-life meaning more than just opposing abortion, I would take it step further and say nobody lives like they are pro-life. Some might tout their record on abortion others might tout their record on helping the sick and poor, but even in the best of us,  our hearts steer us to be pro-“my own life”.

How about this for equivocation: we are all in need of a Savior. This troubled world is a “macrocosm” of our own brokenness and imperfection, but also a reminder of how the Lord’s work on the cross is not only to change the unjust social structures of this world, but the twisted nature of our own hearts. Our conviction ultimately stems from the idea that God paid for sin and injustice on the cross. Our aid to the poor is a direct analogy to the spiritual poverty we have in comparison to the God that is perfect; how fallen we have become in our own selfishness, insecurities and envy. This is not to soften the fact that these people need help; they do. Christians know that “faith without works is dead” and should work to undo these grave injustices. But Christians “do justice” not because we are better than others, but are actively acknowledging that Christ did even more than we could ever do.

Matthew 5:3

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