Richard Land Center confronts wealth and poverty
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Southern Baptist leaders gathered with experts in public policy on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to confer on the biblical response to wealth and poverty, May 23-25.
The group assembled during the Summer Institute on Work and Economics, hosted by Southwestern Seminary’s Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement. Guest lecturers included Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and E. Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.
The group discussed health care, the environment, capitalism, the family and vocation, consulting with one another about how they can better educate Southern Baptists on these issues from a biblical perspective.
“The Christian life affects everything,” says Craig Mitchell, associate professor of Christian ethics at Southwestern Seminary. “Many people compartmentalize their lives and thoughts. (Economics) is real world stuff that affects you and me, and how you think about it either is or is not in accordance with a Christian worldview.”
Throughout the history of western thought, the church cared about and discussed economics, politics and ethics. “This was the church’s domain,” Mitchell says, but the church lost its influence in the development of these matters over the past two centuries. Southwestern’s Land Center organized the summer institute to encourage local churches to reflect and act upon these issues once again.
‘God at Work’
After Mitchell opened the meeting of the summer institute by leading a discussion on the importance of economics for every Christian, Gene Veith addressed the Christian theology of vocation.
“The concept of vocation has been all but forgotten, and it has been reduced in common usage for just another statement for a job,” said Veith, provost at Patrick Henry College and author of God at Work: The Christian Vocation in All of Life.
“The doctrine of vocation is basically the theology of a Christian life,” he added. “It really is that fundamental and that comprehensive.”
The doctrine of vocation teaches Christians “how to live out their faith in the world.” According to Veith, vocation is the calling of God on a Christian’s life. “God’s normal way of operating is through human beings,” and he works through believers as they fulfill their vocations as disciples of Christ Jesus, as parents or children, as employers or employees, and as governmental leaders or citizens. By following God’s call in these roles, Christians express their faith by serving their neighbors in love.
‘Money, Greed and God’
In another lecture, Jay Richards, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and author of Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and not the Problem, confronted four common myths regarding economics.
“I am convinced that the free economy, rightly understood, is compatible with Christian theology,” Richards said. “I am also convinced that Christian theology illuminates certain economic mysteries and economic realities.”
According to the “piety myth,” Richards said, people overemphasize “good intentions” while ignoring the long-term, and perhaps destructive, consequences of their well-meaning actions. The “greed myth” portrays capitalism as fundamentally selfish and greedy, while—Richards said—such is not the case.
According to the “Zero-Sum Game Myth,” people only gain when others lose. On the contrary, Richards argued, “free trade is by definition win-win,” since both parties in the trade gain something that they consider valuable. According to the related “materialist myth,” wealth is redistributed rather than created. According to Richards, however, “human beings,” who are made in the image of God, “transform matter into resources, creating wealth.”
Wealth, Poverty and the Environment
In the following session, Cal Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance applied economics to the environment, critiquing the environmental movement and outlining a biblical perspective for stewardship of the earth. In 2009, the Cornwall Alliance addressed these issues in a document titled “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor.”
Beisner disagreed with many environmentalists, who consider human beings as destructive “consumers” and “polluters” on the earth. Environmentalists’ efforts to tamper with business and trade, he added, often have a negative economic impact on people in Third World nations.
“We are to be creative and productive, as God is,” Beisner said. “We need not be consumers. We can be creators and producers. We need not be polluters. We can be stewards. We can be restorers.”
Beisner also said that, by encouraging the creation of industry and wealth in nations that are filled with poverty, Christians will also foster the responsible and biblically-based stewardship of the environment. While filth and pollution are characteristic of poor cities and societies, those nations and cities that have affluence and technology show a greater concern for a clean environment and for the conservation of nature and resources.
During the final day of the summer institute, ERLC president Richard Land addressed the impact of Obamacare, a healthcare reform bill signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010.
If Obamacare is not rescinded, Land said, the federal debt will increase while the quality of healthcare in the United States decreases. Socialized healthcare will also be rationed based on cost effectiveness: Some of the most effective medical treatments may be considered too expensive and, as a result, will not be covered by healthcare. Additionally, the elderly, who supposedly can contribute less to society, will not receive the treatment they need.
“This bill is the greatest single redistribution of wealth in the history of the country,” Land said, since the wealthy will be taxed at higher rates in order to provide healthcare for the poor. In the end, this redistribution will lead to negative economic results.
“You raise taxes on rich folk, and the people that suffer are poor folk,” Land said. “All tax cuts are not the same. Tax cuts on rich folk are the tax cuts that produce jobs. …
“Where (the government gains) money is where you cut taxes on people who make more than $200,000 a year because those are the people who are doing investments, and when you cut their taxes, they invest more, they risk more, and they make more, and they end up paying more taxes to the government under the lower rates than they were paying under the higher rates. … Capitalism produces wealth, and socialism doesn’t. … The countries in the world that are attacking poverty are the countries that have capitalist systems.”
Economics and the Family
Mitchell closed the summer institute by outlining the biblical perspective on economics and the family.
“The family is the basic building block of society,” Mitchell said, “and the family is central to the economic welfare of the country.” Even the ancient philosopher Aristotle recognized the fundamental role of the natural family—with a father, mother and children—in a healthy society. Families not only provide labor and capital to society, but families also teach children the virtues necessary for living in a healthy society.
"The economics of a family supports a biblical view,” Mitchell said. “God's design for the natural family is the best type of household for society. Children are necessary for the economic growth of a country. And all of these aberrant things like homosexuality, abortion and cohabitation are not only immoral, but they are just bad for the economy and the society as a whole. And good public policy is going to protect the family from immorality."
The Summer Institute on Work and Economics followed the Land Center’s effort to educate Southwestern Seminary students on the juncture between Scripture, work and economics. Throughout the fall semester of 2010 and the spring semester of 2011, the Land Center organized six luncheons for students and invited seminary professors to address these issues. To listen to these lectures, visit Southwestern Seminary’s website at www.swbts.edu/landcenter.