Monthly Archives: October 2011

Pope Benedict and the Free Market

Popes have a history of theological exactitude in addressing economic matters.  Being more concerned with theology than with business, they have the freedom to do this, directing Christians away from profit as an end unto itself and toward a higher end, namely love of God.  This week saw the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centessimus Annus, which was itself written at the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum.  Both encyclicals approach individual and world economic concerns from a strictly theological perspective.

Rerum Novarum is a masterpiece, centering on the holy family and Joseph in particular as its starting point for meditating on economic concerns.  Pope Benedict, speaking at the anniversary event on Oct 15th, echoed this theme by reaffirming the family, rather than the return of profit, as the center for Christian thinking about economics.

“Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself,” he said.

Simple justice is not enough to drive the free market to serve this end, Benedict argues.  The free market, left to itself, will not lead to the flourishing of actual families.  Neither can we delegate the task to the government, asking the state to force the market to do good.  What is needed is for Christians who engage in business (which is practically all first-world Christians, as the decision of where to buy your groceries is business) to aim at higher goals than profit.

“It is not the task of the Church to find ways to face the current crisis”, he concluded. “Nonetheless, Christians have the duty to denounce evils, and to foment and bear witness to the values upon which the dignity of the person is founded, promoting forms of solidarity which favor the common good, so that humankind may increasingly become the family of God”.

What do you think?  Does Benedict XVI have a realistic grasp of the global market?  Is there a “Christian way” to participate in the national or global economy?



2011 Nobel Peace Prize Awarded

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three African women “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

The most prominent of the three winners is perhaps Leymah Gbowee, who engaged in non-violent protests of the conditions of women and children during the 2003 Liberian Civil War.  She was a mother of six, working as a trauma councilor to former child soldiers when she realizes that “if any changes were to be made in society it had to be by the mothers.”  This led her to a strategy of non-violent social protest that began with local women praying and singing in a fish market, and culminated in thousands of women engaging in sex strikes and hunger strikes until they forced a meeting with the Liberian President and persuaded him to negotiate with the rebel forces.

Through these and similar efforts they forced an end to the civil war.

Gbowee has since worked closely with Mennonite church in the United States and worldwide in constructing her Women Peace and Security Network Africa, a large organization structured on principles of non-violent social formation.

In her memoir, published 2011, she wrote “I read Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and the Kenyan author and conflict and reconciliation expert Hizkias Assefa, who believed that reconciliation between victim and perpetrator was the only way to really resolve conflict, especially civil conflict, in the modern world. Otherwise, Assefa wrote, both remained bound together forever, one waiting for apology or revenge, the other fearing retribution.”

She also writes that her time working with Mennonites has taught her about the importance of “restorative justice.”

Restorative justice was… something we could see as ours and not artificially imposed by Westerners. And we needed it, needed that return to tradition. A culture of impunity flourished throughout Africa. People, officials, governments did evil but were never held accountable. More than we needed to punish them, we needed to undo the damage they had done.

I think this awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize makes much more sense than Obama’s, though I think I understand what the committee was intending when they awarded it to Obama.  It is nice to see the actual work of peacemaking and reconciliation receive some attention, especially amid the sea of voices (including Obama’s at his own acceptance speech!) who claim that peacemaking is nice as a side project, but that real peace comes from the end of a gun.

It would also be nice if the church developed a reputation for being involved in this sort of thing.

What do you think of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize?

Pacifist Pennsylvania

Many pacifists feel that they are not free to participate in government at all, because government is, by its nature, coercive.  Many non-pacifists agree, and say that pacifism in a person’s individual life is fine for them, but only if the pacifist is willing to accept that they are politically irrelevant.

In a chapter from Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution (which is really just made up of lecture manuscripts from a university course he taught on the subject), John Howard Yoder examines the “pacifist experiment” of the Quakers in Pennsylvania.

The short story of the pacifist Quakers in Pennsylvania is that they ruled a democratic charter, under the British crown, from 1682-1756.  During this time, they did their best to put their pacifist Quaker politics into practice: their policy toward the Native Americans was one of coexistence; their religious tolerance was far beyond what other colonies offered (comparable with Rhode Island’s); their immigration policy allowed in many who were turned away from other colonies.  As they allowed more people into the state, the Quakers gradually became a minority and then a very small minority, and when the matter rose to a head, the pacifists Quakers were voted out of office by citizens who wanted to join the French-and-Indian war.

This case study has been used to show that pacifists have no place in government.  After all, the Quakers were voted out of office.  But Yoder criticizes this reading, and argues that this case study shows that pacifists can do much in government (though ultimately they cannot defend national sovereignty, because they will not declare war).  After all, here is a group of pacifists who ruled a progressive, Democratic society for over 70 years, and implemented a great deal of their particular vision while honoring the common good as understood by their constituents.  That they were voted out of office reflects that they became a minority, not that pacifism has no place in politics.

He concludes

If particular Christian pacifists say that they are not personally called to participate in the civil decision-making process because they have more promising things to do than be out-voted all the time, that is an honest vocational decision.  The same reasoning can apply to not wanting to be in school administration or not wanting to work in a factory or not wanting to farm. If Christian pacifists say they are not personally called to participate in electoral politics, in civil service administration, and in party politics because that engagement is not the most strategic way to participate in the civil order, that is a meaningful thesis. If people decline to participate in governing because they are not at home in smoke-filled rooms and an atmosphere of wheeling and dealing, that is an honest response. It also applies to banking and corporate management.

Yet if the Christian pacifist says, “I cannot participate because politics, by definition, makes the way of Jesus irrelevent – and the Quaker experiment in Pennsylvania proves that, because the pacifist Christians in Pennsylvania had to drop out of government,” at least we can challenge that person’s reading of history.

What do you think?  Are pacifists necessarily irrelevant to the political process?  Can a pacifist engage in a qualified political role?  What is the significance of Quaker Pennsylvania?