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Mar 02, 2009


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Rich Scheenstra

Great post, Michael. My perception of our two political parties is that Republicans tend to downplay the sins of the haves, while Democrats downplay the sins of the have nots. Having earlier in my ministry worked with homeless people for about 20 years, and now pastoring a demographically diverse urban congregation, a question I continually face is how to help people whose poor choices have contributed significantly to their present plight. It is part of MY responsibility to help them see THEIR responsibility for identifying and correcting self-destructive behaviors. At the same time, the consequences for past choices can be so overwhelming that others -- including family (when possible), church but also government -- must help create options that make it realistically possible for them to become productive citizens. One thing I hear you you saying is that these options, as much as is possible, should be empowering rather than enabling. They should help people become producers and not just consumers.

Michael W. Kruse

Yes, Rich. It is hard to say everything in one post but you get exactly what I'm getting at. I'm persuaded that there is a significant role for government in issues of poverty but it is limited. There is frequently a notion that the chronically poor are basically like everyone else except without as much wealth. Redistribute the wealth and you solve most of the problem.

It is far more complicated than this and it requires people making personal investments in some difficult people. Preventative measures include strengthening those institutions that equip people to become productive stewards and remedial efforts must have to them than warehousing.

Then there are those who for many reasons never be able to become productive stewards but I think you track where I'm headed here.

Dana Ames

Write the book already.


Michael W. Kruse

LOL. Well writing this series is helping process one of the most difficult aspects of the book. I think in order to get the book done I'll have to ditch the Presbyterians, Jesus Creed, and maybe this blog. But I'm getting there.


People will make poor choices. That's a part of our fallen nature. It won't be elinated this side of the fullness of the kingdom.

But what about our collective responsibility to structure society in such as way as to make it difficult for folks to make the poor choices.

And I am using society broadly here. It includes government as well as all the other things like associations.

The Temperance Movement comes to mind as a historical example. A large portion of the US population had demonstrated that it was incapable of drinking alcohol in moderation. Men were drinking up their paycheck and neglecting their families. This was far more than a matter of individual responsibility. Society needed to be restuctured in such a way that would make it difficult for these men to drink up thier wages.


Another way of putting it would be to say that government as a part of society has a role beyond punishing those who do wrong. It has a role in making it difficult for the wrong to be done.

And I'll admit it I am a puritan calvinist type. If you push hard enough I'll amdit to being a bit of a theocrat. But If you push a little harder I'll probably admit that I am really not a theocrat just a theocrat wannabe.

Michael W. Kruse

"a theocrat wannabe"

It's important to have clear ambitions in life. :-)

Seriously, I think you raise good questions. I'm a good Calvinist along with you and that is why I believe power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

What is the government but fallen people acting collectively with power? Why would we trust them to correctly identify which choices are bad and how to discourage them?

I'm not saying there isn't a role for what you're describing. Just that the choice isn't between fallen people making bad individual choices and objective righteous people controlling choices. The choice is between fallen people making bad individual choices and fallen people with power controlling choices.

There has to be some externalized authority because, as you say, we will never have a society where everyone, all the time, lives according to internalized virtue. Yet a society that is oriented toward externalized control versus internalized responsibility is ultimately doomed.

The temperance movement helped some internalize values against excessive drinking but it also led to the externalized measure of Prohibition, which was disaster.

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