TFA 20: Gladwell, Steinam, and Lewis

My first breakout session had Malcolm Gladwell facilitating a discussion between civil rights advocate and US Representative John Lewis, feminist Gloria Steinam, and a director of La Raza (didn’t catch the name, seemed like a big deal).

I have fundamental disagreements with these dialogue partners, especially Gloria Steinam, but the title of the session intrigued me: “Reaching the Tipping Point: Case Studies in Momentum and Change.”

A few highlights. The first statement came from John Lewis, who had been friend of Martin Luther King Jr., when he was asked what he would have done differently in the early days of the movement:

I wish I had spent more time studying. There were some of us that viewed non-violence as a tactic. There are others of us that viewed it as a way of life. I wish I studied more to communicate to others the true lessons of the way of life.”

Second, building on a theme of his recent New Yorker article, Gladwell asked if an act of civil disobedience could last 381 days in today’s culture. This number is significant as the number of the days it took the Montgomery bus boycotts.

Another interesting moment: at one point Malcolm asked: “Given what TFA is fighting for and the way we are doing it, where are the Republicans?” One girl (in a room of 2,000) yelled out, “Right here!” Gladwell’s point stood.

My final thoughts: the church needs to do more to show what the resurrection means. We have not dramatically and consistently given our lives to minister to the needy. We have not systematically demonstrated that we care for the poor as Christ did (but do not believe that government is the best means of helping). We have not corporately used our money and time to show that we believed the Son of God when he said “It is more blessed to give than receive.” When I hear these stories of deep conviction and the great cost it took to fight for what is right from non-Christians, I ask myself, “As an adopted child of God and recipient of the bounty of heaven, why am I not giving far more?”

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  • http://twitter.com/chrisabowyer Chris Bowyer

    Couldn’t agree more. A certain very relevant someone once said that there “ought to be things we want to do, but cannot because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” I doubt a single one of us can claim this.

  • http://www.idiospect.com prufrock

    Why don’t Republicans care about public education? Here’s are some glib answers: they send their kids to private schools, Christian schools, or school them at home. So there is little concern beyond their narrow self-interest in the education of their children.

    Regarding your final thoughts, government is not the best means for helping the poor but government intervention (backed by sufficient funding) is the best way to ensure that this assistance is widely accessible. And it seems that government has to intervene because charitable giving is insufficient and not widely distributed, especially Christian charity, which is often conditional and is really a means to an end. That end is salvation, which makes the value of charity instrumental, but the end should be the alleviating human suffering. That is good in itself.

    Okay, here’s some Scripture.
    Acts 3
    34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

    Lest you say this is just a descriptive passage about how the disciples took care of each other. Even as a descriptive passage (and not one to be emulated), it is damning to modern American Christians who largely ignore the inequalities within the Body of Christ, not sharing even among themselves.

    Here’s Jesus:
    Matthew 19
    20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

    Perfect in that context means fully realized so you could avoid this injuction by saying, “no one is a perfect Christian.” After all that, I do agree with you that more ministration to the needy would be good for Christians, if only so they could more fully realize their Christianity.

    It is damning of Christians that their charity is insufficent given Christ’s injuctions to give to the poor.

    • Keith Miller

      …it seems that government has to intervene because charitable giving is insufficient and not widely distributed, especially Christian charity, which is often conditional and is really a means to an end. That end is salvation, which makes the value of charity instrumental, but the end should be the alleviating human suffering. That is good in itself.

      There is quite a bit of scriptural support for conditioning the distribution of charity. Look at 2 Thessalonians 3 and 1 Timothy 5 to start.

  • http://www.idiospect.com prufrock

    I see that but the conditional nature justified by Scripture supports my point about the insufficiency of Christian charity to help the poor. And I see that the conditional requirements are also placed on charity to fellow believers. This is quite a contrast to what Acts describes.

    Jeremy’s final point is absolutely right. And very few Christians are fully realized, according to Jesus’ own standard. I was just trying to call attention to the grievous truth of that.

    Just emphasizing that Christians should judge themselves by the standards of Christ whose name they profess.

    • Keith Miller

      I’m not sure I understand your response.

      Are you saying that Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians and Timothy are at odds with the teaching of Jesus?

  • http://www.idiospect.com prufrock

    I’m saying that putting conditions on charity necessarily limits its scope and therefore its sufficiency. This speaks to Jeremy’s point made in passing that there are better means than government to address the plight of the poor.

    There’s nothing in that Acts bit suggesting that the redistribution of wealth was conditional but the other passages you noted are clear that there are conditions.

    Jesus said that you should sell all your possessions and give them to the poor–that’s pretty clear–to be a ‘perfect’ Christian. Jesus commanded it, you follow Jesus, ergo…

    But Paul says there are conditions to be placed on charity, even among your fellow members of the body of Christ, and that people are entitled to keep what they earn. Keep what you earn and only share with those you consider deserving is an easier sell than sell all your stuff and give it all to the poor. In this shift, he was trying to make Christianity more practical as a way to live one’s life.

  • Keith Miller

    I’ll take that as a yes. Accordingly, as you are not willing to derive your ethical principles from inspired scripture as interpreted by inspired scripture, I don’t think we have very much common ground to continue our discussion.

    Cheerio!

  • http://www.idiospect.com prufrock

    You did not address how or why Christian charity is a better alternative to government intervention to help the poor. That is certainly up for discussion.

    If you do not wish to discuss that, cheerio to you.