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Christians and Development

Amy Sherman’s article “Christians and Economic Development” (March) contributes no new insights to the ongoing discussion about the Church’s participation in the international development effort. The evaluation and judgments of the so-called “oldline” and “evangelical” understandings and views are grossly inadequate. The comprehensive analysis of the so-called “capitalist” and “socialist” models is extremely inadequate and narrow because it ignores completely the many-faceted external forces that have impacted the development efforts of developing countries regardless of the economic and political models they espouse. For example, the ideological struggle or so-called cold war in the wake of the Second World War has included deliberate economic blockades and covert action against developing countries that are used as surrogates in the Superpower rivalry. In many cases such countries have been reluctantly forced to allow their societies to be militarized by the Superpowers, and this has greatly retarded their development.

Colonialization of the Third World is another factor that has restricted development in the postcolonial period among developing countries. There are many examples in the developing world where both capitalist and socialist economies are not doing well. The causes have a lot to do with political and economic forces manipulated by vested interests at the international level. It is also important to point out that many of the so-called capitalist countries that are emerging as economic powers, e.g.. South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand, have been spared the destructiveness of colonization and have been recipients of massive amounts of aid from other capitalist countries, particularly the United States.

There have been significant economic failures during the history of the United States, e.g., the Great Depression and the growing homeless population today. If one looks at the ebb and flow of both the capitalist and socialist models there is probably no point where it is possible to say definitively that one model is superior to the other. In the wake of the collapse of socialist economies in Eastern Europe many persons are gloating over the alleged failure of socialist economic theory and practice. Yet in some capitalist economies, including the United States, there are some troubling signs and trends, e.g., unfettered consumption, indebtedness, and individualism, that could lead to eventual collapse of these economies.

No useful purpose is served at this state in the discussion to write and publish superficial analyses on different points of view among North American Christians that are not significantly different anyway. It only drives the wedge deeper between Christians. Rather than engaging in this kind of ideological debate and advocating a particular economic ideology, Christians in the West need to join with Christians in the developing countries to identify both the internal and external forces that are retarding development in their countries and work cooperatively with them to remove the constraints.

The biblical concepts of jubilee, shalom, and kingdom of God should compel Christians to transcend political ideologies and theological rivalry and faithfully carry on a prophetic role in the world. To align ourselves with a particular political and economic ideology will likely result in our biblical theology being held hostage. The priority debate for Christians today and in the coming decades is how to create the Kingdom of God on earth. If we are successful at this endeavor it will take us beyond conventional political and economic thinking into new models to responsibly and equitably share the earth’s resources.

Ronald Yoder
goshen, in

Amy Sherman responds:

Ronald Yoder’s critique of my article raises at least five significant issues. First, Yoder charges that my analysis is “inadequate . . . because it ignores completely the many-faceted external forces that have impacted the development efforts of [LDCs] regardless of the economic and political models they espouse.” Apparently, Yoder believes that the fundamental causes of third world underdevelopment lie in external factors. While these (global economic health, protectionism, commodity prices, etc.) do have a significant effect, the keys to success lie in how LDCs respond to such forces, i.e., in their internal policies. Some internal policies—for example, expert diversification—give some developing countries a better resiliency to face adverse world market conditions.

Second, Yoder argues that colonialism is another factor (presumably ignored by me) that has “restricted development in the postcolonial period.” Although I am no apologist for colonialism, I recognize that empirical analysis (for example, that of P. T. Bauer) suggests that LDCs that experienced the most contact with Western imperialism are today, relatively speaking, better off economically than those that had no contact. Colonialism certainly brought many evils to third world countries; nevertheless, even Marx and Engels admitted that imperialism also brought them economic benefits. Blaming colonialism for third world poverty seems to assume that the region was well-off before colonialization. But underdevelopment is the natural state of societies, and development the “exception.” The real question—as Adam Smith noted in 1776—is not what makes poverty but what creates wealth.

As to Yoder’s implied suggestion that the relatively prosperous East Asian capitalist countries have been successful because they have received “massive amounts” of economic assistance, it should only be noted that other LDCs have also received massive aid. Indeed, the OECD reports that a net transfer of $1.8 trillion from the First to Third worlds has occurred from 1956 to 1986. Ghanian scholar George Ayittey reports that some $11 billion of Western assistance flows annually into Africa—but we do not see evidence of successful development there. We must ask: Why have some societies risen out of LDC status, while others remain poor? The answer lies primarily not in levels of foreign aid or colonial experience, but in the different internal economic policies adopted by different nations, which brings me to Yoder’s third and most disturbing observation.

Yoder asserts that it is impossible to say “definitively” whether capitalism or socialism is the superior economic model. But as I noted in my article, the eleven countries with the worst records in terms of material welfare (including Mozambique, Mali, Chad, Niger, and Zaire) follow heavily statist policies. Surveying the diverse development experiences of LDCs, Peter Berger wrote in 1984 that “socialism is a mirage that leads nowhere, except to economic stagnation, collective poverty, and various degrees of tyranny” and that “capitalism has been dramatically successful, if in a limited number of underdeveloped countries.” Noting that capitalist models have also failed in some LDCs, Berger posits simply that development practitioners are much safer betting on capitalism. This is not ideological excess but simple historical fact. As a recent article in the Economist suggested, the clearest lessons we can draw from thirty years of diverse development experiences are that continued underdevelopment is a result of multiple factors, the most important being internal government monetary, fiscal, trade, and agricultural policies, as well as cultural attitudes, political stability, respect for the rule of law, and the level of corruption and bureaucratic/legal “red tape.” Governments that have followed statist/socialist models remain poor; countries that have graduated out of LDC status adopted capitalist/free market models.

Moreover, Yoder appears to equate the “alleged failure” (alleged?) of socialist economies with the thorny problems existing in capitalist USA (“unfettered consumption, individualism”), as if to suggest that each economic model has equally compelling flaws. But a determined commitment to the poor requires distinguishing between problems existing in statist LDCs (famine, massive unemployment, malnutrition, grinding poverty) and the materialism of the West. Rejecting capitalism because it threatens to bring the evil of consumerism to a nation seems a strange way to help poor people who are far more concerned about meeting their basic needs and having an opportunity for economic advancement than they are about the corruptions of materialism . . .

Fourth, Yoder makes the positive suggestion that First World Christians should join with Third World Christians in examining the problems of the South. I agree—but the problem is that the oldline church listens only to some Third World voices (the liberation theologians) while appearing ignorant of those arguing against state-dominated models and in favor of free market approaches (for example, Hernando de Soto, Alejandro Chafuen, Julio Cole, and Manuel Ayau—to name just a few from Latin America).

Finally, Yoder correctly notes that Christians must avoid having their biblical theology held hostage to preconceived economic and political ideologies. Nowhere did I argue that capitalism is the Bible’s way—rather, I suggested that key biblical principles (such as recognition of private property, the value of stewardship, and creativity) better “fit” with capitalist theories than with socialist. Moreover, at this point the chief violators of Yoder’s dictum are from the oldline and left wing of the evangelical movement, as evidenced in their document The Road to Damascus, which asserted that those Christians who disagree with liberation theology and dependency theory are guilty of “apostasy—the abandonment of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” As Catholic theologian George Weigel commented, the document is a prime example of “radical politicization of the gospel”—precisely what Yoder condemns.

Yoder is an example of those Christians who still search for a nebulous, non-existent “third way” toward development (what he calls “new models” beyond conventional economic thinking). We must do better for the poor by advocating the one model—capitalism—that has had at least some success in improving their lot.

Feminism and the Church

The commentary by Richard John Neuhaus (“The Feminist Faith,” April) evades the point raised by feminist discussions of Christianity—which is that at present women in the Church are not considered the equal of men—and given the viewpoint of your journal, I’m wondering if that evasion was inadvertent or intentional.

As I see it, the Rev. Carter Heyward and the other radical feminists who push a post-Christian ideology are a symptom of a very real and very deep problem within Christendom, and that is the simple ignorance, trivialization, and marginalization of women within Christianity for most of its life. Now, women all over are awakening to the reality that they too are children of God, entitled to stand beside men in praise of God’s glory and honor, and what do they discover? A Church which as a whole continues to quash women and relegate us to second-class positions. When we day by day must deal with sexist language and imagery in the liturgy, and the refusal to allow women to assume meaningful roles in the Church—which in my Church, the Roman Catholic Church, includes denying women the ability to become priests—it hurts, it really hurts. There are times when I, like the Rev. Heyward and other radical feminists, would like to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but I find my commitment to Jesus Christ and the Christian faith to be far too strong to allow for the easy “out” of leaving the Church in all but name, as the radical feminists appear to have done. I, and many others, are staying, but we’re not content to merely watch and wait from the sidelines.

The Rev. Heyward and others in the radical feminist camp have chosen not to wait and have ventured beyond the fringes of the Christian faith. However, I cannot in toto fault these women for what they have done, and in fact I am sympathetic to the reasons why they crossed the frontiers of the faith. In their anger at the unchanging, uncompromising sexism inherent in the Church today, they have decided not to wait for change, but are instead pursuing their “post-christian” [sic] path. This is truly a sad state of affairs, one brought on by the Church itself when it refused (and refuses) even to merely reconsider “rearranging the theological furniture,” as Heyward herself says . . . .

This unhappy situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, which is the saddest part of the rise of the so-called “feminist faith.” So long as the Church continues to ignore the real, legitimate cries of women to be counted as whole members of the Body of Christ, there will continue to be a slow bleed of women away from the Church. And while it is true that the Rev. Heyward and others can be criticized for going too far, such criticism does not release the Church from the even more urgent criticism that it must get its house in order as far as women are concerned. We’ve already waited far too long as it is—nearly two millennia—for the brethren of the Church to start treating us as Jesus did. (And if you’re not sure how Jesus treated women, I would suggest reading the Gospels again!)

As for “The Feminist Faith,” you can see from what I have said that I find the analysis there sorely lacking. The “feminist faith,” as it were, is not a creature of some theological seminary cum hothouse, as you seem to imply. Rather, it is born of the very real concerns women have about their standing in the Church, and it is doubtful that these concerns would disappear even if every woman now in a seminary were to leave tomorrow. You would do well to address the real concerns of women and the Church, instead of automatically bashing heretics (so-called) and making light of their complaint . . . .

Deana Marie Holmes
austin, tx 

Privatize the Schools

Samuel Rabinove’s arguments (“Separationism for Religion’s Sake,” May) for continued and rigorous separation of public education and religion seem to me definitive. It’s hard to believe American jurists would find in a different direction in any legal action involving separation that might come before them. But to say that does not solve the problem; it reveals what the problem is.

The problem is that effective schools have always been based on a strong, religiously based ethical code. History offers no examples of anything else, and our own curious experience of spending ever more per pupil for apparently ever more discouraging average results clearly does not offer an exception.

The serious decline in quality has come as we have done two things chiefly: (1) broadened the educational base to include everybody, and (2) eliminated any endorsement of religion from the schools, with a consequent and inevitable weakening of moral instruction. It would be improper to conclude that these two big changes brought on the decline, but they become prime suspects.

I think our public schools have been as good as they have been for so long because the force of the Protestant Christian code underlying them, so strong to begin with, has lingered a long time, even under continuing philosophical attack from various quarters, and despite ever more rigorous insistence on “separation.”

It is too late to go back to the original American mode, in which government money went to religious and private schools because they were the only schools there were. As Rabinove clearly sees, it would be productive of nothing but social disharmony to try to figure out some way sectarian schools can in the future muscle in on the tax dollar more than they (perhaps unconstitutionally) have already.

Stalemate but not checkmate for those of us who believe education must be religiously centered to be effective.

The non-religious or irreligious, socialistic, bureaucratic public school system grows ever more expensive and ever less effective—so say all the news reports. Even the educators’ own unions say something to that effect but propose more of the medicine that hasn’t worked in the past to achieve a cure in the future. Private schools, often sectarian, are everywhere showing up as cheaper and more effective alternatives.

The answer, evidently, is to privatize the entire school system. Unthinkable? Impossible? Ponder the recent experiences east of the (former) Berlin Wall.

End socialism in education. It works no better there than anywhere else. Give freedom and the market a chance. What have we to lose but the chains of ignorance?

Sell off the entire public school system. Let there be ten thousand points of educative light. Sell school buildings to sects—“Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran, Hare Krishna, or whatever”—and to secular management groups made up of parents, teachers, and administrators. Sell them to anyone with moxie enough to get in the act. Let government review the standards as it does for various other private systems, for example, banks, and let the market (parent and student choice) reveal the best schools

The answer to our current problems isn’t to stagger forward with a religionless education that offers no hope. It is to foreclose a bankrupt business and start over. Hope abounds.

Tom White
odessa, tx

Theonomy and Scripture

It is instructive, and revealing of his own priorities, that in his hierarchy of concerns about theonomy (“Why Wait for the Kingdom? The Theonomist Temptation,” May), Richard John Neuhaus doesn’t bring God’s Word to bear on this subject until, literally, the last paragraph of his article. And then, alas, his use of Galatians 3:1-3 is incorrect and misleading.

The “foolishness” St. Paul is denouncing in these passages is the erroneous belief that one is made righteous by “works of the law.” He is not denouncing the view that God’s Law is still in effect, for all time, for all people, in all areas of life. Indeed, in Romans 7:12, St. Paul declares God’s Law to be “holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”

As for Brother Neuhaus’ assertion that the “overweening presumption that one is doing the will of God so unequivocally that others must be either converted or destroyed cannot help but result in the seductions of proud power or the equally pernicious seductions of angry powerlessness,” I disagree. After all, it was our Lord Himself who said that sinners must repent or perish (Luke 13:3,5). The Apostles and the Early Church also preached this message—and rather successfully, I think.

In fact, it was Jesus Christ who said, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, that: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)—an assertion which sounds vaguely theonomical, does it not?

John Lofton
laurel, md

Theology & the Middle East

Michael Wyschogrod complains (“The Bishops and the Middle East,” April) that the Catholic bishops failed to employ theological arguments in their paper on the Palestinian issue.

Somehow I think that if the bishops had used theological arguments, Wyschogrod or someone else would certainly have found that objectionable.

It is not likely that the Church “lost its theological nerve” on this issue, but rather that the bishops realized that at this point in history, it is the Church’s humanistic philosophy that is more likely to win a hearing.

Richard M. Hamett
so. san francisco, ca