Archives for October 2012

Lectionary Reflection on the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Deuteronomy (BTCB) by Telford Work, commenting on Deuteronomy 6:1-9:

The greatest danger to God’s words is not that anything superior would overpower them but that careless trustees would lose or corrupt them. So Israel is called not to shout, force, or defend them with any power of its own, but simply to keep the commandments of God and so persevere (Rev. 14:9-12).

As Moses commends God’s words to Israel on the border of the promised land to honor God’s deeds on both sides of the Jordan, so Israel is to inscribe God’s words along the thresholds of its homes and cities. No boundary restricts or delimits the scope of God’s economy. Mezuzot turn the potential distracts of landed prosperity (–>6:10-12) into occasions to remember and reflect on the future as well as the past.

Oral and written tradition are one while remaining distinct: Moses’s words are written and recited, but talked about in every setting of everyday life. Oral Torah is interpretive, interactive, and expansive written Torah. Both are God’s instruction through Moses. Each is the life of the other, and neither the stable written and memorized forms nor the changing conversational and inculturated forms are redundant or dispensable.

 

©2009 by Telford Work. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Values of A Public Faith – Part 5

This is the fifth in a series of posts from Miroslav Volf, author of A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, titled “Values of a Public Faith: A Contribution to a Conversation.”

Click here for the firstsecondthird and fourth installments.

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15. War

Value: War is almost never justifiable, and every successful justification has to show how a particular war is an instance of loving one’s neighbors and loving one’s enemies.

Rationale: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighborand hate your enemy.’But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”(Matt. 5:43–46).

Debate: There is a legitimate debate about whether acts of war can ever be a form of love of neighbor and of enemy and, if they can, about what causes justify war (rule of a tyrant?) and what constitutes just conduct of war (drones?).

Questions to Ask: Has the candidate supported or advocated ending unjust wars in the past? Has the candidate condemned significant forms of unjust conduct of war?

16. Torture

Value: We should never torture. It dehumanizes both the detainee and the interrogator by violating the dignity of the one and degrading the integrity of the other, [1] and it erodes the moral character of the nation approving it. (For a definition of torture, see http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cat.html.)

Rationale: “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44). “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

Debate: There is no debate on this one—at least not a debate that, from my reading of Christian moral obligations, is legitimate. Even if torture were effective (which, according to most knowledgeable sources, it is not), it would be morally unacceptable.

Question to Ask: Has the candidate unequivocally condemned the use of torture?

17. Honoring Everyone

Value: We should honor every human being and respect all faiths (without necessarily affirming them as true). As citizens, we have the right to mock another religion, but as followers of Christ, we have a moral obligation not to.

Rationale: “Honor everyone” (1 Pet. 2:17).

Debate: The debate about one’s relation to other religions should not be whether we have the right to mock what others hold to be holy; we do have that right. At the same time, the debate should not be about whether we have a moral obligation not to make use of that right; we ought not mock what other people hold to be holy. Instead, the debate should be about what the authentic teachings and practices of individual religions are, to what extent the claims of their teachings are true (or false), and in what ways each religion fosters (or hinders) human flourishing.

Question to Ask: Will the candidate promote respect for all religions, including Islam, while at the same time affirming the need for honest debate about how true and salutary they are?



[1] See Jennifer S. Bryson, “My Guantanamo Experience: Support Interrogation, Reject Torture,” http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/09/3934/.

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Check back on Thursday for the sixth and final entry in this series.
You can also follow our blog feed to make sure you don’t miss a post.
For more information on A Public Faithclick here.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Matthew Dickerson – Part 4

We recently had the chance to talk with Matthew Dickerson about his new Brazos book, A Hobbit Journey.

Matthew Dickerson (PhD, Cornell University) is a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, a writer, and the director of the New England Young Writers’ Conference at Bread Loaf. His previous works include From Homer to Harry PotterThe Mind and the MachineNarnia and the Fields of Arbol: The Environmental Vision of C. S. Lewis; and Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J. R .R. Tolkien.

In Part 1, Matthew spoke about the relationship between our world and the world of The Lord of the Rings.

In Part 2, he explained how his love for Tolkien’s writing influenced the composition of A Hobbit Journey.

In Part 3, he discussed whether The Lord of the Rings should be understood as allegorical.

Today he offers some thoughts on Peter Jackson’s film portrayals of The Lord of the Rings.

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Do you think the original trilogy of The Lord of the Rings films accurately portrayed the themes you see in the books? Do you anticipate that The Hobbit films will be accurate portrayals?

I will reserve judgment of Peter’s forthcoming trilogy of films based on The Hobbit until I have seen them. I am curious to see how much use they make of material in the Appendices, and how much they add to (or take away from) the plot. I think it might be really good. The one thing that concerns me from the trailers I have seen is the addition of a sword fight between Bilbo and Gollum. That could very much change some important philosophical and moral ideas that Tolkien incarnated in his original story.

As for the original trilogy, there were certainly some aspects that were very well done by Jackson. I was particular moved by his portrayals of a few of the individual characters. By and large, I thought he did Boromir very well, and Eowyn too, though perhaps his Eowyn might have been a bit stronger. Sam was well done. I think Jackson also did a good job with some environmental aspects, in his portrayal especially of the ravages of Isengard under Saruman.

But by and large, I thought that Jackson absconded with Tolkien’s names and characters and plot elements in order to put forth a very different underlying worldview that in many ways was entirely at odds with that of Tolkien. I read once that Jackson said he might change a few plot elements to make them fit better with film instead of book, but that he was committed to Tolkien’s most basic philosophical beliefs. And in that I think Jackson is flat out wrong on some very important areas. I outline a few examples in my book. One is how Jackson undercuts some of the most important moral free-will choices of the book’s heroes. Another is how he seeks to show corruption and moral failure in almost every important virtuous hero such as Faramir, Galadriel, Elrond, and Gandalf; he applies broad brushstrokes of cynicism where Tolkien did not.

Jackson, in making his grand cinematic display—and trying to keep it more action centered—not only eliminates much of the dialogue and description and the importance of the world itself, but I think he also glorifies violence in a way Tolkien’s books never do. It is much more “sword and sorcery” than Tolkien’s works.

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For more information on A Hobbit Journey, click here.
To read an excerpt, click here.

The Weekly Hit List: October 26, 2012

An article by Christian Scharen, author of Broken Hallelujahs, was featured in the latest issue of Immerse Journal.

“The Wisdom of Elders: Listening to Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas

“In just over a year, after playing his final show in December 2010, Cohen recorded and released one of the best albums of his career.

“Playfully called Old Ideas, the album represents both the ideas of an old man and at the same time a set of songs engaging old ideas, those deep and enduring concerns that remain after the fluff of life blows away in the wind.”

Read the rest of Scharen’s article here.

 

 

Quick Hits:

A Hobbit Journey by Matthew Dickerson was reviewed by Anne Brown on her blog, The Book Garden.

A Hobbit Journey was also reviewed by Velma Daniels for the News Chief.

Just Politics by Ronald J. Sider and A Hobbit Journey by Matthew Dickerson were included in a post by Patrick Floyd on The Methoblog.

Michael Gorman linked to Miroslav Volf’s values of A Public Faith and recommended Just Politics by Ronald J. Sider in a post on “Christians and Politics.”

 

Ebook Specials and Other Offers:

October ebook specials are currently running for multiple Brazos Press and Baker Academic titles. All of these are at least 75% off.

Deconstructing Theodicy by David B. Burrell
Song of Songs (BTCB series) by Paul J. Griffiths
Under the Influence by Monica Ganas
The Mind and the Machine by Matthew Dickerson
John (Paideia series) by Jo-Ann A. Brant
The Fall of Interpretation by James K. A. Smith
Killing Enmity by Thomas R. Yoder Neufield
Finding Your Plot in a Plotless World by Daniel de Roulet
Second Corinthians (CCSS series) by Thomas D. Stegman, SJ
A Liturgy of Grief by Leslie C. Allen

Values of A Public Faith – Part 4

This is the fourth in a series of posts from Miroslav Volf, author of A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, titled “Values of a Public Faith: A Contribution to a Conversation.”

Click here for the first, second, and third installments.

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11. Death Penalty

Value: Death should never be punishment for a crime. Since out of love Christ died for every human being (“the world”), no one should rob a human being of a chance to be transformed by God’s love, and no one should put to death a human being who has been transformed by God’s love.

Rationale: “Jesus straightened up and said to her [the woman caught in adultery, an act for which the Old Testament prescribes the death penalty], ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again’” (John 8:10–11). “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Debate: Notwithstanding the Old Testament endorsement of death penalty, for Christians, there is no debate on this one.

Question to Ask: Will the candidate push to abolish capital punishment, and if so, how hard?

12. Criminal Offenders

Value: Mere retributive punishment is an inadequate and mistaken way of dealing with offenders. We need to find creative ways to reconcile offenders to their victims and reintegrate them into the society.

Rationale: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Eph. 2:14).

Debate: We should debate viable alternatives to incarceration and how best to achieve the reintegration of offenders into the society. We should also debate the extent to which ethnic and racial prejudices are influencing our practices—more specifically why it is that Hispanics and African-Americans make up the largest proportion of the prison population—as well as the effect of the privatization of prisons on the increase of the prison population (the U.S. has the highest per capita prison population of any country in the world!).

Question to Ask: What does the candidate propose to do to reduce the number of incarcerated people in the U.S.?

13. World Hunger

Value: Given the world’s resources, no human being should go hungry; as individuals and a nation we should be committed to complete eradication of hunger.

Rationale: “[The Lord] executes justice for the oppressed [and] gives food to the hungry” (Ps. 146:7). “Then he [the Son of Man] will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink” (Matt. 25:41–42).

Debate: The debate should not be whether the eradication of world hunger ought to be one of our top priorities but rather what the most effective ways are to achieve that goal, including how best to fight corruption in countries in which hunger is widespread.

Questions to Ask: Is the candidate committed to the eradication of world hunger, and if so, what means will he use toward that goal? Is the candidate prepared to set aside a percentage of the Gross National Product for the eradication of hunger?

14. Equality of Nations

Value: No nation represents an exception to the requirements of justice that should govern relations between nations. America should exert its unique international power by doing what is just and should pursue its own interests in concert with other nations of the world.

Rationale: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Debate: The debate should not be whether America is somehow exceptional (and therefore permitted to do what other nations are not—for instance, carrying out raids on foreign soil in search of terrorists). The debate should, rather, be about what it means for the one remaining superpower to act responsibly in the community of nations.

Questions to Ask: At the international level, would the candidate renounce a double moral standard: one for the U.S. and its allies and another for the rest of the world? Even when the candidate considers an American perspective morally superior, will he seek to persuade other nations of the moral rightness of these values rather than imposing them on other nations?

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Check back on Tuesday for Part 5 of this series.
You can also follow our blog feed to make sure you don’t miss a post.
For more information on A Public Faithclick here.

Lectionary Reflection for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 34:

Psalm 34 is an acrostic psalm where each verse begins with a subsequent letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It is a testimony of gratitude for divine deliverance, beginning with reference to a particular occasion of God’s grace (vv. 4-6) and continuing with a beautiful anthology of general reasons for praise.

This psalm has been called an “anthology of faithful spirituality” and is an address from the psalmist to the community. It is noted for its stunning imagery: the “shining face” of those who turn toward God (v. 5), the command to “taste” God’s goodness (v. 8), and God’s deliverance of those who are “crushed in spirit” (v. 18).

 

A prayer for reflection:

Great and loving God, you heal our broken hearts and restore our wounded spirits.
Help us to trust in your faithfulness, feast upon your goodness, and pursue your peace
as we await your kingdom’s fulfillment.
We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Values of A Public Faith – Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts from Miroslav Volf, author of A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, titled “Values of a Public Faith: A Contribution to a Conversation.”

Click here for the first and second installments.

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7. The Elderly

Value: Those who are frail on account of their advanced age deserve our special help. They need adequate medical assistance, social interaction, and meaningful activities. (The humanity of a society is measured perhaps especially by how it treats those no longer capable of doing “useful” work.)

Rationale: “Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Ps. 68:5). (In today’s world, the “elderly,” arguably, belong to the categories of the “poor” and “widows”.)

Debate: The debate here is about the extent of the responsibility for the wellbeing of the elderly. What resources should a society set aside for the care of elderly, and what are the best ways to manage those resources?

Question to Ask: What will the candidate do to help honor the elderly and attend to their specific needs?

8. Unborn

Value: Unborn human life, just like fully developed human life, deserves our respect, protection, and nurture.

Rationale: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13). “You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13).

Debate: There is a legitimate debate about the point at which life that can plausibly be deemed human begins and whether the best way to reduce abortions is to criminalize abortion or to improve the living conditions of the poor (for instance, through fighting poverty in inner cities, providing education for women, making available affordable childcare).

Question to Ask: Is the candidate firmly committed to reducing the number of abortions performed, to make it not just safe when it is legal, but also rare?

9. Healthcare

Value: All people—poor or rich—should have access to affordable basic healthcare, just as all are responsible for living in a way conducive to physical and mental health.

Rationale: “Jesus went through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness” (Matt. 9:35).

Debate: There is a legitimate debate as to how best to ensure that all people have access to affordable healthcare—but not as to whether the destitute should or should not be left to fend for themselves when faced with serious or chronic illness. We roughly know what it takes to lead a healthy lifestyle (exercise, minimal intake of sugar, no substance abuse, etc.), but we can and ought to debate most effective ways to help people lead such a lifestyle (for instance, how heavily the food industry should be regulated).

Questions to Ask: Which candidate is more likely to give the destitute effective access to healthcare? Which candidate is more likely to reduce the number of people who need to seek medical help?

10. Care for Creation

Value: We are part of God’s creation, and we must seek to preserve the integrity of God’s creation as an interdependent ecosystem and, if possible, to pass it on to the future generations improved. Above all, we should not damage creation by leading  lifestyles marked by acquisitiveness and wastefulness.

Rationale: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).

Debate: The debate here should be about the extent of present ecological damage (for instance, whether or not we are barreling toward a climate apocalypse) and about the appropriate means and sacrifices necessary to preserve God’s creation.

Question to Ask: Which candidate shows a better understanding of the ecological health of the planet and has a better track record in preventing the devastation of what God has created and pronounced good?

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Check back on Thursday for Part 4 of this series.
You can also follow our blog feed to make sure you don’t miss a post.
For more information on A Public Faithclick here.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Matthew Dickerson – Part 3

We recently had the chance to talk with Matthew Dickerson about his new Brazos book, A Hobbit Journey.

Matthew Dickerson (PhD, Cornell University) is a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, a writer, and the director of the New England Young Writers’ Conference at Bread Loaf. His previous works include From Homer to Harry PotterThe Mind and the MachineNarnia and the Fields of Arbol: The Environmental Vision of C. S. Lewis; and Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J. R .R. Tolkien.

In Part 1, Matthew spoke about the relationship between our world and the world of The Lord of the Rings.

In Part 2, he explained how his love for Tolkien’s writing influenced the composition of A Hobbit Journey.

Today he discusses whether The Lord of the Rings should be understood as allegorical.

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Even though Tolkien was known for disliking allegory, do you consider The Lord of the Rings to be allegorical?

No. Not at all. Certainly not in the strict sense of allegory of a book like Pilgrim’s Progress, and not even like Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, which I think can be read very allegorically. If you try to turn Tolkien’s works into allegory in that way, you will, I think, fall flat. Not only will an attempt to cram his characters into some allegorical straightjacket fail in the end to make connections that hold, but in searching for allegorical meanings that don’t exist you will miss the rich “meanings” that do exist.

Now if you ask whether Tolkien’s works are applicable (as opposed to allegorical) then I would answer “yes”—which is really just giving the answer Tolkien himself gave in his famous Foreword to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings. Of course not everything an author says about himself or his works is by necessity true, but in this instance I think that Tolkien was speaking accurately.

I do think that Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle” does have some elements that are both strongly allegorical and autobiographical, but that is another question. When it comes to The Lord of the Rings I think the first thing is to enjoy them as stories, and appreciate and delight in the world, the characters, and the narrative. If you want to look for meaning and applicability of that meaning to our own story—which, I think, is a very worthwhile endeavor, and one Tolkien himself thought valid—then look for the meaning in Tolkien’s words themselves and his tale itself, and not in trying to force his tale into some mathematical correspondence with some other story.

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For more information on A Hobbit Journey, click here.
To read an excerpt, click here.

The Weekly Hit List: October 19, 2012

An excerpt from Just Politics by Ronald J. Sider was posted on RelevantMagazine.com.

“. . .nonviolence frequently works! Even without much preparation and training, even without a large investment of money and personnel, nonviolent direct action has frequently been highly effective.

“One wonders what might be accomplished if all parts of the Christian church (in cooperation with all others who are interested) would get serious about investing resources, time, money, and people to explore what more could be done nonviolently to end injustice and prevent war.”

Read more of “War, Pacifism and a Third Option: Ron Sider explains how there’s a middle ground in the war debate” here.

 

Quick Hits:

Just Politics by Ronald J. Sider was recommended by Eric Roseberry on his blog.

The Space Between by Eric Jacobsen, author of Sidewalks in the Kingdom, was reviewed by Englewood Review of Books.

The Space Between was also reviewed by Kaid Benfield on The Atlantic Cities blog.

 

Ebook Specials and Other Offers:

October ebook specials are currently running for multiple Brazos Press and Baker Academic titles. All of these are at least 75% off.

Deconstructing Theodicy by David B. Burrell
Song of Songs (BTCB series) by Paul J. Griffiths
Under the Influence by Monica Ganas
The Mind and the Machine by Matthew Dickerson
John (Paideia series) by Jo-Ann A. Brant
The Fall of Interpretation by James K. A. Smith
Killing Enmity by Thomas R. Yoder Neufield
Finding Your Plot in a Plotless World by Daniel de Roulet
Second Corinthians (CCSS series) by Thomas D. Stegman, SJ
A Liturgy of Grief by Leslie C. Allen

Values of A Public Faith – Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts from Miroslav Volf, author of A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, titled “Values of a Public Faith: A Contribution to a Conversation.”

To view the first installment, click here.
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3. Economic Growth

Value: Economic growth is not a value in its own right because increasing wealth and money are not values in their own right. They are means—indispensable means, but only means—to human flourishing, which consists more in righteousness than in possessions.

Rationale: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. . . . But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:24, 33).

Debate: We can abandon the old debate about whether efficient wealth creation or just wealth distribution is more important; both are important, for we cannot distribute what we don’t have, and we should not possess what is given to us to pass on to others. Instead, we should debate (1) what are morally irresponsible (Wall Street gambling), inhumane (child labor), and unsustainable (deforestation) ways of creating wealth and how to create wealth in humanly and ecologically sustainable ways; (2) what kind of wealth contributes to human flourishing; and (3) how to make wealth serve us instead of us serving wealth.

Question to Ask: Which candidate is reminding us that we diminish ourselves when we turn into money-making and consumption-obsessed creatures and that we flourish when we pursue truth, goodness, and beauty, that we are truly ourselves when we reach to others in solidarity and enjoy one another in love?

4. Work and Employment

Value: Every person should have meaningful and, if employed for pay, adequately remunerated work. All able citizens should work to take care of their needs and to contribute to the wellbeing of others and the planet.

Rationale: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). The prophet Isaiah envisions a time when all God’s people “shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (Isa. 65:21). Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Debate: The debate should be about what the required economic, cultural, and political conditions are for people to have meaningful work, and who is mainly responsible to create and maintain these conditions. How can we best fight unemployment and underemployment? Given the present state of economy and future economic developments, how can we stimulate the creation of jobs that pay adequate wages?

Questions to Ask: What policies does the candidate propose to help encourage meaningful employment and adequate pay for all people? What will the candidate do to encourage people to work not just for personal gain but for the common good?

5. Debt

Value: As individuals and as a nation, we should live within our means and not borrow beyond what we can reasonably expect to return; we shouldn’t offload onto others, whether our contemporaries or future generations, the price of our overreaching or risk-taking; instead, we should save so as to be able to give to others who are less fortunate then we.

Rationale: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy” (Eph. 4:28).

Debate: We should debate what responsible levels of debt are for households, businesses, or a nation; what constitutes predatory lending practices and how to prevent them; to what degree, if at all, spending on consumer goods should be promoted as cure for a faltering economy; and what the public significance of contentment might be.

Questions to Ask: What will a candidate do to bring and keep national debt under control? What will the candidate do to encourage individual saving and living within one’s means?

6. The Poor

Value: The poor—above all those without adequate food or shelter—deserve our special concern. (“The moral test of government is how it treats people in the dawn of life, the children, in the twilight of life, the aged, and in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped” [Hubert Humphrey].)

Rationale: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 23:22). “There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy” (Deut. 15:4).

Debate: There should be no debate whether fighting extreme poverty is a top priority of the government. That’s a given. We should debate the following: How should we generate a sense of solidarity with the poor among all citizens? In poverty alleviation, what is the proper role of governments and of individuals, religious communities, and civic organizations? What macroeconomic conditions most favor lifting people out of poverty? What should the minimum wage be?

Questions to Ask: Is overcoming extreme poverty (rather than fostering the wellbeing of the middle class) a priority for the candidate? For what poverty-reducing policies is the candidate prepared to fight?

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Check back on Tuesday for Part 3 of this series.
You can also follow our blog feed to make sure you don’t miss a post.
For more information on A Public Faithclick here.