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.
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?
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?