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What Does the Lord Require?

It’s fourteen years since Stephen Hart’s What Does the Lord Require?: How American Christians Think About Economic Justice was published. For a sociological study of the intersection between economics, politics, and religion, one might argue, in light of the Republican victories in 2000, 2002, and especially the “Values Vote” of 2004, that it is hopelessly out of date. I’m reading it again, anyway, and I’m impressed by how prescient Hart was to anticipate cynical pandering by the GOP to Christians’ political values. I think the book is valuable still for other reasons; therefore, I’ll be writing more about it as I read it.

I first discovered What Does the Lord Require? in 2001, when I was researching material for a church class on social justice. It was an open-ended class, and I taught it twice: first, on economic justice; second, on gender justice. I did as much as I could in the first class to take our discussions out of the realm of politics, to erase the easy answers political discourse supplies. I worked very hard on the one hand to fix the class’s point of view from scripture, and on the other hand asked my students to critique themselves, to undestand who they were and from where their own judgments arose. I failed miserably. I remember one day when, after two months, one student said, “Greg, I hear everything you say, but I keep coming back to what my daddy said, ‘Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.’” Never mind that I was neither advocating the giving away of fish nor the teaching of fishing, but rather self-criticism and action: everyone nodded vigorously, and I knew that my efforts in that class would be largely futile.

I had in fact given the class a chapter from Hart’s book. It was a chapter that reported on interviews Hart conducted with a number of American Christians of various denominations. The chapter illustrates nicely how hodgepodge our economic values are. I had hoped that my class would see themselves in the interviews as I saw myself in them; I had hoped that the chapter’s thesis would be illuminating: most Christians’ economic values come from established Christian tradition, but the only reliable indicators that predict how any individual Christian will believe or act on economic grounds are cultural ones. I think, though, I probably misunderstood it, myself.

 

Comments

I should probably explain—I only read it in parts, before, and am now reading it at length.

g,

i’m behind and we’re off in two hours, i’d comment, but i only have time for mindless well-wishings to the two persons i know with any connection to turkey

sematics? shouldn’t you take it out of the ideological rather than the political?

i mean, in the end economic justice is a very political question… which is why give a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish… or churches should be involved in charity not government are more than a little hollow. aside from being empty cliches that we throw up to not think about the issue, they fundamentally ignore the fact that the polis in general and the state especially should engage the problem or question of economic justice because economic justice relates to the overall well-being of its citizenry.

but isn’t this the difficulty of this discussion, ideology/morality and whole host of other things are encrusted on any discussion of money and justice

and with this we are off to dauphin island

Say hi to Mobile from me on your way there.

precisely, J; if I can say this without overreaching Hart’s conclusions, the efforts of his research was to discover the ideological sources of economic values, inasmuch as those sources can be teased out, specifically, among those who are religious. it’s an effort to identify what are people’s real beliefs both with and against biblical hermeneutic and political stereotype.

Or do I misunderstand the antecedent of it in the first sentence of 3?

no, no, you understood