Editorial: Baptists should join Catholics to abolish poverty

Street Child at the Srimangal Railway Station in Bangladesh. (Wikipedia Image)

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Is capitalism idolatrous?

That’s the message from one of Pope Francis’ top advisers. Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras called the current free market system “a new idol.”

knox newEditor Marv KnoxMaradiaga leads the group of eight cardinals Francis asked to help him reform the Roman Catholic Church shortly after his election last year. A longtime friend of the pope’s, Maradiaga delivered the keynote address at a Catholic economic conference in Washington, reported by Religion News Service.

Maradiaga particularly focused on libertarian policies popular among many American conservatives. Most notably, libertarian advocates include Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chair of the House Budget Committee, a Catholic and a devotee of libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a possible 2016 presidential candidate.

The free market system increases inequality and excludes the poor from economic opportunity, Maradiaga said, contending, “This economy kills.”

Francis “has a profound knowledge of the life of the poor,” he said. “The elimination of the structural causes for poverty is a matter of urgency that can no longer be postponed,” he added, citing the pope. “The hungry or sick child of the poor cannot wait.”

Dealing with ‘structural causes’

Moreover, charity alone cannot overcome the mammoth challenges faced by the poor around the globe, Maradiaga said. “Solidarity is more than a few sporadic acts of generosity,” he insisted, noting it demands “dealing with the structural causes of poverty and injustice.”

This does not mean the Catholic Church “despises the rich,” and Francis “is also not against the efforts of business to increase the goods of the earth,” he said.

But the world’s resources should serve the common good, he insisted.

Few Baptists would go so far as Maradiaga’s critique of capitalism. Most of us would note free enterprise fuels the world’s leading economies and generally raises the standard of living for all people who participate in free-market systems.

However, Catholics’ admirable moral teaching should be taken seriously. It seeks to apply scriptural teachings to human situations with intellectual rigor and honesty.

For example, whether you agree with them or not, Catholics diligently strive to apply a consistent ethic to sanctity-of-life issues. For the same reasons, Catholics oppose abortion; advocate for the care of the poor, the ill and the aged; promote education for all people; champion human rights; support health care for all people; oppose most war; and resist capital punishment.

We may not come to the same conclusions they reach on all issues. But we should take their positions—and their rationale for reaching them—seriously.

Evaluate our views

Consequently, Baptists and others should evaluate how we view not only capitalism, the free-enterprise system, but also our laws, regulations, policies and international relations that shape and protect it.

The gap between the rich and the poor—both here in the United States and abroad—is obvious and growing. In addition to noble acts of charity, we should vigorously examine the theological implications, philosophical repercussions and practical realities of the laws and systems that facilitate that gap.

Surely we can agree to educational programs, business practices and governmental policies that eliminate poverty. Every household in which healthy adults are willing to work, every retiree and every chronically ill person should live above the poverty level.

In the words of another thoughtful Catholic, Stephen Colbert: “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

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Care to comment? Send an email to our interim opinion editor, Blake Atwood. Maximum length for publication is 250 words.