Tag Archives: political theology

The State of the Union. A response. #SOTU

President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union Address shed light on various issues that the United States faces today. One of the more controversial ones is immigration reform. President Obama has repeatedly stated the current system is broken and that nothing short of complete reform can fix it. In this vein he has decided to take executive actions amid at helping build a system that allows America to live up to its heritage as a nation founded by immigrants. Regardless of what one thinks about the President’s initiative it is important for each American to understand some of the complexities associated with immigration. Of particular importance is to understand several of the economic aspect that is associated specifically with undocumented workers. Through a better understanding of some of the economic issues associated with undocumented workers it is possible to think through appropriate responses from various perspectives including a theological one.

In developing an analysis of undocumented workers of the United States I have chosen to use true cost economic theory. True cost economics evaluates goods or services while also taking into consideration negative externalities. Negative externalities are the costs of the harmful effects of a good or service on the environment etc. (“True Economic Cost,”The Economic Times, 2015). Taking this into consideration allows one to consider how a good or service can be misused in large quantities without concern for its effect on the environment. As a caveat, any analysis of immigration from an economic perspective has its limitations because human capital although it can function as other forms of capital such as social or economic is inherently different. There is a different set of concerns that one must take into consideration when thinking about undocumented workers. For this reason true cost economics has a twist from a theological perspective as it relates to immigration. As part of the working definition of true cost economic negative externalities should also involve the cost that immigration policies has on moral sensibilities. Negative externalities consider the impact of undocumented workers policies on Christian/ religious values. Ultimately, true cost economics from a theological perspective should involve the moral cost of a good or service. This is especially true when good is used as a generic term to help analyze human relations with respect to economic production.

As debates ensue on the particularities of reforming immigration policies it becomes more important to understand some of its many complexities. Typically when evaluating an issue from an economic stand point a cost-benefit is used. Such an analysis can be helpful here when trying to understand some of the intricacies of undocumented workers. First, it is important to dispel some of the misconception of undocumented workers. Perhaps one of the biggest myths is that no one benefits from the use of undocumented workers. Many have stated that undocumented workers are exploiting the American economy and reaping all of the benefits from hard working tax paying United States citizens. Law Professor Francine Lipman has stated that undocumented workers have actually bolstered the U.S. economy in several ways. They invest in the economy through their purchasing of goods and services and the consumption of various products has actually created more jobs in some respect. Also, contrary to popular belief they do in fact contribute to social security, Medicaid and unemployment programs without being able to fully reap their benefits (Francine J. Lipman, “Taxing Undocumented Immigrants: Separate, Unequal and Without Representation,”Harvard Latino Law Review,Spring 2006).

These immigrants pay social security pay roll taxes without being eligible for the benefits of social security. What many do not know is that each year the United States reserves around seven billion dollars in social security earing in what is called “earnings suspense file.” This money is reserved for W-2 files that cannot be connected to a social security number. This money is usually attributed to illegal worker who never see any of this money (Robert Mcnatt and Frank Benassi, “Econ 101 on illegal immigrants,” BloombergBuisnessweek, April 6, 2006). Another common myth about undocumented workers is that immigrants are taking all of the American jobs and subsequently hurting the economy. These immigrants do indeed consume a large portion of low-skilled labor jobs. However, many American benefit from their consumption of low-skilled and low paying jobs. The cost for food in most restaurants, agricultural products, and various goods has decreased as a result of employer’s ability to pay illegal immigrant far less than American workers. In fact, the negative impact of undocumented workers on the economy is far less than the impact of automated machinery with respect to job displacement. Another benefit of undocumented workers is the de facto effect it has on the American wage labor system. The income of undocumented workers is spent relatively quickly because in many instances banking systems and other services customary to most Americans is not a viable option. This means that the income of undocumented workers does not factor into the earning potential of American workers. In fact employers have the ability to raise the minimum wage of the average worker because of the money they save from paying undocumented workers substantially less .It is estimated that approximately eight million jobs are dependent on the employment of undocumented worker labor (Bureau of Labor Statistic in the United States Department of Labor, News Release, January 16, 2015). This serves as brief overview of some of the economic benefits from of undocumented workers.

Equally important to this analysis is an overview of some of the economic costs of undocumented workers. It has already been established that the majority of Americans would not notice the economic cost of undocumented workers. Various researchers have noted that those without a college education would be the only group that would be dramatically affected by a reduction of undocumented workers with respect to employment. It has been noted by the Center for Immigration Studies that in the year 2000 the influx of undocumented workers had reduced the wages of American workers without a high school diploma by almost eight percent (George Borjas, “Increasing the Supply of Labor Through Immigration: Measuring the Impact on Native-born Workers,” Center for Immigration Studies, April 2004). Another aspect of undocumented workers that is often discussed is its impact on the education system. According to the Congressional budget office as late as 2008 undocumented workers made up approximately four percent of the students in the public education system. It is also a fact that many of these students require ESL classes and extra assistance in other course work to be successful. This causes an added economic burden on the public education system. There are also various studies that explain how costly it can be to detain undocumented workers. The issue of undocumented workers and health care has also become a critical issue for many. According to recent studies less than one percent of Medicaid spending has went to undocumented workers. Although these immigrants typically are not eligible for the benefits of Medicaid they do receive emergency medical care via Medicaid (Will Dunham, “Medicaid spends 1 pct on illegal immigrants: study,” Reuters, March 13, 2007 ). This means that undocumented workers do place a financial burden on the health care system albeit a relatively light one.

What can we derive from this brief cost-benefit analysis of undocumented workers, for this a return back to true economic cost theory is necessary. It definitely appears that there are certain economic benefits for our current undocumented workers policies. It could even be argued that the benefits outweigh the cost of undocumented workers. It also appears that some of the associated costs have been exaggerated by public perception. However, both these cost and benefits must be weighed against some of the negative externalities. Another observation that can be made from this brief analysis is regardless of the cost and benefits undocumented workers the group that suffers the most are the immigrants themselves. The benefits from undocumented workers can at best be described as exploitative of the immigrant labor force. Simultaneously, although the cost of undocumented workers has a somewhat negative impact on the economy it is the immigrants that suffer the greatest harm from its negative effects. This occurs in the form of lower educational attainment, fewer employment opportunities, and few health benefits. In essence fewer opportunities in what has been historically described as the land of opportunities. The exploitative nature of current immigration policies qualifies as negative externality and has implications from a theological perspective.
So what can Christian religious values teach us about how to deal with undocumented workers policies in relation to a cost-benefit analysis? Truthfully this depends on who you ask. While the specifics of an adequate policy will not be discussed here it can start by asking the right question about how to limit the effects of negative externalities. For this a turn to Luke 10: 25-37 is helpful here. This particular passage is the infamous parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus is asked “who is the neighbor,” at which point Jesus tells the parable to explicate what precisely a neighbor is. Perhaps this is the question that Christian should ask themselves first as they evaluate the issue of undocumented workers and its policy implications. Through asking this question first it is possible to put the negative externalities at the forefront of an analysis of undocumented workers

Political Theology Reconfigured

Vincent Loyd’s work, The Problem With Grace discerns some of the complex interplay between African American theological perspectives and modern political estates. His first aim is to dispel the methodology that relies upon supersessionist foundations to oppose law and grace. He accomplishes this by analyzing specific religious concepts within both the Jewish and Christian faith. He also relies upon heavily sources outside of traditional conception of theology using both theoretical and literary texts. Lloyd questions the notion that the world is composed of some fallen world in need of redemption. This grace and law narrative is allegorized for the African American context through the story of Grace Mulligan on the Manderlay plantation. The story begins in 1933 when Mulligan stumbled upon a plantation in which the African American living there did not know that slavery was abolished. Grace abolished the plantation law that had governed the slave’s lives and instituted a democracy. While initially successful, the community after a period of time delved into a system predicated on rivalry, suspicion and bloodshed. Grace, who had come to replace the law, eventually flees the plantation because of the unintended consequences that she created. According to Lloyd it is supersessionist logic that led to the demise of the community which was most evident when grace replaced the law. Thus he finds it more relevant to examine society relative to social norms as opposed to a society in need of grace to fulfill the law. This examination occurs through a robust description of various religious concepts and theological virtues relevant to the Christianity such as: faith, hope, love, liturgy, prophesy, and tradition. One concept that I found his analysis particularly relevant to was the virtue of faith.

Lloyd states that love is an exercise for navigating the social world. The challenges and frustrations of social and political life are condensed into how we view the love relationship. Simply stated to truly love is difficult and full of uncertainties. For him what forms the basis for love however is faith. Faith gives us the ability not to walk away from loves despite all of the trial and tribulations that accommodate it. Faith entails a commitment to love even when there are good reasons not to. He strays away from the notion of faith that is commonly associated with a belief in something or someone. In his words “faith is about improper beliefs, beliefs that go beyond what ought to be believe.” Most importantly faith runs counter to social norms. This faith accordingly is able to trump all authority that is generated from societal norms. It even calls for reprimand of those societal structures and norms. I find this view of faith helpful especially when addressing the myriad of issues that we face in our contemporary society. It is possible using this view that we can challenge social and systemic structures that oppress a variety of issues.

Faith as a virtue goes beyond a mere belief in a deity or a higher power. True faith is critical of socio-political structures. This virtue has particularly been important for African Americans in the United States. Whether it was Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights struggle or modern Civil Rights leaders who struggle against the militarization of police states, policies that perpetuate racism, classism, sexism, and heteronormativity; faith has played an important role in countering these structures. Faith can promote social action and change. It is the backbone behind the love ethic that is necessary to fight for these changes. Martin Luther King fought for equality and gave his life for the freedom of all people out of love. However, deeply rooted in his love ethic was his faith that love creates the changes necessary to transform society.

Why The Church Needs A Political Theology

In my last post, I wrote about why the church needs a theology of pop culture. Today I want to discuss a part of a theology of pop culture, political theology. Specifically, I will be discussing US Politics as it relates to political theology. Some might ask why does the church need a political theology? If you’re naive enough to ask this question, all I have to say is, “Wake up and take a good hard look!” In US culture, political theology is one of the most used and abused theologies out there.

In his book, Political Theology, Michael Kirwan writes

Christians who take their faith seriously know that it has political implications – that the gospel calls us to imagine and work for a transformed world. However – here is the anguish – the Bible leaves no blueprint or manifest for this transformation; only lots of opinions (some more feasible than others) about what kind of society Christians should be struggling for, and by what means. (Kirwan, 3-4)

But one wouldn’t know this from the scores of voices coming (mainly) from the Religious Right. (Note: I say mainly because there are those on the Religious Left whose voice adds to the abuse of a political theology, but they appear in a much smaller number.) One only needs to turn to Twitter or Facebook to see this in action. See the Twitter feeds for Bryan Fischer, John Hagee, Matthew Hagee, the IRD, or the Christian Post for proof. Can’t bear to have them on your Twitter feed? Check out Right Wing Watch. And this abuse of political theology just trickles down from there.

Here’s a recent example of the kind of theological abuse I’m talking about.

The reason the church needs a political theology is due largely in part to the prevailing thought in the Religious Right, mainly the Tea Party; that only “true” conservatives are Christian and only “true” Christians are conservatives. Basically, if you’re a Democrat, you are not/cannot be a Christian. And then there’s the mindset about government.  According to “conservative Christians, government is a bad word. The problem with this prevailing mindset is that an ideology (conservativism) is placed about Scripture and tradition. In essence, it is a form of idolatry. Sadly, I expect things to get worse over the next few years.

The good news for us is that I’m not the first one out there to wrestle with the question of how the church should handle a political theology. Carl R. Trueman has written an excellent book, Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative. For those who don’t know, Dr. Trueman is a theologian and church historian and he teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also regularly blogs at Reformation21. Let me be clear, Dr. Trueman and I probably disagree on a number of theological points, but I think his analysis of the intersection of US politics and religion is spot on.

Additional Resources
Christian Political Witness edited by George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee
Political Theology by Michael Kirwan
Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative by Carl R. Tureman