Catholic and Libertarian? Pope's Top Adviser Says They're Incompatible

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga prays at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

Taking direct aim at libertarian policies promoted by many American conservatives, the Honduran cardinal who is one of Pope Francis’ top advisers said Tuesday that today’s free market system is “a new idol” that is increasing inequality and excluding the poor.

“This economy kills,” said Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, quoting Francis frequently in a speech delivered at a conference on Catholicism and libertarianism held a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

The pope, Maradiaga said, grew up in Argentina and “has a profound knowledge of the life of the poor.” That is why, he said, Francis continues to insist that “the elimination of the structural causes for poverty is a matter of urgency that can no longer be postponed.”

“The hungry or sick child of the poor cannot wait,” the cardinal said.

Back from the Brink

THE PHRASE “POVERTY in America” still conjures up, for many of us, images of a homeless person begging on an urban street corner or a dilapidated shack in rural Appalachia. But a report this winter presents a very different picture of poverty in the U.S.: “a working mother dashing around getting ready in the morning, brushing her kid’s hair with one hand, and doling out medication to her own aging mother with the other.”

The study released in January by The Shriver Report, “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink,” examined the rates of financial insecurity among U.S. women. The report notes that the average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar the average man earns, and that closing this wage gap would cut the poverty rate in half for working women and their families.

A few years ago, I was at a global women’s conference looking at the economic dimensions of women’s realities when I first heard the phrase “time poverty,” in an academic talk given by a sociologist. The phrase captured the deeply insidious economic realities that are holding back women’s equality. Most mothers know this reality as we multi-task through our day trying to hold life together for our families. Women everywhere carry the double burden of working outside the home to support their families while still doing the large majority of unpaid domestic work.

The phrase “time poverty” stuck with me and, strangely, captures my reality as a mother of three leading a relatively privileged life. For those of us in the mothering season of life, all over the world, time is not exactly on our side. From sunup to sunset, we find ourselves constantly multitasking, moving as fast as possible and feeling like the hub in the middle of everyone’s wheel. Any tiny setback—a lost pacifier, a sick child—can threaten the whole highly tenuous ecosystem of the day.

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The Expectation Deficit

RECENTLY, the U.S. celebrated the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education that declared unconstitutional state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students. By winning the Brown case, Thurgood Marshall broke the rock-hard foundation of racial barriers between black and white schools in the U.S.

But the civil right of equal opportunity for equal education never ensured the human right of equal access to it. Thus the explicitly racial divide, reinforced by law, was replaced by a close kin: the poverty divide, reinforced by economic blight entrenched by white flight to the suburbs.

Ten years later President Lyndon B. Johnson took a bulldozer to that new economic divide by declaring, in his January 1964 State of the Union address, an unconditional “War on Poverty.” He said, “Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined.” And it did.

EVERY WAR HAS multiple fronts. Johnson’s fight against poverty was a legislative one, which played out in states, cities, and school districts across the country. Within two years Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act, the Food Stamp Act, the Economic Opportunity Act, and the Social Security Act. Each act was a legislative beachhead in the assault against U.S. poverty.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 represented a major shift in the way the U.S. conceived public education. In this act, Johnson took direct aim at the economic infrastructure that barred blacks and other impoverished people from accessing equal education.

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Answer to a Begging Woman's Prayer

Close-up of woman, Oleg Golovnev / Shutterstock.com

Close-up of woman, Oleg Golovnev / Shutterstock.com

On my way home one day this past winter, I saw a woman standing at an intersection, holding a cardboard sign saying she had nothing to eat. Her face was red from the chilling wind. She looked forlorn.

I stopped for the red light and grabbed my wallet to get a few dollars for her. Oops, all I had was a $20 bill. That’s more than I’d intended to give her.

She looked forlorn. I couldn’t just drive past.

I lowered my window and handed her the bill. Her eyes brightened. She grabbed my hand tightly with both of hers — she wore knit gloves that left her cold fingers unprotected. She squeezed hard.

“Thank you,” she said, pumping my hand. “God bless you! Thank you! Thank you!”

As I raised the window, I watched her step back, go to one knee, clasp her hands, look up to the sky and mouth the words, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Then she made the sign of the cross.

At that moment, it struck me: I’d become the answer to her prayer.

Anti-Poverty Efforts Need A Biblical Answer, But It's Not Socialism, Says AEI Panel

Lindsey told The Christian Post that he saw the book as part of his "lifelong passion and calling" to "write biblical theological truth" regarding "personal and public life." Lindsey also told CP that he "came from a more left-oriented perspective, sort of Jim Wallis and Sojourners and Ron Sider." "I still appreciate much of what they taught me, but I think probably the great turning point was reading Michael Novak's book Spirit of Democratic Capitalism and other things that sort of opened my eyes that there was more to the story than what I've been told," said Lindsey.

Survey: Most Americans Say Fighting Global Poverty Is Futile

Scott Todd of Compassion International. Photo courtesy Compassion International/RNS

Despite progress in defeating extreme global poverty, most Americans see no end in sight, according to a survey sponsored by Compassion International.

Christians who attend church at least monthly and consider religion very important in their life overwhelmingly (96 percent) expressed concern about the world’s poorest people. But they were skeptical that global poverty could be ended in the next 25 years. Only 41 percent of the group said it was possible.

And yet Scott Todd of Compassion International, the Christian nonprofit agency that sponsors 1.5 million children abroad, remains upbeat. He sees hope in the numbers of “practicing Christians” who express concern about poverty and a willingness to do more.

A Different Kind of Spring Training

Baseball illustration, joephotostudio / Shutterstock.com

Baseball illustration, joephotostudio / Shutterstock.com

This Holy Week, I realized God's hope in a place other than church.

Proclaiming that the tomb is empty – that Jesus has risen from the grave – is the most powerful witness any Christian can offer. But if our Easter celebration stops at proclamation then we’ve shortchanged the world of the hope and joy it sorely needs. The resurrection must also be about embodiment. It should change the way we live and move and have our being. Easter should transform and strengthen us to participate in God’s reconciling work in the world.

That’s why I chose to spend this Easter worshipping in a very different way and in a very different place. There was no midnight watch service or large family dinner, but there were countless moments of hope and an abiding trust in the possibility of new life.

Payday Lending: Time to Crack the Trap in Minnesota

Payday Loans vendor, photo by Steve Rhodes / Flickr.com.

Payday Loans vendor, photo by Steve Rhodes / Flickr.com.

The United States hosts more than 23,000 payday lending stores, which outnumbers the combined total of McDonald’s, Burger King, Sears, J.C. Penney, and Target stores. These payday lenders do not make conventional loans as seen in most banks, but instead offer short-term loan amounts for short periods of time, usually until the borrower’s next paycheck, hence the name “payday loans.”

While some borrowers benefit from this otherwise unavailable source of short-term and small-amount credit, the payday lending business model fosters harmful serial borrowing and the allowable interest rates drain assets from financially pressured people. For example, in Minnesota the average payday loan size is approximately $380, and the total cost of borrowing this amount for two weeks computes to an appalling 273 percent annual percentage rate (APR). The Minnesota Commerce Department reveals that the typical payday loan borrower takes an average of 10 loans per year, and is in debt for 20 weeks or more at triple-digit APRs. As a result, for a $380 loan, that translates to $397.90 in charges, plus the amount of the principal, which is nearly $800 in total charges.