Religious Americans must consider economics - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Religious Americans must consider economics

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Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010 12:58 pm | Updated: 3:51 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Austin Hill: Why don’t faith-based Americans concern themselves with economics? Does that seem like a strange question? You may be wondering what I mean by “faith-based Americans.”

Why don’t faith-based Americans concern themselves with economics? Does that seem like a strange question?

You may be wondering what I mean by “faith-based Americans.” I’m talking here about that large, diverse bunch of us who claim allegiance to a religious faith and who believe that our faith tradition informs the ways in which we view the world.

As I’m defining it here, this group consists of a majority of the United States’ evangelical Protestant Christians, a majority of American Mormons, some large percentage (most estimates suggest around 60 percent or so) of American Catholics, and some small portion of American orthodox Jews.

Some keen observers of politics may look at this definition that I’ve constructed and quickly conclude that I’m describing the Christian right. But I’m purposely avoiding the term Christian right for at least a couple of reasons.

For one, I’m not interested here in debating who is “really a Christian,” and who is not (that’s a theological debate, and a worthwhile debate at that — but I’m not arguing theology here).

Furthermore, I’m not assuming that this faith-based category of American citizens necessarily still leans to the political right.

Indeed, many evangelical Protestants, and many Catholics, people who may have had a track record of voting with the Republican Party, shifted gears during the 2008 election and voted for President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

With this new “faith-based American” category in mind, you may read what I have written here and be offended. “What does he mean that we don’t concern ourselves with economics.” some may ask in dismay.

Well, OK, let me further clarify. It is true that faith-based Americans frequently concern themselves with economic issues. And I’ve observed plenty of evidence of this, just within the past couple of months or so.

Back in November, I took in a presentation about the Arizona School Tuition Tax Credits program at a Catholic parish in Mesa, and I was encouraged to participate in the program and direct my tax credit funds to an Arizona Catholic school of my choice.

Then, on a weekend trip to the Golden State with my son in early December, I visited Corona, Calif.’s Crossroads Church, an evangelical mega-church headed up by a pastor named Chuck Booher (a man who significantly influenced my thoughts on faith and God during my adolescent years).

“Pastor Chuck,” it just so happened that Sunday, was admonishing his audience to live within their means, to pay cash for Christmas gifts, and to realize that financial debt leads to personal and spiritual bondage.

And then there was my visit to the in-laws in Santa Barbara for Christmas, which included my Dec. 27 visit with them to the morning service at Reality, a burgeoning, nondenominational evangelical church in the suburb of Carpinteria (yes, it’s actually a church called, simply, Reality — check out if you don’t believe me).

The pastor spent considerable time that Sunday explaining the launch of a new Reality location in San Francisco and made it clear that the funding for this new church had already been put in place before the new location opened up. “To do otherwise,” the pastor noted, “would be irresponsible.”

So, yes, faith-based Americans concern themselves with economic issues. But that’s not the same as concerning one’s self with public policy debates over economics. And it’s not the same as grappling with the distinctions among the various types of economic systems.

Here’s what I’m getting at: Catholic parishes in Arizona are usually always eager to take advantage of our state’s tuition tax credit program.

Yet, I’ve never heard a Catholic priest acknowledge the intense political fights that were waged back in the 1990s that allowed the tuition tax credit to become law in the first place; or the ways in which the tax credit law is threatened in the state Legislature today (ironically many Catholics align themselves with the political party that is most opposed to the law); or the fact that one of the biggest champions of the tuition tax credit law, former speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, the late Jeff Groscost, was actually a Mormon.

And I love to observe pastors preaching about personal financial responsibility and building churches with sound financial principles. Yet I don’t think I’ve ever heard a pastor explain how our government and the American financial system is undermining the practice of personal financial responsibility among American citizens, or how our government is running up our nation’s debt in ways that would put a church out of business.

Economic concerns hit home on both a personal and public policy level. Faith-based Americans must be willing to address them on both fronts.

Austin Hill’s commentaries appear every Sunday. He hosts talk radio around the country including Arizona’s Newstalk KTAR (92.3 FM). To join Austin as he talks with Arizona’s newsmakers, and has a fun time doing it, watch “The Austin Hill Web TV Show” on Arizona Web TV.

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