Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Do we Need the Government? (5) - Justice from Thieves

Most people who have something stolen expect two things to happen. They expect the stolen goods to be returned and they expect the thief to suffer sufficient penalty to discourage them from stealing again. Civil government cannot be counted on to do either of these things. The fines collected by the justice system go to the government.

The victim only rarely receives financial compensation for their troubles. The amazing this is that this is now accepted as normal.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Do we Need the Government? (4) - Protection from Thieves

A variety of options are available to those who are worried about their property being stolen.

  • Giving possessions away to the poor.
  • Placing all valuables in a band for security.
  • Employing a personal body guard.
  • Purchasing insurance against theft.
  • Putting locks on all doors and gates
  • Living in a community of people who are honest.

The civil government does not protect our property, because the police will only act after a theft has occurred. If they catch the thief, he will be fined, but the stolen goods will not necessarily be returned. More often the crime will be too small to justify police resources, or there will be insufficient for an arrest and prosecution.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Do we Need the Government? (3) - Protection from Violence

A variety of options are open to those who feel vulnerable to attack.

  • Staying inside at night and only going out when it is safe.
  • Learning a martial art
  • Payinng protection money to local gang
  • Employing a personal body guard.
  • Staying close to a group of people you trust. This is the cheapest option.
The civil government is a poor option, because the police do not undertake to provide protection for individual people. Their only commitment is to catch people who assault others and fine them. The worst offenders will be put in prison for a time. The existence of the police may discourage people from being violent and may take the more violent people out of circulation. This may assist others, but it does not help the person who is being assaulted. Even if aperson being threatened is able to call the police, they are unlikely to arrive in time to prevent an assault occuring.

Those who want government for protection from violence are likely to be disappointed.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Do we Need the Government? (2) - Defence

There are numerous ways of getting defence.

  • Local communities could form militias so they could defend themselves.
  • Communities could employ mercenaries to defend them. The Vatican City has relied on Swiss guards for hundreds of years.

The civil government is just one method of getting defence and it is not a very good one. Most governments are reluctant to spend money on defence. They also tend to be over ambitious at getting into unnecessary wars, so we should think really careful before saying that we need a government for defence.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Do we Need the Government? (1) - To Tell Us What to Do

There are several answers to this question. Most of them show that we are foolish to trust in human government and confirm that it is unnecessary.

Some people believe that we need someone to tell us what to do.

Children sometimes need some to tell them what to do, but generally they have parents for this purpose.

Most adults do not need someone to tell them what to do. Most of us prefer to make our own mistakes. Anyway free wisdom is plentiful in this world. There are plenty of people that we can ask for advice, if we need it.

Christians have God to show them what to do, so they need human government for this reason, least of all.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Starting a Church for Dummies (3)

  • People will often say dumb things, but that does not matter. Correcting dumb statements is usually unnecessary. Most Christians forget good things quite quickly, so they will forget dumb things even quicker. Getting participation is more important than getting everything right.
  • The main thing a leader will have to say is “Hello”; to a person who has just joined the group. No one should be left isolated. Everyone should be looking for people standing alone and speak to them.
  • When a new person joins the group, invite them for a meal. While chewing your food, you have to be dumb, giving them a chance to talk about themselves. This will give them confidence to participate in a meeting of the church.
  • When someone believes that God is telling them to do something, the others should encourage them to have a go. Stand with them for moral support, even if it feels a bit dumb.
  • Smile! Remain quiet (dumb) and people will think you are wise.

The full series is here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Starting a Church for Dummies (2)

The Holy Spirit can only build a strong body, if every member gets involved. A body with some limbs not functioning is a cripple. The main challenge in starting a church is to create an environment where every person can participate. Here are some hints.

  • Every person should be free to say, “This is what I think the Holy Spirit is saying,” even if it sounds dumb.
  • The Holy Spirit prefers to break up what he has to say and give bits to different people. If only one person speaks, we will miss most of what the Spirit has to say. If the dumb donkey has seen an angel and heard from God, the entire body needs to hear from it.
  • The best way to encourage honesty is for leaders to be honest about the dumb things that they have done.
  • The Holy Spirit cannot be seen, so spirit-lead leadership should be invisible (dumb). People who are used to leading or teaching should learn to act dumb (be quiet) and let the Holy Spirit speak through other people.
  • One question that gets people thinking and talking is more valuable than ten minutes of “teaching”.
  • Every meeting will get stuck in a rut at times. A spirit-led leader should be able to move it on without saying much and no one noticing.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Starting a Church for Dummies (1)

If you feel a bit dumb, when it comes to starting a new church, do not worry because the Holy Spirit is a bit dumb too. A dumb person cannot speak. The Holy Spirit can only speak using the voice of another person or by putting thoughts into a person’s mind. However, he is really smart at starting churches. If you are dumb enough to stop talking and listen to the Holy Spirit, you are just smart enough to start a new church.

Getting out of the established church is the hard bit, starting a new one is much easier. Just get together with a few other Christians that you trust and listen to what Holy Spirit is saying. Act dumb (listen) until you hear what he is saying, then do it.

Too many Christians worry about a whole lot of irrelevant issues.

  • Where should we meet?
  • When should we meet?
  • How often should we meet?
  • What should we do when we meet?
  • What type of worship we have?
  • How will we get teaching?

The answers to these questions do not matter. Just do what will work for the people involved.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bad Tactics Too

In my view, the war in Iraq is an unjust war. The goal of preventing another terrorist attack on the United States simply just not justify the cost of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casulties, let alone all the other costs.

Many people believe that the US must defend itself against terrorism in the Middle East, but this is also a mistake at that tactical level.

  • Deciding to defend the United States in Iraq is unwise. The US is fighting where it is vulnerable and where the enemy is strongest. This is asymmetrical war at its worst. A wise tactician chooses to fight where the enemy is weak and his defense is strong. Defending the US in the US is relatively easy. Defending the US in Iraq is fraught with difficulties.
  • When choosing allies, the US generally chooses the wrong allies. In the 1960s, the US was supplying Iran with weapons. Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein both got started as clients of the US. The US is currently strengthening Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia, but these will prove to be fickle allies. The US is feeding the hand that will eventually bite it.
  • Even if the US is able to win the war and establish democracy in Iraq, that government will eventually turn against the US. Empires create enemies. The US is simplify creating and arming another enemy for the future.
  • The Islamic nations in the Middle East are hopelessly divided. Not just Sunni and Shia, but also at the national level. By invading Iraq, the US has united these divided forces.
  • The weakest aspect of Islam is its reputation for using warfare to win converts. The use of force by the US to defend Christianity gives them an excuse and justification. They see this as Christians using war to win converts.
  • Dan 11:12 says that by invading Iraq, the US will stir up" the entire Middle East.
  • Most of the people in the Middle East are cultural Moslems, very like nominal Christians in the west. The radicals are a small minority, but every time the US bombs are house, kill civilians or knock down the door of a family home, the radical movement grows.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Tomato Justice (7) - Pickers

There is no doubt that the tomato pickers are being paid a very low wage rate. However, low wages are not proof of injustice. If they have freely agreed to the work for these rates, there is no injustice. An injustice has only occurred, if the workers are so poor that they have been forced to accept the wages against their will. I do not have enough information to answer that question. However, it is unlikely that all the tomato pickers are destitute. Those who are not would not have accepted the offered rate, if they did not think they were reasonable.

If all workers refused the rate offered, then employer would have no choice but to offer a higher rate, or find another way to pick his tomatoes. The fact that tomato grower has been able to employ enough pickers suggests that a significant number of people have freely accepted the wages offered.

There are some key questions that need to be asked before coming up with a solution to this problem.

  1. Why is picking tomatoes for such a low wage the best employment opportunity for these people? Are their no other employment opportunities in the region. It is strange that they cannot find better-paying employment, given that they work so hard. Are they living in the wrong place? Maybe they need to move to where there is more work available. Christians could assist with this.
  2. Are they emigrants without education and language skills. Sometimes people have to take lower paid work while they are learning to speak the language and get skills that will open up better paid employment.
  3. Are the same people doing this work year after year? I would be worried if that was the case. They might need help with language training and work skills. Christians who are concerned could assist with this.
  4. The pickers might be moving on to better work and being replaced by others after a short time picking tomatoes? If this low paid work is a path way to better paid employment, it might be a good opportunity for those wanting to get started in employment.
  5. Why are there no employers in the region, if there are good people looking for work? Maybe there is an opportunity for a Christian entrepreneur, to find a way of utilising these people better.

I do not see an evil structure at work in this situation. McDonalds are not doing something evil or committing a crime. The tomato grower might not be being generous, but he is not sinning.

Justice does not provide a solution to this situation. Mercy will actually do much better. Working with the tomato pickers to provide education and skills, mercy can give them choices and make them capable of more productive and better paid work.

Even if the tomato pickers are being treated unjustly, the best solution would be for a Christian entrepreneur to set up a business that will provide better work for them. Instead of telling McDonalds what to do, Christians should do something about this problem themselves.

This complete series is here.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Tomato Justice (6) - Tomato Growers

The tomato grower has several options for the use of his land. He has chosen to grow tomatoes because that is the most profitable crop. Choosing the most profitable activity is not a sin for an entrepreneur. This is also something we do all the time. We choose to work for the employer, who will pay the most for our skills. In general, using land for the most profitable activity is a good practice, because it results in the most efficient use of a limited resource.

The tomato grower could raise the wage rate paid to the tomato pickers. However, there is a limit to what he can do. If he raises the wage rate too high, growing tomatoes might cease to be profitable. He might lose his contract with McDonalds and be unable to sell his tomatoes. If this happened, he would need to switch to a different crop, in which case the tomato pickers would not longer be required. So a small increase in the wages of tomato pickers might help them, but a large increase could have the unintended consequence of making their labour unnecessary.

The supplier contracted to MacDonald pays the pickers piece rates. This is not sinful, if the workers agree to this type of payment. Many people prefer this type of payment because they get rewarded for their extra effort.

The tomato grower is not required to be generous. Christians are required to be generous. We would like non-Christians to follow our example and be generous too, but we cannot force others to be generous. Forcing people to be generous is not God’s way. Justice is not achieved by forcing people to be generous.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Tomato Justice (5) - Corporate Generosity

Is McDonalds required to be generous? This raises and important question for Christians to answer. Do companies have a responsibility to be generous to the poor? We should remember that the mangers and directors of a company are watching over capital/assets that have been entrusted to them by their shareholders. They are stewards acting on behalf of their owners. They can only take actions for which they have been given approval by the shareholders. The articles of the company put boundaries on the range of actions that can be taken by managers and directors.

Managers cannot take the assets of the company for themselves, as that would be stealing. In the same way, unless the articles of the company provide for donations to charity, managers would be stealing if they gave the property of the company away to the poor.

Most Christians will generally do their own giving. Then they can pray and give as God leads. This will generally be more effective than trusting a company to give money away on their behalf. On the other hand, there may be some large projects that can only be funded by a large company. However this should only be done if it is provided for by the company’s articles of incorporation.

Forcing companies to be generous is not God’s way. Justice is not achieved by forcing companies to be generous.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tomato Justice (4) - McDonalds

I presume that McDonalds buys the cheapest tomatoes it can obtain, provided the quantity and quality is right. It will be quite concerned about continuity of supply as a lack of tomatoes could be embarrassing for its restaurants.
Buying the cheapest product available is not a sin or a crime. It is something that we all do, when whenever we buy something we need. Choosing the cheapest supplier that meets the required quality and quality standards generally leads to efficient processes. McDonalds is not wrong in looking for the cheapest supplier of tomatoes.

McDonalds also functions in a very competitive market. If their sandwiches get too expensive, they might lose market share to other food chains. They have to manage their supply contracts carefully to remain competitive in their own market.

McDonalds could offer a higher contract price for tomatoes. If they did, they would get a lot more suppliers wanting to supply tomatoes. They would have to find another way to choose between prospective suppliers.

The higher price contract may not go to the existing suppliers. A more expensive supplier that is now competitive may get the contract. If the current supplier loses the contract, the pickers that people are concerned about might not benefit. They may even lose their jobs if the grower stops producing tomatoes.

Justice does not require McDonalds to pay a higher price for tomatoes. If they did pay a higher price than they need to, it would be an act of generosity and not an act of justice.

The complete series is here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tomato Justice (3) - Low Wages

The Bible does not specify a particular wage rate for particular task. This would be impossible because wages vary according to the type of work and the availability of workers. What is low in America might be high in another country. There is not such thing as a just wage. Biblical justice is more concerned about the process that about the wage level. If the process of wage negotiation was just, the wages are not unjust. A just wage is a rate agreed by two employer and employee without coercion.

The Bible does not even forbid the payment of different rates to different people. Jesus said that at employer is free to offer whatever wages he chooses, provided that no one is forced to accept those wages (Matt 20:1-16). Employers can offer a low wage rate, if they choose. If they go to low, they will find that not prospective employees accept their offer. They might have to go higher to get the staff they need. If many people are looking for work, their low offer might be accepted.

Offering a low wage is only wrong, if the person receiving the offer is so destitute that they have not choice but to accept the low wage. Their circumstances mean that they are forced to accept the offer. This is fraud.

Low wages do not prove that an employer has defrauded their workers. Fraud is only proven, if the workers were poor and had no choice but to accept a low wage. They have been robbed because they were forced by circumstances to accept a lower wage than they would normally accept.

A high wage can also be unjust, if the employees used threats to obtain it.

With this background, my next post will look at what is happening in the Tomato case.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tomato Justice (2) - Employers

The second important issue is to understand the responsibilities of employers to their employees. Many Christians like to quote the prophet Malachi’s condemnation of employers who defraud their labourers.

So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty (Mal 3:5).
Malachi puts those who defraud their labourers in the same basket as liars and adulterers. These latter are crimes specified in the Ten Commandments, so defrauding wage earners falls into the same category. Defrauding a labourer is theft, because it deprives of something of something that legally belongs to him.
Malachi does not actually specify what these employees were doing. However, the prophets did not decide for themselves what is right or wrong. The prophetic role was to challenge those who break God’s laws, so we can expect their crimes to be clearly defined in the Old Testament laws. This is the case.

There are several ways that an employee can be defrauded.

  1. The first is just like every other type of fraud. The person promise to do something and when he has received the benefit refuses to pay for what he has received.
    Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. ( Lev 19:13).
    When the work is complete a bad employer might refuse to pay wages that he has agreed to pay. This a breach of contract is a form of theft.
  2. An employer can defraud a worker by refusing to pay wages promptly. A worker in difficult circumstance should be paid daily, because he might go hungry if he has to wait to the end of the week or the end of the month.
    Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight( Lev 19:13).
    Late payment of wages can cause real adversity in some situations.
  3. An employer can defraud their employee when they negotiate the wages for the work. If the prospective employees are desperate for work, the employer must not take advantage of their vulnerability when negotiating their wages.
    You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. (Deut 24:14)
    The word “oppress” (âshaq) means “press upon, oppress, violate, defraud, get deceitfully, extort”. An employer who pays someone who is poor and needy less than someone who is not has defrauded their employee. Paying a low rate of pay is not a breach of this law. To show that his law has been broken, prophet would have to show that the employer was paying less to the poor and needy than would be paid to other people.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Tomato Justice (1)

The Sojourners organisation is leading a campaign to persuade McDonalds to pay a higher price for tomatoes grown in Florida. They claim that this is an issue of human rights and justice.

Farm workers who pick tomatoes for McDonald's sandwiches earn 40 to 50 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick. Workers who toil from dawn to dusk without the right to overtime pay or any benefits must pick two tons of tomatoes to earn $50 in one day. As a major buyer of Florida tomatoes, McDonald's high-volume, low-cost purchasing practices place downward pressure on farm worker wages, putting corporate profits before human dignity.

The Bible teaches God's command that society be organized so that all
members have genuine access to the resources needed to live a decent life and provide for their families. As Christians, we stand with these workers in witnessing against unjust corporate practices that undermine human dignity and chip away at the common good. Please take action today to encourage McDonald's to change these deplorable conditions. (
Fair Wages for Farm Workers)

That statement that “society should be organized so that all members have genuine access to the resources needed to live a decent life and provide for their families” is a bit odd. Nevertheless, this sounds like a good cause for Christians. However, before sitting in judgement on McDonalds, should unpack the problem a little.

McDonalds contracts tomato growers to supply tomatoes. The tomato growers employ pickers to pick tomatoes. There are probably other intermediaries in the process, but I will keep it simple for the sake of argument.

The first step in resolving this problem is to decide whether justice or mercy is required. Justice has a judicial context. It corrects injustice. An injustice occurs when a person or group of people are harmed as consequence of someone breaking one of God’s laws. For example, if someone steals my cow an injustice has been done. The biblical solution to that injustice is for the thief to make restitution to their victim. Restitution restores justice.

In the same way, if multinational company takes native lands without payment or permission, a theft has occurred. This crime breaks God’s law, so it is an injustice. Justice can only be achieved by the restitution of the land or equivalent financial compensation. Christians should be calling for justice in every situation where an injustice has occurred.

However, there are many other situations where a person or group of people are in dire circumstances through the circumstances of life. They may have made some mistakes or experienced an accident, but no injustice has occurred. These situations require compassion and mercy, not justice. There is no injustice to put right, because none of God’s laws has been broken. However, there is plenty of room for mercy, because Christians should always be assisting those in need.

I will apply this to the Tomato case tomorrow.

The complete series is here.