- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Before the apple, before the serpent, Adam and Eve had jobs — a biblical blueprint for how humanity should address helping its poor, a panel of faith-based leaders and researchers said Tuesday.

“Before sin, or any conversation about sin, [Adam and Eve] cared for the Garden,” said Peter Greer, president and CEO of the global charity group Hope International. “I think we’ve gotten away from the fuller picture, but yes, there is a time for charity, caring for people.”

But balancing that care for others without doing more harm than good is just one of the challenges facing Christians, economists and even Christian economists.

“God creates something out of nothing. We’re called to create something out of something,” said Art Lindsley, vice president of theological initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics. “People are made in the image of God to be able to express their creativity. To be able to bring new things into existence, to be involved in innovation.

“The question is, what system, what approach, leaves people with the most opportunity to be free to use their creativity, and develop that creativity in the creation around them? What most affirms human dignity and allows us to fulfill [that] cultural mandate?”

Mr. Lindsley and Mr. Greer were two of four participants in a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research titled “For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty.”

The discussion was conducted, in part, to note the publication of a collection of essays also titled “For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty,” which was edited by Mr. Lindsley and Anne Bradley, vice president of economic initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics.

Jay Richards, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, pointed out that the Bible “is chock full of economic wisdom,” such as the idea of private property and sharing of goods, but “we’re not going to learn everything from biblical text.”

At the same time, people can’t simply look at economics as only jobs and money, he said.

“If you just look at economics through a utilitarian lens, where the only thing you’re concerned about is everybody have the right number of dollars in their bank account and that each person have a job,” Mr. Richards said, “you’ll reduce the human person, so you don’t understand they have very important moral and spiritual realities that are in fact the kind of governing realities from which certain economic goods come.”

Balancing respect for humanity and alleviating poverty can be tricky.

In Leviticus, Scripture instructs farmers to harvest their crops and leave the edges of their fields to feed the poor. But in the Gospel of Matthew, the faithful are told to help “the least of these.”

While it’s popular to provide handouts, whether domestically or through foreign aid, those freebies can mutate from a feeling of gratitude to anticipation to expectation to “full blown dependency,” Mr. Greer said.

“In the wake of good intentions, oftentimes we leave a mess behind us,” Mr. Greer said. “If we just have a model of redistribution, what we’re doing feels like [the poor] have no power to change their circumstances.”

Ms. Bradley said the balancing act is difficult and will take continued work and adjustment, but that’s no reason to throw in the towel.

“Just because you’re doing it wrong, doesn’t mean don’t do it at all,” she said. “The question is, for the people who still remain in poverty, how do we unleash the idea of free exchange, so that they can experience what we experience. It’s never been more possible. As Christians, we have to know there’s a right way to do that and a lot of wrong ways to get to that.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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