Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Dialogue

Miriam Adeney, Jordan J. Ballor, Shirley A. Mullen


March 11, 2011

Last week the Center for Public Justice along with Evangelicals for Social Action and several charter signatories, including Richard Mouw, H. Dean Trulear, and Stanley Carlson-Thies, issued A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis. (You may also want to read our editorial statement on the Call from last week.) We asked a few signatories and non-signatories to write about their reasons for signing or not signing the Call.

YES: I support this statement because it weaves together two priorities: we must reduce our public debt, and we must love the needy.  If we don't reduce our debt, we will steal from the next generation.  We who have food and shelter and the ability to work can tighten our belts. There are grants and programs and benefits that have been available to us that we can do without. Yet vulnerable people—locally, nationally, and internationally—need programs of empowerment. Some need ongoing care. Fat must be trimmed from such programs, certainly. This is not the expansive '90s, after all.  We can pitch in as community volunteers to replace parts of some programs. But to maintain continuity and quality, state support also is essential.

—Miriam Adeney is Associate Professor of World Christian Studies at Seattle Pacific University and a Teaching Fellow at Regent College.

NO:  While I praise the Call for its effort to bring the moral aspects of the public debt crisis facing America to broader attention, I have not signed on for reasons of both principle and prudence. With regard to principle, I find no coherent framework contained in or entailed by the Call for judging what the federal government’s primary responsibilities are, whether with respect to national defense, criminal justice, infrastructure, foreign relations, entitlements, or other social programs. The Call moves too easily and quickly from God’s clear concern for the poor to endorse particular federal governmental responsibilities. This gives the clear impression that direct federal assistance to the poor is somehow divinely mandated, an impression that does not do justice to the responsibilities of other social institutions, particularly the church. On the prudential level the Call does not make the case strongly enough that various entitlement programs are the core of the budget dilemma, and signers of the document are construing it in ways that are mutually exclusive. We are in a situation where difficult choices need to be made about governmental spending, and the Call does not provide a principled or prudentially helpful framework for making these tough decisions.

Jordan J. Ballor is a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty.

YES: I endorse the Call for Intergenerational Justice because it simultaneously embraces restraint and boldness. On the one hand, it recognizes the need for the government to resist any illusion that it can or even ought to “solve” the social and economic needs of the moment, both out of respect for the needs of future generations, but also out of respect for those other agencies in a liberal democracy who voluntarily and appropriately share the responsibility for meeting the needs of their fellow human beings.  On the other hand, it recognizes that the government, as the “voice of the people,” does have responsibility in a time of scarce resources to look out for the needs of those who are least able to exercise influence on their own behalf in the political process.

Shirley A. Mullen is the President of Houghton College.


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”