Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Means and Ends

Over at Public Discourse there was an article not too long ago about Boehner's record on social justice and the Catholic position. The gist of it is responding to those who think that because Boehner advocates certain policies he is therefore opposed to social justice.

I'm not an expert on Boehner's record or Catholic social justice positions but this point is worth considering:
Second, and more critically, the signatories have confused means to achieve social justice with the principles of social justice, and have thus overstepped the bounds of what they can legitimately argue about Boehner’s fidelity to “principles of the common good, the preferential option for the poor, and the interrelationship of subsidiarity and solidarity. The letter failed to present the possibility that Boehner might in fact share the authors’ commitment to principles of social justice, and instead jumped right to a criticism of Boehner’s means of achieving it. To make an effective case against Boehner’s political record, the letter should not have called into question his commitment to principles. Instead, it should have taken issue more explicitly with his legislative steps toward social justice as means to achieve the ends which principles dictate, not a failure to recognize the principles themselves. First, however, it should have acknowledged that Catholic politicians like Boehner who are entrusted with care of the community in the political realm have a “legitimate autonomy” with regard to “this or that institutional or constitutional solution” to problems of social justice, as John Paul II explains in his encyclical Centesimus Annus.” (emphasis original) 
I think evangelicals would be wise to consider this. There are a lot of times that politically conservative evangelicals are demonized for being unconcerned with ends of care for the poor, the orphans and the widows because they do not advocate the means that the politically Evangelical Left advocates.

But there is a whole field of research that argues that the means the political Left sees as solutions will only exacerbate the problem. I'm not trying to solve the debate, I'm just saying it is a lot more complicated then looking at one side and saying: "You didn't vote for bill X you don't care about the poor." Or "you did vote for bill Y, you only care about the rich." 

I have discussed some of this before. We need to be careful in assume that a commitment to the Kingdom of God is enmeshed with a particular means of doing politics. 

Even outside of politics, I find in the church a lot of times conflict comes because people neglect the distinction between means and ends. 

So because you did something a certain way (means) suddenly the person attacks your end goals: "you don't care about X." Sometimes as a leader you have to explain why your different means of doing something (e.g. like changing children's church) reaches a same end (seeing kids here God's Word). Most people assume that when you changed the means you were communicating you didn't care about the end.

Not all conflicts break down to such easy distinctions but there are times where keeping the two logically distinct and communicating that distinction can save everybody a lot of toil and trouble. Then again, other times it still doesn't eliminate the issue or problem.

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