Baseball and Ethics: The Utilitarian Player

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The most wonderful time of the year is almost upon us. No, it’s not Christmas. The Major League Baseball season starts in less than two weeks. For the next six months I will spend most of my evenings watching all or part of a baseball game. It’s the national pastime. It is what life is supposed to be like.

This spring I want to engage in something a little different. Over dinner last night a friend inspired me to think about my academic discipline of ethics in terms of baseball players and ideas. I teach ethics for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and I am specifically teaching a seminar right now that deals with ethical theory. I am always looking for a new way to illustrate these theories so students can better understand them. This time around, I’ll try it with baseball. So here is the beginning of my series on Baseball and Ethics.

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Jeremy Bentham

Utilitarianism is perhaps the most commonly employed ethical system around us. You could call it the ultimate utility player. Here is utilitarianism in a nutshell (roasted peanuts, of course, since we’re going with a baseball theme). Utilitarianism bases the morality of an action or set of actions on the principle of utility—the greatest good for the greatest number. Jeremy Bentham, the starting pitcher of utilitarianism, states, “By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question.”[1] Bentham goes on to offer further definition of utility as “that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness.”[2] After Bentham pitched a number of exceptional innings for his ethical theory, John Stuart Mill came into the game in relief of the starter and posted good numbers with his classic pitch, Utilitarianism, first published between 1861 and 1863.

In essence, utilitarianism requires that the person making a moral choice participate in a form of calculus to determine the results of any action and then quantify the consequences on a scale of utility. The action that produces the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people is the most moral choice. Think of this moral math equation as a form of moral sabermetrics.[3] Once we know how one choice stacks up statistically against the other, we can make an informed decision and anticipate a certain set of results.

So how does utilitarianism connect to baseball? I like to think of utilitarianism as the ultimate utility player. This is the player that can maximize good for the greatest number on the field. He may not be a slugger or a Gold Glove winner, but he makes things happen for the team, and every team wants a guy just like him. Let me give a couple of examples. Ben Zobrist is currently just that guy. He’s listed as the top second baseman for the Cubs right now, but he’s played second base, short stop, and various outfield positions. He’s won two World Series championships (2015 with the Royals and 2016 with the Cubs), and he won the World Series MVP in 2016. He’s even a switch hitter. You just figure something good is going to happen when Zobrist is in the game.

800px-joseoquendocards2013Another example from my childhood is José Oquendo. He played most of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1988, he played all nine positions on the field.[4] Oquendo played 12 seasons in the majors and then went on to serve as a coach in the Cardinals system for another 21 years. Despite his lifetime .256 batting average, he continued to play for the Cardinals. You don’t stay in the big leagues for 12 years if you can’t play. His versatility and ability to make good things happen earned him the nickname “Secret Weapon” from his manager Whitey Herzog.

Great utility players like Zobrist and Oquendo stay in demand because they bring good results for the team. They are not usually superstars, and they don’t play to pad their personal stats. They generate the greatest good for the entire team. They are the ultimate utilitarians.

*Image credits to Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia.

[1] Jeremy Bentham, Principles of Morals and Legislation, in The Classical Utilitarians: Bentham and Mill, ed. John Troyer (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003), 9.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://sabr.org/sabermetrics

[4] https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Jos%C3%A9_Oquendo

Born Alive but Still at Risk

One of the big new stories coming out of Congress this week was the failure of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to receive the necessary 60 votes in the Senate to come up for a final vote. The bill was intended to protect infants who survived abortions. Medical professionals would have been required to “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” In addition, the bill would “ensure that the child born alive is immediately transported and admitted to a hospital.”[1]

The failure of this bill comes on the heels of high-profile legislation in New York that legalizes abortion for the entirety of a pregnancy. As we can see from these situations, the lines regarding abortion are growing starker. On one side, there are people who continue to work for further limits on abortion and even to ban it entirely. On the other side, there are people who are working to expand access to abortion up to the point of birth or beyond.

What the failure of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and the passage of New York’s Reproductive Health Act tell us is that those who support abortion are moving closer to what was once considered an extreme position. This position is one of supporting abortion at any moment up to birth and perhaps even after birth.

The progression of this view can easily be seen in the work of Peter Singer. Dr. Singer is the longtime professor of bioethics at Princeton University. His writings on issues of life espouse infanticide and abortion. However, he also offers great insight into the debate regarding the right to life. Here is how he casts the argument over the search for a point at which new human life achieves personhood and thus has a right to life:

The central argument against abortion, put as a formal argument, would go something like this:

First premise: It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.
Second premise: A human fetus is an innocent human being.
Conclusion: Therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.

The usual liberal response is to deny the second premise of this argument. So it is on whether the fetus is a human being that the issue is joined, and the dispute about abortion is often taken to be a dispute about when a human life begins.

On this issue the conservative position is difficult to shake. The conservative points to the continuum between the fertilized egg and child and challenges the liberal to point to any stage in this gradual process that marks a morally significant dividing line. Unless there is such a line, the conservative says, we must either upgrade the status of the earliest embryo to that of the child, or downgrade the status of the child to that of the embryo; but no one wants to allow children to be dispatched on the request of their parents, and so the only tenable position is to grant the fetus the protection we now grant the child.[2]

Singer notes the difficulty in determining “a morally significant dividing line” between conception and birth. He then suggests that if one cannot be found, then the embryo must be upgraded to the status of the newborn child or the newborn child must be downgraded to the status of the embryo.

This is the main sticking point in the discussion today about abortion. At what point must abortion be outlawed. For a couple of decades, the idea was that abortion would just not be allowed in the final trimester of the pregnancy. In recent years, those restrictions have been backed up closer to the point of viability. Abortion proponents have reacted against these restrictions by pushing for relaxing the restrictions to the point of birth. Some have even proposed that an abortion could be completed after a baby is born. This position may seem extreme, but it is the logical conclusion of Singer’s argument. Singer writes, “It seems peculiar to hold that we may not kill the premature infant but may kill the more developed fetus. The location of a being—inside or outside the womb—should not make that much difference to the wrongness of killing it.”[3]

Since the location of the infant—“inside or outside the womb”—does not make a difference to Singer, then where does he ultimately draw the line? He goes on to write, “In attempting to reach a considered ethical judgment about this matter, we should put aside feelings based on the small, helpless and—sometimes—cute appearance of human infants. . . . If we can put aside these emotionally moving but strictly irrelevant aspects of the killing of a baby, we can see that the grounds for not killing persons do not apply to newborn infants.”[4] Singer ultimately suggests that infanticide should be legalized for the first month after birth even though he admits that the month-old infant still does not have the rational capacity to be threatened by this policy.

There was a time when Singer’s views were considered extreme, but that time has passed. Those who support abortion are finding Singer’s logic sound and are willing to accept his position. In the past they might have found his logic sound, but they were swayed by the “emotionally moving but strictly irrelevant aspects” of the argument.

Just when we thought the battle over abortion was turning in the direction of life, we find a new extreme position entering mainstream thought. Therefore, we must redouble our efforts to protect the most helpless and vulnerable members of our society.

[1] https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/311/text.

[2] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 125-26.

[3] Ibid., 126.

[4] Ibid., 152.

Guest Post: Psalm 143: Just Don’t Be Silent

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

What do you do when faced with a frustrating situation? Have you ever tried to make your point and people just won’t listen? Have you ever expected something to happen, only to be disappointed once again? Been relentlessly targeted as a scapegoat or overlooked for someone else? For better or for worse, I usually go silent amidst a time of frustration. Usually this works to my benefit, stepping away from the situation, gathering my thoughts, and only responding if necessary and in an appropriate way. Honestly, I usually come up with the perfect way to respond way after the opportunity has passed.

However, there is one relationship where silence does not work to solve anything. That is in my relationship with my Lord. If the Lord convicts me of an area of sin in my life or if I am not understanding what the Lord is doing in a situation, or if I grow weary in the waiting, the emotions of anger and frustration well up within me. “Fine. I’ll just step away,” my heart says, cowering from the uncomfortable nudging of the Lord through His Holy Spirit. Away is the exact opposite direction I need to be going. When the Lord nudges me or stretches me or upsets my comfortable sin, I must realize His workings and then run fully TOWARD him. This is where we find David in Psalm 143.

This Psalm begins with three requests made by David to the Lord. The first request David makes is, “Lord, hear my prayer”.  If David teaches us anything through his life and through his writings, it is to call out to the Lord. Make your requests! No matter how big or small the topic, trivial or life changing. So very often I find myself worrying sick over something before I realize that I have not even talked to the Lord about it. Yes, He knows my heart, but how much more does He want to hear from me? There is no time day or night, mid-day or midnight that is off limits to talk with God. God promises throughout scripture that he will hear us. Take Him at His word.  Be like David and make your requests known to Him who controls and creates everything.

Secondly, David asks, “in your faithfulness, listen to my plea.” He directly relates God listening with God’s faithfulness. The Lord hears and, in turn, listens to us, not because of how great we are or how important our words are, but because of Who He is. He is faithful to His people. When we talk with the Lord, He reminds us of that faithfulness and usually that reminding encourages us to trust him more. The process goes like this…the more we stir up our own thoughts and allow our words to fester in our mind, the more we rely on our own understanding of the situations around us. However, when we make our prayers known to the Lord and seek His face, we acknowledge our need for Him. And when we call to Him, we experience his faithfulness in listening to us. When we understand that faithfulness, it spurs us on to trust him more.

Lastly, David says, “in your righteousness, answer me.” This is the third request made by David as he begins this Psalm. When we cry out to God, we can be sure that he not only will hear and listen, but He will answer. However, sometimes the problem lies in how he answers. We want God to answer immediately or along the lines of our understanding. We cannot see in the moment how limited that expectation is. Just like God listens out of his faithfulness, he answers out of his righteousness. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.”  As we wait for his answers, we humble ourselves, lay down our desire for control, and trust His righteousness.

David continues in the rest of the Psalm to describe his struggles and the hard situations that encompass him. He lays it all out before God. He ends the Psalm with the declaration of “I am your servant”.

At the end of the day, every believer lands at that same admission. We are His servant. He listens, loves, and cares for us in His gracious mercy because of who He is, and we should trust and rely on Him because of who we are.

Do We Always Have the Right to Control Our Own Bodies?

Over the last couple of weeks, the abortion debate has come to the forefront of cultural issues in ways that few could have anticipated. On January 22, the forty-sixth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law New York’s Reproductive Health Act. This bill guarantees access to abortion through the third trimester. In celebration of this action, Gov. Cuomo ordered that the tower on One World Trade Center to be lit up in pink. In the days that followed, Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran introduced a bill in the Virginia General Assembly to relax abortion restrictions in the third trimester. Embattled governor Ralph Northam endorsed the bill, but it failed to pass in the Assembly. Other similar legislation is being worked on in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

What has been most interesting in this current cultural debate is the honesty with which supporters of abortion have spoken about these bills. In the years immediately following the Roe decision, the typical response of abortion supporters was that they wanted abortion to be safe, legal, and rare. They seldom spoke of the realities of abortion and never dared to mention how much access they wanted. Today, proponents of these legislative measures are being very honest about aborting children up to the point of birth. Gov. Northam has even been accused of defending infanticide due to comments he made in an interview that suggested a doctor could refuse care to a newborn and allow the child to die.[1]

The arguments being made by abortion proponents primarily deal with radical autonomy and self-ownership. They make the case that a woman should have absolute rights over her own body without any concern for the child growing in her womb. In a press release following his signing of the Reproductive Health Act, Gov. Cuomo stated, “Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion. With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body.”[2]

Most of these abortion proponents would probably argue that a right to control one’s own body is enshrined in the founding documents of the United States. This is generally understood to be drawn from the “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Bill of Rights according to Griswold v. Connecticut and out of the 14th Amendment’s restriction on the state from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Applied to the abortion issue, these ideas regarding the right to privacy form the foundation of the Roe v. Wade decision that opened the door for abortion on demand.

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John Locke

Even though most abortion-rights proponents do not make the explicit connection, the right of self-ownership is typically attributed to the work of John Locke in The Second Treatise of Government.[3] Locke writes, “Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself” (V. 27). There is no doubt that John Locke’s work was very influential upon the Founders of the United States, and language from the Second Treatise appears directly in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. However, are we correct in inferring a right to self-ownership of our bodies from Locke?

Locke’s premise of self-ownership is based on the idea that an individual in the state of nature has liberty to do what he wishes with his own property and possessions without depending upon the will of another man. It is in the state of nature that we find inherent rights to life, liberty, and property. It is at the intersection of the rights of liberty and property that we find those who make the claim for absolute liberty in self-ownership.

How does this apply to the abortion debate? Abortion proponents generally adopt an understanding of absolute liberty in self-ownership that would allow them to do anything they want with their own bodies. Therefore, the choice to end a pregnancy on the basis of self-ownership is the natural consequence of this absolute liberty. No person or governing authority has the right to limit this freedom. As a result, the woman can choose to have an abortion without consulting the father, the government, or the unborn child.

With Locke’s words that “everyone has property in his own person” ringing in the background, abortion-rights advocates declare that neither the government nor the citizenry can tell any woman what she can or cannot do with her body. They call for absolute liberty regarding the body based on self-ownership.

Considering Locke’s influence on our most important founding documents, it may seem that there is a solid case to be made that the Founders implied self-ownership in the language of the Constitution. However, there is a glaring problem regarding its application to abortion—Locke himself did not view self-ownership as an absolute right. Locke explains in the Second Treatise:

But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence, though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone. And reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it that, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. (II. 6)

According to Locke, then, self-ownership is a limited right. One cannot destroy himself or another creature in his possession without a nobler use than mere preservation. Aborting the life of an unborn child for the sake of convenience or because the child is unwanted does not meet Locke’s test of a nobler cause.

Locke further clarifies, “For men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise maker, all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order and about his business, they are his property whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure” (II. 6). Right here Locke denies absolute self-ownership and actually places the true right of ownership in the hands of God. It is the Creator who has absolute control over the body, and we are stewards of our own bodies.

If the limitation of self-ownership by Locke were not enough, he makes another argument that would deny an absolute right of self-ownership as justification for abortion. Later in the Second Treatise, Locke addresses the question of parental authority and the duty that parents owe to their own children. He writes, “The power, then, that parents have over their children arises from that duty which is incumbent on them to take care of their offspring during the imperfect state of childhood” (VI. 58).

Notice that while parents have authority and power over their children, it arises from the duty and obligation they have for their children’s care. This arises during what he calls the “imperfect state of childhood.” As evidenced from other discussions regarding the authority of parents, Locke considers this imperfect state to be the time during which a child has not developed the full rational capacity to make his own choices.

Interestingly, many abortion proponents make the case that the reason why a child in the womb can be aborted is that he has not developed the rational capacity to be a person. Since they believe personhood is achieved, then they declare that the child in the womb has no right to life. His life can be terminated without consequence.

However, Locke seems to disagree. He believes it is incumbent upon the parent to fulfill her duty toward the “imperfect” child, which would include protection of that child’s life. At this point, we have a clash of rights. The mother wants to exert her right of self-ownership, but the unborn child has a right to life. Since the right of self-ownership is not absolute, the child’s right to life trumps self-ownership. In Locke’s view, parental obligation requires that we protect the rights of the child, the chief of which is the right to life.

Therefore, invoking Lockean self-ownership is not consistent with abortion. If the “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Constitution speak of a right to privacy and self-ownership, they most assuredly speak in Lockean terms. His influence on the Founders is undeniable. If Locke’s ideas are the ones speaking about self-ownership, then we need to consider his thoughts in their context. As we have seen, Locke’s understanding of self-ownership is not absolute, and he places an incumbent duty on parents to protect the rights of their children. Taken together, these ideas nullify a right to abortion based on a supposed right to privacy and self-ownership.[4]

[1] Alexandra DeSanctis, “Democrats Overplay Their Hand on Abortion,” The Atlantic, February 4, 2019.

[2] “Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Protecting Women’s Reproductive Rights,” January 22, 2019, https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-legislation-protecting-womens-reproductive-rights.

[3] John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government, in Political Writings, ed. David Wootton (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003).

[4] This article is an update to “Abortion and Self-Ownership” that I wrote for the ERLC and was published in Canon & Culture. The original version is now available on the ERLC resources page at https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/abortion-and-self-ownership.

Continuing the March for Life

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Last week I attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., for the first time. It has always been on my list of events in which I wanted to participate, but for various reasons I was never able to do so until this year. The March for Life is held every year around the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision handed down on January 22, 1973. The first march was held in January 1974, making this march the 46th annual event.

Joe Cater provides a little history on how the march got started. He notes:

The annual event was started by pro-life activist Nellie Gray. Following the Supreme Court decision in Roe in 1973, Gray retired from her federal career and dedicated the remainder of her life to the protection of the unborn.

In October 1973, a group of 30 pro-life leaders gathered in Gray’s home in Washington, D.C., to discuss how to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Roe. According to the March for Life organization, “There was a fear that January 22 would pass as any other day rather than allow for a moment to reflect upon how legalized abortion had hurt women and taken babies’ lives over the course of the year. That was the day that plans for the first March for Life began.”[1]

After attending the march, here are a few impressions that I want to share regarding the event and the pro-life movement at large.

  1. The March for Life is a symbolic representation of what the pro-life movement seeks to accomplish. The march begins on the National Mall in the midst of the iconic monuments that represent freedom and liberty. From the gathering point for the pre-march rally, one can see the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. For many Americans, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln represent the American ideals embedded in our founding documents. Some of the most famous words of the Declaration of Independence read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The March for Life begins on the hallowed ground on the Mall among these monuments with reminders of the equality and unalienable rights of all people. Then the march proceeds towards the seats of power following a path along Constitution Avenue, turning in front of the United States Capitol, and stopping in front of the United States Supreme Court. Taking a message of liberty for the unborn from the monuments to the two branches of government most capable of intervening in the atrocities of abortion, the march makes a symbolic statement.
  2. The March for Life is an event for people of all ages. I was struck by the number
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    Image via Wikimedia Commons
     of young people at the march. I expected to see adults of all ages who had planned for weeks—even months—to attend the march, but I was not expecting to see the number of youth and college-aged people at the event. While it is difficult to offer statistics or even total numbers of people in attendance, there was definitely a youthful flair to the march. The people holding the sign at the front of the march looked to be college students. There were countless signs declaring, “I am the pro-life generation!” Honestly, I was not prepared for the overwhelming number of young people at the march, but I was extremely grateful. If progress is going to be made in the pro-life movement, it must include each subsequent generation. Involving young people in these types of events is crucial to the success of the movement.
  3. The testimonies of women who regret their abortions are powerful. As the march reached its final destination at the steps of the Supreme Court building, the organizers hosted more than thirty people who gave testimonies about their own abortions or how they had aided someone in getting an abortion. The testimonies that I heard were both powerful and heart-wrenching. The narrative surrounding abortion by pro-choice advocates is that abortion is safe and life will simply return to normal after an abortion. Such was not the case for the people who gave their testimonies at the end of the march. Stories of depression, medical problems, and regret were common. No one’s life simply returned to normal. Many have battled regret and pain for decades. These testimonies need to be heard. The truth about life after abortion needs to be communicated effectively.

The future of the pro-life movement depends on getting the message across that children are a blessing from the Lord, life begins at conception, and the unborn have a right to life. The March for Life is one avenue for communicating this message. Let me encourage you to be a part of this event in the future.

[1] Joe Carter, “Explainer: What you should know about the March for Life,” ERLC.com, January 18, 2019.

Protecting the Church’s Money

1024x1024“If you are at a church that collects money, someone is stealing.” That is how a guest speaker in my Family and Church Financial Stewardship class opened his lecture on protecting the church’s money. My students were dumbfounded as he recounted a few stories ranging from stealing quarters out of a drink machine to embezzlement. Honestly, the first time I heard him give this lecture several years ago, I was surprised myself. Unfortunately, I am not surprised any more.

Just this week a former minister at Houston’s First Baptist Church was indicted for embezzling over $800,000 from the church between 2011 and 2017. News outlets report that he spent the money on family vacations, groceries, and a doctoral degree from a Bible college.[1]

Why would anyone do this?

This is a difficult question to answer. On some level, we can probably start by looking to the Tenth Commandment. In Exodus 20:17 we read, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Most people do not wake up in the morning plotting how they can steal money from the church. It starts as a problem with the heart, coveting what they do not have and contemplating how to use someone else’s resources to attain it. The desire starts small but blossoms into an uncontrollable passion to take what is not your own.

James describes the progression of sin this way: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Temptation leads to lust. Lust conceives sin. Sin brings forth death. That is why we must examine our hearts. We often allow something to grow and fester in our hearts that ultimately leads to sin and death. We need to stop it at the heart level.

How can we protect the church’s money?

This is a central question of the class I mentioned earlier. I think we all want to believe that everyone who handles the church’s money can be trusted implicitly. However, if that were true, tragic situations like the one in Houston would never happen. Here are a few principles that will help prevent such situations.

  1. Evaluate the character of those who handle the church’s money. When it comes to ministers, we see a very explicit character trait related to money. As part of his list of qualifications for pastors, Paul states, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, . . . free from the love of money” (1 Tim 3:2, 3). Paul gives further instructions to Timothy later in the same epistle. He states, “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim 6:9-10). The evaluation of character needs to be an ongoing process. At the same time, we cannot make simple assumptions about someone’s character. Just because someone is wealthy does not mean he loves money. Conversely, just because someone lives modestly does not mean she is free from the love of money. We need to begin by evaluating our own hearts and then judge the character of those with access to the church’s monetary resources. Using people of good character to handle the church’s resources is a good place to start.
  2. Build accountability into the money collection process. This principle assumes that your church has a process for collecting, counting, and depositing money. Even with many churches collecting a significant portion of their budget online, there still needs to be a process for handling cash and checks for any number of transactions and gifts. Building accountability into the system includes having more than one person handle the money at all times. No single person should be responsible for collecting or counting the money. This is unwise on the part of the church and the one collecting or counting the money. Just a few weeks ago, I was tasked with collecting money at church for some choir shirts. I collected the money in a very public place and then had someone else help me count the money. Then we both signed a paper with the amount of money we collected divided up by the denomination of bills. Such a process protects the church’s money and the reputation of the individuals collecting the money.
  3. Limit access to the church’s money. While your church certainly needs multiple people collecting and counting the money, you do not want everyone involved in the process. Limiting access to the church’s money includes have a designated group of people who rotate through the collection and counting process. In addition, limiting access means there are only certain people who can write checks or use a church credit card. While it may seem easy to pass out a credit card to everyone who might need one, this opens the door to unauthorized transactions. I admit that having to get reimbursed for an authorized expense can be frustrating, but I can also attest that I am very intentional about making sure that the transaction is authorized in advance and that I submit a receipt in a timely fashion when my money is tied up in the process.
  4. Conduct a regular audit. Depending on the size of your church, the complexity of an audit will differ. However, every church needs to perform an audit, preferably by an outside firm, on a regular basis. This appears to be how the situation at Houston’s First Baptist Church was discovered. The church released a statement saying that it discovered “a limited set of suspicious financial activity.” This activity led to a full investigation that uncovered “multiple deceptive and difficult-to-detect techniques” used to embezzle missions funds from the church. Having a firm not connected to the church perform an audit will ensure objectivity if suspicious activity is discovered.

These basic principles are not going to fix all the problems a church may have with protecting money, but they are a step on the right direction. Ultimately, we have to remember that no church is safe from having money stolen, but we need to take necessary measures to prevent it whenever possible.Family and Church Financial Stewardship Class

If you are interested in the class mentioned above, STWLD 3603: Family and Church Financial Stewardship will be offered in the spring 2019 semester both on campus and online. Current Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students can register for the class with the Registrar’s Office. If you are not currently a student, contact the Admissions Office about applying to become a student.

[1] Samantha Ketterer, “Ex-minister accused of stealing $800K from Houston’s First Baptist Church,” The Houston Chronicle, December 11, 2018; David Roach, “Former Houston’s First minister admits embezzlement,” Baptist Press, December 11, 2018.

Post-Election Perspective from Proverbs

wf_logoThere is no doubt that our elections have become more contentious in recent years. We have seen and heard extreme reactions to both victories and losses. I just finished listening to Hillary Clinton’s recent book, What Happened, which gives her perspective on the current state of American politics and why she lost her presidential bid in 2016. She highlights a number of trends that we can all agree upon regarding politics: the parties are less likely to work together, many candidates appear to be more extreme in their positions, and the electorate is reacting more strongly to those candidates.

At the same time, we have to remember that the current state of politics is really nothing new. We may have enjoyed a relatively calm period of political engagement and goodwill in the years following World War II, but the current state of affairs is very similar to the partisan politics immediately after George Washington’s presidency.

How should Christians respond in these politically divisive days? I think we can gain some perspective from the book of Proverbs to help us walk through these times.

  1. Remember that God is sovereign over our elected officials. Sometimes we are tempted to lose perspective when an election doesn’t go our way. If you vote in enough elections, your chosen candidate is going to lose. I had some friends and acquaintances who won their elections last night and some who lost. I sent a congratulatory text to a friend who won his election, and his response demonstrated a godly perspective. He said, “These nights always challenge whether my belief in a sovereign God is absolute. But no doubt He is, and I am grateful He has allowed us to serve….” We often focus on the human side of the election, but we need to remember that God is sovereign. In Proverbs 21:1 we read, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” We may vote for our preferred candidates, but God still controls the hearts of our leaders. They are like streams in his hand. Whenever he wants to redirect them, he simply moves his hand.
  2. Do not gloat over the loss of your opponents. As I drove through my neighborhood this morning, I passed by a property that has dozens of signs in the yard. I don’t always agree with the approach of this property owner, but I often vote for some of the candidates that are promoted by his signs. This morning there was a new sign with a picture of Beto O’Rourke, who lost a close election to Senator Ted Cruz. Printed on the sign was a message mocking O’Rourke and those who voted for him. This sign is an example of gloating over the defeat of a political opponent. I don’t believe Senator Cruz authorized such a sign, but the attitude of the property owner appeared to be on full display. This sign communicates the intent to revel in someone else’s loss. That is not a biblical perspective. Proverbs 24:17 tells us, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Whether the enemy is a political opponent or a military threat, we are not to rejoice in his defeat. From a political perspective, we still need to work together with those on the other side of the aisle to accomplish good for our communities, states, and nation.
  3. Pray for wisdom for our government officials. Whether our candidates won or lost, we need to pray that our governing officials have godly wisdom to rule righteously. We never know how God might choose to use a particular elected official, but we know he is honored when that official governs with wisdom. Proverbs 8:12-16 state, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine. By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly.” These verses describe several characteristics we desire in our government officials—prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, and justice. And they all flow from wisdom. Let us pray for those who were elected yesterday to have godly wisdom so that they can judge rightly.

No matter where you fall along the political spectrum, I hope you can see that these proverbs give us some perspective for thinking through the results of the election.