Imminent Domain

I am not a fan of eminent domain. The story of Susette Kelo made me mad. In Kelo v. New London, the US Supreme Court ruled that property from one private person can be seized by the government and given to another private entity. The optics couldn’t have been worse. Susette’s little pink house, the last hold out against the seizing hand of the municipal government ready to give her property over to the giant corporation (Pfizer, maker of Viagra of all things) kelo-decision-eminent-domain-b

I tend to think property rights are about as sacred as things get in a secular society. The Justices thought otherwise. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that eminent domain could be used to seize private property (with just compensation) and give it to a private corporation. Susette Kelo lost. In a story made for a movie script, Pfizer never developed the area and the lot remains vacant today. kelo-3

A guest writer for the Post-Calvin, a blog started by grads of Calvin College “who couldn’t stop writing when the classes were done.” is worried about the same sort of thing with an equally cinematic plot. Only this time it’s not physical property but Christians (explicitly Calvinists) seizing the educational ground and giving it to Jesus. Boerman, himself  a Calvin grad, gives his take  on the Calvinist agenda:

[T]he ultimate task of the Christian is to work to redeem “every square inch” of the earth for the glory of God’s kingdom. (To drive the point home, Calvin’s monthly newsletter from the president is called This Square Inch, and you can even sponsor a square inch or ten of the campus as a contribution to the school’s annual fund.) Between predestination and absolute sovereignty, you’ve got a potential recipe for some pretty serious missionary zeal.

His ultimate target is Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos. Her offense? Being rich and Christian and wanting to influence education. Her family is a very wealthy donor to Grand Rapids Christian School (GRCS).  The author in admirable disclosure describes how he benefited from the DeVos largess.

As a student of this system, I was a direct benefactor of DeVos money. I received an excellent education. I threw myself into the theatre and competitive speech programs, both among the best in West Michigan. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I probably wouldn’t be where I am today without going through GRCS, as no public school in the area offers a comparable education in the specializations that interested me.

Boerman’s beef is with the idea that rich families like Betsy’s can prop up private schools to further their ideological agenda while just a few blocks away the public schools languish. He partially quotes Abraham Kuyper with the “every square inch” line to poison the well.

one cannot fully understand the Betsy DeVos educational philosophy without an understanding of the environment she grew up in. Raised in the Christian Reformed Church, DeVos is an alumnus of CRC flagship institution Calvin College (also my alma mater), a school named for the mid-16th century protestant reformer John Calvin. John Calvin is probably best known for his period of theological de facto rule in Geneva, Switzerland, where he utilized the levers of power to consolidate his influence, expel heretics, and in one notable case burn a guy at the stake.

Boerman is a theater designer and creates a very dramatic plot: Rich family “props up” Christian school spurred on by the missionary zeal to seize all the earth for their twisted vision of God. Not to gild the lily but Boerman even calls the capitalist Catholic think-tank, The Acton Institute “the DeVos’s personal think-tank” as if Acton exists only to advise the DeVos family or worse that the DeVos family listens to Acton above all.Yyes this story that the author spins hits the trifecta: The Rich, Religious Proselytizing, and Capitalism.. And did we mention John CALVIN burned someone at the stake?  And it seems to have worked. Consider this comment on the blog post:

The kind of toxic Calvinism described in this article is twisted. . . The Kuyperian quote, if I recall, is that there’s not one inch of the whole domain of human existence over which God does not declare ‘this is mine.’  De Vos’ rallying cry,”For kingdom gain,” conflates God’s sovereign ownership of the universe with our own as God’s proxies. Furthermore, it presumes that God’s will will naturally include the enlargement of our pocketbook. Propensity for spectacular circular reasoning finally leads one to the conclusion essentially that our wealth is more than evidence of advantage and business acumen, but at the most basic level an indication of our moral superiority.

So the stage is set for a very familiar play. Greedy capitalists seize the moral high ground while shafting the poor in the name of advancing God’s kingdom. All this script needs is Elmer Gantry.

Boerman argues that without the DeVos family money, schools like Grand Rapids Christian would do little better than any other charter school which according to a study of Detroit charter schools is not much better than public schools. Private schools competing with public schools using vouchers isn’t an even playing field as long as people like the DeVos family are around.

The first thing I thought when I read this was DETROIT? Really? You want to compare charter schools in Detroit with Grand Rapids and make the inference that without the DeVos money propping up Grand Rapids Christian it would fare no better than public schools?

The second thing I thought was, “You want to talk about propping up with money?” Here’s a chart from another evil capitalist enterprise.

cato-education-chart

If money is the key to things then consider this chart which shows dollars spent (yes, adjusted for inflation) per student in public schools and their performance. The department of education has been throwing money at the public education problem since at least 1970. How about Michigan itself? Glad you asked:

michigan-education

Michigan seems to be spending less than some other states but still that’s a steep curve. Mr. Boermer, don’t be so quick to blame Austrian Economics for this.

As for the Christian Dominionism? Let me address that. Here’s Boerman again:

This philosophy recalls the Pentecostal-influenced prosperity gospel, which holds that devoted, faithful Christians who give their money to God will see a proportional increase in their own physical wealth—with one key difference. Unlike followers of the prosperity gospel, Calvinist capitalists don’t wait for money to come to them. Instead, they take their resources to market, steadily growing their wealth and influence until every square inch is owned for God.

First of all, in a way, Boerman is right. The cosmic lordship of Christ does necessitate that every inch of creation is his. There is no denying what likely Boerman heard in chapel at Calvin or Grand Rapids Christian at least once. Colossians 1:16-20

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 

As Christians we cannot deny that Jesus is right now king over all the earth. Every square inch is already his. That’s the point. Christians don’t have to engage in a program of eminent domain because everything is already His to start with. I may be an American and Donald Trump is my president. Bruce Rauner may be my governor but ultimately I must admit I am a monarchist. Insert pearl clutching here. pearl-clutching

However, I’ll quote the verse in context–something Boemer doesn’t do with Abraham Kuyper–here’s the rest of Colossians 1:20-22

so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[g] your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

How did Jesus seize power? By sacrificing himself. By dying he already reconciled those of us who follow him. This is not a project of eminent domain but rather his domain is imminent (admit it, you thought the title was a typo). He will claim it. Our responsibility is to announce what has already occurred. The good news is that Jesus is already king and we only await his imminent return. This is what Boerman misses as he tries to point to the boogeyman of Christian Dominionism.

 . . . a major focus of Calvinism is God’s absolute sovereignty over all things in this world. . . the ultimate task of the Christian is to work to redeem “every square inch” of the earth for the glory of God’s kingdom. (To drive the point home, Calvin’s monthly newsletter from the president is called This Square Inch, and you can even sponsor a square inch or ten of the campus as a contribution to the school’s annual fund.) . . . This ideological fervor is evident not only in Betsy DeVos’s approach to school choice, but also in her brother Erik’s ongoing mercenary work with private military contractors like Blackwater, as well as her mother Elsa’s crusade against gay marriage. . . And things just get weirder once these fundamentals couple with a die-hard Austrian economics-style belief in free markets as a positive moral agent. . .

It is true that Abraham Kuyper was a Calvinist. It is also true that he was a social activist who formed a political party in the Netherlands and advocated for social change. Therefore, it naturally follows that all Calvinists who admire Kuyper want to run for office in the Netherlands.

Wait? What? That’s silly (and a logical fallacy). It is only slightly less sloppy thinking to quote Kuyper and draw a line from Calvin College’s capital campaign slogan to the DeVos Family all the while mentioning Betsy’s brother Erik (founder of Blackwater) and gay marriage insinuating that all the family pursuits are an effort to claim every square inch for God. (Just as an aside, Erik Prince is not a very good Kuyperian since he regularly contributes to the establishment of mosques and Muslim orphanages and, oh yes, he’s Catholic. But he is a libertarian so it’s okay to lambaste him.)

While I would love to take Boerman to task on Austrian Economics it would waste time and it might get me (not a Calvinist) smeared with the same brush as it has with such notables as Ted Cruz, Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter. Every educational initiative attempts to influence. Arguably the father of progressive education, John Dewey said,

“I believe that the community’s duty to education is, therefore, its paramount moral duty . . . through education society can formulate its own purposes, can organize its own means and resources, and thus shape itself with definiteness and economy in the direction in which it wishes.  The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences.”

And yet Dewey is not regularly roasted for his attempts to influence. Why not give the same benefit of the doubt to those who would like to see their children educated privately as they see fit? Or for that matter why not ask the majority of poor African-Americans who support vouchers? And why not give that same benefit of the doubt to those like Betsy DeVos when she claims all she wants to influence is toward limited government and virtue.

I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now, I simply concede the point. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues.”

clutchingpearls

My guess is that she also doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt because the bizarre Calvinist/Kuyperian/Catholic cabal commit the secular sin of accepting that some people may be worse off than others and that government may not be the solution.

Markets, even those oriented toward “Kingdom gain,” create winners and losers, and the DeVos vision, wittingly or otherwise, serves primarily to reinforce this status quo. The GOP-driven charter system in Michigan has failed to make substantial headway against the extremely poor educational outcomes there, but it has been tremendously successful in generating profit for private shareholders

As if government funding doesn’t create winners and losers and doesn’t line the pockets of others.  Let’s be clear. I have no idea to what extent Betsy DeVos sees her mission to use her influence for “Kingdom Gain.” But I will say Boerman will need to draw much clearer lines before I start apologizing for rich Christians or clutching my pearls.


Comments

Imminent Domain — 1 Comment

  1. A prof in college once tried to put forth the argument about Calvinists and true faith resulting in wealth. (He was openly anti-Christian, with a special animosity towards Rome.) When asked for evidence he referenced a book he was certain supported his view. I read the book, pointed out that it did not do so, and was directed to another book that must be the one that did. Another book, but no evidence. Another reference… I eventually gave up on the prof entirely and dropped the class. No point in trying to learn from those who fabricate evidence to support their (or someone else’s) imagination.

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