Category: Acton Commentary

RefuseServiceSignIn today’s Acton Commentary, “The Logic of Economic Discrimination,” I take up a small slice of the larger controversy and discussion surrounding religious liberty laws like the one passed recently in Indiana. My point, drawing out some of the implications of observations made by others, including Ryan Anderson and Shikha Dalmia, is that anti-discrimination boycotts depend on discrimination. Or as Dalmia puts it, “what is deeply ironic is that corporate America was able to wield its right not to do business (and boycott Indiana) by circumscribing the same right of Indiana businesses.”

Now there are lots of other angles and significant points to explore surrounding this enormously complex and important debate. Many have criticized the hypocrisy of corporations like Apple for doing business in places like China and Saudi Arabia even while they grandstand against Indiana. Others are now pointing to the actions of many in Silicon Valley, which despite the proclamations of support for social justice, have actually created huge inequalities. Tech centers like Silicon Valley are great, it seems, unless you are a woman, have a family, or are a blue-collar worker.

Indiana politicians, under massive scrutiny, have since moved to “clarify” the RFRA law that was passed, a move that has mollified some but not others. From the beginning, these conversations about religious liberty and economic rights have, in my view, insufficiently included sensitivity to considerations like freedom of association. Hopefully the larger context and interactions of contracts and rights, not merely “religious liberty” narrowly defined, can help broaden and mature the conversation.
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
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acton-commentary-blogimage“States and municipalities craft laws that reflect local cultures, and this proximity to the people has market consequences,” says James Bruce in this week’s Acton Commentary. “Let’s call it free-market federalism, the encouragement of local markets by permitting states and municipalities to frame, as much as possible, the laws by which the communities engage in commerce.”

In a spirited defense of decentralization, Abraham Kuyper argues that a central government can only supplement local governments and families. Put another way, the central government exists because local governments and families already do. It exists for them. They do not exist for it. So Kuyper’s idea of sphere sovereignty supports free-market federalism. Regional governments and municipalities exist as their own sovereign spheres, and they must continue to do so. “To centralize all power in the one central government is to violate the ordinances that God has given for nations and families,” Kuyper wrote. “It destroys the natural divisions that give a nation vitality, and thus destroys the energy of the individual life-spheres and of the individual persons.” This vitality extends to national, regional, and individual economic life.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Charles Malik. Photo credit: LIFE Magazine.

In today’s Acton Commentary, I highlight a little book by the Lebanese diplomat, philosopher, and theologian Charles Malik, Christ and Crisis (1962). With regard to its continuing relevance, I write,

Malik would urge us to have the courage to take up our crosses today, each in our own capacities and competencies, putting the life of the spirit first, not settling for easy answers and scorning all distractions. “There are three unpardonable sins today,” wrote Malik in 1962 — but just as relevant now — “to be flippant or superficial in the analysis of the world situation; to live and act as though halfhearted measures would avail; and to lack the moral courage to rise to the historic occasion.”

Above all, Christians can never be ashamed of Jesus Christ. “To be fair, to be positive, to be thankful — these are highly desirable Christian virtues today,” wrote Malik. But he did not stop at that commendable fairness, cautioning, “And of course you are not fair at all if, in trying to be fair to others, you are so fair as to cease to be fair to Christ Himself — Christ who was much more than just fair to you and me when He took our sins upon Himself on the Cross.”

Malik’s impressive work deserves more attention than it has received in recent years. And his record speaks for itself: In addition to co-drafting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, sitting as president of the U.N.’s General Assembly in 1958, acting as Lebanese ambassador to the United States, and dedicating his life to fighting communism and defending human rights, Malik was also a philosopher and theologian and served as vice president of the United Bible Societies from 1966 to 1972 and president of the World Council on Christian Education from 1967 to 1971. Such monumental work for both the common good and the kingdom of God ought not to remain obscure to Christians today.

You can read my full commentary on his 1962 work Christ and Crisis here.

acton-commentary-blogimage“What could possibly go wrong with a regulatory power grab by a government agency applying an 80-year-old law to the most dynamic and innovative aspect of the world’s economy?” asks Bruce Edward Walker in this week’s Acton Commentary.

The Federal Communications Commission last week voted along partisan lines for passage of network neutrality regulations. The first two attempts were both defeated in U.S. Circuit Court, and one hopes this third try meets the same fate.

The latest strategy deployed by the FCC is reclassification of the Internet from a Title I information service to a Title II communications service. Whereas Title I prescribes a light regulatory touch, Title II opens the floodgates for the agency to regulate as a utility all aspects of the Internet under the 1934 Communications Act. The 1934 law was devised specifically to police landline phones as common carriers with the unfortunate unforeseen consequence of establishing a decades-long telephone monopoly by creating significant barriers of entry for start-ups and smaller companies.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

ISIS Al-Qaeda Militants Fighting Syrian Civil WarThe rapid rise and threat of the jihadist group Islamic State has confounded the secularist West. The idea that their motivations could truly be driven by religious ideology simply fails to register with those who view religion as an individualistic, private affair.

If we are going to defeat ISIS, though, this will have to change. As Kishore Jayabalan says, it’s time to start taking the relationship between religion and politics seriously:
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
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Patricia Arquette’s passion is fabulous, says Elise Hilton in this week’s Acton Commentary, but she’s wrong on economics:

Ms. Arquette’s passion is fabulous, and I’m sure that’s what makes her a great actor. But she’s wrong on economics. The “women make 23 cents less than men” canard is far less accurate than Arquette thinks it is. Women are more likely to work part-time, to choose careers that pay less but offer more flexibility in scheduling (such as teaching) and often take time out of their paid career to care for children or other family members. Ms. Arquette: American women are okay. Really.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

“Who cares about the suffering and premature death of millions in the developing world?” asks Bruce Edward Walker in this week’s Acton Commentary.”Not religious activists agitating for fossil fuel divestment.”

In another trendy move, environmentalist shareholder activists are pressuring energy companies in which they invest to scale back in part or completely their interests in oil, gas and coal. For example, Danielle Fugere, president and chief counsel at the As You Sow religious shareholder activist outfit, told The Guardian last month that “market fundamentals” are changing. “We see a whole number of factors moving markets away from fossil fuels – pollution, technology changes, efficiency increases, competition from low-cost renewables,” she said. “We’re seeing the market changing – the world is moving to cleaner resources, and these energy companies have to move with the market or they’ll get replaced.”

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
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Make Work Your FavoriteIn this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Parable for the Unemployed,” I provide a brief survey of the biblical view of work, concluding with reference to the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. As I argue, this parable “might just as well be called the parable of the jobless. It teaches us to wait patiently and expectantly for ways that we can be of service to God through serving others.”

Or as the Theology of Work biblical commentary puts it, “If the vineyard owner represents God, this is a powerful message that in God’s kingdom, displaced and unemployed workers find work that meets their needs and the needs of those who depend on them.” If you don’t think this is a message of import for today’s world, then you might have succumbed to some statistical deception.

But from another perspective, one that the church hasn’t always fully appreciated, this parable might be taken as an illustration of the necessity for job creation. For every jobless person, some business owner or entrepreneur must create a job. Without the work the vineyard owner needed done, there would have been no jobs for those waiting in the marketplace “doing nothing.” One of the greatest things one person can do for someone is to create some meaningful and productive job for that other person to do.

And again, if the vineyard owner is understood in some sense to be in the place of God, then God has a job for each one of us to do in this world. Thus Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write in the context of other different parables that “God is a free enterpriser because he expects a return on his investments.” God expects us to be about the work he has given us, or as Jesus put it, to “be about My Father’s business.”

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
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“Consumption serves, sustains and deepens community—above all the Eucharistic community,” says Rev. Gregory Jensen in this week’s Acton Commentary.

Consumption is not an end in itself but has a purpose. We are, Schmemann says, called by God “to propagate and have dominion over the earth”; that is to say, consumption serves human flourishing. The first chapters of Genesis portray creation as “one all-embracing banquet table,” foreshadowing a central theme in the New Testament. In the Kingdom of God we will “eat and drink” at the table of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 22:30), the Eucharist standing at the mid-point between the creation of the world and its eschatological fulfillment.

We are therefore consumers by nature; if we weren’t then the reception of Holy Communion would be a sin. More importantly, our consumption finds its source and fulfillment in the Eucharist, in our obedient response to Jesus’ command that we “take and eat.”

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
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“Human trafficking is broader in scope than most people realize,” says Elise Hilton in this week’s Acton Commentary.

Today, human trafficking impacts entire industries, and job sectors – both legitimate and illegitimate. Monetarily, it is the second largest criminal activity in the world. Only the illegal drug trade is more profitable. The profits generated from human trafficking play an enormous role in national and global economies. There is also the untold human cost. It is, as Pope Francis said, an open wound on humanity.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.