Category: Christian Social Thought

community-muralWhat is a “community?” What are the boundaries of a community or organization? And – most important – why is community important?

Andy Crouch, writer, musician and Acton University plenary speaker, says we need to ask and answer these questions. He begins his discussion with the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods. While the decision was sound, Crouch says it speaks to something beyond the law:

It reminds us that fewer and fewer of our neighbors understand how religious organizations—and all communities smaller than the state—contribute to human flourishing and the common good.

One essential question in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was the extent to which a for-profit corporation can hold to a religious (in this case, Christian) identity. In her dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited approvingly the idea that for-profit groups “use labor to make a profit, rather than to perpetuate a religious-values-based mission.”

The words rather than are key. In Justice Ginsburg’s view, it seems, corporations cannot serve—or at least the law cannot recognize that they serve—any god other than Mammon. She articulated an equally small view of nonprofits when she wrote that “religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith.”

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get-your-hands-dirtyIn a review by Micah Watson of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) earlier this year at The Gospel Coalition, Watson described the book as “akin to a social event with heavy hors d’oevres served throughout the evening.”

There were, however, some offerings in this tapestry of tapas, so to speak, that Watson thought deserved an entree presentation. For instance, Watson wonders about distinguishing principle from prudence, a framework that runs throughout the book and broader Christian social thought. What distinguishes, for instance, the biblical view of marriage, abortion, and poverty and the various ways to respect these teachings in practice?

Thus, argues Watson,

Christians must often determine what the genuinely Christian position is in a given context, taking stands on particular issues and even legislation—as they did during the struggle to end racial segregation in the American civil rights movement or in affirming the Barmen Declaration in 1930s Germany. Exercising such discernment may or may not require identifying who is in and out of the tent, but it surely requires determining what moral stands constitute authentic Christian witness.

He goes on to observe that “a season of uncomfortable but necessary clarification will be necessary” in today’s world.

I’m happy to add a bit here to that season of clarification, or what might better be called a season of suffering for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 3:14), a season of searing away the dross from our life and witness, which is just another name for sanctification.

How might this distinction between principle and prudence work out in particular cases?
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Accra Confession 2004The Accra Confession, a document arising out of the Reformed ecumenical movement, was promulgated ten years ago. At the time, Rev. Jerry Zandstra and I wrote with some rather harsh criticisms of the document.

In the meanwhile, the original group that organized the Accra Confession, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, merged with a smaller ecumenical group, the Reformed Ecumenical Council, to create the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). At the Uniting General Council held at Calvin College in 2010, where the status of the Accra Confession for the new movement was to be determined, the Acton Institute distributed a packet of material, including a book-length engagement with the Accra Confession and the larger mainline ecumenical movement’s economic witness.

In Ecumenical Babel I devote a full chapter to the Accra Confession as perhaps the most imbalanced and skewed of all the mainline ecumenical documents on economic justice. For other critical engagements of the Accra Confession, I recommend Stan du Plessis, “How Can You Be a Christian and an Economist? The Meaning of the Accra Declaration for Today,” and Roland Hoksbergen, “The Global Economy, Injustice, and the Church: On Being Reformed in Today’s World.”

There are a number of celebratory posts recognizing the anniversary of the confession at places like Ecclesio, and for a critical engagement of Ecumenical Babel you can read an essay by Christopher Dorn in Perspectives. (Ecumenical Babel was also reviewed for CommentCalvin Theological Journal, Journal of Markets & MoralityJournal of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Journal of Ecumenical Studies. I respond at some length to Dorn’s essay in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty.)

The World Communion of Reformed Churches purports to represent 80 million Christians of 229 member denominations in 108 countries. An ecumenical group of this significance and diversity can do better than the Accra Confession in its social witness, and after ten years, it must do better.

This summer during Acton University, I had the opportunity to be part of a recording for Moody Radio’s Up for Debate program, which has just recently been posted online. The subject for discussion was “Can Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Christians Learn from Each Other?”

The participants were Jay Richards (Roman Catholic), Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics and a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, John Stonestreet (Evangelical), Fellow of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and me (Orthodox), an Acton research associate and assistant editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality.

In answer to the question of the show, the short answer that we all seemed to come to was, yes, we do have a lot to learn from one another. Our talk ranged from issues of Scripture and the Tradition of the Church to the current discussion in the public square over same-sex marriage.

Head over to Moody Radio to listen to the program here.

Earlier this month, I wrote a two part article for the Library of Law & Liberty, critiquing the uncritical condemnation of income inequality by world religious leaders.

In part 1, I pointed out that “while the Pope, the Patriarch, the Dalai Lama, and others are right about the increase in [global income] inequality, they are wrong to conclude that this causes global poverty—the latter is demonstrably on the decline. And that, I would add, is a good thing.”

F. A. Hayek

In part 2, drawing on the work of F. A. Hayek, I noted, “As societies learn to use their resources ‘more effectively and for new purposes,’ the cost of manufacturing luxury goods decreases, making them affordable to new markets of the middle class and, eventually, even for the poor.” I continue, “Such inequality not only accompanies the very economic progress that lifts the poor out of poverty, it is one essential factor that makes that progress possible.”

We may add to this two more ways in which focusing solely on income inequality can be misleading from article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Nicholas Eberstadt: increased equality in lifespan and education. He writes,

Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population’s life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds—from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.

This survival revolution—and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity’s life chances—is an epochal advance in the human condition. Since healthy life expectancy seems to track closely with overall life expectancy, a revolutionary reduction in health inequality may also have occurred over the past century. Improvements in global mortality for the poor have contributed to the very “economic inequality” so many now decry. This is another reason such measures can be deceiving.

The spread and distribution of education has had a similar impact. In 1950 roughly half of the world’s adults—and the overwhelming majority of the men and women from low-income regions—had never been exposed to schooling. By 2010 unschooled men and women 15 and older account for a mere one-seventh of the world’s adults, and about one-in-six from developing areas. (more…)

Oikonomia, Acton, PatheosThe Acton Institute has just launched Oikonomia, a new blog at Patheos’ Faith and Work Channel, which will provide resources specific to the intersection of faith, work, and economics. Other partners at the channel include The High Calling, Steve Garber’s Visions of Vocation, and Theology of Work Project, among others.

The blog will include a variety of content from across the Acton ecosystem, including articles, commentaries, video clips, and book excerpts, providing a centralized source of information on whole-life discipleship, stewardship, and human flourishing.

We encourage you to check out the blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

We also recommend following the Faith and Work Channel on Facebook and Twitter as well, which will be sharing updates on the blog, along with resources from a variety of other great sources.

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD & Blu-Ray Combo Pack

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD & Blu-Ray Combo Pack

For the Life of the World is an entertaining film series that explores the deeper meaning of Salvation. Have you ever wondered, “What is my Salvation actually FOR?” Is it only about personal atonement, about getting to heaven, or something that comes later? Is it just to have a “friend in Jesus?”

Join Evan Koons and his friends – Stephen Grabill, Amy Sherman, Anthony Bradley, Makoto Fujimura, John M. Perkins, Tim Royer and Dwight Gibson – as they discover a “new perspective,” the BIGGER picture of what it means to be “in the world, not of it.” This seven-part film series will help you, your friends, church or organization investigate God’s Economy of All Things – OIKONOMIA (a Greek word that has a lot to say about God’s plan for his creation, the world, and us.)

This Combo Pack includes a letter from Evan and two discs for your player of choice: DVD and Blu-ray. Enjoy seven episodes around 20 minutes each, along with episode teaser videos, a series trailer, and bonus content.

Explore how God’s purposes are woven into every area of our lives: family, work, art, charity, education, government, recreation and all creation! The Bible calls us Strangers and Pilgrims, living in "the now and not yet" of God’s Kingdom Come on earth. We are also called to be salt and light, to have a transforming presence among our neighbors. Rediscover the role of the church and how our lives lived on earth matter in God’s plan for the world.

Designed for deep exploration, the series invites viewers to watch the series again for new insights. Also, check out the companion Field Guide to jump-start group and individual investigation and enhance the film experience! FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD Field Guides are available in print or via streaming access at StudySpace.org.

$59.99
Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
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1000x598xlife-of-st-benedict-benedict-discovers-totila-s-deceit-1502.jpg.pagespeed.ic.1ArTXFMkGL“The Church fathers, East and West, have a long tradition that affirms the value of human labor,” writes Acton’s Dylan Pahman at Humane Pursuits. “And their reflections on the subject contain depths of insight still relevant for those of us who live in “the world” today, such as how to find meaning in whatever work one may do.”

On the one hand, plenty of people may not see even a little lasting good in their job. The average factory worker, for example, is replaceable. And while many factories make fine products, it likely would not encourage many to exhort them to find meaning in the product of their work—trinkets, furniture, automobiles, and so on do not have the same lasting good as working for the Peace Corps, right?

On the other hand, some people may not be physically or mentally able to work in the same way as others. Many persons with disabilities are not even able to be a “cog in the machine”—do their disabilities disqualify them from the “little and lasting” work the old man recommends?

Read more . . .

Bruton_Church,_WilliamsburgThis summer I made a visit to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, and on a tour of churches, I heard a fascinating explanation of how society functioned when the church was the place where the poor had their material needs met, not the government. The Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg is one example.

According to church records, Burton Parish formed in 1674 following the merger of several colonial parishes originating as far back as 1633. As a Church of England congregation, this Anglican parish church was the center of life and culture. For example, during the era of the American Revolution men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry attended the church. Not only did prominent people in politics attend the parish church, the church also served the central location for providing social services for the poor.

In 17th and 18th century Williamsburg, Virginia helping the poor was assumed, as a social norm, to be the responsibility of the church, not the state. In the Bruton Parish, the vestrymen, in addition to managing the affairs of he parish, were responsible for all poverty related social services. In the Anglican church, the vestry was established as a committee elected in local congregations to work with the wardens of the church to meet various needs. During the colonial era, if a person did not have adequate housing, adequate food or clothing, if women were widowed and children were orphaned, and so on, it was simply an assumption that the church would meet the needs of those on the margins locally and personally.
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Syrian Christians rally in Qamishli, in northeastern Syria

Syrian Christians rally in Qamishli, in northeastern Syria

Just as armed citizens have been protecting themselves and their property in Ferguson, Mo., small groups of Christians are forming in militia-style units in areas of Syria and Iraq. While most Christians believe they are allowed to protect themselves and others using force if necessary, it is a religion of peace. Christ himself urges us to “turn the other cheek.” Yet the outrageous and barbaric violence against Christians is moving some to call for a more aggressive stance against ISIS.

Edward Pentin reports that these Christian militia groups have some strong backing:

One senior official [in Rome], speaking to me on condition of anonymity, believes that if the Islamic State begins making serious inroads into Lebanon — a country that’s no stranger to sectarian armed groups — Christian militias will become an everyday reality.

Small numbers of armed Christians are already established in Iraq and Syria. A group which calls itself “The Lions of the Canyon” reportedly has been protecting several Syrian villages while other Christian militias took up arms in Aleppo for the first time in 2012.

Evangelical pastor Michel Youssef, an advocate of armed Christian civilians in Iraq, recently told the website Act for America that the idea to form militias in Iraq was the “only way to protect our families and friends from attacks because we are tired of awaiting an action from the government which is preoccupied with politics and never looks after us.”

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MyWayYourWayI recently had an exchange with a Duke Divinity School student regarding many of things I’ve written at the Acton Institute over the past 12 years. The student said this about me:

When it comes to speaking comfort to power and castigating the most vulnerable in our society, there is perhaps no public theological voice more eager than that of Anthony Bradley’s. His body of work is a textbook in blaming the victim and reducing problems to pathology.

Not only had the student actually not read most of the things that I have written but the comment exposes something that Jonathan Haidt explains well that I’ve talked about before: ideological “tribalism.”
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