This month marks the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan. While much debate surrounds the relationship of Church and state in Christian Rome, even key figures like the Emperor Constantine (traditionally considered a saint by both East and West), the Edict of Milan is something that anyone who values liberty, religious liberty in particular, ought to commemorate as a monumental achievement. While a previous edict in 311 had offered some toleration to Christians, who spent almost their first 300 years having to fear for their lives any one of many local outbreaks of persecution that periodically plagued Pagan Rome, the Edict of Milan for the first time granted the Church the same status, including property rights, as other religions. It did not establish Christianity as the state religion (that would not happen until the end of the fourth century). Even then, the history, like all history, is messy. Often different emperors had widely different practical perspectives toward their role (or lack thereof) in religion. As Lord Acton has stated, liberty is the “delicate fruit of a mature civilization,” and that includes religious liberty and Christian Rome. In all cases, it was not a total separation of Church and state, but it was an achievement, a maturation if only for a time, that marked the end of centuries of martyrdom for Christians in the Roman (now Byzantine) empire. (more…)
In the most recent issue of Theosis (1.6), Fr. Thomas Loya, a Byzantine Catholic priest, iconographer, and columnist, has an interesting contribution on the upcoming feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple (also known as Candlemas or the “Meeting of the Lord”). For many, February 2nd is simply the most bizarre and meaningless American holiday: Groundhog Day. However, for more traditional Christians, this is a major Christian feast day: the commemoration of the forty day presentation of Christ at the Temple in Jerusalem (December 25 + 40 days = February 2; for the biblical account, see Luke 2:22-40).
In his installment on “Applied Byzantine Liturgy” (pp. 54-56), Loya writes regarding this feast that it, like all liturgy, transforms our vision and thereby ought to be “applied to every aspect of life.” He writes,
When we say, “applied to every aspect of life” we really, really meant it: the economy, the environment, politics, education, healthcare, marriage, family, sexuality, law, work, unions, management, etc, etc. Did you notice how many of the words in this last sentence were some of the “hot button” words of our day? Have you also noticed how none of the areas that these words denote is functioning well today? There is one reason—lack of the correct vision and the application of the correct vision. (more…)
David J. Dunn yesterday wrote an interesting piece arguing for a ban on assault weapons from an Orthodox Christian perspective (here). First of all, I am happy to see any timely Orthodox engagement with contemporary social issues and applaud the effort. Furthermore, I respect his humility, as his bio statement reads: “his views reflect the diversity of Orthodox opinion on this issue, not any ‘official’ position of the church.” The same applies to my views as well.
I take issue with Dunn, in particular, in his use of the Orthodox principle of oikonomia. As he frames it, it would appear that he has not taken the time to understand it in historical context, distorting his application of the principle to the debate of firearm regulation. Indeed, he appears to have entirely misappropriated this principle, applying it in precisely the opposite manner in which it is traditionally intended. (more…)
I have wrapped up a brief series on the principle of subsidiarity over at the blog of the journal Political Theology with a post today, “Subsidiarity ‘From Below.’” You can check out the previous post, “Subsidiarity ‘From Above,’” as well as my introductory primer on the topic as well.
For those who might be interested in reading some more, you can also download some related papers: “State, Church, and the Reformational Roots of Subsidiarity” and “A Society of Mutual Aid: Natural Law and Subsidiarity in Early Modern Reformed Perspective.”
Ken Endo, who has done a great deal of work on the historical and legal background to the idea of subsidiarity, has a helpful summary of the two basic constructions as differing emphases of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism:
Founded on a strong sense of autonomy and self-determination that could be influenced by the Protestant tradition, the local municipalities and regions in Sweden and Finland considered subsidiarity indispensable if they are to join the European Community….
Their approach towards subsidiarity as well as that of Denmark and perhaps the Netherlands takes on a bottom-up character, and does not necessarily coincide with the conception of southern European countries, which are in general coloured by Catholicism.
Of this latter view, Endo is referring to the idea that “the Catholic Church presupposes the hierarchical view of Society in which all its components should be located in the ‘proper’ places. Moreover, the Church considers that other components of Society than the State are subordinated to the State in a harmonious way as if they were part of its body (to put it in a different way, in accordance with the common good.”
You can download the text of Endo’s lengthy essay, “The Principle of Subsidiarity: From Johannes Althusius to Jacques Delors,” in PDF form.
In 2011, the Obama administration cut off funding to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that was used to fight human trafficking. The USCCB lost funding for its refusal to provide abortions, sterilizations and artificial birth control in their anti-trafficking programs, as these services are all immoral, according to Catholic teaching.
Now, the bishops have re-grouped, and are launching a new initiative in the fight against human trafficking.
The USCCB’s new educational campaign, The Amistad Movement, rolls out this year. Lummert [Nathalie Lummert, special-programs director at the USCCB’s Office of Migrant and Refugee Service] explained the program reaches directly into at-risk urban and rural communities, where traffickers seek to blend their victims into the immigrant population. The program trains community leaders to identify victims, help rescue them and muster the support and resources they need.
“They will be empowered to identify trafficking in their community, rather than someone from the outside trying to identify it,” Lummert said.
Nearly 17,000 men, women and children are trafficked from overseas each year, according to the USCCB Anti-Trafficking Program.
Lummert goes on to say that now that the government is not funding programs like this, the bishops have greater flexibility in what they are able to offer. “We’re able to leverage more resources,” Lummert said. “When you have a variety of private sources and private donors, you are really free to do what the Church wants to do.”
In the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty (22.3), I review Just Politics by Ronald Sider (read the full review here). While the book has much to commend it, my review ultimately ends up being critical. I do not believe it succeeds in constructing a solid social framework for Evangelicals comparable to Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, as is its stated goal. I write,
Just Politics may be a guide in the same sense that a field guide to birds can rightly be called a guide, but it does not succeed at being “a methodology”—like, for example, the scientific method—as is its stated goal. Or more to the point, unlike the Roman Catholic framework of subsidiarity, solidarity, and natural law or the neo-Calvinist framework of sphere sovereignty, the antithesis, and common grace, Sider’s framework (Part 3 of the book and the vast majority, nearly 140 pages) resembles more the things one would hang upon a framework than a framework itself.
Among the many things Sider highlights in field-guide-to-birds style (between “Starvation” and “Capital Punishment”) is this peculiarity under the category of the sanctity of human life:
Smoking kills an estimated 438,000 Americans every year. Around the world, the death toll from smoking rises to 5 million each year.
The social costs are enormous. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that smoking costs the nation $75.5 billion each year in medical bills and $92 billion in low productivity. Lung cancer snatches fathers and mothers away prematurely.
Given the devastation caused by smoking tobacco, it is especially ironic that senator Jesse Helms, long heralded as one of the great pro-life supporters, strongly supported government funding to send American tobacco to developing countries under our “Food for Peace” program.
Christians must insist that the sanctity of human life applies to everyone, including people seduced by clever cigarette advertising. Christians must work for effective laws that prevent tobacco advertisements, forbid smoking in most public buildings and facilities, and educate the public on the dangers of smoking. American experience over the last thirty years demonstrates that this mix of government programs can reduce smoking and the deaths it causes.
I find the above statement both challenging and confusing. Let me explain…. (more…)
Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past few months you’ve surely heard of the debt limit crisis. But if you’re still unclear on what it’s all about, this video provides a brief, helpful explanation.
The key point in the video is that the debt limit is about paying bills already incurred. Congress agreed to allow the government to spend in excesses of revenues but is now refusing to pay what is due. As Albert Mohler notes,
The winter issue of Leadership Journal is on vocation and callings. In the lead editorial, managing editor Drew Dyck reminds us that while it’s important to affirm the calling of lawyers, journalists, and plumbers, we need to remember that being a pastor is a calling too:
I applaud this move toward a more holistic understanding of vocation. I’ve seen numerous books on the topic published in the past few years. Conferences are springing up. What’s most heartening is to see some churches, like Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, launching programs to help parishioners think theologically about their vocations. We still have a long way to go, but things are changing. And I’m thankful. Yet amid the excitement to affirm all vocations, I want to offer this caveat. Let’s not forget to also honor the call to full-time ministry.
Since graduating from seminary six years ago, I can’t think of one former classmate who is now a pastor. For many young Christians today, going into missions or the pastorate is now the second-class option. Doing social work, starting a charity, or working for an NGO—those are the cool vocations. Next to such endeavors the ancient, plodding work of shepherding a congregation seems passé to many. That worries me. If the Christians of yesteryear exalted ministry vocations to unhealthy heights, I fear the pendulum may now be swinging too far in the opposite direction.
Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the First Kuyper Seminar, “Economics, Christianity & The Crisis: Towards a New Architectonic Critique,” held at the VU University Amsterdam. I gave a paper on “The Moral Challenges of Economic Equality and Diversity,” which focused on envy as a moral challenge particularly endemic to market economies: “Since envy arises out of inequality, envy and inequality go together. And since markets inevitably generate inequalities, therefore envy and markets go together.” This paper is part of a larger collaborative project on envy I’m working on with Victor V. Claar, which includes our co-authored paper, “Envy in the Market Economy: Sin, Fairness, and Spontaneous (Dis)Order.”
Another presentation at the conference by Henry Vyner-Brooks of the UK focused on the thought of “John Ruskin and the Economics of Inequality.” I was not previously very familiar with Ruskin’s thought, and Vyner-Brooks’ presentation brought forth a wealth of intriguing material from Ruskin. The Ruskin presentation was given on the first day of the conference, and it stimulated my thinking as I prepared to give my paper on the final session of the second and last day of the workshop.
One of Ruskin’s contentions regarding inequality had to do with the moral obligation of the wealthy to put their wealth to productive use. He made the analogy between plants that merely grow and expand their root system with plants that actually bear fruit, the difference between root and bulb, so to speak. This, I think, helped me clarify to some extent the difficulty in understanding precisely what “unrighteous” inequality, a reality affirmed by the vast majority of thinkers in the Christian tradition, consists in. I didn’t come up with any hard and fast rules or measures (e.g. the 99% vs. the 1%), but I did think of a dynamic from the Lord of the Rings that might be helpful.
The idle, unproductive, or “unrighteous” wealth could be seen as analogous to the initial lethargy of the Ents in The Two Towers. A recurring temptation for materially prosperous human beings is to think that they no longer need God and are not bound by moral obligations to others, particularly the poor. This reality is in part why John Calvin, when commenting on Isaiah 2:16, observed that “it most frequently happens that abundance leads to pride and cruelty,” and that “it is too frequent and common that riches are followed by luxury, effeminacy, and a superfluity of pleasures, which we commonly see in wealthy countries and commercial cities.”