Category: Christian Social Thought

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America has published a new report on Orthodox Monastic Communities in the United States (here). The report contains a lot of great information (“great” for nerds like me, anyway), including a whole section entitled, “‘Monastic Economy:’ Ownership of Property and Sources of Income in US Orthodox Monasteries.”

According to the report,

In summary, the three most common sources of income in US Orthodox monasteries are:

  • Occasional private donations including bequests and offerings for performed sacraments (87% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);

  • Sale of religious items (except candles) that are not produced by monastery (52% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);

  • Production and sales of candles (24% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income).

Thus, after private donations, the top two sources of income are through commerce: 52% sales of items not produced by the monastery and 24% candles produced by the monastery. Income from other items produced by monasteries, such as books, devotional items, and food items, was also significant. Our Merciful Saviour Russian Orthodox Monastery in Washington state, for example, lists sales of their “monastery blend” coffee as their primary source of income.

This does not come as a surprise to me.

The most recent volume (vol. 8, 2014) published by the Sophia Institute, of which I am a fellow, includes a paper by me entitled, “Markets and Monasticism: A Survey & Appraisal of Eastern Christian Monastic Enterprise.” While my paper is not a comprehensive history, it does include a section on modern Orthodox monasteries in the United States.

I write, (more…)

_70189222_464_unemployedUnemployment is a spiritual problem. When a person loses their job, they’ve lost a means to provide for their family, an important aspect of their human flourishing, and the primary way they serve their neighbors. With the loss in vocation comes a loss in meaning. Not surprisingly, unemployment can have long-term negative effects on communities, families, and a person’s subjective well-being and self-esteem.

The most disturbing effect of unemployment is the despair that can lead people to take their own lives. One out of every five suicides in the world can be associated with unemployment, according to a new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. As Business Insider reports,
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Oscar_RomeroThe Rev. Robert Sirico, in The Detroit News today, remembers the faith of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero, whom Pope Francis recently declared a martyr. Rev. Sirico recalls his trip to the church where the Salvadoran archbishop was killed.

While on a lecture tour of El Salvador about a year ago, I asked my hosts if it were possible to visit the church where Oscar Romero celebrated his last Mass in 1980.

The Salvadorian archbishop was assassinated by a government hit squad at the point in the Mass known as the Offertory.

Here, the priest slightly raises first the host and then the chalice in a re-enactment of Christ’s institution of the Eucharist, which Catholics believe to be the self-offering of Christ for the salvation of the world.

Sirico calls Romero “a man of deep prayer and spirituality” whose life had been co-opted by liberation theologians.

Read, “Sirico: An archbishop driven by faith, not ideology” at The Detroit Free Press.

Through Christian’s Library Press, the Acton Institute has published four tradition-specific primers on faith, work, and economics, including Baptist, WesleyanPentecostal, and Reformed perspectives. Each offers a distinct contribution to the subject, and when taken together provides a rich and coherent framework for Christian stewardship. The books are part of Acton’s growing Oikonomia Series.

primer-group1

This week, Acton and CLP will be giving away two complete sets of the series (that’s 4 books total for each winner!), including Chad Brand’s Flourishing FaithDavid Wright’s How God Makes the World a Better Place, Charlie Self’s Flourishing Churches and Communities, and John Bolt’s Economic Shalom.

The contest will end Friday night (February 13) at 11:59 p.m. To enter, use the interface below. To get started, all you need to enter is your email address! After that, there are five ways to enter, and each will increase your odds (with extra points for tweeting).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: Due to certain constraints, print copies are only available to contestants who live North America. Winners who reside elsewhere will receive a digital copy.

datacenter_workWhere can people turn when technology eliminates their jobs? Greg Forster argues the answer is the “church.”

Forster offers five things the church can be for those whose jobs are eliminated or endangered by technological change:

The church can be a place where people find their true identity.

The church can be a place where people find healing.

The church can be a place where people find wisdom and vision.

The church can be a place of cultural entrepreneurship.

The church can be a place where the poor flourish.

Check out his article at TGC where he expands on each item.

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
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In his book, Heavenly Merchandize, Mark Valeri, professor of church history at Union Presbyterian Seminary, finds that the American economy as we know it emerged from a series of important shifts in the views of Puritan ministers:

IDEAS: You’re saying that the market didn’t rise at the expense of religion, but was enabled by it?

VALERI: You need to have a change in your basic understanding of how or where God works in the world before you can envision different economic behaviors as morally sufferable. These religious changes come first. The market–networks of exchange, converging prices, things being adjudicated in courts–is not put in place in North America until the 1740s,1750s. The religious changes come before that. They’re integral to it.

IDEAS: Your book comes out at an interesting moment for America’s relationship with free-market economics–to a lot of people, it looks like everyone in the financial markets has been behaving in defiance of the broader interests of the society.

VALERI: I asked a hedge fund manager I know if he had said to the traders described in [Michael Lewis’s] ”The Big Short,” ”What you’re doing will result in huge financial calamity, unemployment, people losing their homes–isn’t that socially irresponsible?”, what would they have said? He said, ”Their response would be, ’that doesn’t matter, that’s not my concern. My job is to make as much money as I possibly can.’”

My book shows the people who built the capitalist system did not think like that. The people who built the market economy had a whole cluster of deep collective loyalties and moral convictions.

Read more . . .

A friend of mine recently shared this short clip of Thomas Merton’s last lecture. He has some interesting things to say about communism and monasticism, as well as what is clearly a sly promo for Coca-Cola at the end.

“From now on, brothers, everybody stands on his own feet.” This would be a great summary statement of what the monastic vow of poverty actually meant to most monks, historically. With regards to monasteries being the only places that have ever fulfilled the socialist ideal “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” I would add that they were able to do this because they valued the division of labor and the potential good of enterprise.

Monasteries, ancient and medieval, were centers of production, invention, and exchange, in addition to faith and worship. We may often think of the Scriptures and works of literature, philosophy, or theology that they copied in their scriptoria, but these same communities have also left us volumes of financial records, documenting extensive holdings in land and capital, as well as ventures in banking, lending, and long distance trade.

For one monk’s take on the good of commerce, see my recent Acton Commentary, “The Monk as Merchant,” here.

Also, I’ll be lecturing again on “Markets & Monasticism” at this year’s Acton University, our summer conference. If you haven’t done so already, take the time to learn more about it here.

Creación_de_AdámDorothy Sayers, playwright, novelist and Christian scholar, wrote an important work in the 1930s entitled, Are Women Human? In her essay, she presents the biblical case for gender equality in a humorous and insightful way, grounding mutuality in theological anthropology. From the Genesis narratives to the new earth of Revelation, she affirms this thesis:

We are all human beings, made in the image of God with a job to do. And we do our jobs as a man or a woman.

This theological vision — of men and women in mutual love and respect carrying out their vocations for the glory of God and the good of others — undergirds the best of ecclesial, economic, political, and social liberty, and it has implications for the full range of human interactions and relationships. Notice the order of reflection: Creator > human identity > the call to worship/work > gender identity.

Alas, the effacing (not erasing) of the imago dei has led humankind down all manner of oppressive pathways, from dehumanizing and disintegrating practices of pagan and secular ideologies to the degrading subjugation of women, minorities, and many others in the name of “religious tradition.”

For followers of Jesus, a full vision of God’s reign includes living the future now in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the church as the herald and witness of the fullness to come. This includes redeeming the wholeness of being human, integrating all facets of individual and social being, including relational shalom. Women and men who love Jesus are icons of the coming kingdom. Singleness is not incompleteness, but a signpost of a future where all God’s people are married to Christ and sisters and brothers of one another. Marriage is a special illumination of Christ’s delight in his church, not a superior status. (more…)

Selma_posterTwo January 2015 film releases provide great opportunities for Christians to examine the not so admirable aspects of American church history in order to learn from the mistakes and successes of the past. First, the newly released movie Selma tells of the story of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the public protests leading up to LBJ signing the bill into law.

My parents were born and raised during Jim Crow and the movie does a great job of depicting life during that era for people like my parents and why federal government intervened to override voting restrictions in the South because of overwhelming resistance by white southerners to allow African Americans proper access to voter registration. The film focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr’s leadership of the Southern Christian Leader Conference during the organization of a march from Selma, Alabama to the Alabama State capital in Montgomery as a protest. The film does not shy away from the flaws in the movement, including MLK’s marital infidelities.

During the film, we learn about the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young African-American protestor, who was gunned down in a town near Selma. After his murder by police, King issued a clarion call to anyone in America who wanted come to Selma and join him in the cause to fight for voting rights.
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Blog author: dpahman
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
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Not Abba Pistamon

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine some ancient economic wisdom from one of the desert fathers: Abba Pistamon. Far from the newest of Nintendo’s Pokemon monsters (despite the sound of his name), Abba Pistamon was one of the first Christian monks. The dialogue between him and an unnamed brother that I examine from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers has a lot to say about production, labor, profit, and exchange.

I write,

Far from a gnostic allergy to any involvement with the material world, Abba Pistamon acknowledges the good of production and exchange, appealing to past precedent of other revered monks before him (“Abba Sisois and others”). Commerce, he says, was common. In fact, according to the size and expansive enterprise of ancient monastic communities, we can say that his assessment is more than anecdotal. In ancient Christian sources, contempt for the merchant and trader is common, but the reality is more complicated. Sometimes traders and merchants went by a more respectable name: monks. We should not be surprised, then, that Abba Pistamon displays a certain natural business sense. But he does not stop at the merely economic aspects of production and exchange.

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