Category: News and Events

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, March 12, 2015
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Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. First Things, whose first publisher Richard John Neuhaus was a founding ECT member, is hosting a variety of reflections on ECT’s two decades, and in its latest issue published a new ECT statement, “The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage.”

Abraham KuyperThe first ECT statement was put out in 1994. But as recalled by Charles W. Colson, another founding member of ECT, the foundations of evangelical and Roman Catholic dialogue go back much further. The Dutch Reformed theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was a major influence on the thinking of Colson, and as Colson argues, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which created such controversy, was launched actually by Kuyper a century ago. It is not new.”

Colson made this bold claim in a speech in 1998, at a conference at Calvin College (co-sponsored by the Acton Institute), on the legacies of two great modern representatives of these traditions, Kuyper and Leo XIII.
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Members of  the “Acton Club” of West Catholic High School

Members of the “Acton Club” of West Catholic High School

Culture has either an overly optimistic view of youth culture, or an overly dour and depressing one. However, neither view is entirely true, nor are such disparate opinions very helpful.  The unavoidable truth is this: younger generations will have to bear increasingly more difficult levels of financial, and societal responsibility in the coming years. To put it mildly their future will not be an easy walk in the park.

However, in my experiences at Acton, I am witnessing a renaissance, a flowering of maturity in which young men and women are not waiting for someone to offer them a free hand-out, but rather are seeking a better version and a more compelling vision for their future. Certainly the root of this renaissance has been occurring over the past ten years with college students at Acton University, but the flowering I am talking about is happening amongst high school students.

In the spring of 2014, a group of students from West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids made an appointment to tour our offices and to learn more about Acton’s work. After the tour, I expected the students to simply say, “thank you” and then depart, but the leader of this intrepid band said, “Mr. Cook, we have a core group that are serious about our Christian faith, and we want to be successful, ethical and virtuous business leaders. We want to learn how we can live our faith as Christian business leaders in our world today.” Then he said something really amazing.

“Do you think it’s possible for us to start an ‘Acton Club’ in our high school?’

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Pope Francis

Pope Francis

If I were to publicly announce a Bible study meeting at the local public library, one can imagine the hue and cry from secularists fretting about a looming right-wing theocratic takeover of America. Change the subject to Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on climate change, however, and all you hear are crickets chirping from the separation of church and state crowd. (See comments on the encyclical here from Acton’s Kishore Jayabalan)

It’s interesting to note that – when not attempting to eliminate religious considerations altogether from the public square – progressive groups leap at the opportunity to embrace a religious leader when he or she shows sympathy for their pet causes. Already one can anticipate the swoon of secularists in anticipation of Pope Francis weighing in on climate change, a document they’ll more than likely never read in full but will selectively quote to buttress their liberal interpretations.

The fact remains that no one – outside the Vatican at least – yet knows what Pope Francis will say about climate change in his upcoming encyclical. But that hasn’t stopped the Citizens Climate Lobby, a national astro-turfing outfit with local “grassroots” chapters throughout the United States, including one in your writer’s own backyard in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Last weekend, CCL local chapters gathered to listen to national broadcast presentations by Lonnie Ellis, associate director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, and Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt, the book upon which the recently released film documentary is based. The CCL chapter in my hometown congregated in the local public library annex to listen to the podcast recorded earlier that afternoon. I’m pleased to report our Republic has yet to establish a religion, but I’m not of the sort who worries about such things. (more…)

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The Schiebel CamCopter S-100 Drone

Drones can be used for great evil, but they can also save lives. In the past decade, more than 20,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Desperate people work with smugglers and board overcrowded and hazardous boats, attempting to escape war-torn and dangerous countries in the Middle East. Christopher Catrambone, an American living in Malta has decided to use one of the most controversial tools of the 21st century to try and save these people.

Forget the politics for a second, these are hundreds of thousands of men, women and children taking to the sea aboard what are often unsafe, overcrowded vessels that catch fire and sink and on which they may have inadequate access to food, drinking water and medical supplies.

Catrambone and his wife, Regina, purchased a ship, inflatable boats, and drones and put them in the hands of former government and military officials and medical experts, creating the operation: Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). They believe that “no one deserves to die at sea.” The drones scan the common routes of smugglers, going up to 150 mph and searching for 6 hours before needing to re-charge. If the drones find vessels that need help either the main ship, the Phoenix I, responds or the Italian Coast Guard is called. From the MOAS homepage: “It is dedicated to preventing loss of life at sea by providing assistance to migrants who find themselves in distress while crossing the Mediterranean Sea in unsafe vessels.”

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Fr. Matthew Baker

Alexis de Tocqueville, observing the young United States in the 1830s, wrote, “Wherever, at the head of a new undertaking, you see in France the government, and in England, a great lord, count on seeing in the United States, an association.” In the midst of recent tragedy — the untimely death of Fr. Matthew Baker, a Greek Orthodox priest killed in a car accident this past Sunday evening, leaving behind his wife and six children — it is a source of hope to see that this American associational persistence is still alive in the present.

Without hesitation, friends of Fr. Matthew set up a page at the crowd funding site gofundme, and they have already raised a tremendous sum to support Presvytera Katherine and the children.

The loss of Fr. Matthew has been felt far beyond Orthodox Christian circles and close friends. Americans across the country, utilizing modern technology for this good work, have come together across confessional lines to help a family they have never personally known.

As for myself, I had only just begun to know Fr. Matthew. I regret that is all I can say. We both were contributors to Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and belong to a Facebook group related to our writing there. I had just spoken with him (via Facebook) the previous night, not even 24 hours before his death. (more…)

81W0J14jZsL“Christ followers are to see the world differently and have a different posture toward it. Rather than safety from or capitulation to the world, the grand narrative of Scripture describes instead a world we are called to live for. This world, Scripture proclaims, belongs to God, who then entrusted it to His image bearers. He created it good and loves it still, despite its brokenness and frustration.” –John Stonestreet & Warren Cole Smith

Through the new film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, the Acton Institute has prompted a robust discussion on Christian cultural engagement, prodding Christians to stretch beyond our typical categories of fortification, domination, or accommodation, and instead toward an approach focused primarily on service and love.

How are we to be in the world but not of it? How do we seek the good of the city and serve our captors without compromising God’s truth? What is our salvation actually for?

In their forthcoming book, Restoring All Things, John Stonestreet and Warren Cole Smith explore these same questions and continue the conversation, calling Christians to reorient our attitudes, actions, and vocabulary around God’s “true story of the world.” For far too long, they argue, Christians have preferred the path of opposition (resisting, reacting, and rejecting) even though in Scripture, the most common “re” words have to do with what we are for (reconciling, redeeming, restoring). (more…)

ArchieFrankensteinCover250The left’s war against genetically modified foods continues apace. Last week, the nonprofit Green America outfit boasted a victory over The Hershey Company, which has agreed to use “simpler ingredients” in its addictive Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolates and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars. Yes, “Frankenfood” fearers, the delicious GMO-derived sucrose of Hershey’s chocolate soon will be replaced with an identical product coincidentally known as sucrose.

Finally, the “Sugar, Sugar” bubblegum world imagined by The Archies in 1969 has been realized as “Sucrose, Sucrose.” You might still be my candy, girl, but you’ve got me wanting to lecture you in basic science and economics. Just as most candy Easter bunnies are only air wrapped in chocolate, the Green America triumph is a hollow victory. (more…)

figure6A new report out of the U.K. shows just how muddled discussion on genetically modified crops really is. Late last week the U.K. House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published: “Advanced genetic techniques for crop improvement: regulation, risk, and precaution.” Very broadly, this report set out to look at the “challenge of feeding a burgeoning global population, using few resources,” specifically the use of GMOs, as well as the “EU’s current regulatory regime for genetically modified organisms (GMOs).”

The report acknowledges that no single type of food can end the difficulties feeding the global population; however, “novel crops could play an important role in helping tomorrow’s farmers to produce more from less.” The report found major obstacles keeping innovations like this from wider use:

The EU’s current regulatory regime for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) threatens to prevent such products from reaching the market, both in the UK, in Europe and, as a result of trade issues, potentially in the developing world.

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Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 6.51.22 PMMuch attention has been given to Greece’s fiscal and political issues, but one European country may have even bigger problems: France. Writing in the American Spectator, Samuel Gregg discusses ‘Europe’s Real Time Bomb’ and how the challenges Greece faces are miniscule compared to France’s.

It’s no exaggeration to say that France is facing one of its most systematic crises since the Fourth Republic’s collapse in 1958. This time, however, there’s no man of destiny—no Charles de Gaulle—waiting in the wings to save France from itself. In fact, that’s part of France’s problem: a political class that, regardless of party, isn’t adept at imaginative thinking, especially concerning Exhibit A of France’s problems: its economy.

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Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 27, 2015
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Leonard Nimoy by Gage Skidmore 2.jpgAt the prodding of my friend Victor Claar, here’s a plea based on the significance of the Vulcan salute pioneered by Leonard Nimoy, who passed away today at the age of 83.

Mr. Spock would wish someone farewell by saluting them and saying, “Live long and prosper.” Other Vulcans or those in the know might respond, “Peace and long life.”

Things go in cycles, and we’ve been hearing a lot about “flourishing” lately. I’m a bit tired of it, frankly, and am making a plea for speaking about “prosperity” instead.

At least for today, that seems appropriate (and as long as we remember that, as the preacher of true prosperity put it, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”).

For more on the religious heritage of the Vulcan salute, check out its origin story.