Category: News and Events

Much has been made already about President Obama’s comments yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast concerning the Christian faith’s teachings about social responsibility. During his time at the breakfast, the president opined that getting rid of tax breaks for wealthy Americans amounted to a Christian obligation:

In a time when many folks are struggling and at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income or young people with student loans or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually thinks that’s going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that, from to whom much is given, much shall be required.

The president is referring to the passage that concludes Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the watchful servants in Luke 12. It’s a good thing that the president isn’t the theologian-in-chief!

As Breanne Howe has pointed out (HT: The Transom), the text itself has to do with the basic idea of stewardship (the best resource for exploring the truly biblical conception of stewardship in its fullness is the NIV Stewardship Study Bible). I do think Howe draws a bit too sharply the lines between obligations and giving, as she writes, “Giving out of obligation is not truly giving, it’s merely following the rules.” There’s a complex relationship between legal requirements, moral obligations, and Christian gratitude that can’t be summed up by simply juxtaposing Christian charitable giving and government taxation.

But at the same time, paying your taxes can’t be simply conflated with meeting Christian social obligations, either. Christians are to pay taxes, certainly, but that doesn’t mean that Christian social responsibility is reducible to paying taxes.

More problematic, perhaps, is this latter identification, with our responsibilities before God being transferred to our responsibilities to government. If the president can use a text like Luke 12:48 to argue for progressive taxation, then what kind of tax policy should we implement on the basis of Luke 19:24-26?

Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

“‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

“He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

It’s too easy and sometimes irresistibly tempting to move directly from the text of Scripture to the text of legislation.

Prooftexting for the purpose of political posturing does violence to the Scriptures and damages our public discourse. That might be the most important political lesson arising from yesterday’s breakfast.

I am attending the Next Steps conference hosted by Indiana Wesleyan University and organized by IWU Students for BAM. This is their first annual conference. Acton Institute is sponsoring this conference as a part of our evangelical network building work. As I have opportunity, I will post blogs including highlights of the plenary and workshop sessions.

Last night, Bill Moore, owner and CEO of PacMoore Products spoke on principles of integrating business as mission in his company. Bill started his lecture emphasizing business work is not a second class calling for the Christian. Work has inherent value to God and in itself glorifies God. God is a God of order and design and has gifted each with a talent.

He also described through laws like Title 7 where rights and privileges are afforded to business owners, managers and employees regarding religious freedom. Companies and organizations who desire to embrace business as mission should not purpose to become “Christian country clubs,” but rather hire Christians and non-Christians alike. The jobs they provide can create a mission field where the Gospel can be lived out, oftentimes without words, in front of co-workers.

Bill mentioned he isn’t too worried about customers reacting negatively to his mission. One application of the company’s mission was the corporate chaplains (he has seven on staff) contacting a large vendor who recently had to close asking if the staff had any prayer requests or special needs. This vendor is not a Christian company and their former employees were greatly effected by this expression. They also mentioned these calls were significantly more than their own company had done to reach out to them during this transition.

Finally, Bill answered the question “What does a BAM company do?” At the same time, the company must fill a market need with a service and help employees discover Jesus Christ. This creates a double bottom line and both activities must be done exceptionally well.

I hope to update this more throughout the day today.

UPDATE: Dr. Patrick Lai, founder of the OPEN Network and co-founder of Nexus lectured at this afternoon’s plenary session.

How do you start a business in an underserved area:

1)Profile the picture – What do the people need and want vs. what we think they need. Normally they want jobs, education and leisure. Also review gender, age, location, income, and occupation.

2) Consider the cultural trends of the people. They will either be undeveloped, developing or developed. In addition, in some cases countries will be regressing, stagnant or progressing.

3) Study the educational system. Analyze the holes in the education system.

4) Study the resources of the land

5) Study the government-political climate

6) Develop a uniqueness about yourself of your product.  Don’t think you have nothing of value. We all have uniquenesses that God can use

7) Be professional.  Get a lawyer, local address, business cards, brochures, website.

It is important to remember when starting a new business that all aspects of your life are integrated and if there is a problem in one area, it will impact other areas of life

The American view of business must be contextualized for the international scene. For example, law suits are much less prevelant in the Muslim world. Also, the issue of race is far less divisive in Muslim countries than the US.

Business in order to be successful must make a profit and make an impact in the community. A profitable business with no community impact is not business as mission.

I just completed a very short interview on Vatican Radio to discuss the current battle between the Obama administration and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It didn’t permit me to say more than that the Obama administration is making a political mistake, so I’d like to say a bit more about the serious consequences that will likely result and how we ended up with this Church-State conundrum in the first place.

As Dr. Donald Condit has already explained, the Obama administration seems to be making a political calculation that this controversy will blow over before the November’s presidential election because the conscience exemption for providing and paying for abortion, sterilization and contraception will not take effect until later next year. But the miscalculation was predictable and is now evident, with not only Catholics, but Orthodox, Evangelical, Jewish and other religious leaders taking a stand. Unless the administration relents or the Obamacare law is ruled unconstitutional, Catholic hospitals and other institutions will be faced with a choice between not providing insurance coverage to their employees and thereby be fined by the government, or pay for the provision of services that they believe are morally evil.

A journalist friend in Rome just raised an alternative reading of the story to me on the street. What if Obama is actually making a principled argument that abortion, sterilization and contraception services are a fundamental aspect of women’s health that cannot and should not be denied to anyone, regardless of their own religious or individual convictions? Perhaps the White House believes, as most progressives do, that these stodgy, uptight opponents will eventually, inevitably, be overcome and we will one day wonder what all the fuss about. If so, the administration is doing much more than thinking about the next election; it’s redefining what the word “health” means to include measures that violently take away life from the most innocent and vulnerable persons, regardless of who pays for the services. This makes it much more than a religious freedom or a conscience issue and a matter of simple justice.

More generally, the whole Obamacare mess is a result of employer-provided health insurance. We would all be better off if our health insurance was decoupled from our employment, and we were free to purchase our own insurance according to our needs and wants. It is a result of state intervention in the economy, namely wage-and-price controls, that led to employers offering health insurance as a non-wage benefit to entice desired employees to their companies. Now we have the government mandating that all employers must provide comprehensive coverage to all their employees. What was once a prudential individual decision has become a government-mandated “right” that trumps the employer-employee, the doctor-patient, and perhaps even the priest-penitent relationship. Some progress.

There is some tragic irony to all this. We should not forget that many religious leaders have long-supported increasing the role of the state in health care and the economy at-large, perhaps thinking that conscience clauses would protect their institutions against any undue interference. Well, they were wrong; what the state giveth, the state taketh away. If you invite the state to “assist” more and more of your activities, it will eventually start telling you how to do things. Encouraging the Democratic Party’s efforts from Harry Truman on to socialize the health care system of the United States is likely to have dire consequences for Catholic and other religious-based social service providers. Economic ignorance among religious leaders comes at a very high cost to their own good works.

Update, Feb. 2: the Assembly of Bishops issued a press release to “adamantly protest” the HHS mandate.

On the Observer blog of the American Orthodox Institute, I look at the non-reaction of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America to the recent Obama administration mandate that forces most employers and insurers to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs free of charge. More specifics here. The Assembly of Bishops, charged with the “common witness” for Orthodox Christians in America, was also missing in action during the 2012 March for Life.

Towards the conclusion of this article, I say:

… we can’t dismiss this problem by saying that the Orthodox, broadly speaking, don’t get institutionally involved in politics. Far from it. How else can you explain the churches’ long membership in the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches, Protestant-dominated bodies that exist to put a patina of theological legitimacy on leftist economic and political ideologies?

Patriarch Bartholomew is all too ready to talk about how the Church invented hospitals more than 1,600 years ago, as he did in a 2009 speech sponsored by the Center for American Progress and Georgetown University in Washington. He even noted that these Byzantine hospitals were “public institutions, free of charge and created for the public good.” Although the patriarch stopped short of backing the Obama administration’s health care initiative before this liberal/progressive audience, he endorsed the notion that “every member of society, from the greatest to the least” deserves the best quality healthcare.

But Patriarch Bartholomew and his lobbyists are nowhere to be found when 21st Century American hospitals are feeling the heat from an administration trampling on conscience protections. We’re talking about hundreds of hospitals founded by Catholics, Jews and Protestants and serving people in real need — today and not in some idealized forever-gone past.

In stark contract to the Orthodox bishops, some 135 Roman Catholic bishops in the United States — and counting — have spoken out on this mandate.

Also see this reaction from Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Associated Baptist Press: “Mohler says insurance mandate not just ‘Catholic’ issue”.

Read “Orthodox Bishops Assembly Silent on Moral Issues” on the Observer blog of the American Orthodox Institute.

In my commentary this week, I reflect on the unemployment rate of many newly separated military veterans of our Armed Forces. The grim jobs outlook affects our reservists and National Guard forces too. As You Were, a book I reviewed on the PowerBlog in late 2009, touched on this topic quite a bit.

My first job out of college was working on veterans issues for former Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) I was able to meet and get to know combat veterans from battles like Okinawa, the Chosin Reservoir and Khe Sanh. It was a rewarding and educational experience.

I suspect we will hear more from Washington about how to solve this problem with additional centralized government action. But we already have real commitments and promises to veterans that must be honored and a debt of $15 trillion and growing that is staring down at us. My commentary is printed below in its entirety.

+++++++++


Playing Politics with Unemployed Veterans

Getting the U.S. economy back on a path to solid growth and the job creation engine jumpstarted is dominating the headlines, talk shows and policy debates in Washington right now. Many of the legislative prescriptions focus on the dismal unemployment woes of newly separated military veterans, whose rates outpace the civilian population. The troubling figures reveal a persistently bleak and stagnant economy.

National unemployment currently hovers around 9 percent, while unemployment for veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is more than 13 percent. Veterans in the age group of 18-24 are worse off, with an unemployment rate of 30 percent. Dead last in the Union is Michigan, where 30 percent of all former service members are unemployed.

These numbers may only get more discouraging as defense budget cuts push more and more from the active duty ranks into a weak job market.

Federal legislation passed at the end of last year seeks to address the problem with tax credits for companies who hire veterans. The measure could help some, but tax incentives like these generally offer no substantial improvement for removing people from the unemployment rolls.

Better immediate solutions would be omitting special licenses and training required by states to work in certain fields. There is no reason a combat medic in Iraq should not be able to work as an emergency medical technician. Many already have more training than their civilian counterparts do.

In his election-year State of the Union address, President Barack Obama painted a vision of a post-WWII society where triumphant veterans came back and created the strongest economy in the world. In his words, they understood that they were “part of something larger.” Part of that “something larger” after the defeat of fascism was a growing free economy, but they also faced a long twilight struggle against the spread of communism.

To restore prosperity today, President Obama called for a “common purpose” to rally behind. But the obvious common purpose, the reduction of the staggering national debt, was largely ignored by the commander-in-chief during his address. For the unemployed, all Americans, and a free economy, the debt is the largest obstacle to restoring prosperity and reawakening the most expansive economy the world has ever seen. The failure of the American government to live within its means threatens to eviscerate the promises made to America’s veterans. It is a classic case of one moral failing leading to another.

The “something larger” greeting veterans when they come home today is a national debt of more than $15 trillion and an economy burdened by more and more regulations. The White House has already requested a debt ceiling increase to a whopping $16.4 trillion dollars. So great is the obstacle, and so serious is the threat, Indiana’s governor Mitch Daniels dubbed it “the new Red Menace.”

The threat to veterans is substantial. Although veterans’ benefits are justly generous, the government’s fiscal crisis has put those guarantees at risk. Last year, for the first time, some in Washington talked about the necessity of trimming promised pensions and health benefits for military retirees. Politicians are playing politics with veterans when they talk of reducing promised benefits with one side of their mouth and say they are creating jobs for veterans with the other.

Older military retirees can remember a time when they counted on the promise of free health care for life. Many sacrificed more lucrative private sector careers, nonpayment for overtime, and additional time with their family because of patriotism and promised security. Now they pay premiums for their care.

Thomas Jefferson warned of the moral pitfalls and decay of debt when he said, “The earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation.” Profligate spending in the past undermines our capacity to honor present commitments.

With their skills, work ethic, and patriotism, veterans have the ability to overcome the challenges confronting them. Most businesses and companies want to hire veterans. All they need is some assurance that their prospects going forward will not be dimmed by burdensome regulation or economic instability stemming from federal fiscal irresponsibility.

Washington does not understand there is little to be done in terms of a prescriptive policy to cure veteran unemployment. The oft forgotten Calvin Coolidge once warned, “Unsound economic conditions are not conducive to sound legislation.”

The best cure is still a market unleashed from needless regulation and spending policies that reflect a moral and rational resolve. In the end, a federal government that is broke can do little for veterans who earned and are entitled to benefits already promised.

At last summer’s Acton University conference, one of the evening key note lectures included Diet Eman, a Grand Rapids resident and one of the leaders of the World War II Dutch resistance.  As a 20-year-old bank teller in the Netherlands in 1940, Diet dove into underground activities, doing anything she could to protect Jews from the deadly Nazi advance.  She, along with a small minority of ordinary Dutch citizens, bravely put their lives on the line to preserve human life and dignity.

This week, Diet will be speaking in Grand Rapids once again.  On Thursday, February 2 at 7:30pm in the Wege Ballroom at Aquinas College, the documentary, The Reckoning: Remembering the Dutch Resistance will be shown, followed by a Q&A session with Diet.  The event is part of the Aquinas College Social Justice Series, which is a compilation of public events featuring guest speakers and service projects that encourge community involvement and awareness of social issues.

Through their selfless and courageous efforts, the Dutch resistance provided perhaps the greatest service of all, upholding the dignity of the human person.  We welcome you to come learn about this important part of history and dialogue with a woman who helped make it possible.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
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Picking up on the theme of my commentary and blog posts from a few weeks ago, I note (via Carpe Diem) that St. Paul, Minnesota will be welcoming “a new entry coming soon to the food truck scene in downtown St. Paul. Tot Boss will be the city’s first truck specializing in Tater Tots.”

And to lend some more anecdotal evidence to the idea that mobile trucks can lay the groundwork for more permanent and developed enterprises down the road (so to speak), check out this story of Brigitte Wooten in Holland, Michigan, “who for the past 11 years has been doing ribs and pulled pork at the Tulip Festival and other summer events around the state.” Wooten opened Jus’ Ribs & More late last year.

“Now I’m the owner of my own business. And I’m the cook and the dishwasher and waitress and the cashier and the dishwasher,” said Wooten.