Category: News and Events

United Methodist renewal groups are under attack by liberal denominational leaders at General Conference for providing the gift of free cell phones for some international delegates who made the trip to Forth Worth, Texas.

Opponents of the the evangelical renewal groups are afraid that the phones will be utilized to tell certain international delegates how to vote. A letter from the renewal groups supposedly included with the gift invited them to a breakfast, provided other General Conference news, and a list of candidates they should consider for UM Judicial Council positions, which is the highest court in the denomination.

General Conference is the top policy-making body of the United Methodist Church. The conference is now currently taking place in Fort Worth. Delegates from all over the country and the world attend General Conference, which is composed of clergy and laity.

The Confessing Movement
, UM Action (IRD), Good News, and Transforming Congregations provided the phones for delegates. The phones were intended to give international delegates, many of whom are from Africa, the same access to communication as other delegates have at the conference. Church liberals however do not see it that way and are oddly accusing renewal groups of bribery and racism, even though international delegates greatly appreciated the act of hospitality. Erin Hawkins who is the top executive of the church’s commission on Religion and Race was quoted in a United Methodist News Service article on the controversy saying:

My hope is that the white leadership of the church would be mindful of the actions in light of the history of exploitation of people of color in this church. I hope they would not willingly engage in any sort of behavior that would undermine the humanity of people of color whether they are in the United States or other countries. This action of giving cell phones to buy or manipulate people can be interpreted as a return to that sort of racist behavior.

I personally know many of the individuals who make up the Methodist renewal groups and their integrity and commitment to a fair and democratic process is an automatic for me simply based on their character. Years ago I imagine this would have not even been a story, but here’s the rub. Decades and decades of entrenched liberal power, where some church leaders have used the United Methodist Church for their own left wing theological and political activism, is now finding their unchecked power threatened and they are lashing out as a result.

In contrast, African delegates are firmly committed to Biblical and theological integrity, and their delegate numbers are rising, just as the number of United Methodists in this country are shrinking, largely because of the denomination’s unfaithfulness to clear Christian teaching. UM Action has a good story on this issue titled, “African Declaration Released at UM Renewal and Reform Conference.”

Mark Tooley is the Director of UM Action and he offered me this frank assessment of the cell phone controversy today:

The liberal controlled agencies of the church have long deluged international delegates with gifts and favors over the years in a vain attempt to gain their support for a liberal agenda. But the international delegates have not been seduced by the misbegotten riches of the church bureaucracy. Their faith remains strong. Naturally, the church left responded with rage to the distribution of cell phones by evangelicals, who have no need whatsoever to manipulate or even persuade the overseas delegates, whose solidly biblical views are already akin to our own.

Of course, the whole notion that international or African delegates can be bribed or controlled with a hospitable gift that allows them equal access to technology is entirely demeaning in so many ways.

Elizabeth Turner, who is an editorial assistant at Good News told me yesterday:

The problem is that despite the emphasis on “holy conferencing”, there are those who are quick to attribute the worst motives rather than engage in fair inquiry. It’s disappointing, but the people most harmed in all of this isn’t the Coalition [Renewal Groups] – it’s the delegates who are outraged that some people would think they would be naive, or accept some kind of bribe.

If you are so inclined to examine a host of issues at General Conference you can visit IRD’s live blog. IRD also released a press statement concerning the charge of manipulation.

Tooley has described the renewal process as a long and arduous task, and United Methodism as being better equipped for reform over other mainline protestant denominations because of the growing influence of its more evangelical international connection. Unsurprisingly, United Methodist Church liberals do not seem willing to relinquish any power or yield to reforms before exhausting all means and tactics, no matter how bizarre they may be.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Monday, April 21, 2008

Patriots’ Day is a festive celebration commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord. The holiday observes the April 19 anniversary of when the American colonies first took up arms against the British Crown in 1775.

Massachusetts and Maine officially recognize the historic anniversary. Recently the holiday has been observed on the third Monday in April to allow for a three day weekend. The Boston Marathon takes place today and the Boston Red Sox are always scheduled to play at home.

Historian David Hackett Fischer has an excellent narrative account titled Paul Revere’s Ride . Fischer’s book also chronicles the Lexington and Concord skirmishes in a manner I found to be nothing less than fascinating. His account also references clergymen who took up arms against the British as well.

Jules Crittenden also provides a substantial amount of first hand accounts of Lexington and Concord with a nice tribute to Patriots Day titled“April Morning.”

Charlie Foxtrot provides a humorous comment on his blog which pokes fun at Senator Barack Obama’s recent gaffe on religion, guns, and small town America. Foxtrot notes that “233 years ago, a group of bitter men clung to their guns and religion, driven by their antipathy towards people who weren’t like them. In the end, I think it worked out OK.”

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, April 17, 2008
Clinton or Obama?

A few of you may have noticed that we’ve added a small polling widget on the right side-bar of this blog. This, of course, is all highly “un-scientific” and doesn’t really mean much, but can provide some interesting results. The current poll asks who you would prefer as the Democratic candidate for the general elections in November – Omaba or Clinton. The results, so far, show Clinton ahead of Obama by about 58% to 42%. This is in contraction with the nationwide polls right now.

I’m curious to know a little bit more. Why would you prefer the one over the other?

  1. Are you a Republican and think that the candidate you chose would lose the General Election to McCain?
  2. Are you a Republican and think that if a Democrat is going to be elected, you would prefer the one over the other?
  3. Are you a Democrat and favor the one candidate over the other?
  4. Are you a Democrat and just think the one has a better chance of winning a General Election over the other?

Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico appeared on Fox Business Network to discuss Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States this week. If you didn’t catch it live, the video is here:


You’ll also want to tune in this afternoon during the 4:00 hour on Fox News Channel as Rev. Sirico joins Neil Cavuto to comment on Pope Benedict’s arrival.

Update: Here’s the video of this afternoon’s appearance on Fox News Channel:

Over the last two days, Italians have been heading to the polls to select a new parliament and a new government. As I’ve already noted, despite its commitment to moral and ethical issues, the Catholic Church in Italy does not have a favorite political party.

In last week’s Wall Street Journal Europe, Francis X. Rocca, a Vatican correspondent for Religion News Service, wrote a very coherent op-ed on this delicate topic. Rocca says the Church is not impressed with the center-right candidate for prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and seems to be closer on social-economic issues to center-left Catholics, like Francesco Rutelli, the once and perhaps future mayor of Rome, and Opus Dei member and Senator Paola Binetti. He also recalls a past statement of then-Cardinal Ratzinger: “in many respects democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine.”

The Italian religious-political situation is a bit complicated. There are some significant divergences between Italian center–left policies and Catholic social teaching that Rocca could have noted. In the administration of its national welfare policies, the center-left hardly respects the principle of subsidiarity. Center-left environmentalists are vehemently opposed to genetically-modified organisms, while the Church has supported the use of biotechnology to feed the poor. Finally the center-left has historically been opposed to giving Catholic schools tax exemptions.

But the most intriguing aspect of this campaign has nothing to do with any of the main candidates or parties. Despite his formerly communist roots, Giuliano Ferrara is probably the most classically liberal voice in Italy who is running on a single issue: a moratorium on abortion (Read this interesting profile of Ferrara in the New York Times). He has also promoted the popular movie “Juno”. Surprisingly enough, he has not found much support from some major Catholic institutions, as explained by journalist Sandro Magister. The Catholic establishment seems to think Ferrara should not have created a political party devoted solely to abortion, as the Italian pro-life movement has become a mostly cultural and popular one.

Because of Italy’s byzantine political system and customs, important issues are often neglected by the parties and hence left to fringe candidates. This is why many Italians are fed up with mainstream politics, and partly explains the country’s economic woes. It is nonsensical to think that important ethical matters should have no part in a political debate. If there is ever to be a morally serious, classically liberal movement in Italy, this will have to change.

With the United Methodist General Conference only weeks away, Bristol House just released Taking Back The United Methodist Church. Tooley is the United Methodist Action Director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy and has been a passionate advocate for theological integrity and reform within United Methodism for two decades. The book provides an excellent overview of some of the most egregious separation of some United Methodist leaders from Christian Scripture and traditions, including an all out embrace of a contradiction of sexual norms, and stale 1960′s liberal political philosophies. It’s an equally strong account at chronicling the renewal efforts within the Church at large, and the fruit of these efforts.

Tooley goes into detail about Bishop J. Joseph Sprague’s denial of the full and eternal deity of Jesus Christ. Sprague is now retired, formally the Bishop of Northern Illinois. He also provides snippets from a thoughtful response from a newly elected Bishop of Florida at the time, Timothy W. Whitaker. Whitaker was almost alone among the Bishops in criticizing Sprague, calling him “a person of deep faith,” whose comments at Iliff School of Theology on Christology were “incoherent.” Whitaker criticized Sprague for contradicting the Nicene Creed’s affirmation of Christ as “eternally begotten of the Father.” Whitaker himself wondered in his critique, if Sprague had fallen into the ancient heresy of adoptionism, which is a denial of the Hypostatic Union of Christ. Sprague also denied essential beliefs such as the virgin birth, a physical resurrection, and substitutionary atonement.

Bishop Marion Edwards of the North Carolina Conference also criticized Sprague. Additionally, the United Methodist Book of Discipline says the responsibility of a bishop is to “guard, transmit, teach, and proclaim, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition, and, as they are led and endowed by the Spirit, to interpret the faith evangelically and prophetically.” Sprague was never truly held to account for his teachings by the United Methodist Church, but it did open a much needed conversation and validation of the nature and character of Christ. Sprague is , “The most vocal prominent active liberal bishop in Protestantism today,” Tooley declared. Sprague responded by denying that he was liberal, saying, “I consider myself a radical.”

Tooley also discusses radically heretical conferences at United Methodist Seminaries across the country, where the divinity and character of Christ is openly mocked. Other conferences adoringly worshiped feminist gods, and exalted other outrageous forms of religious pluralism, and strongly embraced pro-abortion measures. (more…)

Blog author: kosten.joseph
posted by on Thursday, April 3, 2008


Yesterday I enjoyed a stimulating presentation of Harvard Law Professor and current U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon’s new Italian-language collection of essays, Tradizioni in Subbuglio (Traditions in Turmoil). Glendon has previously spoken at Acton’s closing Centesimus Annus conference at the Pontifical Lateran University and her address has been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets and Morality.

Situated near the Pantheon at the Istituto Luigi Sturzo, the event was attended by professors, lawyers, journalists and Vatican officials. Kishore Jayabalan, director of Istituto Acton, and I attended the book release which turned into a mini-conference on human dignity and human rights.

Prof. Valerio Onida, an Italian judge, commented that Glendon’s writings “represent a positive outlook that is diverse and encompasses many aspects of humanity. Human dignity, as represented in this work,” Onida continues, “is urgent for the whole world. The problems that affect some aspects of humanity affect the whole global human community.” Veering away from the direct commentary on the book, Onida expressed his view that the real problem “is that there are so many people who do not enjoy basic human rights.” In closing, Prof. Onida expressed thanks for the discourse of Mary Ann Glendon because “it explores these issues and clarifies the limitations of legislation.”

Following Onida, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (where Glendon served as president from 1994 until her appointment as ambassador), gave an excellent discourse covering Traditions in Turmoil as well as other socio-economic issues. He cited Tocqueville at several points, saying, “the manners of the people are more important than the laws. This was one of the basic differences Tocqueville saw between France and the United States.” Sanchez accordingly addressed the need for a moral culture in the fields of economics and politics. Complementing Glendon’s research and understanding of the human person, he declared that “Many types of institutions have an agenda, both in Europe and the United States. An understanding of fundamental human development is crucial for understanding the development of society. Indifference to values creates many problems we face in today’s society.”

Closing the presentation of her book, Glendon made a few brief comments. She reminded those present that “Traditions, if they are alive and healthy, are systems in movement. As Alasdair Macntyre has put it, a living tradition is constituted by an ongoing argument about the goods that give it point and purpose. As for turmoil, this troubling state is not necessarily bad for a living tradition. In fact, a period of turmoil—an encounter with new and disturbing elements—can be the springboard for a great period of creativity, as well as a time of risk.”

Glendon’s book contains several fascinating chapters, including ones on the cultural supports of the American democratic experiment, Rousseau and the revolt against reason, the illusions of absolute rights, and the 1995 UN Beijing Women’s Conference, where she served as the head of the Holy See delegation.

While it appears that Glendon’s work is not very well-known in Italy, that should change with the publication of this book and, of course, her term as ambassador.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico in Chicago

This afternoon, Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico took his most recent address from the 2008 Acton Lecture Series on the road to Chicago, Illinois.

Sirico addressed an audience at the University Club of Chicago on The Rise and Eventual Downfall of the New Religious Left. If you were in attendance and would like to listen again, or weren’t able to attend today either today or at last month’s ALS event, you can listen to today’s audio by clicking here (17.8 mb mp3 file).

If you’d like to attend Acton’s Detroit luncheon at the Detroit Athletic Club on April 29, you can register by clicking here. And don’t forget to register for our next Acton Lecture Series event as well, which is coming up quick! Next Thursday – April 10 – Grace Marie Turner will be delivering a lecture entitled “Can We Repair What’s Wrong with our Health Care System through Christian Principles?”

Acton Research Fellow Anthony Bradley was featured on The Glenn Beck Program on Headline News Network to discuss black liberation theology with host Glenn Beck on Wednesday night. If you didn’t catch his appearance, you can watch it right here on the PowerBlog. And for more on the topic with Anthony Bradley and Rev. Robert A. Sirico, check out the most recent edition of Radio Free Acton – Obama and Religion, Part I.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, March 28, 2008

Russian emigre philosopher Georgy Fedotov (1888-1951) proposed two basic principles for all of the freedoms by which modern democracy lives. First, and most valuable, there are the freedoms of “conviction” — in speech, in print, and in organized social activity. These freedoms, Fedotov asserted, developed out of the freedom of faith. The other principle of freedom “defends the individual from the arbitrary will of the state (which is independent of questions of conscience and thought) — freedom from arbitrary arrest and punishment, from insult, plundering and coercion on the part of the organs of power … ”

In an ideal world, all of these freedoms would be present. But Fedotov also cautioned that “freedom is the late, refined flower of culture.”

For the flower to bloom, the roots need to be watered. A free society, from the ground up, requires a respect for the rule of law, a judiciary and police force that aren’t easily bought, a political culture that knows how to rid itself of corruption, and a vigorous free press to keep the pols and bureaucrats honest. I would also add a liberal measure of economic freedom and property rights that secure wealth from the “arbitrary” plunder of the government.

All of which gets us back to Russia. In an interview this week in the Financial Times, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev pledged to root out the “legal nihilism” that plagues his country. Excerpt:

[Medvedev's] starting point is his legal background – he is, he says, “perhaps too much of a lawyer”. Meticulous and precise, he sees almost every issue through the prism of legal thinking. But behind the occasionally laboured language lies a deeper goal. Mr Medvedev says he wants to do what no Russian leader has done before: embed the rule of law in Russian society.

“It is a monumental task,” he agrees, switching momentarily to English. “Russia is a country where people don’t like to observe the law. It is, as they say, a country of legal nihilism.”

The pledge to overcome “legal nihilism” became a central part of Mr Medvedev’s low-key election campaign. It seems a restatement of Mr Putin’s own promise eight years ago to establish a “dictatorship of laws”, although critics say Mr Putin delivered too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Even today, Russians quote the 19th-century satirist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s aphorism that “the severity of Russian laws is alleviated by the lack of obligation to fulfill them”. The result is a society plagued by endemic corruption, arbitrary use of the law by the state against individuals or companies – and by companies against each other – and a judiciary that has never known genuine independence.

To paraphrase, all democracy is local. One of the strengths of the American democratic tradition is its intensely local nature. Most Americans’ experience with democracy happens when they vote for a judge, attend a school board meeting, or run afoul of the local traffic cop. If democracy doesn’t work at this level, it doesn’t work at all. As Medvedev pointed out to his interviewers: “When a citizen gives a bribe to the traffic police, it probably does not enter his head that he is committing a crime … People should think about this.”

But bribing a cop is a moral issue, just as much as it is, if not exactly a political crime, then a seemingly simple act of convenience. Morality cannot be legislated, but it can be taught and for this we need the Church and the family and those other neighborhood groups, charities, and small businesses, that act as civic training grounds and make up a healthy community. Edmund Burke called these “the little platoons” of society. (more…)