Category: News and Events

Among the critical issues at the confluence of religion, culture, and economics is the question of TV screen size. In a move hailed by gospel-focused churches everywhere, the NFL has modified its rules, which had previously prohibited churches from sponsoring showings of the Super Bowl on screens larger than 55 inches. Church interests had argued that there was no such restriction on, for example, sports bars. One is tempted to conclude that there will no longer be any noticeable difference between churches and sports bars.

Sarcasm aside, I’m sure someone out there will argue that the church can have a positive influence by holding Super Bowl parties in a Christian context. Maybe. It’s no doubt a function of my traditional Catholic bent, but I can see no way in which the prospect of viewing the Super Bowl in a church is appealing, and a number of ways it is not. Have your party at home, and keep it Christian-like.

As for the fact that Senators Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter had taken up the problem in the chambers of Congress, well, what is left to say about such things?

Over recent weeks a great deal of controversy has been swirling in Michigan over allegations of an affair between Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty. Lower courts have approved the release of text messages between the two that would seem to belie the sworn testimony of Kilpatrick and Beatty, and an appeal is currently being considered by the state Supreme Court.

Earlier this week, presidential candidate John McCain came under media scrutiny following a NYT piece that raised questions about the nature of his relationship with a lobbyist. These are just two of the most recent instances of high-profile political figures being embroiled in allegations of immoral conduct (AP reporter Libby Quaid gives a rundown of the reaction of a number of the spouses in recent instances).

The recent case of Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal comes to mind. Prominent Michigan businessman and political activist Peter Secchia reportedly linked the Kilpatrick scandal to Clinton.

At an Economics Club luncheon earlier this month,

Before introducing the keynote speaker, Secchia managed a swipe at Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former President Bill Clinton. Starting with his back to the crowd, he turned quickly to face the podium. “I did not have text with that woman,” he said, pointing at himself with both thumbs.

While particular occasions can be easily used for partisan jokes and finger-pointing, the questions of immoral actions by public servants cut across both aisles and through the annals of history.

Moreover, these kinds of allegations (and actions) are really no laughing matter (indeed, the reaction among conservatives to the NYT story has been anything but jovial). The accusations alone can be powerful enough to destroy lives, marriages, families, and careers.

In a penetrating essay on the Kilpatrick affair, David Hess compares the consequences of alleged marital infidelity between elected government officials and corporate CEOs. He makes a strong case that there is a double-standard, with the more stringent line being taken not in politics but instead in the private sector.

He writes of the comparative consequences for a CEO: “A steadily declining share price? The board of directors will give you a second chance. An ethical violation that does not have an immediate, direct impact on company performance? A resignation is expected as soon as possible.”

Hess examines both the internal (e.g. setting organizational values) and external (e.g. loss of consumer confidence) reasons for this moral “high ground” among both for-profit and non-profit corporations and organizations. He looks in particular at the cases of Mark Everson, former chief executive of the American Red Cross, and Harry Stonecipher, former chief executive of Boeing.

Hess’ analysis bears out upon reflection. Just consider in recent memory how many politicians in office have survived sexual scandals. Larry Craig is still a United States senator, but Ted Haggard was rather ignominiously dismissed as head of the NAE and a mega-church in Colorado Springs.

This, too, makes some sense. That oldest non-profit of them all, the church, has had some pretty stringent requirements for leadership since its very inception, such as being “above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable,” and so on. I wouldn’t want to make the correlative claim that instances of sexual immorality are less common among Christians than the general populace, or among the church’s leaders than other public figures.

But, as Hess claims, it seems pretty clear that there is a different standard of judgment for such things, and that the higher standard applies not in the case of political figures but rather among business, church, and community leaders (perhaps sports figures like Kobe Bryant being an exception).

It’s also the case that calling out political figures on their infidelities has historically been a dangerous calling, but one that the church’s prophetic responsibility embraces.

The pertinent question seems to me to be not why the market and the church typically hold their leaders to such high standards, but rather why citizens and voters don’t do the same for the government. Apathy? Secularism? Something else?

Blog author: berndbergmann
posted by on Thursday, February 21, 2008

The head of the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, made international headlines earlier this month when he suggested that the adoption of some aspects of Islamic sharia law into British law was “unavoidable” and discussed the compatibility of sharia law with the established legal system.

Williams’ long speech discusses the pros and cons of ‘plural jurisprudence.’ He does not ignore the repressive aspects of Islamic law, but his main concern seems to be to avoid offending or alienating Muslims in British society.

It is no secret that the Archbishop’s own church is in decline while the number of Muslims in the UK and the rest of Europe is growing rapidly. A church leader should seek to strengthen his own flock as well as remind us of the principles that have created the foundations for a free society.

Williams is seemingly unaware of the consequences that such a lack of moral leadership may have. Many Europeans feel legitimately threatened by Islamic terrorism and fundamentalist intolerance, but they have no well-formed intellectual or spiritual defense. The danger is that the abandoned will be tempted to lend an ear to demagogues (not for the first time in European history) and thereby set off a spiral of still more intolerance and violence.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico (unfortunately misidentified by host David Asman as “Father John Sirico”) made an appearance on America’s Nightly Scoreboard on Fox Business Channel to discuss the announcement that 81 year old Fidel Castro is stepping down as dictator of Cuba, officially handing power to his sprightly, 76 year old brother Raoul. If you couldn’t catch it live, you can see it here:

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Nearly two years ago, in “Who Will Protect Kosovo’s Christians?” I wrote:

Dozens of churches, monasteries and shrines have been destroyed or damaged since 1999 in Kosovo, the cradle of Orthodox Christianity in Serbia. The Serbian Orthodox Church lists nearly 150 attacks on holy places, which often involve desecration of altars, vandalism of icons and the ripping of crosses from Church rooftops. A March 2004 rampage by Albanian mobs targeted Serbs and 19 people, including eight Kosovo Serbs, were killed and more than 900 injured, according Agence France Press. The UN mission in Kosovo, AFP said, reported that 800 houses and 29 Serb Orthodox churches and monasteries – some of them dating to the 14th century — were torched during the fighting. NATO had to rush 2,000 extra troops to the province to stop the destruction.

All this happened despite the presence of UN peacekeeping forces. According to news reports posted by the American Council for Kosovo, Albanian separatists are opposing the expansion of military protection of Christian holy sites by UN forces. A main concern of Christians is the fate of the Visoki Decani Monastery – Kosovo’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Now that Albanian separatists have declared the Serbian province of Kosovo to be an independent nation — and won backing from President Bush — a chain of events has been put in place that EU lawmakers are already describing as a Pandora’s Box.

Why? Because the secessionist move in Serbia is likely to kindle others in places like Georgia, Moldova and Russia (which now much entertain similar aspirations from places like Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Transdniester). This explains Russia’s opposition to the Kosovo breakaway, but it’s not alone. Spain, which has contended with Basque, Catalan and Galician separatist movements for decades, refused to recognize an independent Kosovo, saying the move was illegal. Then there’s Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus. Some Asian countries also view the Kosovo split as a dangerous precedent. Sri Lanka said the move was a violation of the UN Charter. Canada has officially remained mum on the question so far.

For a good balanced look ahead for Kosovo, see “After Kosovo’s Secession,” by Lee Hudson Teslik on the Council of Foreign Relations Web site, and the online debate between Marshall F. Harris, Senior Policy Advisor, Alston + Bird, and Alan J. Kuperman, Assistant Professor, University of Texas, LBJ School of Public Affairs.

But I am a skeptic, in case you were wondering. (more…)

Ernie Harwell was calling the play by play over television for the first live televised sports broadcast from coast to coast. The series featured the famous “shot heard round the world” at the Polo Grounds in 1951. It’s possibly baseball’s most well known historic moment featuring a dramatic 9th inning home run by Bobby Thompson to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers, sending the New York Giants to the World Series. It was Russ Hodges radio call of the same game, however, that became etched in American sports lore. Harwell humorously says, “Only my wife knows I was on the air that day.”

Harwell received plenty of fame, notoriety, and admiration however, as the regular voice of the Detroit Tigers starting in 1960. Harwell was honored by his hometown of Washington, Ga, just weeks after celebrating his 90th
birthday
. He returns to the place where it all started as a word-smith and story-teller, characteristics often strongly associated with Southerners of his era. Harwell is also known to have overcome a severe speech impediment on his way to broadcast glory. Harwell just recently was enshrined in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, he’s already received the prestigious Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1981.

Harwell has many thrilling encounters and prestigious awards in his long life, but his most important encounter he says came on Easter morning in 1961 at a Billy Graham Crusade in Bartow, Florida. “Something told me I should go, and then I turned to Jesus, and ever since then my life hasn’t been the same since,” Harwell says. The famed voice of the Tigers has also been long been involved with Baseball Chapel, an evangelistic ministry for ballplayers.

In 1991, when former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler took over Tiger baseball operations, he let Harwell go. Harwell said it was a tough time for him, but he wanted to have peace and trust God, never be bitter, accept the situation. Fans immediately rallied to Harwell’s defense and Tiger ownership suffered the consequences of what can only be called a major public relations disaster. Mike Ilitch bought the Tigers in 1993, and went about recapturing the magic of Tiger history and tradition. Ilitch immediately rehired Harwell to the delight of the fans. Harwell eventually retired in 2002 on his own terms.

His wife also survived cancer, and Harwell thanks God. “One of the greatest things about Jesus is he lifts your burdens, worries, and cares. Jesus takes care of me, I don’t worry about anything. I know Scripture says “God works all things for good,” Harwell says. Former broadcast partner Jim Price credits Harwell for giving him spiritual guidance when Price’s son was diagnosed with autism.

Harwell is a man of many honors and talents; He served honorably in the Marines during WWII. Harwell is also a well known writer, and over 65 songs he has written have been recorded by artists. Harwell amusingly notes, “I have more no-hitters than Nolan Ryan.” Harwell is a legend though, a prized piece of Americana. A voice and personality who represents so well an era where baseball over the radio magically ruled the airwaves.

The famed announcer is also known for not worrying and enjoying life, a peace he says “comes from Christ.” Harwell also started the first game of every broadcast year with a quote from Scripture in Song of Solomon, “The flowers are springing up and the time of the singing of birds has come. Yes, spring is here.”

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, February 15, 2008
Bartholomew I

My commentary this week looked at “Encountering the Mystery,” the new book from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Orthodox Church.

In 1971, the Turkish government shut down Halki, the partriarchal seminary on Heybeliada Island in the Sea of Marmara. And it has progressively confiscated Orthodox Church properties, including the expropriation of the Bûyûkada Orphanage for Boys on the Prince’s Islands (and properties belonging to an Armenian Orthodox hospital foundation). These expropriations happen as religious minorities report problems associated with opening, maintaining, and operating houses of worship. Many services are held in secret. Indeed, Turkey is a place where proselytizing for Christian and even Muslim minority sects can still get a person hauled into court on charges of “publicly insulting Turkishness.” This law has also been used against journalists and writers, including novelist Orhan Pamuk for mentioning the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds.

In a 2005 report on the Halki Seminary controversy, the Turkish think tank TESEV examined what it called the “the illogical legal grounds” behind the closing and how it violates the terms of the 1923 peace treaty of Lausanne signed by Turkey and Europe’s great powers. TESEV concluded that “the contemporary level of civil society and global democratic principles established by the state, are in further contradiction with the goal to become an EU member.” And, because of its inability to train Turkish candidates for the priesthood, TESEV warned: “It is highly probable that the Patriarchate will not be able to find Patriarch candidates within 30-40 years and thus, will naturally fade away.”

The Turkish Daily Hürriyet is reporting today on a proposed government revision of the “insulting Turkishness” law.

The European Union has been calling Turkey to amend the article 301, which has been the basis for charges against past cases against Turkish intellectuals such as Hrant Dink, Elif Safak, and Orhan Pamuk.

[Justice Minister Mehmet Ali] Sahin, also said the deputy parliament leaders of AKP will decide when to send the proposal of the amendment to the parliament.

According to Sahin’s statement, the article’s new status would be as follows:

Article 301: The insulting of the Turkish people, the Turkish Republic, as well as the institutions and organs of the state

1-A person insulting the Turkish people, the Turkish Republic, the State, the Turkish Parliament, the government of the Turkish Republic, the justice organs of the state, as well as the military or policing organizations of the state, will receive anywhere between 6 months to 2 years prison sentence.

2-Statements explaining thoughts which are expressed with the purpose of criticism are not to constitute a crime.

3-Any prosecution based on article 301 is to be tied to specific permission from the office of the President of the Turkish Republic.

Read “A Patriarch in Dire Straits” here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Success unsettles the principles even of the wise, and scarcely would those of debauched habits use victory with moderation.
– Sallust

Last Saturday Dr. Ben Carson, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, received the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal. In his speech marking the occasion, President Bush said that Carson has “a tireless commitment to helping young people find direction and motivation in life. He reminds them that all of us have gifts by the grace of the almighty God. He tells them to think big, to study hard, and to put character first” (emphasis added).

One of Carson’s themes in his speeches and writings is the comparison of America to Rome, in that the latter foundered when its basic morals were corrupted. America, says Carson, is at a crisis point similar to Rome in the centuries before its decline (for a study of the move from “virtue” to “values” and beyond in the modern West, see Gertrude Himmelfarb’s The De-moralization Of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values).

The Roman historian and politician Sallust wrote of the situation in the first century BC in his first published work, The Conspiracy of Catiline,

When wealth was once considered an honor, and glory, authority, and power attended on it, virtue lost her influence, poverty was thought a disgrace, and a life of innocence was regarded as a life of ill-nature. From the influence of riches, accordingly, luxury, avarice, and pride prevailed among the youth; they grew at once rapacious and prodigal; they undervalued what was their own, and coveted what was another’s; they set at naught modesty and continence; they lost all distinction between sacred and profane, and threw off all consideration and self-restraint.

It furnishes much matter for reflection, after viewing our modern mansions and villas extended to the size of cities, to contemplate the temples which our ancestors, a most devout race of men, erected to the Gods. But our forefathers adorned the fanes of the deities with devotion, and their homes with their own glory, and took nothing from those whom they conquered but the power of doing harm; their descendants, on the contrary, the basest of mankind have even wrested from their allies, with the most flagrant injustice, whatever their brave and victorious ancestors had left to their vanquished enemies; as if the only use of power were to inflict injury.

Lord Acton was another historian who felt that part of the discipline’s interpretive craft was to render moral judgments about events in human history.

Following his appointment as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, in a lecture on the study of history in 1895, Lord Acton urged his audience “never to debase the moral currency or to lower the standard of rectitude, but to try others by the final maxim that governs your own lives, and to suffer no man and no cause to escape the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong.”

Commentator Perez Zagorin judges that Acton’s “claim that moral judgment on past crimes and misdeeds is one of the supreme duties of the historian was at odds with the entire trend of historiography in his time and set him apart by its rigor from all the noted historians and thinkers about history of his own generation and thereafter.”

But how, after all, can we learn not to repeat the mistakes of the past if we are unwilling or unable to make moral judgments?

Radio Free ActonThe Radio Free Acton crew expands to include Michael Miller, Director of Programs here at Acton, and Acton Research Fellow Anthony Bradley, who join regulars Marc Vander Maas and Ray Nothstine to discuss the fallout from a busy week in the world of faith and politics. Super Tuesday has come and gone, and the GOP looks likely to have its nominee: Senator John McCain. Mike Huckabee is remaining in the race, but are his economic views hampering him in his effort to unite evangelicals? Barack Obama has inspired many with a campaign that is not afraid to use religious language and references, but how do Obama’s beliefs translate into real-world action? You’ll hear our take on these issues, plus a preview of Thursday’s Acton Lecture Series event with Dr. Glenn Sunshine.

Listen Online

Or Download this show as an MP3 (right click on the following link and select “Save As”).
http://bonhoeffer.acton.org/acton_media/mp3/2008-02-08_Acton Institute.mp3

The Acton Podcast is available here:
http://www.acton.org/main/rss.php?l=121

One of my biggest disappointments in seminary was learning that there were some members of the faculty and student body who saw little redeeming value in the American experience. Patriotism was seen as somehow anti-Christian or fervent nationalism by some, and love of country was supposed to be understood as idolatry. I address a few of the issues at seminary in a blog post of mine “Combat and Conversion.” Often people who articulated this view would explain how patriots are not evil people necessarily, just misguided and lacking proper theological enlightenment.

Andrew Klavan has a thoughtful and engaging piece in City Journal titled, The Lost Art of War: Hollywood’s anti-American war films don’t measure up to the glories of its patriotic era. Klavan’s piece is powerful because it draws out much of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the left. A grave error is still being committed by foisting a moral relativism on American conflicts and defense, as if these conflicts are somehow no different than conquests by anti-democratic nations and despots. Klavan makes a case that contemporary liberals are actually anti-liberty, standing against the principles of the founding of our nation.

Perhaps what is most bizarre is the new moral relativism we see in places like Berkeley, where elected officials seem to be siding with the enemy rather than our own country. Hollywood is of course no exception, and the author dutifully traces their ideological transformation through the years and with various conflicts. Klavan states:

When warlike racial nationalism resurged in the thirties, only an answering “atavistic emotion of patriotism,” as Orwell wrote, could embolden people to stand against it.

Though European intellectuals and their left-wing American acolytes are loath to admit it, the U.S. had already provided an excellent new rationale for that emotion. Our Founding redefined nationhood along social-contract lines that Europeans can still only theorize about. Our love of nation at its best was ethical, not ethnic. Our patriotism was loyalty not to race, or even to tradition, but to ideals of individual liberty and republican self-governance.

Klavan also has much to say about contemporary Hollywood films:

In Redacted, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, and Lions for Lambs—as in more successful thrillers like Shooter and The Bourne Ultimatum—virtually every act of the American administration is corrupt or sinister, and every patriot is a cynically misused fool. Every warrior, therefore, is either evil himself or, more often, a victim of evil, destined for meaningless destruction or soul-death and insanity. These movies’ anti-American attitudes strike me not as the products of original vision and reflection but rather as the tired expressions of inherited prejudices. The films work the way that prejudice works, anyway: by taking extraordinary incidents and individuals and extrapolating general principles from them.

When I lived on a former Strategic Air Command Air Force Base in New Hampshire, I remember going out to the flight line with my dad, who was a KC-135 pilot, to watch all the different military planes land. Some people of course would see the planes as weapons of destruction funded by self-serving imperial interests. I guess I always saw it as an amazing and heroic response to those who threatened liberty and a magnificent freedom birthed out of the “the shot heard round the world,” words which are inscribed on the Minute Man statue in Concord, Massachusetts. Klavan sums up the sentiment well:

Liberty, tolerance, the harmony of conflicting voices—these things didn’t materialize suddenly out of the glowing heart of human decency. People thought of them, fought and died to establish them, not in the ether, but on solid ground. That ground has to be defended or the values themselves will die. The warriors willing to do this difficult work deserve to have their heroism acknowledged in our living thoughts and through our living arts.