Category: News and Events

allisgift1 - Copy (2)“All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God…God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation.” -Alexander Schmemann, from For the Life of the World

In Episode 1 of For the Life of the World, a new series from the Acton Institute, Evan Koons discovers the concept of oikonomia, or, “God’s plan for his whole household of creation,” realizing that the more specific areas and “modes of operation” that God has designed us to work within (families, businesses, governments, institutions) are meant to harmonize with each other.

To illustrate the idea, Koons compares God’s economy to music. Pointing to a xylophone, he notes that a xylophone has its own particular mode of operation — its own rules, its own economy. It works differently than, say, a ukulele or a trombone or an upright bass. Yet played together in proper harmony, each of these instruments coordinate their unique patterns and modes of operation to create something unified yet varied, rich and beautiful.

But Koons doesn’t stop here, eventually moving on to ask the even bigger question: “What is the actual song, anyway?”

The answer, we learn, is gift. We were created to be gift-givers, “crafted in God’s own image, with his own breath, crowned with glory and honor.” And “in that same abundance,” Koons continues, “he blessed us, and he said go, explore my world. Unwrap the gift of my creation. Bless the world with your own gifts.” (more…)

Regulatory Climate IndexThe revitalization of cities has become a significant focus among today’s Christians, with many flocking to urban centers filled with lofty goals and aspirations for change and transformation.

Last summer, James K.A. Smith expressed concern that such efforts may be overly romanticizing certain features (community!) to the detriment of others (government), concluding that “farmer’s market’s won’t rescue the city” but “good government will.” Chris Horst and I followed up to this with yet another qualifier, arguing that while both gardens and good governance are indeed important, so is business and entrepreneurship.

Families, churches, institutions, businesses, and governments all need to be in right relationship if cities are to flourish, and this means that Christians need to gain a clear understanding of what these relationships look like. How do the economies of love, creative service, wisdom, wonder, and order interact and intersect, and how do we orient our actions and attitudes accordingly?

For example, if a city’s economic future is driven, among other things, by entrepreneurialismhigh levels of human capitalclustering of skilled workers and industries, or in the case of North Dakota’s Bakken region, bountiful natural resources, what role should the People of God play therein? What role do families play in those endeavors? What about churches, community associations, organizations, or businesses? How ought public policy to guide (or not guide) various efforts? Christians are called to be concerned with all of the above.

In a new study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation — Regulatory Climate Index 2014: The Cost of Doing Business in America — we see a great example of the types of questions we ought to be asking. Focusing on 10 cities across America, the study investigates “the efficiency of local regulations that apply to small businesses,” demonstrating the full impact that the dirtier, more “boring” and mundane elements can have on whether and how individuals are empowered to invest, serve, and sacrifice within and for their cities. (The project was led by Michael Hendrix, who has contributed here on the blog in the past.) (more…)

Jay Richards and I have an Ignatius Press book on Tolkien’s commitment to freedom coming out soon, so we’ve been following developments in the Hobbit film trilogy more closely than we might otherwise. A recent development is director Peter Jackson announcing a subtitle change to the third film—from There and Back Again, to Battle of the Five Armies.

That’s maybe a bit narrow for a novel that’s also about food, fellowship and song, but I think it’d be going too far to say it’s somehow out of step with Tolkien. The book, a prelude to The Lord of the Rings, features the now titular battle of five armies, a narrowly avoided battle of three armies and, leading up to this, skirmishes with everything from clever spiders to dimwitted trolls.

The Lord of the Rings, though more sophisticated in its themes, is similarly chock-full of clashing swords and the like. In one battle, two of the nobler characters even compete to see who can kill the most orcs. Interestingly, the peace-loving hippies of the ’60s were among the first to embrace the battle-soaked novel in large numbers. What are we to make of this curious alliance?

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Kishore Jayabalan, director of the Istituto Acton in Rome, recently wrote an article at Aleteia, titled ‘Freedom, Truth, & State Power: The Case for Religious and Economic Freedom.’ He begins his piece with a statement Gerald R. Ford made soon after becoming president: “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”

Jayabalan continues:

Trust in our political leaders increased around the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks but has since receded to near-Watergate levels.  Serial scandals involving, among other things, the Internet snooping on American citizens and foreign leaders by U.S. intelligence agencies, the politicization of the IRS, and more recently property rights battles in Western states between ranchers and federal agencies call into question the use – and abuse – of government power.

The growth of the modern State and the resulting distrust many have in it speak to a deeper question about the freedoms and responsibilities we have as human beings and citizens.  Political and social thinkers such as Isaiah Berlin have spoken of two concepts of liberty, freedom from coercion and freedom for some kind of goal or objective.  Advocates of a good society should be looking for ways to bring together these understandings of liberty. (more…)

RussellDMoore-lowRussell Moore talks and writes about a lot of topics as president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He even writes about the legendary Johnny Cash. “Cash always seems to connect,” says Moore. When it comes to leading and speaking about religious liberty, the same can be said for Moore. There are few as engaging and persuasive as Moore in the public square today. He’s interviewed on this important topic in the issue of Religion & Liberty . In the editor’s notes, I speak a little bit on the impact of Moore’s character and integrity.

“Shades of Solzhenitsyn” is the feature essay and Kevin Duffy offers a critical analysis on some of the similarities between Pope Francis and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A world starved by a lack of moral clarity is in desperate need of the best thoughts from both men.

Dylan Pahman reviews Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks by well-known Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann. I review Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets by Peter Schweizer. We all are or should be aware that our leadership in Washington is a disaster and a cesspool of corruption. But it’s even worse than that according to Schweizer. The system is best understood by comparing it to organized crime. Schweizer was interviewed in the Winter 2013 issue of Religion & Liberty.

“Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism”
by Fr. Michael Butler and Andrew P. Morriss is an excerpt from Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism . That work is invaluable for a more responsible environmental framework with God at the center of creation.

It may be surprising, especially to many of our Reformed readers, that Richard Baxter has never been profiled for “In the Liberal Tradition.” Max Weber called Baxter the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic and Baxter’s thought and prolific writings are still widely utilized and studied. We’d all be better off if we took the time to read How to Do Good to Many.

If you’d like to read our executive director’s thoughts on Acton’s battle with the city over our property tax exemption, there is no better statement on this issue than Kris Mauren’s frequently asked questions segment.

tusAt the bottom of this storm and tornado roundup from The Weather Channel, there is a powerful slideshow on the devastation in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. The death count in the region stands at 31. Mississippi’s Governor Phil Bryant described yesterday as “The most active tornado day in Mississippi history.”

Some people forget that it is denominational church agencies that often are the first to meet the material needs and bring comfort to the afflicted. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is well known for their rapid response. I covered that agency more in depth in the “The Church and Disaster Relief: Shelter from the Stormy Blast” in the Spring 2011 issue of Religion & Liberty. The article is a good introduction into how church agencies are more efficient and effective than governmental agencies when it comes to disaster response. This is in part due to the fact that they already have built in relationships and organizations on the ground.

The Southern Baptist Church has almost 90,000 trained volunteers—including chaplains—and 1,550 mobile units for feeding. They have chainsaw teams, power generators, shower and laundry facilities, water purification devices, and offer child-care, to name just a few of their services. I saw firsthand how Hurricane Katrina really multiplied the power and commitment of religious agencies to provide lasting hope through a long-term commitment to rebuilding. It might surprise some readers that Christian churches are still sending volunteers and money to the Gulf Coast which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

People who face devastation need to feel like they are not alone. A human touch that has the power to reflect the incarnated Christ who was sent to lift up and resurrect a disordered world is invaluable. The great promise of Christianity is that the Lord is a God of recovery and restoration. While government can offer services and help, it can’t offer the kind of hope that has overcome the things of this world.

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Satellite imagery of the Eagle Ford Shale drilling boom, with lights from hundreds of oil and gas rigs carving a crescent-shaped glow across South Texas.

Satellite imagery of the Eagle Ford Shale drilling boom, with lights from hundreds of oil and gas rigs carving a crescent-shaped glow across South Texas.

The religious crusade against fossil fuels and various methods of extracting it to heat and light our homes, offices, and factories continues apace. The 2014 proxy shareholder season is a veritable spider web of networked religious-affiliated activist groups decrying coal, natural gas, oil, hydraulic fracturing and mining. Ceres, for example, reports “35 institutional investors have filed 142 resolutions in a coordinated effort to spur action by 118 companies” on what it calls climate-related measures.

Based in Boston, Mass., the nonprofit group coordinates investment funds and other groups to support “sustainability.” This past March, Ceres boasted a who’s who of environmental organizations intent on eliminating greenhouse gases once and for all, including Walden Asset Management, Mercy Investments, Green Century Capital Management and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Companies targeted for shareholder resolutions include, “Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Kinder Morgan, Lowes and several electric utilities.”

Among the utilities selected is Dominion Resources, Inc., a Richmond, Va., company that supplies portions of Virginia and North Carolina with electricity. Ceres submitted the following resolution on behalf of its cadre of investor activists:

RESOLVED: Shareholders request that the Board of Directors publish a report for investors within 6 months of the 2014 annual meeting, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information, on how Dominion Resources is measuring, mitigating, setting reduction targets, and disclosing methane emissions. (more…)

On the Law in General, Girolamo Zanchi“The goal of all good laws is first and foremost the glory of God, then the good of one’s neighbor, privately and, most important, publicly.” –Girolamo Zanchi 

The following excerpt comes from Thesis 3 (above) of Girolamo Zanchi’s newly translated On the Law in General. Though the work encompasses a range of topics, from natural law to human laws to divine laws, this particular thesis comes in his first foundational chapter on what the law actually is—its goals, classifications, and functions.

If the basis for law is, in fact, fairness—namely, that all people get what they deserve—then nothing is more fair than that God receives all honor and glory in the highest and that our neighbors receive what benefits their health and happiness of mind and body. Logically, then, it would follow that the goal of every good and just law is the glory of God and the good of human beings, first in public, then in private. The apostle Paul remarked about this primary goal, “Whatever you do,” (but we should do what the natural law and God himself have commanded) “do everything for the glory of God” [1 Cor. 10:31]. This exhortation depends on a universal premise that everything we should and can do must be done for the glory of God. In addition, Christ said about all good works, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven” [Matt. 5:16]. (more…)

What about them, Sisters?

What about them, Sisters?

Religious shareholder activism continues its war on affordable, domestically produced energy in a campaign that can only be described as unholy. The first casualties of this war are the nation’s 10.5 million job seekers, the millions more who have quit looking for work, and the poor. The 2014 proxy resolution season finds the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia joining other shareholders to force a May 2014 vote at Chevron Corp., which would require the company to report hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) risks.

According to Houston Business Journal reporter Jordan Blum:

The effort is part of a larger one involving other shareholder activist groups that are pushing the same issue with Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM), Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: OXY), Houston-based EOG Resources Inc. (NYSE: EOG) and Irving-based Pioneer Natural Co. (NYSE: PXD).

Blum continues:

The domestic shale boom and Houston’s economic growth in recent years have received major assists from hydraulic fracturing. Although Chevron is based out of California, it is one of Houston’s 10 largest energy employers with more than 7,000 local workers, according to Houston Business Journal research.

A new filing on Chevron with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by the Catholic order argues that fracking “continues to be linked to significant environmental and social impacts that could have financial implications for the company due to increased community opposition and regulatory scrutiny.” The filing notes that fracking “uses millions of gallons of water mixed with thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals to extract natural gas from underground shale formations.” (more…)

Istituto Acton in Rome has released the following video statement from Kishore Jayabalan on the persecution of Christians worldwide and threats to religious freedom, previewing the ‘Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from East and West’ conference happening next week.