Category: Public Policy

Pro-family and church groups are battling over a proposed policy that would allow viewers to select their cable TV plans on an “a la carte” basis. But why are they asking the federal government to referee this fight? In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine at the most powerful communications policy: Turning off the TV.

Read the full commentary here.

Related Items:

Daniel Pulliam, “Preachers and pornographers unite,” GetReligion, June 12, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Evangelicals and Cable TV,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, June 12, 2006.

Piet Levy, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable,” Washington Post, June 10, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Concerns about A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, January 2, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, December 2, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Faith in the FCC,” Acton Commentary, March 23, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Confusing Coercion and Conversion,” Acton Commentary, May 5, 2004.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Television not to blame for America’s laziness,” The State News, January 16, 1997.

Joe Knippenberg, who blogs at No Left Turns, provides a thoughtful and engaging analysis of the particulars of the recent Iowa court decision finding against InnerChange Freedom Initiative, an outreach of Prison Fellowship Ministries. In “Penitents in the Penitentiary?,” at The American Enterprise Online, Knippenberg writes, “Despite my general support for the faith-based initiative, and for religious efforts to put the penitence back in penitentiaries, I’m inclined for the most part to agree with Judge Pratt. In this particular case, where the state and Prison Fellowship self-consciously tested the outer bounds of current church-state jurisprudence, they went too far.”

Reaction from PFM’s president Mark Earley is available here and at the special IFI verdict page. I have written before in support of work of PFM, and this decision does nothing to change my mind on that score.

It does expose the real complexities involved with taking for Christian ministries, even those that have a strong social service component. As Knippenberg writes, InnerChange staff ran up against the difficulties of abiding by what I consider to be the increasingly rigid and invalid separation of secular and sacred elements: “Where so much of the program is devoted to inculcating a Christian worldview, it is difficult, if not impossible, to precisely delineate what portion of a staffer’s time, or what fraction of a piece of equipment’s value is devoted to secular, as opposed to religious, purposes.”

I’ve written more about the entanglements and effects of the faith-based initiative in the case of the Silver Ring Thing, and there’s conversation between myself and Knippenberg on this linked here, here and here.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
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TerraPass is a way to assuage a guilty conscience caused by your car’s CO2 emissions. In the interest of trying to be balanced on the whole CO2 debate, here’s a link to their climate change blog with plenty of GW posts.

To each his own. But it sounds like a way for the common folk to buy into what Iain Murray calls "the new aristocracy:"

Al Gore justifies his enjoyment of a carbon-intensive lifestyle in a speech in the UK:

He said he was "carbon neutral" himself and he tried to offset any plane flight or car journey by "purchasing verifiable reductions in CO2 elsewhere".

Translation: I am rich enough to benefit from executive jets and Lincolns because I pay my indulgences. All you proles have to give up your cars, flights and air conditioning. The new aristocracy; there’s no other way to describe it.

I can’t afford a G-5, but thanks to TerraPass, I don’t have to give up my car or A/C now.

You can do whatever you want with your money, and obviously this isn’t the worst way to spend it. But I hope people buying this service will make sure it actually goes to alternative energy and doesn’t become just another trough to fund global warming politics.

"Indulgences" is an interesting choice of words, by the way. If you’re new to church history, Martin Luther’s stand against this method of buying your way out of a guilty conscience had him branded by the Catholic aristocracy as a heretic. The way the global warming debate is going, the heretic label will be plastered on anybody who defies the religion of climate change. Maybe it’s fair to place the blame squarely on false religion, which has set up this whole notion that guilt is something you can buy or work your way out of.

Christ is the only answer to guilt driven ecology. As EEN describes in this series of Bible passages, people are guilty of sin (including pollution). God loved us enough to send Jesus to tell us first hand about stewardship, and then pay the price for our guilt by dying on a cross. He sends the Spirit of a risen Christ to transform our lives and ultimately all of creation. Christian ecologists are motivated by love instead of guilt, living out our thankfulness for what God’s done for us by loving others and caring for what God has made.

So rather than only spending our money to "make a difference," maybe we should be spending more time on our knees getting to know the One who made us and everything around us, and find out what He wants us to do to be good stewards of it.

Look – You can toss a couple bucks in the offering plate and go home to watch football on a Sunday afternoon, or you can invest your life in a Christian community and volunteer your time. In the same way, you can toss your money at others to plant your tree for you, or you can spend a day picking up trash or planting trees yourself, and give God a chance to get you outside in his Creation for a while.

The choice is ours to make. The consequences are eternal. And as far as getting rid of that guilt is concerned, it doesn’t cost a red cent.

On April 3, I reported the story of Texas scientist Eric Pianka, who allegedly argued in a speech that the only hope for the planet was for a mutated Ebola virus to exterminate 90% of the human population. Forrest Mims, who attended the speech, broke the story. Over the next few weeks, there was a media firestorm over the incident, and Mims was accused of misrepresenting Pianka’s speech. As a result, I received several emails telling me that I should retract the story. I did not, and I have no plans on doing so. I remain convinced that Mims basically got the story right.

The problem was that Pianka had asked that video cameras be turned off during his speech, and partial transcripts released later failed to fully corraborate Mims’ account. But, as Mims’ pointed out, the transcript lacked precisely the part of the speech with the offensive comments. In any event, Mims’ claim had several other corroborating pieces of evidence, which James Redford discusses in a blog posted entitled, “Forrest Mims Did Not Misrepresent Eric Pianka.” Cathy Young’s piece in the Boston Globe focused the issue properly: the point was not that Pianka had called for the active extermination of 90% of the population. It’s that he thought such an extermination by natural causes (like the Ebola virus) would be a “good thing.”

This story became especially irritating because many bloggers were more interested in the views of Forrest Mims than of Eric Pianka. Perhaps more troubling is that many commentators insisted that a respected scientist would never say that he looked forward to the deaths of billions of human beings. As a result, these commentators assigned Mims’ account a prior probability of about 0. This meant that virtually no evidence would be enough to confirm that Pianka had said more or less what Mims reported.

But anyone who reads widely in the environmental literature knows that suggestions such as Pianka’s are not uncommon. In fact, the desire for mass human death follows logically from the anti-human beliefs of some radical environmentalists. Some are more consistent in their beliefs than others. But Pianka is by no means the only person to express such opinions. Back in November, 2005, I reported on some personal correspondence from a prominent scientist, who expressed some Piankish views. He complained about “the devastation humans are currently imposing upon our planet” and then added:

Still, adding over seventy million new humans to the planet each year, the future looks pretty bleak to me. Surely, the Black Death was one of the best things that ever happened to Europe: elevating the worth of human labor, reducing environmental degradation, and, rather promptly, producing the Renaissance. From where I sit, Planet Earth could use another major human pandemic, and pronto!

Since I didn’t post the letter, however, I received several skeptical inquiries. So, in light of the recent events surrounding Pianka, I have decided to post a PDF of the letter. Anyone who looks at this letter will notice that it did not come from some obscure researcher, but from a scientist who for many years held a significant position. I do not post this for the purpose of harming the individual who sent this letter. Rather, I am posting it in hopes that more people will recognize that profound misanthropy is afoot in the academic and scientific community, most of it officially motivated by a desire to save the planet. It is naive to continue acting as if this type of death wish is reserved for isolated crackpots. On the contrary, it is well on its way to being respectable opinion in some quarters–held by the well educated and the otherwise civilized–just as eugenics was respectable a century ago.

A story over the weekend in Washington Post gives a good overview of the mixed motives behind evangelical campaigning for and against a la carte pricing of cable channels, despite the poorly chosen title, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable” (as if Christian broadcasters aren’t largely evangelicals of some sort or another). Just a sign that in the MSM evangelical is becoming a term with primarily political rather than theological content.

On the one side, lobbyists who want to be able to single out stations that they don’t want to receive. For some evangelicals, this is important because they don’t want to pay for or support stations that carry objectionable material.

On the other side, Christian cable broadcasters who are concerned that there won’t be enough demand for them to stay afloat. Or if there is enough demand, it will only be among Christians, and so they ministry that these stations offer will be truncated.

This seems to me to be an either/or situation, and I’m generally in favor of the former, although if consumers really want a la carte they shouldn’t need the crutch of federal legislation to get it. If you are going to allow choice for moral reasons on the one hand, you can’t force other people to get religious programming if they don’t want it. As it works now, most of these Christian stations are simply there as part of the basic package, whether you want them or not.

“‘We do not believe that ‘a la carte’ is the cure for the disease,’ said Colby May, attorney for the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, which represents Trinity and CBN, in addition to other stations. ‘In fact, it is a cure that may very well kill the patient.'”

“But the Christian networks’ main concern is that the only ones willing to subscribe would be Christians. If a la carte were in existence, May argues, conversion experiences for alcoholics and people contemplating suicide or suffering from a crumbling marriage never would have happened.”

I actually do have some sympathy for this argument, but am not swayed simply because TBN and other Christian cable broadcasters are enjoying a sort of subsidization of their ministries from cable companies by means of these limited and rigid packages. What TBN and CBN have to fear is that many Christians won’t even sign up to pay for their station programming, and there are other ways to get the gospel message out to people, free of charge.

The Back to God Hour, for example, is the electronic media ministry of the CRC, and part of what the ministry does is to use radio signals to pipe the Gospel into areas where Christianity may be oppressed or illegal. By the way, Bob Heerspink, new director of the Back to God Hour, blogs here.

More thoughts here previously, here and here.

Update: GetReligion weighs in on the issue.

I haven’t been uncritical of American bishops’ statements concerning immigration. But I wouldn’t go *quite* as far as Pastor Ralph Ovadal of Pilgrims Covenant Church, for whom the terms ‘antichrist,’ ‘Romanist,’ and ‘Reconquista’ fairly roll off the tongue.

Rick Garnett has an appropriately tongue-in-cheek treatment at Mirror of Justice.

Yes, I realize that no one likes the current version of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. But it is possible to make constructive changes without being comprehensive. Here are a couple of recent examples:

1. Assimilation needs to be a priority. The Administration just formed a Task Force on New Americans to help legal immigrants become more fully Americanized. Whether the Task Force will do anything substantial remains to be seen. But it is encouraging that someone in the Adminstration understands that this is an important issue.

2. New rules requiring documentation of legal status for Medicaid go into effect on July 1. There will be problems of course. (The story linked is basically all about how difficult it will be for people to come up with the required documentation, even for people who are here legally and are entitled to Medicaid.) But the principle is sound: enforce the law we already have. The documentation problems can and should be addressed.

Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY13) endorses federal tuition tax credits for K-12 education at NRO, “An A+ Choice.”

Says Fosella: “Here’s how it would work: Families would be permitted to take a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their tax liability for non-public-school-tuition expenses. For example, a taxpayer with a liability of $10,000 and a tax credit of $4,500 would be required to pay only $5,500 in taxes. Simply, it allows families to keep more of their money to spend on their children’s education.”

The Vatican recently concluded a conference on corruption (insert joke about ‘knowing whereof they speak’). It was an impressive array of speakers, including World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, and many sensible things were said. But one is tempted to respond, “That’s all well and good; but what is anybody *doing* about it?”

Which is why it’s encouraging to see, coincidentally, another story on the same day, detailing the grassroots efforts of Catholic schools in Cameroon to nip corruption in the bud.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, June 5, 2006
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“Cultural institutions are latching on to the issue of global warming to provide a focus and urgency to their work. At a time when museums and heritage organisations feel somewhat outdated and directionless, global warming provides a quick-fix rallying point….

This is an almighty cop-out. Institutions are avoiding the challenge of making history and science attractive to the public. Instead of inspiring visitors, institutions end up hectoring and lecturing them.”

Read the rest here: Josie Appleton, “The tide turns against culture,” sp!ked, Wednesday 31 May 2006.

Also check out the following piece from the Heartland Institute, which debunks a number of exaggerations and errors a recent issue of Time magazine: Time‘s Climate Change Issue Rife with Deception,” by Marlo Lewis.