Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, February 2, 2006

The Feb. 6 edition of NEWSWEEK features a story on the debate program at Liberty University, in a bit by Susanna Meadows, “Cut, Thrust and Christ: Why evangelicals are mastering the art of college debate.” The story trots out a number of tired old formulas, with the lede referencing the fact that fundamentalists (used interchangeably with the term evangelicals) view of the imminence of the second coming: “When you believe the end of the world is coming, you learn to talk fast.”

But what really makes this an item worthy of notice on GetReligion is an illustrative misquote of Jerry Falwell. “We are training debaters who can perform a salt ministry, meaning becoming the conscience of the culture,” says Falwell. That’s what he actually said.

Apparently, though, “in the original version of this report, NEWSWEEK quoted Falwell as referring to ‘assault ministry.’ In fact, Falwell was referring to ‘a salt ministry’—a reference to Matthew 5:13, where Jesus says ‘Ye are the salt of the earth.’ We regret the error.” No doubt NEWSWEEK still considers it an “assault,” albeit of the verbal and intellectual variety rather than physical.

Still, the story does illustrate one of the more important growing trends in contemporary evangelicalism: the emphasis on the use of political power as a means for furthering the aims of the Church: “Falwell and the religious right figure that if they can raise a generation that knows how to argue, they can stem the tide of sin in the country. Seventy-five percent of Liberty’s debaters go on to be lawyers with an eye toward transforming society.”

“I think I can make an impact in the field of law on abortion and gay rights, to get back to Americans’ godly heritage,” says freshman debater Cole Bender.

Meadows writes, “Debaters are the new missionaries, having realized they can save a lot more souls from a seat at the top—perhaps even on the highest court in the land.” The article does implicitly raise the challenge to politics-minded evangelicals to recognize the difference between moral suasion and political coercion. The former addresses matters of the heart and soul, while the latter necessarily addresses externals. A religion that focuses too much on externals to the detriment of the heart will at some point become legalistic and Pharisaical.

And it remains to be seen if and when evangelicals achieve the political victories they desire if they will be willing to only seek to enact public policy that addresses clear moral matters and issues of justice, as the governing authority is “God’s servant to do you good” and “an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4 NIV).

I’m simply not convinced that the “top-down” method of evangelization is the right way to view things. Falwell says, “So while we have the preaching of the Gospel on the one side—certainly a priority—we have the confronting of the culture on moral default on the other side.”

I would think that a necessary part of evangelism is “confronting the culture,” but can’t that be done as part of the proclamation of the Gospel (see the Second Use of the Law)? After all, the conscience can falsely justify as well as condemn, and the “conscience of culture” is no different.

I’m always suspicious when I hear “the Bible and…” or the “the Gospel and…”. It signals to me that the Church is getting away from its calling, the commission to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Engaging, critiquing, and transforming culture are all important things. But we’re wrong if we think that the primary means to accomplish these goals is something other than the preaching of the Word.

The other activities of the Church (moral suasion, charitable work) need to be consciously and intentionally connected to this ultimate purpose of the Church (or viewed as simply as penultimate). Otherwise, they run the risk of subverting the Church’s mission through distraction. They are never simply ultimate goods unto themselves.

Even Friedrich Schleiermacher, often called the “father of modern liberal theology,” knew better. He writes:

That a Church is nothing but a communion or association relating to religion or piety, is beyond all doubt for us Evangelical (Protestant) Christians, since we regard it as equivalent to degeneration in a Church when it begins to occupy itself with other matters as well, whether the affairs of science or of outward organization; just as we also always oppose any attempt on the part of the leaders of State or of science, as such to order the affairs of religion.

While we would differ on what the concerns of “religion” or “piety” consist in, I do agree with Schleiermacher that the tendency of a Church to emphasize “the Gospel and…” is a degeneration. Perhaps this is just an infelicitous coordination between the two on Falwell’s part. But it isn’t the only place I’ve heard such things, and I do think it’s illustrative of broader trends in evagelicalism.

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Wednesday, February 1, 2006

I was reminded recently that Jesus repeatedly underscored the high value of seemingly very small things. The signficant results of small mustard seeds and lost coins made his parable points well but, as a mom, the story of one lost sheep made me quickly leap to the incalculable value of one lost person. On a planet of billions, many of whom live and die with scarcely any notice, Jesus says God notices … and cares. And He calls us to care.

Acton’s 2005 Samaritan Award Winner Profiles (PDF), now available online, demonstrate that large or small, effective compassion greatly values even one lost or needy person. As helpful as “best practices” from such charity programs can be, each evidences more important best principles.

Principles transcend practices, because practices are simply activities, albeit some times ones linked to impressive results. But could they be as effective in Memphis as they are in Seattle as they are in tiny Seminole, Oklahoma? That is why Acton’s Samaritan Award entry survey is based on Marvin Olasky’s 7 Principles of Effective Compassion. The manner in which an effective charity may encourage reconnecting a homeless person to family and community may look very different among programs in those three cities — quite different in demographics and culture. But any homeless program in any of those cities should operationalize this “affiliation” principle.

Dr. Olasky asks: “Does the program work through families, neighbors, and religious or community organizations, or does it supersede them?” For example, studies show that many homeless alcoholics have families, but they do not want to be with them. When homeless shelters provide food, clothing, and housing without asking hard questions, aren’t they subsidizing disaffiliation and enabling addiction? Instead of giving aid directly to homeless men, why not work on reuniting them with brothers, sisters, parents, wives, or children?

The 2005 Samaritan Award Winners represent a wide variety of social services and budgets. Some programs serve a large number of ‘lost sheep’ and some serve only a few. Yet each has demonstrated a sharp understanding and commitment to effective compassion principles. An extensive report of each may also be found at Acton’s online Samaritan Guide.

We commend them to you.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, February 1, 2006

The math and science skills of American high schoolers and college students continue to erode. Michael Miller looks at the implications for U.S. economic competitiveness and offers some suggestions for fixing what ails the schools.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: mmiller
posted by on Friday, January 27, 2006

Jay Richards’ previous post on Richard Rahn’s article “Not Rocket Science” illustrates Huxley’s famous statement about a fact destroying a theory.

Jay quotes Rahn’s lists of the politicians and development experts who support increased foreign aid.

It’s no longer just politicians and economists. Bono’s One Campaign is designed to get the developed nations to contribute 1 percent of their GDP to foreign aid for the poorest countries. No doubt Bono and many other supporters have good intentions. But good intentions don’t fight poverty. Economic opportunity, entrepreneurship, and free trade do.

Using the Heritage Foundation/WSJ “Index of Economic Freedom” Rahn lists example after example of the success of countries who liberalized their economies, and failures of those that haven’t.

The economically freest societies are the most prosperous, and the most economically repressive societies are the poorest.

Ireland 30 years ago was among the poorest countries in Europe. It then made a major shift toward freeing up its economy — e.g., its maximum corporate tax rate is only 12 1/2 percent (it ranks No. 3 out of 157 countries in the index). As a result, it now has the second-highest per capita income in Europe and is far ahead of the old leaders like Germany (No. 19) and France (No. 44). (Note, when I refer to per capita income, I do so using the Purchasing Power Parity measure which accounts for local price differences.)

In Eastern Europe, Estonia is economically the freest (No. 7), and Romania the least free (No. 92), though the latter is now making progress. Both countries started out at roughly the same level 16 years ago, but now Estonia has almost twice the per capita income of Romania. Much of the credit for Estonia being the most successful transition country goes to its brilliant and able free-market former prime minister, Mart Laar.

On the other hand, the biggest recipients of development aid over the last quarter-century, for the most part, have gone nowhere economically. Egypt (No. 129), the biggest recipient of development aid in the last quarter-century, is a prime example, with a per capita income about 5 percent of Ireland’s.

Despite the evidence you will continue to hear Kofi Annan and the others clamoring for more aid and more generosity. Instead of aid, they should start asking to reduce tariffs and subsidies and encourage and assist developing countries to set up market economies guided by the rule of law.

Hernando de Soto’s book The Mystery of Capital illustrates that what is needed is not more aid, but the ability to turn assets into capital and less government regulation and interference in the economy.

The One Campaign is right to care about the poor in Africa and elswhere. Perhaps if we could get Bono’s good intentions and passion behind sound economics we might see some real change.

Blog author: jrichards
posted by on Friday, January 27, 2006

The abstract arguments for economic freedom are great for those of us who, well, like abstract arguments. But sometimes, there’s no substitute for some good, solid empirical data. That’s just what economist Richard Rahn delivers in this article in the Washington Times. If you don’t have time to read the 2006 Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal “Index of Economic Freedom,” at least read Rahn’s summary of it.

He starts:

Suppose you were appointed global economic czar, and your task was to bring the world’s per capita income up to the level of Ireland’s (almost that of the U.S.). Would you:

(A) Insist the world’s rich nations transfer substantial wealth though massive foreign aid to the poor nations?

(B) Insist all nations adopt policies that would make them as economically free as the top 10 freest economies today?

If you answered “B,” go to the head of the class. This shows you have a good understanding of both history and economic reality about what works and what doesn’t.

If you answered “A,” welcome to the Kofi Annan, Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder school of willful economic ignorance.

Strong assertions. Fortunately, the statistics that follow not only illustrate the connection between economic freedom and prosperity, but also the lack of connection between receiving foreign aid and prosperity. This is one of those statistics-packed articles that I would love to memorize, if I was any good at memorizing statistics.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, January 27, 2006

A number of bloggers have expressed grave concerns over Google’s decision to accomodate the demands of the communist government in its web search offerings in China.

David Mills at Mere Comments writes that Google is “serving a brutal government and helping it oppress its people, even if its service will prove only partially effective.” He complains that Google’s motives are purely pecuniary, and that the company is only acceding to the government’s wishes because “If it didn’t help the Chinese government oppress its people, it wouldn’t make much money in China.” Mills notes that Google is following Microsoft and Yahoo search engines in making these concessions

It seems a pretty easy judgment to make: Google is selling out. My first instinct is to agree and throw my lot in with those condemning Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Google executives have described it as a “difficult decision.” But Mills writes, “There is no ethical dilemma, because they do not have to do business in China at all.”

But this is the point at which such judgments themselves are rather simplistic and superficial. First of all, Google does have a responsibility to its shareholders to seek out new areas of profitability, and the most populous nation on the planet can hardly be overlooked.

The fact is that the people of mainland China are living under a repressive regime. The lack of such fundamental rights as free expression and speech are completely alien to us in the West, and so we react strongly when we hear about censorship and denial of human rights abroad.

But the question then becomes, “What is the best way to move China toward economic, political, and religious freedom?” It has long been assumed by proponents of liberal democracies that these three aspects of freedom are inextricably linked. If you truly have one, then you truly have all three. That position is being put to the test in China and other countries, which are seeking to liberalize elements of the economic and business sectors without substantially altering their hold on religious and political freedoms.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 26, 2006

If you’re like most Americans, the answer is probably “No.” Faced with loss of market share and declining revenues, Ford announced a restructuring plan that would cut nearly a quarter of its workforce and close 14 plants over the next six years. The moves are intended to bring the auto giant back to profitability by 2008.

What has caused the competitiveness of Ford to plummet? It’s part of the larger trend among American automakers. Ford’s “Way Forward” plan was preceded by GM’s flirtation with a “cloud of bankruptcy” and was followed by DaimlerChrysler’s announcement of layoffs (many of which would be in Germany).

NBC Nightly News featured a story on the U.S. auto industry’s woes on Tuesday night (Netcast available here). Patriotism is being replaced by pragmatism, says NBC’s Anne Thompson.

MSNBC’s Roland Jones writes, “Like its U.S. rival GM, Ford has struggled in recent years with a loss in U.S. market share to Asian rivals, a decline in sales of its large SUVs because of higher gasoline prices and a crippling healthcare bill and pension costs for its U.S. workforce and retirees.”
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Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Robert Brueggman of the University of Illinois-Chicago offers a contrarian take on suburban sprawl in US News and World Report.

I’m not as relativistic as Brueggman is with respect to the aesthetic question: A lot of suburban shopping centers, highways, and neighborhoods are ugly—or at least boring—and don’t deserve to be preserved in the longterm. (Yes, a lot of urban buildings, highly respected by the architectural elite, are also ugly, in my opinion.) But Brueggman makes good points about the way most people view the benefits of suburbia and places the whole question in historical perspective.

For more on urban planning, Christianity, and markets, see the Spring 2003 issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 24, 2006

“The political left in America is emerging victorious,” writes Patrick Chisholm, and its true because “the era of big government is far from over. Trends are decidedly in favor of that quintessential leftist goal: massive redistribution of wealth.”

Over the past two decades, “Republicans’ capture of both Congress and the White House was, understandably, a demoralizing blow to the left. But the latter can take solace that “Republican” is no longer synonymous with spending restraint, free markets, and other ideals of the political right.”

Chisholm cites the fact that since 2000, “During the first five years of President Bush’s presidency, nondefense discretionary spending (i.e., spending decided on an annual basis) rose 27.9 percent, far more than the 1.9 percent growth during President Clinton’s first five years, according to the libertarian Reason Foundation. And according to Citizens Against Government Waste, the number of congressional ‘pork barrel’ projects under Republican leadership during fiscal 2005 was 13,997, more than 10 times that of 1994.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, since “discretionary spending is dwarfed by mandatory spending – spending that cannot be changed without changing the laws.”

Read the whole thing: “Triumph of the redistributionist left.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 23, 2006

Bill Robinson at The Huffington Post says that the real “enemies of marriage” consists of “those who treat it as a commodity, a temporary merger, a corporate buyout,” citing the impending fourth divorce of billionaire Ron Perelman.

In typically overblown fashion, Robinson asks, “Where are the Defense of Marriage Nazis when marriage is actually under assault? Why aren’t they boycotting Revlon? Is it possible billionaires and celebs are undermining this sacred institution more than ‘the gays’? David Hasselhoff, Babyface, and Christina Applegate, are just this week’s divorce stories. What kind of world are we living in when Eminem remarrying his ex-wife is considered the love story of the day?”

On the one hand, Robinson is right to point to divorce as the most pervasive threat to the institution of marriage. We shouldn’t forget that the biblical allowance for divorce is quite limited and was enacted only because of the reality of human sin, because our “hearts were hard,” and intended to function as a preservational check on further corruption.

But this doesn’t mean there aren’t other threats to marriage, which may just have the potential to be just as dangerous and insidious. It really isn’t an either/or question, but rather a both/and. For example, Acton senior fellow Jennifer Roback Morse highlights the move from gay “marriage” and polygamy, from “creating legal institutions to accommodate same sex couples and creating legal institutions to accommodate multiple spouses.”

In today’s Townhall.com column, Morse writes of the situation in Canada, which “have proven that the advocates of marriage are not being hysterical when they warn of the cultural and legal slide into polygamy.”

It’s a bit ironic to note how the world’s argument against the traditional Christian position has changed over the last few decades. When marriage and divorce laws were being relaxed in the last century, the move was hailed by feminists and others as a liberation from patriarchy and monogomous tyranny. When Christians opposed the change of such laws, they were labeled Neanderthals. But now that gay “marriage” is the issue du jour, the world asks, “Where are the Defense of Marriage Nazis when marriage is actually under assault?”

Christians need to witness to the world with humility and recognition of the realities of hypocrisy. When “born-again” Christians are “just as likely to divorce as non-Christians,” there are some huge problems. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t other threats, or that Christians shouldn’t speak up. It just means that we should be consistent and careful in our witness. Indeed, Christian silence might end up being the greatest threat to the institution of marriage.