Category: Public Policy

Figures 015 Melchisedec King of Salem blesses AbramThe folks at RELEVANT magazine wonder, “What would happen if the church tithed?”

The piece explores in some depth the point that tithing is really about the radical call to Christian generosity, pointing to the biblical example of the Macedonian church: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)”

I was just reading from the Little House books last night to my son, and one of the chapters I read included the narrative of Laura’s missionary church in western Minnesota as the recipient of Christmas gifts from a church in the more established parts of eastern Minnesota:

There had never been such a Christmas as this. It was such a large, rich Christmas, the whole church full of Christmas. There were so many lamps, so many people, so much noise and laughter, and so many happinesses in it. Laura felt full and bursting, as if that whole big rich Christmas were inside her, and her mittens and her beautiful jewel-box with the wee gold cup-and-saucer and teapot, and her candy and her popcorn ball.

Giving can really mean the world to the recipient, and it is a significant spiritual exercise and discipline for the giver as well.

As to the RELEVANT question, Ron Sider offered his own answer in 2005, and the needs and possibilities identified have not substantially changed in the meantime:

If American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and education to all the poor of the earth. And we would still have an extra $60-70 billion left over for evangelism around the world.

As I’ve said before, seeing evangelism as something for “leftovers” isn’t quite right, but the point still stands that to whom much has been given, much is expected. And American Christians have certainly been given much.

AApretzelsWhen walking through an airport or shopping mall the aroma hits me before I even see the store. If happiness had a scent I suspect it would smell like Auntie Anne’s soft pretzels. From the first whiff my knees go weak and my brain tells me that I will never know joy again if I pass up this salted, buttery, baked goodness. They are so good that I fully expect St. Peter hands them out at the Pearly Gates.

While I’ve long loved Auntie Anne’s, I never knew the inspiring story of it’s founder. Anne Beiler, a former “black-car Amish” tells Fortune Magazine how virtue and trust helped her become a successful entrepreneur. (She expanded her baked good empire with a loan from a Mennonite chicken farmer who “loved what we wanted to do, and he gave us $1.5 million on a handshake.”)

Beiler says Auntie Anne’s is a modern-day business miracle that never should have happened.

I had no formal education, capital, or business plan. But we practiced what I call the three small P’s. We started with a purpose — counseling and helping people. We had a product that supported our purpose. Then we got the people to do it. The three small P’s, in that order, result in the big P — profit. If you stay true to your values and purpose, you will get to profit.

Here’s her advice for running a business:

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President Barack Obama, during a recent trip to Northern Ireland, decried the segregation of denominational churches and schools:chalkboard

Issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity — symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others — these are not tangential to peace; they’re essential to it.

If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear and resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.

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Photo Credit: youngdoo via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: youngdoo via Compfight cc

In this week’s commentary, “Made to Trade,” I explore the natural dispositions that human beings have to produce, exchange, consume, and distribute material goods.

If you’ve ever noticed that a sandwich made by someone else tastes better than one you make yourself, you’ll know what I’m getting at: “Recognizing the satisfaction that comes from such a gift of service from another person illustrates an other-directed disposition that is a deep and constitutive part of human nature.”

There is a gracious foundation for giving and receiving, whether in the form of gifts and distributions or in exchange. As Benedict XVI writes in Caritas in Veritate, “Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension.”

Sometimes I think the ideas of gift and exchange can be too radically distinguished. Benedict describes a gift as something that “by its nature goes beyond merit, its rule is that of superabundance.” The relationship between love and justice, or between charity and merit, is complex and difficult to hold in proper balance. Emphasis of one at the expense of the other leads to errors of antinomianism or legalism.

What is clear, however, is the gracious foundation of all of our economics activities derive from God’s providential ordering. We give, receive, “truck, barter, and exchange,” as a manifestation of the constitutive sociality of our human nature, created in God’s image, male and female.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
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bernardusJonathan Merritt reports on a decision made by the parent company that produces Samuel Adams beer, Boston Beer Company, to redact “by their Creator” from an Independence Day ad featuring the Declaration of Independence. As Merritt writes, “We have arrived at a time in our history where some people are so offended by even the idea of God that they can’t bear to speak God’s name or quote someone else speaking God’s name. Worse yet, they have to delete God’s name from the Declaration of Independence to make a point.”

My friend Will Hinton rightly identifies the company’s defense of its decision for the fig leaf that it is:

“We adhere to an advertising code, established by the Beer Institute – a beer industry trade organization – that states, ‘Beer advertising and marketing materials should not include religion or religious themes’,” according to a statement provided by a Boston Beer Company spokeswoman. “We agree with that, and we follow these guidelines and approach our marketing with the utmost responsibility.”

As Will points out, brewing has a rich religious history, and many of the most popular specialty brews are branded with religious themes. Here are those produced by members of the Beer Institute he highlights: Bell’s Christmas Ale; Ommegang Abbey Ale; Marin Brewing Co. Witty Monk; Marin Brewing Co. Altar Boy; New Belgian Abbey Ale; New Belgian Lips of Faith. It is true that there is such a code and that point 7 reads as the spokeswoman declares. Right after point 6, “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not contain graphic nudity,” comes point 7, “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not employ religion or religious themes.”

Some will blame market forces for Sam Adams’ decision to secularize its commercial messaging. But that doesn’t really add up. The most natural thing to avoid controversy would be to leave the text of the Declaration intact, especially when linking the text thematically to the person of Sam Adams. To redact the text as the commercial does is to, as the backlash makes clear, runs the risk of alienating a huge swath of potential customers.

There’s something other than economic caution going on here, and Merritt puts his finger on it.

This is less about a decision to avoid controversy for fear of alienating a consumer base than it is an expression of a corporate culture that embraces a radical secularism and is tone deaf to the point of editing one of our nation’s most significant documents. It has more to do with a secular political and social sensibility than it does with economic savvy.

In such a radical separation of faith from public life, Sam Adams the beer company has done something that Sam Adams himself would never have stood for.

As Sam Adams put it himself in 1776, “We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom all alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven, and with a propitious eye beholds his subjects assuming that freedom of thought, and dignity of self-direction which He bestowed on them. From the rising to the setting sun, may His kingdom come.”

Here’s the ad in question:

Alexei Khomiakov, the Russian Slavophile thinker often credited with first articulating the Orthodox principle of sobornost.

Today at Ethika Politika I offer an assessment of the phenomenon of globalization from the perspective of Orthodox Christian anthropology. In particular, I focus on the concept of sobornost in the thought of the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, writing,

Solovyov’s account of the moral progress of humanity through globalization is rooted in the Russian idea of sobornost’, which Christopher Marsh and Daniel P. Payne define as “the idea that human beings retain their freedom while participating in human society, and that human society is a participatory process through which human beings actualize themselves as unique hypostases [i.e. persons].” Accordingly, Solovyov writes that true society does not abolish the individual, but “subordination to society uplifts the individual” and “the independence of the individual lends strength to the social order” — an Orthodox parallel to subsidiarity.

I had raised the question of the similarity between sobornost and subsidiarity a few weeks ago during Fr. Michael Butler’s Acton University talk on “Orthodoxy, Church, and State.” I summarized his insight on the concept at the time, writing,

With the reforms of Tsar Peter the Great, however, the Church was literally made a department of the state [in Russia]. The inspiration for this, notably, was not symphonia but the European Protestant national Church model. While in this context the Russian Church still continued to carry out its functions in society, it had lost a great degree of autonomy. In the midst of this context, the Slavophile thinkers Alexei Khomiakov and Ivan Kireevsky reacted to this statist trend in Russian society by developing the theory of sobornost, inspired in part by the Russian word for “Catholic” in the Nicene Creed and inspired by the Orthodox Church’s conciliar basis of authority.

As they framed it, the idea of sobornost placed the idea of sovereignty in the whole of a people. All human beings are interconnected, and each therefore deserves their own autonomy while, at the same time, [each] has a duty to serve all others…. Ultimately, sobornost at its best would be an Orthodox parallel to subsidiarity in which each level of society, all the way down to the individual, has a role to freely play for the common good and each has a duty to assist others for that end.

The question of similarities and differences between subsidiarity and sobornost has been on my mind for some time. There would seem to be clear parallels between the concepts that were coincidentally developed in their modern forms at nearly the same time, though among different traditions for somewhat different purposes. (more…)

Politicians and public educators seem to constantly revert back to status quo arguments of further centralization as a way to reform education failures in the U.S. The most recent push for uniformity in the public school system is the Common Core, a set of national assessment standards and tests that has been adopted by 45 states and will be implemented possibly as soon as the 2014 school year.  President Obama enticed the states to adopt Common Core with his $4.35 billion “Race to the Top Fund,” promising stimulus money to any that complied.  He also announced that $350 million of that fund would be spent on developing the tests that would be aligned with the Common Core Standards.

Common Core constitutes another government takeover under the Obama Administration. While defenders of the Common Core correctly point out that Obama and his cabinet had nothing to do with the design or implementation of Common Core, they fail to recognize the coercion of the governors to adopt Common Core through Race to the Top. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has also used questionable tactics in support of Common Core. In a recent speech at the American Society of News Editors Annual Convention, as reported by the Huffington Post, Duncan claimed, “When the critics can’t persuade you that the Common Core is a curriculum, they make even more outlandish claims. They say that the Common Core calls for federal collection of student data.  For the record, it doesn’t, we’re not allowed to, and we won’t. And let’s not even get into the really wacky stuff: mind control, robots, and biometric brain mapping.”  Such straw man arguments appear to be desperate attempts to obfuscate opponents’ central criticism: Common Core wipes out competition amongst states to produce better education programs, and it severely cripples school choice through more centralization. (more…)

Depressing statistic of the week:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a total of 101,000,000 people currently participate in at least one of the 15 food programs offered by the agency, at a cost of $114 billion in fiscal year 2012.

That means the number of Americans receiving food assistance has surpassed the number of private sector workers in the U.S.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 97,180,000 full-time private sector workers in 2012.

The population of the U.S. is 316.2 million people, meaning nearly a third of Americans receive food aid from the government.

Farmer Joel Salatin is a rising star in the slow food world for his appearances in the documentaries Food Inc., Fresh, and in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. What gets minimized or overlooked in these treatments are Salatin’s Christian, capitalist and libertarian leanings.

Michael Miller had the chance to explore this under-reported side in an interview with him at his farm in Virginia. Some choice bits from their conversation are at Salatin’s PovertyCure Voices page, and you can see video excerpts from the interview in the PovertyCure DVD Series.

Also, former Acton intern Elise Amyx recently had the chance to interview the self-described “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer.” In the first of a three-part series, she describes Salatin as “a farmer of faith … dedicated to holistic stewardship in order to heal creation for a higher purpose.” In the same piece, Salatin describes his approach this way:

Every day I pray, “Lord, let me operate this farm exactly like you would if you were here in person.” It’s a ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ situation, realizing that the land is holy; indeed, all of creation can be sanctified by our interaction with it.

We live in a country where many believe that business leaders are greedy while politicians are benevolent. This is why they put so much confidence in government to meet society’s needs instead of in the private sector. That is, business men and women look out for their own “selfish” interests where as politicians are generally good-natured people who look out for the interest of the other as an innate disposition.

Time and time again, however, we are confronted with the reality that if business people can be greedy, then so can politicians. Why? Because both roles are occupied by real people who are morally flawed and need accountability. The key difference between the two is that business people can be greedy with money that is earned by themselves or their employees whereas politicians are greedy with money that is taken from other people under threat of being thrown in jail. American taxpayers would be wise to remember, then, that politicians are morally flawed people who, when given the opportunity, will pursue their own financial self interests like anyone else. Why? Because they are human and power has a corrupting influence for those in national as well as local politics.

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, for example, reports that East Point, Georgia (an adjacent suburb to the city of Atlanta) cannot account for $200 million taken from taxpayers.

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