Archived Posts April 2005 | Acton PowerBlog

There’s a big, fairly new, global effort by Christians to cut worldwide poverty in half by 2015. Just what is this effort? A new giving initiative? A new network connecting churches in the first world with churches in the third world? A new global faith-based NGO?

Sadly, no. The new effort is called the “Micah Challenge,” which turns out really to be a challenge to get Christians to call for government action. The Micah Challenge is described as “a global Christian movement that’s working to overcome poverty by encouraging our leaders to meet their commitments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals – poverty-eradicating goals that all the member states of the United Nations have promised to achieve by 2015.”

So just how are Christians to help the poor? By petitioning government, of course! Here’s a typical example, “Micah Challenge Canada Says Govt. Aid ‘Far Short.'”

Since when did Christian charity get reduced to political lobbying? Is the Church just another interest group? Maybe the Micah Challenge should register as a PAC.

Or maybe the Church should look to its own house. Perhaps the fact that “7% of Protestants tithed to churches” (and how much of that money is spent helping the poor, either domestically or abroad?) has something to do with the fact that the churches feel the need to rely on the government to get things done.

“…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” – Micah 6:8

Just who is Micah talking to? In focusing almost exclusively on lobbying governments to fight poverty, the Micah Challenge is missing the Church’s main responsibilities in terms of charity (which itself is secondary and derivative of the primary task of the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel).

In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “there are three possible ways in which the church can act towards the state: in the first place, as has been said, it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e. it can throw the state back on its responsibilities.” So far, so good. This is what the Micah Challenge intends to do.

But the Micah Challenge effectively ignores the Church’s corresponding responsibilities, to “aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. ‘Do good to all men.’…the church may in no way withdraw itself from these two tasks.” The third way that the church can act is “not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself.”

What the Micah Call and the Micah Challenge largely miss are the second (and third) activities of the Church, direct intervention to lift up the poor and oppressed. Instead of merely calling nations to be accountable to the MDGs, why doesn’t the Micah Challenge also put forth goals for the Church to accomplish on its own?

In fairness to the Micah Challenge, there is a lot of material on its site, some good, some bad. And some of it focuses on the direct role of Christians in the lives of the poor. But the words of the Micah Call, as well as the action plan for the Challenge, focus almost exclusively on the petition of governments rather than direct Christian intervention. If the Micah Challenge were truly a challenge to the Church to act directly, then it would become a comprehensive call for Christian stewardship. As it stands now, the Micah Challenge is incomplete, inadequate, and irresponsible.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, April 29, 2005
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In traversing the World Wide Web, I’ve happened across BlogShares, “a fantasy stock market for weblogs. Players get to invest a fictional $500, and blogs are valued by incoming links.”

As the Acton Institute PowerBlog heads toward its one month anniversary, check out it’s BlogShare value. Buy now!

Blog author: jballor
Friday, April 29, 2005
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Via BibleGateway.com

Job 19:25 (New International Version)

I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.

The Paul Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College has received a $100,000 grant from the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation to study the role of religion in shaping civic responsibility in American life.

Henry Institute director Corwin Smidt says, “A study of civic responsibility broadens the analysis to assess both attitudinal, value-rooted commitments and behavioral responses – as well as the interplay between the two. Since civic responsibility entails moral as well as behavioral dimensions, one might well anticipate that religion would be even more strongly related to civic responsibility than it is to civic engagement. But, since no such study has been conducted to this point, it is unclear whether this is the case empirically.”

President Bush signed a bill into law yesterday that exempts companies such as ClearPlay from litigation for copyright infringement. ClearPlay, for example, offers a DVD player that will filter out “objectionable” content. Consumers are free to purchase this item or not, depending on the sensitivity of their tastes and the ability of the ClearPlay device to cater to their demands. My initial reaction is that this is a positive move from the government, protecting a potentially prosperous and burgeoning industry.

It certainly is a move that is far superior to the heavy-handed and ham-fisted attempts by the FCC to regulate the decency or appropriateness of content on the supply side (see my thoughts on that here and here). It’s a move that is better even than efforts like the V-Chip, which are required to be included in all TV sets, rather than letting the consumer decide whether he or she wants to buy a set with such technology included.

As is so often the case, the recording and movie industries are well-behind the learning curve. They object to the existence of such technology as an imposition on their art and have sued to prevent companies like ClearPlay from editing the content of movies. Nevermind that such impositions occur everyday in which movies are edited for content and formatted to fit on TV broadcasts.

ClearPlay and others are simply responding to the demands of the market that are borne out of moral considerations. If movie companies had been business savvy, they would have realized sooner that catering to the large segment of the market that has functioning moral compasses could be lucrative. This new industry has sprung up because existing companies were not meeting a desire that existed out in the market.

For more, see WorldMagBlog and Mere Comments.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, April 28, 2005
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There’s been a lot of talk in recent days about the question of immigration, both legal and illegal. A number of issues are involved, including questions about national security, economic concerns, and cultural values. Most recently the Minutemen have begun border patrols and are looking to extend their efforts to the northern U.S. border. You may also remember a scuffle when President Bush put forth the proposal for a guest worker program.

The Acton Institute has published two pieces that are relevant to the policy questions surrounding the question of immigration. Both are authored by Dr. Andrew M. Yuengert, the John and Francis Duggan Chair of Economics at Seaver College, Pepperdine University. Dr. Yuengert wrote Inhabiting the Land, volume number 6 in the Christian Social Thought Series. This book is a defense of the case asserting the right to migrate put forth by John Paul II. Yuengert provides an excellent economic analysis of migration that is consistent with the Christian concern for the dignity of persons.

The second item is a much shorter distillation based on the longer CSTS monograph. “The Stranger who Sojourns with You: Toward a Moral Immigration Policy,” the Winter 2004 issue of Policyforum is freely available online.

Here’s an excerpt:

A significant consequence of international solidarity is the recognition of the rights of immigrants not as a trade-off of the host country’s common good for the benefits of migrants but, rather, as a requirement for the full development of the host nations society. Indeed, the full development of any social group, including a nation, requires that it be properly oriented toward the common good of the larger society of which it is a part. The human person needs community in virtue of his social nature, and this need will orient him toward the common good in order to contribute to the preservation of his community.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, April 28, 2005
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The National Academies of Science has issued a set of guidelines for human embryonic stem (ES) cell research. The guidelines also address the chimera phenomenon.

The guidelines open a path for experiments that create animals that contain some introduced human embyronic stem cells.

These hybrid part human, part animal creatures, called chimeras, would be “valuable in understanding the etiology and progression of human disease and in testing new drugs, and will be necessary in preclinical testing of human embryonic stem cells and their derivatives,” the guidelines committee said.

Chimeras might also be used to grow organs, such as livers, to transplant into humans.

Human embryonic stem cells should be introduced into nonhuman mammals “only under circumstances where no other experiment can provide the information needed,” the guidelines say.

The danger is experiments in which there is a possibility that human cells could contribute in a “major organized way” to the brain of an animal. These experiments “require strong scientific justification,” the committee warned.

Once again we can see that the overriding ethical principle is a scientific pragmatism. Almost no limit is viewed as absolutely impassable, as long as “no other experiment can provide the information needed.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
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On this date in 1537 Geneva’s first Protestant catechism was published, based on John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
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Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998.An article in The New York Times magazine over the weekend provides an up-close look at the stories of two men impacted by the burgeoning problem of steroid use in baseball. In “Absolutely, Power Corrupts,” Michael Lewis writes,

Unable to parse the statistics and separate natural power from steroid power, the people who evaluate baseball players for a living have no choice but to ignore the distinction. They’ve come to view the increase in the number of young players without power who become older players with power as a new eternal truth about the game. ”Good hitters become power hitters, power hitters don’t become good hitters” has become a kind of cliche for baseball’s more statistically minded general managers. Power is now understood as less an innate gift than a gettable skill — more like speaking French than being 6-foot-3. Which is to say that steroids may have changed not only the way the game is played but also the way the game is understood. They have given birth to a big, beefy idea from whose side-effects no player is immune.

Now there’s no doubt that steroid abuse has had a deleterious effect on the game of baseball, whether or not the owners and players can see it. Lewis refers to “the public outrage over steroid use during the off-season,” and it is just such outrage that will be the ultimate arbiter of whether baseball becomes (relatively) steroid-free, or whether it becomes increasingly freakish.

And this is despite the attempts of the federal government to inject itself into the discussion. Today, the NFL commissioner testified before the Government Reform Committee about steroids in football, and this follows testimony from baseball players and officials last month.

Current reports are that the committee will be “working with Sen. John McCain to draw up law establishing standard steroid policies for U.S. professional sports.”

Does it strike anyone as incredible that it is the House Government Reform Committee that is worried so much about steroids in sports when the federal budget is the largest it has ever been? Visit WorldMag blogger Bunnie Diehl for more on “The Ridiculous Government Reform Committee.”

Via The Christian Post:

Annual giving to churches rose by 11 percent, but after factoring in inflation, churches are getting about two percent more than contributed in 1999.

Another trend was the practice of donating 10 percent of the annual income to church. Tithing is practiced by very few Americans at only four percent, according to Barna, though good stewardship remains an important priority for Christians.

Ultimately, Barna explained, “Americans are willing to give more generously than they typically do, but it takes a purposeful and well-executed approach to facilitate that generosity,” Barna concludes.

Read the full report at The Barna Group.