Archived Posts May 2005 - Page 4 of 8 | Acton PowerBlog

This article from The Christian Post relates the warnings of Martin Oca༚, professor at the Baptist Seminary of South Peru, about the increasing attraction of prosperity theology in Latin America. According to Oca༚, prosperity theology (PT) teaches that,

material prosperity is the greatest evidence of God’s blessing. However…such prosperity is not for everyone but rather for those who are faithful to God and keep His spiritual laws.

He also says PT teaches that material prosperity is given to Christians so they can enjoy it on earth, since one has to accustom oneself on earth to a lifestyle that will be eternal and even greater in heaven.

Oca༚ also cites the origin of PT in the U.S., and contends that it is being exported to Latin America after it “emerged in society and politics unhindered and promoted by evangelical ministries in the United States.”

Signs of prosperity theology have emerged elsewhere, including Africa. Is the gospel of prosperity going to be the theological legacy of North American churches? There is mounting evidence that if it not to be the case, we will have to clean up the root causes of this false gospel in our own backyard.

Jesus’ words to the church in Laodicea seem appropriate (Rev. 2:14-22 NIV)—

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

In the hurly-burly of the last few months, I had missed the release of the new critical edition of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s Ethics, the latest in the massive Augsburg Fortress project, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.

My notification came via the International Bonhoeffer Society’s newsletter, which arrived yesterday. Rest assured that I purchased my copy today and am eagerly awaiting its arrival.

In a profile of Mike Gerson, an evangelical Christian and chief speechwriter for President Bush, Karl Rove summarized Gerson’s contributions thusly: “You can count on Mike to ask how a given policy will affect the least among us,” Rove said in an interview. “The shorthand, political way to say it is that Mike is the one always wondering how we can achieve liberal goals with conservative means.”

Of course this the “political way” to get at it, but Rove’s expression points to how an authentically Christian view of politics must transcend partisan agendas and political ideology.

This excellently written profile goes on to describe the backgrounds of Gerson’s life, including an interest in Catholic Social Thought:

“Catholics have long believed that the state has a role to play in alleviating poverty, but that this is not necessarily a role it plays directly,” says Catholic scholar Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “What has happened in the U.S. is that Protestants have embraced this — first with school vouchers, and later with prison outreach, poverty, and other issues. It’s a growing alliance between Protestants and Catholics to help the less fortunate, and Mike Gerson is at the intersection of these two traditions coming together.”

Why do so many protestors in the anti-globalization movement seem to have such a big appetite for the products of companies such as Nokia, Seiko, Nissan, Volvo, Toshiba, and the like? Maybe it’s because, as Anthony Bradley writes, their paternalistic views about the poor and the developing world blind them to the reality of the global economy.

Bradley uses Japan as an example of how international trade can boost a relatively weak economy and speed up the process of becoming an advanced nation. Bradley writes:

This is exactly what happened when Japan connected its economy to the rest of the world. Japan’s isolation from the West rendered it technologically and economically weedy. After opening trade with the West in 1854, Japanese leaders and scholars of the Meiji era studied the United States and its key formative figures like Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin. In the span of three generations, Japan went from an isolated, agrarian economy, to the second largest economy in the world—on an island with relatively few natural resources.

Read the full text here.

Here’s a list of the current members of the President’s Council on Bioethics, whose interest area is sure to become more and more important in coming years, courtesy The Thing Is.

Thorny issues arise when non-profits take government funding, especially when said non-profits have an explicitly Christian (and evangelistic) purpose. Case in point: “The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit yesterday against the Department of Health and Human Services, accusing the Bush administration of spending federal tax dollars on an abstinence education program that promotes Christianity,” aka Silver Ring Thing.

I first heard about the Silver Ring Thing via a special documentary broadcast on NPR, “With This Ring: Pledging Abstinence.” All in all it looks like a praiseworthy effort communicating the message of Christian holiness…in policy lingo “a faith-based abstinence message.” I don’t know if they still do it or not, but the NPR documentary said that at the end of the event students are given a Bible compliments of SRT.

I’m inclined to think that the SRT mission would be better served if it didn’t rely on the government for funding…even if that funding is legal and the government wants to give it. Consider it a form of forbidden fruit (with strings attached, of course). If the ACLU wins the suit, SRT might be faced with the decision to abandon the explicitly evangelistic elements to remain eligible for funding. And other faith-based non-profits might be tempted to do so preemptively, to avoid the tangles and confusions of litigation.

HT: The Corner

Rev. Gerald Zandstra, director of programs at the Acton Institute, has taken a leave of absence to enter the race for the U.S. Senate. This AP story quotes Jerry, and sizes up the campaign.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
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In a row over the Freedom of Information Act, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration has finally acknowledged expense information first requested by media outlets nearly two years ago. According to the Detroit Free Press, documents were turned over last month, “But in dozens of instances, pages were missing, or information on the city-supplied records was blacked out.”

Now that the Free Press has obtained unedited and complete copies of the records, comparison of the two sets of papers shows, “The information blacked out on records the city provided frequently dealt with Kilpatrick’s spending while out of town,” and, “More than a dozen documents dealing with the Kilpatrick administration and his family’s spending at hotels were not included with what the city turned over to the newspaper. Those documents were included in Harris’ unedited records.”

Poor bookkeeping practices, disputes of charges, and reimbursements were cited by Kilpatrick for the delay in making the documents public. Here’s an example of the kinds of charges made on Kilpatrick’s city-issued credit card:

In January 2003, when Kilpatrick went to Washington for the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting, the city was billed for 36 hours of chauffeur service during the 62 hours Kilpatrick spent in the capital, according to detailed receipts obtained from the auditor.

The total cost to taxpayers was $3,837.60. City officials blacked out all but $135.15 of those charges from the mayor’s credit card statement and pulled receipts before providing documents to the newspaper. Beatty said the city is disputing those charges, too, and did not provide documentation.

For more about the rude reception an investigative reporter received when following Kilpatrick to a recent mayors’ convention, see this post.

For my take on proposals like Kilpatrick’s “fast-food tax,” see this op-ed from Sunday’s Oakland Press (PDF).

And for other mayorial mischief, see these two pieces (here and here) on Grand Rapids mayor George Heartwell’s contention that his position deserves a raise to $85,000 per year, more than double the current salary.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
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This story from The Boston Globe (via Arts & Letters Daily) relects on the changing place of tobacco in contemporary American society. The efforts of various municipalities and anti-smoking activists have largely managed to turn the cigarette into a symbol of knavery rather than gentry.

As A.S. Hamrah recounts, “Smokers were once thought to make the best conversationalists, the best soldiers, even the best husbands.” The merits of tobacco have been celebrated, for example, by J.R.R. Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings trilogy (recall the effusive praise heaped upon pipe-weed by the hobbits). As a friend of mine once said, “Smoking just looks cool.”

Of course as cultural mores change, this claim is more open to challenge than it has been previously. Is it instead a mark of our sophistication that we are evolving into a “smokeless” society? My first impression of Calvin Seminary when I began attending in 2000 was the number of people standing around outside smoking. I was flabbergasted, not having been reared in the Dutch-American culture of West Michigan. Then I heard tales of how in years past professors and students used to smoke in classrooms, during meetings, and in the lounge areas, as layers of smoke would collect on the ceiling.

Of course, one of the defining characteristics of European culture that I’ve found in my admittedly brief travels was a love of smoking. While many anti-smoking efforts have been put in place in the EU, I wonder if the per capita number of smokers is greater in other parts of the world, compared with the US.

Hamrah relates that “wherever tobacco has been smoked it has also been railed against, massively taxed and banned.” According to one of the books reviewed in the story, King James I increased the tax on tobacco to 4,000 percent to dissuade his subjects from smoking, “claiming that it made its users unfit servants of the state.”

One thing we can be sure of is that such policy “solutions” tend to not be very effective. The anti-smoking activists have done a good job of realizing that to defeat the culture of smoking, people’s attitudes toward the practice need to be changed, not simply through taxation or legal prohibition, but through changes in popular culture.

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
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Political leaders in Europe who have tied their fortunes to the creation of the new EU superstate are now dismissing the growing sentiment against the metastasizing, power-hungry bureaucracy in Brussels as “whims of changing opinion polls or referendums.” That’s from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who finds it increasingly difficult to bully his countrymen into the deal. Here’s how a story in Der Spiegel describes the mood of voters:

Citizens are quickly becoming wary of the transfer of power to a largely anonymous authority in Brussels — an authority with limited legitimacy that claims to have a better handle on what is good for Poles, Germans or the Portuguese than the Poles, Germans and the Portuguese themselves. Europeans are rebelling against their own governments, which, at least according to popular perception, are allowing themselves to be led around by the nose by the EU’s centralized power.

An explosive mix of fear, anger and frustration with Europe is building, especially in Germany and France. And with regional elections approaching in Germany and the European constitution referendum scheduled for the end of the month in France, it’s quite possible that these emotions will soon come to a head.