Archived Posts December 2006 » Page 3 of 6 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 21, 2006

Filing your taxes just got a little more complicated. The IRS recently announced new guidelines for charitable deductions to be introduced for the 2007 tax year. Beginning next tax season, “taxpayers must provide bank records or other information when claiming deductions for charitable donations of money.”

These records can include credit card statements and canceled checks. And in addition, taxpayers “may also submit a written communication from the charity with the organization’s name, the date of the transaction and the amount of the contribution.” A number of charities that I contribute to already provide me with year-end statements, so just be ready to pass that paperwork along with your return.

HT: Zondervan>To The Point

Pat Fagan of the Heritage Foundation summarizes the research on religious practice and social outcomes. Religious practice is a protective factor against divorce, out-of-wedlock child-bearing, domestic violence, drug abuse and suidical tendencies. Religious practice is associated with more positive interactions between parents and children and husbands and wives, as well as with better health over a lifetime. 

In light of Iran’s Holocaust Denial conference, you’d think we would hear something from some of the authors who have made a name for themselves attacking the Catholic Church for not doing enough to prevent the Holocaust. Where is John Cornwell, author of Hitler’s Pope, a scurilous attack on Pius XII for not doing enough to save Jews?
While we wait to hear from John Cornwell or James Carroll (author of Constantine’s Sword) or Susan Zuccotti (author of Under His Very Window) to speak out, let the record show that the Catholic Church is speaking out against the denial of the Holocaust.

The Holy See itself issued a statement, the day after the Iranian onference opened.

Code: ZE06121205

Date: 2006-12-12

Holy See Says the Holocaust Is a "Warning"

Statement Issued After Tehran Conference Opens

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 12, 2006 (Zenit.org).-
The Holy See considers the Holocaust of the Jews during World War II as an "immense tragedy" which must be a "warning" to consciences.

So says a press statement issued today by the Vatican press office, a day after the opening in Tehran, Iran, of a conference that questioned the Holocaust.

The forum was organized under the sponsorship of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in a televised speech last December labeled the Jewish Holocaust a "myth."

Today’s press statement ratifies the Holy See’s position, expressed on March 16, 1998, with the document of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, entitled "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah."

The Vatican press statement explains that "The past century witnessed the attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, with the consequent murder of millions of Jews, of all ages and all social categories, for the sole fact of belonging to this people."

"The ‘Shoah’ was an immense tragedy, before which it is not possible to remain indifferent," the text says.

Hence "[t]he Church has a profound respect and a great compassion for the experience lived by the Jewish people during World War II," it states. "The memory of those terrible events must be a warning leveled at consciences to eliminate conflicts, respect the legitimate rights of all peoples and exhort to peace, in truth and in justice."

"This position," concludes the communiqué, "was affirmed by Pope John Paul II at the Yad Vashem Monument to Memory in Jerusalem, on March 23, 2000, and confirmed by His Holiness Benedict XVI during the visit to the Auschwitz extermination camp on May 28, 2006."

The U.S. Cardinal Keeler spoke out against Holocaust denial:

Code: ZE06121426

Date: 2006-12-14

U.S. Cardinal Rips "Revisionist" History of Holocaust

Echoes Holy See in Wake of Iran Conference

WASHINGTON, D.C., DEC. 14, 2006 (Zenit.org).-
Cardinal William Keeler says the U.S. bishops stand in solidarity with the universal Church in condemning "revisionist history" that seeks to minimize the horror of the Holocaust.

The cardinal, who is episcopal moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations for the U.S. bishops’ conference, today issued a statement entitled "We Must Remember the Shoah."

That statement cited, in turn, a communiqué issued Tuesday by the Holy See alluding to the teaching of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI: "The Shoah was an enormous tragedy, before which one cannot remain indifferent … the memory of those terrible facts must remain a warning for consciences with the aim of eliminating conflicts, respecting the legitimate rights of all peoples and calling for peace in truth and justice."

Cardinal Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, said: "Here in the United States, we have a wide range of resources to use in fostering Holocaust education not only in Catholic schools but in private and public schools as well."

He noted that in preparing those resources, the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs cited two major reasons why studying the significance of the Holocaust should be central to the curriculum of Catholic education.

"First, the Holocaust was not a random act of mass murder but ‘a war against the Jews as the People of God, the First Witness to God’s revelation and the eternal bearers of that witness through all the centuries,’" the cardinal wrote in his statement. "Second, future generations need to be ever vigilant so that ‘the spoiled seeds of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism (will) never again be allowed to take root in the human heart.’"

Cardinal Keeler issued the statement against the background of a two-day conference this week in Iran at which speakers sought to diminish the scope of the Holocaust.

Where is the American Left on this issue?
Cross-posted at my personal blog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 20, 2006

“The wicked borrows but does not pay back,

but the righteous is generous and gives…” Psalm 37:21

That verse is a pretty good introduction to the issues facing people who declare bankruptcy but want to continue to give to the church. As noted on this blog previously, there was some controversy over the legalization and regulation of the inclusion of charitable donations and tithes when filing for bankruptcy.

In yesterday’s BreakPoint, Chuck Colson weighs in, supporting the efforts of the Obama-Hatch tithing bill to allow “everyone in bankruptcy to continue regularly giving to churches and charities, just as they had before” the 2005 bankruptcy reform legislation had passed.

Colson concludes, “Allowing people to continue giving to others as they try to repay their creditors only promotes responsibility.”

(More on the latest developments on this legislation and recent court decisions here.)

There can be little doubt that one of the greatest political and economic problems in the US is the way that our Congress “earmarks” billions of dollars for special projects that benefit lawmakers in their bid for personal security and re-election.

The system works in a very straightforward way. Congress can pass massive spending bills and all the while representatives can add “earmarks” that benefit projects and people in their district or state. It is a form, quite often, of legal payback for favors rendered to the elected official. President Bush asked Congress, in his last State of the Union address, to give him a line-item veto. Don’t expect it to happen soon. The idea makes perfect sense really, and it has been done in several states, so why am I so pessimistic about the prospects? The simple answer is plain to see—both parties have found that it pays to spend money in this less accountable way. Incumbents use it to gain favor and to stay in power. Everyone knows that over 95% of the incumbents in the US House are re-elected every two years. Why fix a system that benefits those who are being asked to fix it? Supposedly smaller-government Republicans should favor this idea but many are just as adept at this “earmark” business as the most liberal Democrats.

All the recent talk we’ve heard about reforming the system is really not very impressive when you look at what really happens in Washington. But there have always been a few leaders who have risen above this type of spending and shown themselves to be consistent in their service of the common good of all the people. Michael Reagan recently told the story of how a wealthy businessman in California came to see his late father one day when he was running his first campaign for governor in the 1960s. The man left a paper bag with $40,000 on Reagan’s desk saying, “This is for you.” Reagan took the bag and threw it at his friend and walked out of the room. Later Reagan told this man that if he wanted to make a contribution to his campaign he should send the gift to his campaign committee. And he warned his friend to never try this stunt again, telling him that if he were elected governor the man should never expect to get a single favor from Reagan.

One could wish for more people like Ronald Reagan in public leadership. I think we call this integrity. The lack of such integrity is frankly harming all of us. Everyone knows that this growing practice of budget “earmarks” is called “pork.” Frankly, calling it pork is a disgrace to pigs, who have higher standards that many of those who spend public money to secure their spot in Congress. In a very real sense I call it “legalized bribery.” I pray for the day when the public has had enough of this and pressures Congress to clean up this mess. Changing parties in the last election cycle will not likely change the culture in Washington. We need something much bigger and stronger to do that. I would suggest that what we really need is leadership with courage and vision.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I’ll post the link to this story on an eco-friendly church being built in the Philippines with only one further comment:

I am very surprised at the claim that this is the “world’s first-ever environmentally-friendly church.” Obviously it all depends how one defines “eco-friendly,” but still, I’m skeptical that this is the first church building to incorporate the features listed in the article. Surely some progressive congregation somewhere has already set the standard in this field?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In a much discussed op-ed for CNN last week, hipster church leaders Marc Brown and Jay Bakker (the latter’s profile, incidentally, immediately precedes that of yours truly in The Relevant Nation…a serendipitous product of alphabetical order) lodge a complaint against Christianity that doesn’t respect the call “love others just as they are, without an agenda.”

Speaking of Jesus, Brown and Bakker write, “The bulk of his time was spent preaching about helping the poor and those who are unable to help themselves. At the very least, Christians should be counted on to lend a helping hand to the poor and others in need.”

I’m sympathetic with their concerns that Christianity not become “co-opted by a political party” or only about “supporting laws that force others to live by their standards.” I’m less sympathetic with their emphasis on Christianity strictly as social gospel (the only mention of “hell” in the piece is as part of a rhetorical flourish at the piece’s beginning, having nothing to do with the biblical doctrine of everlasting punishment.)

In a piece for the Christian Science Monitor (HT: WorldMagBlog), Mark Totten writes that “a remarkable trend is emerging among Evangelicals today: the embrace of a social agenda that includes not only abortion and marriage, but poverty, AIDS, the environment, and human rights.” On one level, this reflects the positive engagement of evangelicals with the totality of public life, something that is important given the extent of Christ’s lordship.

Totten writes,

The most telling change is perhaps taking place in the pulpit. For most of the past century, Evangelicals have reacted against the Social Gospel movement of the progressive era, which many felt replaced the Gospel message with one of mere worldly social action. Today, however, a new generation of evangelical pastors is weaving an ethic of “neighbor love” into the fabric of sin and salvation.

(Totten cites the work of Rev. Tim Keller, whose work is discussed in more detail here and here, as a case in point.) The key here is that in an overreaction to the social gospel, some Christians eschewed any and all political or social engagement. We need to be careful, however, that in response to what may be too little engagement, we don’t return to the errors of the social gospel and make Christianity all about material or social well-being.

So, instead of the “either/or” dichotomy that Bakker and Brown set up between traditional political issues of the religious right (e.g. gay “marriage,” abortion) and the “new” concerns of political evangelicalism (e.g. the environment, poverty), it’s really a “both/and” equation. And this “both/and” extends beyond the political realm to the theological, so that we have a socially conscious and active Christianity that doesn’t abandon orthodox doctrine and concerns about salvation.

Augustine, in his monumental work De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Teaching), captures this relationship well (emphasis mine):

Now of all those who are able to enjoy God together with us, some we love as people we can help, some as people we can be helped by, some as ones both whose help we need, and whose needs we help to meet, while there are some on whom we ourselves confer no benefits, and from whom we do not expect any either. Still, we ought to want all of them to love God together with us, and all our helping them or being helped by them is to be referred to that one single end (1.29.30).

As Augustine elsewhere observes, “A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about” (Confessions, 3.2.3).

What does this mean in the context of Christian evangelism? That we not simply seek to bind up physical wounds, but minister to the whole person, body and soul. And real ministry to the soul entails that we relate the true situation of all sinners, for as Augustine also confesses, “my sin was the more incurable for my conviction that I was not a sinner” (5.10.18).

Brown and Bakker write that Christians are to “love others just as they are, without an agenda.” If taken to an extreme, this claim is a radical departure from traditional Christian faith. For not only in the words of Augustine are we to love others as they might become brothers and sisters in Christ (“No sinner, precisely as sinner, is to be loved; and every human being, precisely as human, is to be loved on God’s account”), but also in the words of Jesus we are to show our love to one another by proclaiming the gospel: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The children of the Chinese One-child policy are finding new obstacles in their paths: no one wants to hire them. Incredible, but true. It seems that many of the only children have been so pampered by their parents, that employers do not find them suitable workers. Some have called these children, "Little Emperors," because their parents dote on them so thoroughly. Evidently, this is not good preparation for working in the global economy!

Recently, China Daily reports, the Sinohydro Engineering Bureau No. 1 in the central province of Henan held a job fair for students majoring in hydro-electricity. But when Chen Fengxin expectantly handed over his resume, it was not murmurs of approval he heard but these questions: "Are you from a village? Do you have any brothers and sisters?" If he was from a city, and especially if he was an only child (as city children are more likely to be), the recruiter was not interested. Chen was stunned.

A female representative of the hydro scheme explained to a local paper: "Students from cities and only children cannot endure the hardships incurred in the process of geological exploration. Brain drain is rife," she said, adding that parents of only children hope their offspring can stay close to them and not work too far away.

Just another hidden cost of China’s aggressive population control program.

Cross posted at my blog.

…check out the helpful website by the Seymour Institute. Founded by the Rev. Gene Rivers in Boston, the Institute brings together information and tools to advocate for marriage in the black community.

I recently received a letter from a reader of my Acton Commentary column, "Marriage as a Social Justice Issue," which she had seen reprinted in modified form at Town Hall. My correspondent was concerned that I had overlooked a key fact: the lack of marriageable black men. She said, in part:

Education and the lower number of available black men are 2 major things you left out of your article. I know that marriage is important in the black community, but if every black man you meet has limited education, a criminal record and several children, what is getting married going to do, really? It is going to tie you to a man that can’t provide for you, that wouldn’t make sense. And if he didn’t treat you well, then there really is no reason to marry him.

I think the real propblem here is not that blacks don’t marry, it is that there are just not enough good black men to go around. So they screw around. Women are only human and they have needs. And if you are 30 never married with no prospects, I would imagine that over time, you get lonely, and men can take advantage of that, and they do. Very sad but true. So don’t make the single mom the bad guy here. We are not bad and plenty of us work and don’t get public assistance.

What can I say? She is correct. Put her point another way, many women may be making the best of a bad situation when they choose to have children without husbands.

My question to her, and to my readers: what can we do that would be constructive about the problem of lack of marriageable black men? Part of the problem is crime and incarceration, but that part of the problem is something neither I nor most readers are in any position to do anything about. My correspondent implied that men take advantage of the vulnerability of the woman who hopes for marriage or at least motherhood.

The reason this is important for EVERYONE and not just the black community is this: within the broader culture, the combination of feminist movement, gay rights movement and family law radicals are conspiring to make marriage a gender neutral institution. For all practical purposes, this has meant the marginalization of men from the family. In the black community, the process of marginalizing men is more or less complete. The kinds of family forms, and sexual dynamics we see there, is where the society as a whole is headed.

Cross posted at my blog.