Archived Posts August 2007 » Page 8 of 8 | Acton PowerBlog

Today brings disturbing news of new consensus that seems to be developing:

Modern women want men who are keen on recycling rather than good at making wisecracks, a survey said.

The poll for men’s magazine Nuts said going green is now the main way to a woman’s heart, with a “good sense of humour” coming in second.

Oh great – a clean, tidy, and humorless future. Thanks, ladies. Thanks a lot.

Readings in Social Ethics: Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi (selections), in Melanchthon and Bucer, Book II, Chapter XIV, “The Sixth Law: Poor Relief,” pp. 306-15. References below are to page number.

  • Giving aid to the needy in the church is a manifestation of an attribute of the church, for “without it there can be no true communion of saints” (307).

  • What the church and its representatives are and are not responsible for: “First, they [deacons] should investigate how many really indigent persons live in each church and for whom it is equitable for the church to provide the necessities of life. For the churches of Christ must exclude from their communion those who, when they can sustain themselves by their own powers, neglect this and live inordinately, accepting borrowed food (II Thess. 3:6); it is certainly not the duty of the church to foster such people in their godless idleness” (307).
  • The responsibility of subsidiarity: “Thus if any needy persons belong to anyone’s circle, either by blood or marriage or by any other special relationship or particular custom, it is certainly their duty, if they have the means of the Lord, to provide for their own the necessities of life and spare the churches in order that they may have more to nourish and assist those who have no home or family who would want to or could help them” (307).
  • The wealthy nobility has a responsibility to the society. Citing past examples of such praiseworthy behavior: “Pious princes and men of wealth established homes and hospitals, some to nourish and care for the needy who were in good health, some for infants, others for orphans, still others for the aged infirm, others for those laboring under various forms of sickness, and some for pilgrims and displaced persons” (310).
  • The drive to bypass the church and provide alms personally and individually is a result of sin: “Finally, since from our nature, depraved and always rebellious against God, we continually compromise the instructions and precepts of God, and according to our desires and misdirected judgments, are always eager to follow paths and ways other than what God has prescribed, however holy the care of the poor is, there will be some who will refuse to put their alms for the poor into a common fund, and say that they prefer to provide for the poor by their personal generosity if it seems good to them to do so. Their arrogance will have to be countered both by Your Majesty’s law and through the discipline of the Church; by a law which imposes a double offering to the Lord’s fund, if anyone is caught giving anything privately to the needy; by the discipline of the Church, so / that if anyone puts nothing into the Lord’s fund, he should be admonished of his duty from the Word of God by the ministers of the churches, and if he should resolutely despise this admonition, he should be held a heathen and a publican” (311-12).
  • By this Bucer means that the Church must be the primary instrument of charity and must be the recipient of all due offerings. But this does not mean that charity cannot be done individually above and beyond the giving to the Church. It simply means that offerings to the Church may not be neglected in favor of individual giving: “No man’s hand is closed by this law, to interfere with his opening it to whatever poor persons he can and will provide for” (312).
  • The mere necessities of life are not enough. The Church must give so that those in poverty can be educated, married, and flourish as productive and respected contributors to society: “Nor is it sufficient for the kindness of Christians to give food, shelter, and clothing to those in extreme need…. For it hardly suffices for the churches of Christ that their people should merely be alive but it must also be provided for them that they live to the Lord for a certain and mutual usefulness among each other and within the State and Church” (315).

Next week: Richard Baxter, How to Do Good to Many (London, 1682; repr. 1830).

The boy crisis is not a myth. David Von Drehle’s article, “The Myth About Boys,” in this week’s Time Magazine argues that the boy crisis of the 1990s has leveled off and is now improving. Not exactly. This assessment, however, is completely dependent on one’s moral framework. Boys are still in crisis, regardless of what feminists and other women, like some published in the Washington Post, are saying. It’s a crisis of morality. The ongoing crisis will have dire consequences because the market produces whatever men want, good or bad. Immoral men, immoral market. It’s that simple. The real issue is “what kind of men are we forming,” not “what bad things aren’t men doing.” Tragically, 90 percent of boys raised in the church will abandon it by the time they turn 20-years-old, so there is much work to be done.

“Statistics collected over two decades,” says Von Drehle, “show an alarming decline in the performance of America’s boys–in some respects, a virtual free fall. Boys were doing poorly in school, abusing drugs, committing violent crimes and engaging in promiscuous sex.”

Von Drehle offers the following as good news against previous reports:

The juvenile crime rate in 2005 (the most recent year cited in the report) was down by two-thirds from its peak in 1993. The number of high school senior boys using illegal drugs has fallen by almost half compared with the number in 1980. Fewer than half of all high school boys and girls in 2005 were sexually active. For the boys, that’s a decrease of 10 percentage points from the early 1990s.

Boys who are having sex report that they are more responsible about it: 7 in 10 are using condoms, compared with about half in 1993. Women now outnumber men in college by a ratio of 4 to 3, and admissions officers at liberal-arts colleges are struggling to find enough males to keep their classes close to gender parities. Today, 1 in 5 boys is obese. The percentage of young men between 16 and 19 who neither work nor attend school has fallen by about a quarter since 1984.

How does this debunk the crisis? If your moral compass is the lowest common denominator and the basis of comparison is “not-as-bad-as-the-past” (or “animals”) the Von Drehle story might be convincing. However, boys are still falling behind in school, having sex outside of marriage, obese, abusing drugs, committing suicide, overcrowding the criminal justice system, fatherless, and receiving little to no moral formation during critical decision-making years.

To make matters worse, Christianity has become a religion primarily for women, as reported by David Murrow author of Why Men Hate Going To Church and who also started “Church for Men” to address the crisis:

• As many as 90 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it by their 20th birthday. Many of these boys will never return.
• The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male.
• On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches.
• This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands.
• Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.
• The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male).

All these stats about the boy crisis and Christianity are far worse in the black community as a focus developing strong black men has been abandoned to produce “women of power.” You’ll be hard pressed to find a black church in America full of black men. Black America is experiencing the fruit of intense focus on black girls in the 70s, 80s, and 90s: black women are in college and many black men are in jail and/or fathering children outside of marriage.

If our nation continues to fail to form boys into men who live in absolute pursuit of the good and fight against evil–that is, men of dignity, honor, valor, courage, conviction, passion, and men with the highest morals–the future of our nation is questionable. Here are two huge consequences:

(1) Men with low morals create an immoral marketplace and culture: strip clubs, college athletes hiring strippers for their drunken parties, porn, misogynistic hip hop, politicians hiring “madams,” corrupt business practice, athletes who run dog fighting outfits out of their homes, athletes willing to cheat with “performance enhancers”, drug abuse, contexts for drunkenness, sexualized and crassly violent video games, and so on, exists because men create the demand and want to consume low-hanging, immoral fruit.

(2) Cycles of fatherlessness, divorce, and broken families will never cease if men are not formed and shaped by those institutions that have traditionally and successfully created some of the most amazing husbands, fathers, attackers of evil, and champions of justice in world history. Boys raised without strong fathers are generally clueless about what it means to be a man and wreak havoc on society trying to figure out often leaving behind a trail of destruction, pain, and perpetual brokenness. Masculinity is bestowed from one man to another in a larger community of men. Without strong communities of morally grounded men, boys will not be formed for the good.

Boys are still in crisis. They are not as bad as past jacked-up men, or as bad as animals, but surely we all have higher moral standards than that to hold men to, don’t we?

Here’s the text of a letter sent this morning to the editor at Woman’s Day magazine (don’t ask why I was reading Woman’s Day. I read whatever happens to be sitting in the rack next to our commode):

Paula Spencer’s commentary on the Pledge of Allegiance (“Pledging Allegiance,” September 1, 2007) sounds incredibly McCarthy-esque. Are we to now believe that having qualms about mandatory recitation of the Pledge constitutes an un-American activity?

Spencer dismisses the many reasons that one might object to the Pledge in the context of public schools. These schools are, after all, institutional arms of the government itself, and attendance is mandatory (unless one can afford private or parochial options). A cynic might suggest that when combined with an obligatory recitation of allegiance to the nation, such education runs the risk of becoming indoctrination for the purposes of social control. As to whether nationalism can be such “a bad thing,” consider Germany in the 1930s.

There are also religious reasons why a person might feel compelled to abstain from pledging to a physical object (the flag). For Christians, whose citizenship is finally in heaven and whose ultimate loyalty is due to God alone, concerns about idolatry might compel a person to conscientiously refrain from making such a pledge. Indeed, those two little words “under God” which have occasioned such controversy in recent days are perhaps the only elements of the Pledge that make it even permissible for Christians to profess allegiance to any particular nation.

Patriotism too often can morph into xenophobia and nationalism. Whatever your views of the Pledge, I would think that the educational potential contained in having a “conversation with your child about your family’s approach to the Pledge” would be the sort of engaged parenting that your publication ought to praise and endorse rather than disdain.

The free exercise of religion, not to mention the freedom of speech and independent thought, are thoroughly American. A coerced, perfunctory, and unreflective patriotism is no true patriotism at all.

Jordan J. Ballor
Associate Editor
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty

As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “The nation will always claim a portion of man’s loyalties. Since it usually claims too large a portion, it is necessary that other communities compete with it.”

By my way of thinking, for Christians the Church ought to be that community of primary loyalty (for Niebuhr, it’s the class: “There is no reason why a class which is fated by its condition of life to aspire after an equalitarian society should not have a high moral claim upon the loyalty of its members”).

It seems to me that American churches have a particularly hard time separating out what elements of their worship and piety are merely the trappings of civil religion and which are the indispensable elements of catholicity.

At the recreation center where my wife plays softball, and which is explicitly supported by the denomination, players, coaches, and umpires only pause to pray after the national anthem has been played. In itself its a small thing, perhaps even unimportant, but when combined with all the other similar elements (American flags near the pulpit, for example), it raises in my mind the perennial questions about ultimate loyalties and the proclivity for Christian denominations, particularly Protestants, to align themselves along national boundaries.

See also: “Which of These is More Offensive?”