Archived Posts April 2009 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Thursday, April 30, 2009

roose3Brown University student Kevin Roose has written a largely sympathetic and often amusing outsider’s account on the spiritual lives and struggles of conservative evangelical students at Liberty University. Roose, who took a semester off at Brown, decided to enroll at Liberty posing as an evangelical for his book, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. Possibly setting out to write an expose of sorts on Liberty’s quirky Southern Baptist fundamentalism and the students efforts there to gear up for the culture wars, he unsurprisingly finds a much more complex story to tell.

Complex because Liberty students, like most evangelical Christians struggle with temptation, relationships, and the trials that go with being an authentic believer living in a fallen world. In regards to Roose’s own preconceived notions or stereotypes, listen to his own words:

All in all, the Liberty students I’ve met are a lot more socially adjusted than I expected. They’re not rabid, frothing fundamentalists who spend their days sewing Hillary Clinton voodoo dolls and penning angry missives to the ACLU. Maybe I’m getting a skewed sample, but the ones I’ve met have been funny, articulate, and decidedly non-crazy.

In fact, Roose’s account does a good job of demolishing the left’s stereotypes of places like Liberty, a school where you can probably find some absurd stereotypes about Ivy League schools. Roose, by a twist of fate, actually ends up conducting the last print interview of Liberty’s president Jerry Falwell before his unexpected death a few days following Roose’s hour long sit down session with Falwell. This is where the author who was once a foe of Falwell because of his many public statements, decides Falwell is more “complex” and points out a good deal of his compassion in the pages of his book. While he still disagrees with Fallwell’s brand of ministry and politics, Roose can’t but help admire his authenticity:

Realizing that Dr. Falwell isn’t a fraud – as troubling a notion as that is – has helped me solve one of the great mysteries of this semester. For months now, I’ve been puzzled by the thousands of good, kind-hearted believers at Liberty who follow a man who seems, to my mind, to be almost unredeemable. They like him, I’m learning, because he’s a straight shooter. In a half century of preaching, Dr. Falwell has said some outrageous things, and he’s angered Christians and non-Christians alike, but he’s never revealed himself as a hypocrite. He’s never been caught in sexual sin, and he’s been transparent in his financial dealings as you could reasonably expect. And in the world of televangelism, a world filled to the brim with hucksters and charlatans and Elmer Gantry – type swindlers, a little sincerity goes a long way.

The book is a great account if one is looking for funny tales and anecdotes about evangelism, the Liberty dating scene, the teaching of young earth creationism, and Christian fundamentalism in general. There are also spiritual lessons to be learned. I believe each reader will pull different lessons and truths from this account.

I’ve noticed the Emergent Church movement has embraced Roose’s book and Roose himself calls the Emergent Church, “A growing brand of evangelicalism that de-emphasizes political issues like abortion and gay marriage and seeks to return to a more spiritual form of Christianity.” This of course is a wildly sympathetic view of the Emergent Church, because some evangelicals who question the practice of de-emphasizing substitutionary atonement, hell, and doctrines like justification by faith would definitely disagree with the idea that the Emergent Church is a “return to a more spiritual form of Christianity.”

At any rate I can relate to some of what Roose experiences from my own seminary experience. Although I came in as a believer and graduated as a believer I bristled at some of the legalism associated with a Wesleyan Holiness school and worked to tame my tongue around others. Sometimes I felt like I was trapped in the endless mandatory spiritual formation in the small groups that accompanied many courses. There were many a days I felt like an outsider. But when I had problems with a decision made by the administration or from all the busy work that at times seemed unbecoming of a graduate student, I was buoyed, like Roose, from knowing and being in fellowship with some great Christians in my seminary community.

While I’m a conservative evangelical, like many evangelicals I’ve been both amused and frustrated with an element of fundamentalism. Sometimes its rigidity can appear like an eternal plague of locusts, causing me to flee wherever it lands. But if this book reinforced anything for me, it’s a very basic truth, and that is as an evangelical I love God’s people and I grieve for lost souls. I found myself wanting to minister to the troubled souls described in Roose’s book, and of course Roose himself. According to this AP article he even thinks about joining a church.

Since leaving seminary, like so many others, I’ve struggled with areas of ministry, but one thing I think I’ve always been blessed with is an ability to preach and exhort God’s Word. I can remember sitting in preaching class and my professor said, “You have to preach John 3:16 every sermon. You might have to use different passages and find different ways to say it, but the central message should be a John 3:16 one.” I agree and when I look out on a deeply troubled and complex world, it’s important to see people as the image bearers of God, and that they were created for fellowship with the Triune God, and there is no love like God’s love. And ultimately the toils and trials of this world have already been decided by the victory of Christ over sin and death. And that is indeed news worth sharing.

In “The Real Culture War Is Over Capitalism,” Arthur C. Brooks argues in the Wall Street Journal that the “major cultural schism” in America today divides those who support capitalism and, on the other side, those who favor socialism. He makes a strong case for the moral foundations of free enterprise and entrepreneurship and points to the recent “tea parties” as evidence that Americans still favor the market economy. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, says Americans are revolting against “absurdities” like the bailout of General Motors that will be financed with ballooning budget deficits and trillions in new federal debt. He writes:

… the tea parties are not based on the cold wonkery of budget data. They are based on an “ethical populism.” The protesters are homeowners who didn’t walk away from their mortgages, small business owners who don’t want corporate welfare and bankers who kept their heads during the frenzy and don’t need bailouts. They were the people who were doing the important things right — and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong.

Voices in the media, academia, and the government will dismiss this ethical populism as a fringe movement — maybe even dangerous extremism. In truth, free markets, limited government, and entrepreneurship are still a majoritarian taste. In March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked people if we are better off “in a free market economy even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time.” Fully 70% agreed, versus 20% who disagreed.

He also points out that the government has been increasingly “exempting” Americans from paying taxes, an intentional strategy to create a larger class of government-dependent citizens.

My colleague Adam Lerrick showed in [the Wall Street Journal] last year that the percentage of American adults who have no federal income-tax liability will rise to 49% from 40% under Mr. Obama’s tax plan. Another 11% will pay less than 5% of their income in federal income taxes and less than $1,000 in total.

To put a modern twist on the old axiom, a man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart; a man who is still a socialist at 40 either has no head, or pays no taxes. Social Democrats are working to create a society where the majority are net recipients of the “sharing economy.” They are fighting a culture war of attrition with economic tools. Defenders of capitalism risk getting caught flat-footed with increasingly antiquated arguments that free enterprise is a Main Street pocketbook issue. Progressives are working relentlessly to see that it is not.

Read the “The Culture of Charity,” the Spring 2007 interview with Brooks in Acton’s Religion & Liberty. Watch a 16-minute video interview with Brooks recorded at the Acton Grand Rapids office in May 2008

Blog author: brittany.hunter
posted by on Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What’s behind the extremely high unemployment rates in black communities? Anthony Bradley traces the root of the problem to declining educational achievement. “Sadly, because of America’s exploding government program menu, the virtue of ‘getting an education’ has all but been eliminated in low-income black neighborhoods,” he writes.

Read the commentary at the Acton Institute website and share your thoughts below.

“America has been cashing checks on the promise of future Social Security checks, and on the promise of an endlessly robust housing market,” writes Jonathan Witt in his commentary this week. “But somewhere along the way, too many of us stopped funding the checking account with its principal asset: young adults who work hard, pay into the Social Security system, and buy homes for the families they themselves intend to raise.”

Read the commentary at the Acton Institute website and participate in the discussion below.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, April 28, 2009

No, conservative and Christian are not synonymous, but in the context of the cultural impact of Hollywood, there’s a lot of overlap. For Christians interested in engaging this field by pursuing both technical and moral excellence, there is an outstanding organization called Act One.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Writer Andrew Klavan, picking up on a theme he addressed at Heritage Resource Bank, posted an essay titled “Toward A New American Culture” on his Pajamas Media blog, Klavan on the Culture. Excerpt:

We need to build a New American Culture, and turn our backs on the culture of the state. We need to stop according respect or credence to reviews and awards that are used as social engineering tools to force the culture into anti-American state worship. We need to build an infra-structure of funding, review attention and awards to give praise, purpose and prestige to those artists who stand outside the MSM’s climate of opinion.

It would be wrong to say too much about what such a New American Culture would look like. Individualism is the very essence of both conservatism and art. But I think we can say that such a culture would reflect and uplift the values and perspectives that made the west and America the greatest and freest places on the globe; it would put forward an image of man as our founders knew him to be, flawed and sinful yet capable of striving toward dignity and salvation through self-reliance and sacrifice. It need not be—it should not be, in my view—squeaky clean or restrained by some new Hays Office production code of what the audience should be allowed to see. Sensationalism, sex and violence have been part of the arts since art began. Artists are entertainers, after all, not policy wonks.

In truth, there is only one essential principle our new culture needs to remember and embody and it’s this: liberty is better than slavery. This principle alone implies a moral order and a human purpose. It makes a small state better than a big one. It makes America better than, say, Saudi Arabia. It makes a religion based on “love thy neighbor,” better than one based on submission. This principle alone will guide us away from mealy-mouthed self-abasement to balanced self-criticism and praise amidst our search for the dignity, strength and morality befitting free men and women.

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Tuesday, April 28, 2009

We welcome guest blogger Bruce Edward Walker, Communications Manager for the Property Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. This week’s PBR question is: “How should conservatives engage Hollywood?”

It is true that liberal depictions of dissolute and immoral behavior are rampant in modern cinema and justified as the desired end of hedonistic tendencies, but conservative critics too often come across as cultural scolds, vilifying films and filmmakers for not portraying reality as conservatives would like to see it. For many conservative critics, the only worthwhile contemporary movies made are adaptations of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series or those that feature Kirk Cameron in a starring role. The verisimilitude inherent in all compelling storytelling is neglected in favor of presenting idealized worlds in which a clearly defined good always overcomes easily identified evil.

Such an approach is simplistic and insults those of us that can recognize the presence of moral themes in the works of Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor and Tom Wolfe, and don’t automatically blanch at cursing, violence, sex and nudity when it serves a real dramatic purpose. Humanity, of course, is fallen and it’s foolish to expect conservative audiences to respond only to films that depict all marriages as salvageable, all protagonists as heroic metaphors for Christ and all heroines as virgins until the wedding night. Reality teaches us that these scenarios are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Felix culpa – the fortunate fall from whence one can experience God’s grace – is the phrase St. Thomas Aquinas used to explain how God allows evil to exist in order to allow for the greater good of His redemption. For all the decadence he depicted, for example, French poet Charles Baudelaire was perceived by none other than T.S. Eliot as still entering the Church albeit through the back door. (more…)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Monday, April 27, 2009

One of the more interesting discussions at last week’s Heritage Foundation Resource Bank meeting in Los Angeles was the “Hollywood Conversations” session with screenwriter and novelist Andrew Klavan and Lionel Chetwynd, a writer, producer and director. Both men pleaded with the gathering of conservatives — social, political, economic — to stop beating up on Hollywood ad nauseam and to do more to support good work by conservatives.

Here’s the gist of the argument from a recent Klavan interview on Big Hollywood:

We have to just take it as given that the mainstream venues are against us, the awards won’t go to us, the reviewers will attack us — sometimes without even admitting why. We have to speak up for ourselves, we have to review each other, honestly and fairly, we have to buy the books that stand up for what’s right-assuming they’re good, assuming they do what they’re supposed to do, entertain, tell good stories. We have to understand that the media is our enemy — the enemy of the American idea, our founders’ ideas — and we have to make our own arts, and celebrate our arts and reward our arts. And then we’ll see who wins in the marketplace.

Both Klavan and Chetwynd said that there are far more conservatives in Hollywood than most people imagine. Yet the conservative think tank, cultural and political culture does little to recognize and encourage them. Compared to the cultural left, conservatives in entertainment have few award ceremonies, prizes, and regular reviewers who support good projects. As an example, they cited the recent HBO film “Taking Chance” as one work that deserved far more attention on the right than it got. The story, about a military escort officer accompanying home the body of a Marine corporal killed in Iraq, drew 2 million viewers and became the most-watched original movie to debut on the network in five years.

A scene from HBO's 'Taking Chance'

A scene from HBO's 'Taking Chance'

Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Big Hollywood, told the Resource Bank blogger session that Hollywood conservatives practice a “big tent” inclusiveness with none of the internecine feuds so common in Washington. He predicted that more conservatives would “come out of the closet” in Hollywood (he has 200 bloggers on his site) but that they could use a lot more support from the wider conservative movement.

This week’s PBR question is: “How should conservatives engage Hollywood?”

Share your answers in the comments section and look for answers from PowerBlog contributors throughout the week.

Saturday is World Malaria Day, which each year draws attention to the scourge that malaria is to millions of people throughout the developing world. An estimated 1-3 million people die of malaria each year, and many of these are children. But even when people don’t die, malaria is debilitating. Malaria reduces the red blood cell count to low levels, which in addition to all of the other symptoms, drains energy and saps creativity. In response to this, the thing large multinational aid organizations have focused on are bed nets. Now bed nets can be helpful, but they are a short-term fix. Fortunately, after years of false ideology preventing the use of DDT, the world is starting to come back to its senses. Acton has been promoting this for several years.

Today, NRO’s The Corner quoted malaria expert Richard Tren, who argues that a bed net is a potentially useful but overemphasized tool in the war against malaria, with DDT and, surprisingly to some, economic freedom having greater promise for pushing back the scourge of malaria over the long run.

And if bed nets or any other foreign interventions are to do significant and lasting good, charitable enterprises will need to rediscover the importance of subsidiarity, of humans on the ground in relationship with other human beings, as opposed to government-to-government aid transfers that often do more harm than good.

One person who speaks forcefully to this issue is Rwandan Anglican Bishop John Rucyahana, a leading force in the reconciliation in Rwanda and a key partner in Bridge2Rwanda and the P.E.A.C.E Plan. In an interview we conducted with Bishop John near his orphanage in Rwanda last fall, he commented on why U.N. bed net programs often fail, and why the P.E.A.C.E. plan is succeeding:

We have a percentage of people, thank God, the number is getting less, but we have a great percentage of people who don’t read and write. And you give them a mosquito net; you scare them to death. You need to tell them that the mosquito net would prevent mosquitoes from biting them, and they need to trust you’re not telling them a lie. You’re not trapping them with that mosquito net. They’ve been deceived for too long. They need to have people who trust them, and they trust. And the people who love them; and the people they love. So Rick Warren has it deadly right to say that the church is needed to be employed into the economy, into the health and the social recovery of nations.

Churches have the life-giving hope of the Gospel, Bishop John explains, and they are embedded locally.

The church is out there with the people. You know I’m hugging and I’m shaking hands with every one of these children because I’m with them all the time. They know who I am, and they know I am there for them. During the aftermath of the genocide, many people ran away from here, and I stayed with them. All of these individuals giving the aid ran away from here. And I stayed. Churches are here. And we know how to approach them.

Blog author: clarson
posted by on Thursday, April 23, 2009

It is our pleasure to welcome guest ramblings on the PowerBlog, and we are happy to feature this contribution from Catherine Claire Larson, author of As We Forgive, the subject of this week’s PBR question.

I wasn’t able to include it all in my book, but I’ve been greatly impressed by the groups which are wedding reconciliation work with micro-enterprise. World Relief has an essential oil business that is enabling Hutu and Tutsi to work in reconciled community, Indego has their basket weaving enterprise that is doing the same, and Prison Fellowship Rwanda has been involved with a cattle operation, while Land of a Thousand Hills works with coffee plantations. It strikes me that by creating economic opportunities where interdependence is vital, they are really creating ideal environments for reconciliation and restoration. I wasn’t ever able to track it down, but one of my friends shared that her college professor did his dissertation in Reconstruction era history of America. He concluded that in areas where interdependence was more vital to survival that racial reconciliation happened at a more rapid pace. Intuitively, that seems to make sense. I’d love to see the research though.

Additionally, for a very good read on how social conditions contribute to reconciliation, take a look at the book Amish Grace. It documents the Nickel Mine school shooting, along with several other acts of violence that have happened in the Amish community. What’s interesting is how that society’s normal emphasis on forgiveness creates conditions where radical grace seems to happen almost naturally. It’s an interesting case study, although obviously far removed from most social situations. But I still think there are take away lessons.