Last week, the Acton Institute held a conference in Rome examining the rise of Asian Economies. One of the keynote speakers was Thomas Hong-Soon Han, the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Holy See. Vatican Radio spoke with him about the topic of the conference; you can listen to the interview using the audio player below:
To conclude the Acton Institute’s May 18 Rome conference, Family-Enterprise, Market Economies, and Poverty: The Asian Transformation, panelist Fr. Bernardo Cervellera reminded the audience of a fundamental principle to sustain the long term growth of any free economy: spiritually meaningful work.
Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, the outspoken missionary of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME) and editorial director of AsiaNews (a leading Catholic news agency) recounted some controversial stories from his nearly twenty years experience in China as a professor of Western civilization and foreign journalist.
Fr Cervellera, author of Mission China: The Empire between Market and Repression, expressed his concern for the “conversion of China” before it can truly become successful economically in the long term (coincidentally on the same day the pope asked us to do the same for China during his Wednesday public audience. See also the video of the audience.).
During the afternoon session of the Acton’s international conference series dedicated to Poverty, Entrepreneurship and Integral Development, Fr. Cervellera followed the inspiring testimony and practical proposals of successful Christian entrepreneurs in Asia, including financial moguls Charles Gave and Michael Hintze and social venture capitalist Kim Tan, of Malaysian origin, who has financed successful businesses throughout the developing world.
The PIME missionary spoke frankly about moral-anthropological underpinnings to sustain hard working, enterprising economies while referring to a tragic case in the booming industrial province of Guangdong where the free market experiment is underway.
Fr. Cervellera told the shocking story of “a wave of recent worker suicides at Foxconn”, a leading manufacturer of electronic components for Apple’s iPhone, Nokia, Siemens, and Sony.
Within the last year, Cervellera said there has been about “about twelve or thirteen suicides at the company where, every now and then, another worker would jump from a window of the adjacent workers’ dormitory.”
He noted that the Foxconn employees enjoyed a nice housing perk in addition to decent wages of about 1800 yuan a month, much more than average pay in the Chinese manufacturing sector.
But they worked like cogs in a machine with strictly calculated bathroom breaks and were forbidden to talk to one another at work stations.
Cervellera explained that the string of Foxconn worker suicides could not be remedied by “professional counseling, 70 percent salary increases, …or even a no-suicide clause written into Foxconn employees’ contracts”.
“The suicides continued and only came to a halt only when the company added safety nets to under the apartment building’s windows.”
Cervellera said the Foxconn suicides was a clear indication of a widespread spiritual vacuum in Chinese business culture, as most companies do not inspire or foster meaning in their workers’ daily lives.
He forewarned the audience that China must seek a symbiosis between economic and spiritual growth, where a “ a boom in faith and economic production occur together.”
Fr. Bernardo Cervellera said that all human success, especially economic success, must flourish under protected religious freedom – “the freedom to seek and apply spiritual value in our daily work and enterprise.” Without this, such freedom to succeed at the workplace ends up being meaningless, hollow, without real human significance:
“What does this all mean?… Many Chinese businesses have imbalanced focus in production and profit, without giving deep value to work itself and to the person who labors in a unique, talented capacity”, Cervellera said.
At the end of the conference, Acton introduced the extended trailer to its new documentary – Poverty Cure – where some of the moral anthropological obstacles to an enterprise culture in developing regions are brought to vivid light.
I have noted, in various blogs and comments, the value and importance of the Acton Institute for several years. I have been a blogger for Acton, attended a number of their events as a guest, and assisted them in several ways in public ventures. In general I have been an open supporter of Acton’s vision of freedom and virtue in public theology. Acton provides a unique partnership for ACT 3 since it is a think tank that includes wide religious participation (Catholic/Protestant/Orthodox/Jewish) while it embraces what I call missional-ecumenism as one of its core values. The specific mission of Acton Institute is “to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.”
Now I have personally been given an opportunity to work with Acton. On April 1 I became a Senior Advisor, with particular emphasis on reaching the Protestant evangelical community. I work very closely with Dr. Stephen Grabill, an accomplished scholar and wonderful brother in Christ. A Christian foundation recently gave Acton a generous gift to expand its work among evangelicals. This project makes it possible for me to serve even more effectively with Acton. I will be an active participant in conversations, planning and development with certain members of the Acton staff in order to shape content, tools, programming and messaging for the evangelical community. I will also recruit evangelical leadership from seminaries, universities, denominations and local churches who will become Acton participants. In this role I will find and network leaders, especially younger leaders, for participation in special Acton events and one-day seminars. I will also use email and other social means to converse with these leaders and future leaders.
One of the truly important components of this new Acton evangelical initiative is the translation of the remaining (un-translated) written work of the famous Dutch minster, theologian and public servant, Abraham Kuyper. His work on common grace, so important for Protestant thought, will soon be available in English because of this Acton initiative. Another good friend, Dr. Nelson Kloosterman, is doing the translation. This will prove to be a huge resource for recovering a robust and orthodox Protestant social theology.
In April I represented Acton at the Mission America Coalition in the affinity track on marketplace theology and mission. God willing, I will do more of the same in similar contexts. The really neat thing about this special partnership is that I am already ministering in these contexts thus adding Acton to my missional network is both logical and uncomplicated. I will still do the same ACT 3 work that I’ve been doing for nearly twenty years but now I will do it as a defined partner with Acton Institute. I will cultivate relationships, develop institutional networks and strategically expand the missional-ecumenical vision by equipping leaders for unity in Christ’s church, a unity that has at its core both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
I hope you will become more familiar with Acton Institute in the coming months. I will be saying more about my partners and more about my work with them as ACT 3 and Acton forge a new relationship for better serving the whole Christian church.
I will be a teacher at the Acton University June 14-17. I teach a class titled: “Introduction to Protestant Social Thought.” I call this public theology and I believe one of the greatest needs of our time is a deep, thoughtful and contextually rigorous social (public) theology. My generation was raised on a thoughtless, partisan political theology without a solid foundation and the next generation has rightly reacted against this ideological mix. I will attempt to show, on June 16, a better way to understand Protestant contributions to this debate. Check out the Acton site for information on the Acton University. I hope some of you will attend in June. (If you qualify then check out the scholarships available, but first be sure to make formal application.) I would love to see some of you in Grand Rapids. This is a wonderful event and the people you will meet are wonderfully diverse and come from all over the world.
The Acton Institute and Kuyper College are partnering to produce a first-ever English translation of Abraham Kuyper’s seminal work Common Grace (De gemeene gratie). The three-volume project will be published through Acton’s recently acquired imprint, Christian’s Library Press, and the first volume is slated to appear in the fall of 2012.
More details are appear below and at the Kuyper translation project page. You can sign up at the page to be kept up-to-date as the project progresses. There you can also download and share a brochure about the project (PDF), the table of contents for the three volumes (PDF), as well as a translation of Kuyper’s introduction to the first volume (PDF). These brochures were distributed to attendees of last week’s conference hosted by the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, “Calvinism and Culture.”
There is a trend among evangelicals to engage in social reform without first developing a coherent social philosophy to guide the agenda. To bridge this gap, Acton Institute and Kuyper College are partnering together to translate Abraham Kuyper’s seminal three-volume work on common grace (De gemeene gratie). Common Grace was chosen because it holds great potential to build intellectual capacity within evangelicalism and because a sound grasp of this doctrine is what is missing in evangelical cultural engagement. Common Grace is the capstone of Kuyper’s constructive public theology and the best available platform to draw evangelics back to first principles and to orient their social thought.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (April 19, 2011)—The Acton Institute and Kuyper College are collaborating to bring for the first time to English-language audiences a foundational text from the pen of the Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper’s three-volume work, Common Grace (De gemeene gratie) appeared from 1901-05, during his tenure as prime minister in the Netherlands.
These works are based on a series of newspaper editorials intended to equip common citizens and laypersons with the tools they needed to effectively enter public life. The doctrine of common grace is, as Kuyper puts it, “the root conviction for all Reformed people.”
“If the believer’s God is at work in this world,” says Kuyper, “then in this world the believer’s hand must take hold of the plow, and the name of the Lord must be glorified in that activity as well.”
Dr. Stephen Grabill, director of programs at the Acton Institute, serves as general editor of the project. He points to the contemporary need to understand Kuyper’s comprehensive and cohesive vision for Christian social engagement. “There are a host of current attempts to try to describe how evangelicals should be at work in the world,” Grabill said. “Kuyper’s articulation of the project of common grace shows how these efforts must be grounded in and flow naturally from sound doctrine.”
Placing social engagement, particularly within the context of business activity, in the broader context of sound theology is a large part of what led Kuyper College to partner in this translation project. “Abraham Kuyper’s project in Common Grace helps provide a reliable and engaging theological basis for our new business leadership program,” said Kuyper College president Nicholas Kroeze.
John Bolt, professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary and author of A Free Church, a Holy Nation: Abraham Kuyper’s American Public Theology, will serve as a theological advisor to the project. He describes the basic intention of Kuyper’s work as intended “to challenge the pious, orthodox, Reformed people of the Netherlands to take seriously their calling in Dutch culture and society. His basic argument was: God is not absent from the non-church areas of our common life but bestows his gifts and favor indiscriminately to all people.”
The translation and publication project will cover a two year period, and the three volumes total over 1,700 pages in the original. Dr. Nelson Kloosterman of Worldview Resources International and translator of numerous Dutch works will oversee the translation of the texts. The completed translation will be published by Christian’s Library Press, the recently acquired imprint of the Acton Institute. Volume one of Common Grace is scheduled to appear in the fall of 2012.
For more information please visit:
This afternoon, Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joined host Paul Edwards on The Paul Edwards Program (broadcasting live from the Acton Institute here in Grand Rapids today, by the way) to discuss some of the hot issues in the world of politics and economics, including the efforts of governors in Wisconsin and Michigan to address the fiscal issues faced by their states, and also giving a response to Jim Wallis’ question of what would Jesus cut? Listen via the audio player below:
Time for another roundup of recent appearances by Acton folks on radio outlets; today we focus on Acton’s Director of Research, Dr. Samuel Gregg.
On March 16, Dr. Gregg joined host Al Kresta on Kresta in the Afternoon to discuss Pope Benedict XVI’s ongoing efforts to highlight and reconnect Europe with its Christian heritage. The interview is 14 minutes long and available via the audio player below:
Yesterday, guest host Sheila Liaugminas welcomed Sam to The Drew Mariani Show on Relevant Radio in order to participate in the continuing discussion on the role of unions in society, especially in the aftermath of the Wisconsin protests over legislation to restrict public sector union collective bargaining rights. You can listen to Dr. Gregg engage both host and callers below:
At long last, here’s the audio from our latest community event. On March 10 at Derby Station in East Grand Rapids, Acton hosted an open mic discussion on “A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal for the American Debt Crisis” featuring Gideon Strauss of The Center for Public Justice – one of the drafters of the statement – and Acton’s own Jordan Ballor.
A mea culpa – in my effort to make sure that the equipment used to record the event was set up correctly and working properly, I managed to neglect to start the recorders on time, and thus the recording begins with the event in progress. The good news is that I realized my error in time to catch the meat of Gideon’s opening argument; the bad news is that I missed his rather witty opening comments, and for that, I apologize to Gideon and to our listeners.
Regardless, the audio of the exchange is available to you below; have a listen and let us know what you think in the comments.
It’s been awhile since I’ve done a summary post of this kind, but there’s been a fair number of things of interest over the last week or so that are worthy of a quick highlight. So here’s an edition of the aptly named “Five Things” (HT):
- Carl Trueman reflects on his visit to the Acton Institute. Concerned about how his Republocrat credentials might come across, Trueman says, “Despite my fears that I might be heavily outgunned at Acton, the seminar actually turned out to be great fun. I had, after all, never before lectured in the back room of a pub, with a pint of Pale Ale in one hand and a notebook in the other. And I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity of arguing that Mrs Thatcher, and not the trendy Left, was the real radical of the eighties and had actually done much to shatter the class ossification that had gripped Britain for generations.” You can listen to Trueman’s Acton on Tap visit here.
- John H. Armstrong discusses his relationship with the Acton Institute. Fresh off a visit to Rome, where among other things he spoke at an event for Istituto Acton, our Rome office, John Armstrong writes of his first impressions of the institute: “I felt like I had wandered in from the cold. As I listened to Catholic and Protestant scholars explain the freedom of markets and governments, all rooted in virtue, I felt as if I was drinking from a fountain that I had been searching for over the course of my whole life. I was frankly tired of political partisanship as a way to change culture. I wanted to connect with people who saw a better way to make a real difference in society without overtly linking their vision and efforts to raw party politics. I also wanted a different paradigm for understanding principles of economic freedom that was not rooted in the modern ideas of socialism, captialism, etc.”
- Napp Nazworth chides me for putting principle above prudence. After starting a blog to stop feeling “the need to be somewhat secretive with what I say about my religious and political views, particularly, in my easily found online writings,” Napp Nazworth opens with a series of posts on “A Call for Intergenerational Justice,” in which he writes, “The time for action on our federal budget crisis is now, and Congress can only accomplish this task by working in a bipartisan manner. Solutions to the crisis will be painful to many voters. Neither political party, therefore, will tackle the problem by itself because to do so would be disastrous for that party at the next election.”
- Greg Forster has some questions about “A Call for Intergenerational Justice.” In his inaugural post at the First Things blog “First Thoughts,” Greg Forster wonders about “A Call for Intergenerational Justice,” asking, “Will democratic debate be well served if people who admit that they don’t know the difficult details behind the policymaking get up on a high horse and proclaim what the reform agenda must include – with the (barely) implicit suggestion that anyone who disagrees is an enemy of the public good – or of God?”
- David Mills rebukes the “Evangelical Left” for coming late to the debt-denouncement party. Sticking with First Things for a “A Call for Intergenerational Justice” trifecta, in a piece “On the Square” today at First Things, David Mills notes the Acton Institute engagement of the Call, but contends in particular that the signers of the document, the “Evangelical Left” in his view, “are very late to the party, and they ought to apologize for being late before they start talking about it as if they’d helped plan it.”
Last week I attended Drupalcon Chicago 2011. Acton Institute’s website runs the Content Management System called Drupal. It is a highly customizable website publishing tool that powers around 1.7% of the Internet. Drupal scales: you can use it for a personal website, but very large outfits use Drupal including the White House and Grammy.
As you may know, open source software is free. Anyone can download the package and begin using it or view the internal code. Open source also means the software is coded by programmers who are not paid for their work.
How can such a model exist? It exists because customers hire developers to support and implement their websites using the platform. At this point, the “free” software can require a substantial investment of money and staff time to tailor or customize the open source software to an organization’s specific needs. Still, the model promotes learning for aspiring developers because they can dig into the system early on without paying to see if it is something they’d like to pursue. If it is something they like they can program, design, or provide consulting using the platform for clients willing to pay for it. If the developer doesn’t want to continue working with the platform they are free to stop without having sacrificed money figuring out they don’t want to work with it.
While attending Drupalcon I didn’t expect to find much related to Acton’s message. However, I was surprised to find a lot of what you might call ethical questions discussed throughout the conference. Web developers attended sessions seeking the right way to approach problems people have building websites. One session included a panel consisting of the Lullabot team speaking openly about what standard Drupal development rates are. All of the sessions at Drupalcon were aimed at empowering developers to do things the right way and to improve the way the web is presented.
There is a healthy competitive market in the Drupal community. Many vendors promoted their web hosting and development services on the exhibit floor. The biggest sponsors had session rooms named after them and their logos were posted everywhere around the conference. Because Drupal is open source, there are few barriers for new development shops to use it which increases competition. Seasoned firms compete for the business of high profile clients that receive millions of web visits a month.
There is a competitive ecosystem in not only the Drupal community, but in the open source web development community overall. By making the tools used to create the web free, more technical people are created who can fulfill the needs of organizations willing to pay for services. And a lot of thriving for-profit businesses are formed within this ecosystem.
If you’re interested in the Drupalcon keynotes they are available online.
Olasky’s basic narrative focuses on “young men and women who understand that they are Christian pilgrims in this world—but they expect to stay in one place, making friends and being of service, unless and until God moves them on.”
He has a number of salient data points and interesting interviews, including Caleb Stegall, the exemplar of Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons. Economically-speaking an emphasis on localism can easily embrace distributism.
Thus, writes Olasky,
An emphasis on local control of government, local production and consumption of goods, and local culture is popular among young Christians. Their favorite author is often a pre-baby-boom author and Kentucky farmer, 76-year-old Wendell Berry. Berry praises reverence for God and life, the pleasures of good work, good food, and frugality. He says those joys are more likely to be found in healthy rural communities that value small farms and don’t overdose on technology.
But Olasky’s is, I think, a generally accurate assessment, and one that provides a good entry point to ongoing cultural developments. The Acton Institute has lived out this emphasis on decentralization, in one sense, and has from the beginning, by locating itself out of the Beltway by design. Olasky’s piece is sub-titled, “Young conservatives reject lure of Washington, D.C., in favor of a more powerful place-home.”
One shorter term economic driver is only mentioned in passing by Olasky: “…declining property values have crushed many hopes of upward mobility.”
The housing bubble has crushed not only upward mobility but also mobility more generally. The myth of the rootless generation is going to be demolished by the mere fact that anyone who bought a house in the last ten years is generally going to be unable to get out from under it for perhaps the next decade. That’s just about a generation of relatively immobile homeowners.