A week ago, Dr. Samuel Gregg addressed an audience here at Acton’s Grand Rapids, Michigan office on the topic of “Europe: A Continent in Economic and Cultural Crisis.” If you weren’t able to attend, we’re pleased to present the video of Dr. Gregg’s presentation below.
When we launched the PowerBlog in 2005, we had little idea that it would grow into one of the Acton Institute’s most popular and powerful communications channels. Nearly 4,000 posts, and 8,000 comments later, the PowerBlog is still going strong. And for that, we heartily thank our many readers, contributors and commenters.
Now we have for the first time a dedicated editor to help sustain and grow the blog for the advancement of the “free and virtuous society.” Veteran journalist Joe Carter is joining Acton as Senior Editor beginning today.
Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, online editor for First Things, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. A 15-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously worked as the managing editor for The East Texas Tribune and the online magazine Culture11. He has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign, as a director of communications for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, and as director of online communications for Family Research Council. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator (Crossway).
Please join me in welcoming Joe to the PowerBlog.
The Grand Rapids Press has a story today about the Acton Institute’s plans to move into new office space in the heart of the city. Stay tuned to the PowerBlog for exciting updates in the days and weeks ahead about the move.
GRAND RAPIDS – The Acton Institute, a conservative think tank dedicated to blending Christian doctrine and free market economics, may be better known on the international stage than in its home town. That may change soon. The 22-year-old institute is purchasing an old department store and office building in the heart of downtown. “We’re the only public policy think tank in Grand Rapids, but we’re probably better known internationally than in Grand Rapids,” said Acton spokesman John Couretas.
The institute’s new home at 98 E. Fulton Street was built as a Jacobson’s Department store and was known as the White & White Medical Arts Building during the 1980s and 1990s. Last year, the building’s east wall was the 2nd Place winner in ArtPrize as artist Tracy Van Duinen’s Metaphorest Project. The building currently is occupied by the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT), a nonprofit organization that helps students stay in school through exposure to the arts and aid under- or unemployed adults through technical skills training. WMCAT will continue as a tenant.
The Acton Institute, which has more than 40 staffers, is currently headquartered in leased space at the Waters Building, a downtown landmark at 161 Ottawa Ave. NW.
Read more on “Acton Institute will raise its profile in Grand Rapids with purchase of downtown landmark building” by reporter Jim Harger in The Grand Rapids Press.
Today I’m at the Caring For the Common Good: Why It’s Important To Integrate Faith, Work, and Economics one-day symposium at Cedarville University. As I have opportunity, I will blog regarding the lectures and panel discussion.
First to speak was Rudy Carrasco of Partners Worldwide on the topic of Caring For the Common Good. He spoke on three basic areas: do the poor have stewardship responsibilities, subsidiarity, and protest & invest.
On the first, Rudy noted the poor have stewardship and justice responsibilities. In addition, they are included in the charge of the Great Commission. Finally, they are empowered through Christ. The poor has intrinsic dignity as like the rest of society were created by God.
On the second, it is important to realize those connected most closely to the problem will oftentimes have the first responsibility to solve the problem. John Cowperthwaite, former Financial Secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971 has said, “In the long run, the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if it is often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralized decisions of a government; and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster.”
On the third, we must be knowledgeable when applying our good intentions to poverty. Sometimes our good intentioned efforts can unwittingly deprive the poor of justice. For example, a church in the US wanted to help provide relief to those affected by the earthquake in Haiti and gathered jars of peanut butter and sent them to Haiti. Though good intentioned, these efforts impacted a local Haitian entrepreneur.
I hope to update this more as the day continues.
Update: Second to speak was Matt Zainea of Blythefield Hills Baptist Church. Matt spoke on the topic: Theology and Economics: Seeing the Whole.
Economic terms are woven into the Scriptures. An example is the usage of “redemption” in the context of salvation. Another illustration is the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25. God designed us to be producers and are considered wicked and lazy when like the third servant fail to do so.
Oftentimes a fractured Biblical understanding of economics is communicated as one of more aspects are left out. The complete Biblical understanding starts with us as image bearers being called to work thus able to own property within community operating in shalom. As image bearers, we are called to work and through work our image and calling is shown to the world. Udo Middleman says, “Only in creativity do we externalize the identity we have as men made in the image of God. This then is the true basis for work.”
The externalization of work creates property. Property rights exist, but what is really protected is man’s creative mental activity – his ideas which are externalized into things which he owns and has a right to possess and enjoy.
Work and property are essential elements to create community. One person’s creative activity is to be qualified by other people’s creative activity. Creativity is to be mutually stimulating. Community should be marked by a healthy interdependence.
Shalom is God’s vision of how he wants His people to live together. Shalom is a Christ-centered community flourishing through the interdependent usage of His resources. This is the best model to use even in a broken world.
Update: We ended the day with a panel discussion on the topic of social justice and Scripture. Panel members include Cedarville professors Dr. Jeff Haymond and Dr. Bert Wheeler along with Mr. Zainea and Mr. Rudy Carrasco. Audio for the discussion will be posted in this post and on the Acton website within the next couple weeks.
Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, has launched a new Center for Leadership which university alumnus Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., lauds as a project that “roots young men and women in virtue, forms them as leaders, and grounds them in sound philosophical thought.”
David Schmiesing, who directs the center and is also vice president of student life at Steubenville, said, “This is our most explicit and focused effort yet to train leaders for the Church and world.”
One of the resources provided to students through the Center is the university’s distinguished speakers series with the likes of Virtuous Leadership author Alexandre Havard and Acton Institute president and co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico, who is on the center’s board of advisors. Rev. Sirico spoke there on character, virtue, competence and vocation.
From the article by NCR writer Joseph Pronechen:
“We have a chance to speak with and meet with different distinguished speakers who have been all around the world studying incredible things,” said leadership student Camille Mica. “Getting the opportunity to talk with these speakers with such incredible credentials, I’ve learned a lot from them and been very encouraged and strengthened by their words and message and example.”
Though the leadership center will have a global outlook, Schmiesing noted that, ultimately, all leadership is local.
“If Catholic leaders don’t lead in their families, then all the other leadership is not going to be effective,” he said. “Leadership in the family is essential and applies to men and women. We’re teaching students in the center the skills, knowledge, virtues that will help them to be more effective in their families and then flow out to the churches, then to occupations.”
David Schmiesing is the brother of Acton Research Fellow Kevin Schmiesing.
Read “Training Leaders in Christian Virtue” on the website of the National Catholic Register.
Jordan Ballor is a busy man. He serves as a research fellow here at Acton, as well as being the executive editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. As if those duties don’t keep him busy enough, he also finds time to do the occasional radio interview, in this case on 101.5 WORD FM in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, discussing how Christians should react to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
For some additional perspectives on the issue, check out this Think Christian piece arguing that OWS is the appropriate Christian response to income inequality, and Dylan Pahman’s PowerBlog response to a Sojurner’s post arguing that OWS represents a “new Pentecost.”
To listen to the interview, use the audio player below:
Jordan’s original article, “How Christians Ought to ‘Occupy’ Wall Street (and All Streets),” is over at the Evangelical Portal at Patheos.
My recent piece in The American Spectator took the left to task for its misuse of the terms justice and social justice. The piece was more than a debate over semantics. In it I noted that Sojourners and its CEO, Jim Wallis, continue to promote well-intended but failed strategies that actually hurt the social and economic well-being of poor communities. I also called on everyone with a heart for the poor to set aside a top-down model of charity that “has trapped so many humans in a vicious cycle of paternalism and dependency” and instead to focus “on cultivating political and economic freedom for the world’s poor.” Sojourners’ Tim King responded here and then emailed me to ask for my thoughts on his response. I’ll start by emphasizing a few areas of agreement, adding a caveat here and there so as not to overstate the areas of overlap, and then I’ll move on to some areas of difference.
First, it’s a matter of record that politicians and other opinion leaders from both major U.S. parties have supported various forms of government-directed charity over the past several decades. Tim King is completely justified in pointing this out, and it’s important to recognize this state of affairs, since it reminds us that transforming the way we do charity won’t occur simply by voting one party out of power. Substantive change will require cultural transformation.
A second area of agreement is that, yes, there is such a thing as smart aid. PovertyCure has a good discussion of smart aid versus damaging aid here, as well as a page here on the good, the bad and the ugly in efforts to fight malaria. And in this Acton Commentary, Jennifer Roback Morse discusses some of the lessons learned in the battle against AIDS in Africa.
Third, Tim King’s blog post gives the reader the impression that that I consigned all uses of the term “social justice” to everlasting perdition, or that I want to ban the use of adjectives from the English language or something. My position is actually a bit more nuanced than this. In my article I noted that the term social justice has “a justifiable raison d’être,” “stretches back to 19th century Catholic social thought” and “was used in the context of nuanced explorations of law, ethics, and justice.” I didn’t have space to elaborate on this in the Spectator article, so I pointed to additional resources in this follow-up blog post.
King went on to say that the adjective social in social justice “highlights that justice deals with systems and structures within a society, not just with individual people. Justice can occur through the punishment of a single person for wrongdoing, but also through ending slavery or apartheid.” Absolutely. Justice deals with those things, a point I underscored in my article.
The thing is, though, that’s not how the religious left generally uses the term social justice, a reality that Tim King himself demonstrated by immediately pointing to the Circle of Protection statement as an embodiment of social justice principles. The statement is about preserving top-down government spending programs on behalf of the poor.
Another way to see how ordinary justice is being leeched out of Sojourners’ brand of social justice is to look at its official position on abortion. On the organization’s Issues page, under “What is Your Position on Abortion?” Sojourners emphasizes that “All life is a sacred gift from God, and public policies should reflect a consistent ethic of life.” Sounds like justice, plain and simple. But then look at their specific recommendations for how to protect the sacred gift of unborn human life:
Dramatically reduce abortion. Our society should support common ground policies that dramatically reduce the abortion rate by preventing unwanted pregnancies, providing meaningful alternatives and necessary supports for women and children, and reforming adoption laws.
Notice what’s missing from the list: A call to extend the most basic human right to unborn babies by making it illegal to kill them. What’s missing, in other words, is a call to extend ordinary justice to the unborn. In its place is a call to prevent “unwanted pregnancies” and to create attractive alternatives to killing unborn babies.
Sojourners and its leader say that laws against abortion are unattainable and ineffectual. But these laws wouldn’t be unattainable if the religious left joined religious conservatives in the fight to extend the right to life to the unborn. And as for ineffectual, University of Alabama professor Michael New studied the question and came to a very different conclusion in State Politics and Policy Quarterly. Here’s how he summarized his findings:
Planned Parenthood and many groups on the Catholic Left often argue that pro-life laws are ineffective. They claim that contraception spending and more generous welfare benefits are the best ways to reduce abortion rates. In reality, however, there is virtually no peer reviewed research, analyzing actual abortion data, which finds that more spending on either contraception or welfare has any effect on the incidence of abortion.
Conversely, this study adds to the sizable body of peer reviewed research which finds that legal protections for the unborn are effective at lowering abortion rates …
The study is now part of a substantial body of academic literature showing that such laws are effective in cutting abortions — and back up the anecdotal evidence seen in states like Mississippi, Michigan, South Carolina, Missouri and others where abortions have been cut by half from their previous highs thanks to the passage of several pro-life measures limiting abortions.
What Sojourners and many others on the left support for the unborn is more of their ineffective brand of redistributionist “social justice,” and never mind about the most basic form of justice for the unborn — a right to life protected by the law.
I’ll close by calling attention to one other thing in Tim King’s response, and that is Sojourners’ whole post-partisan meme. It’s a little surreal that they keep trotting this dog out after the George Soros funding fiasco. As my old colleague Jay Richards and others have reported, Sojourners had already received significant funding from the ultra-liberal, ultra-secular George Soros when Jim Wallis denied it in a public interview, going so far as to answer the charge by saying that World magazine editor and Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky “lies for a living.” Then it came out that Sojourners has in fact received major funding from Soros, along with major funding from a who’s who list of left and ultra-leftwing organizations.
Sojourners keeps trying to hunt with the “we’re deep, not left” meme, but the dog won’t hunt anymore. A better approach would be to simply identify themselves as members of the religious left and forthrightly make a case for the specifics of their position. An even better approach would be to rethink that position from top to bottom, looking not at just the immediate and obvious effects of various government wealth transfers, but also at those long-term effects that are less obvious and often destructive.
In the mean time, if you are looking for a clear alternative to A Circle of Protection, one that emphasizes the dignity and creative capacity of the poor and the role of Christian worldview in promoting human flourishing, take a look at PovertyCure’s Statement of Principles or PovertyCure’s Facebook page. To sign a letter that directly answers the Circle of Protection, go here to Christians for a Sustainable Economy.
Acton Research Fellow Jordan Ballor – who also serves as Executive Editor of the Journal of Markets and Morality – took to the airwaves in the Houston, Texas area last night to discuss the ecumenical movement, his book, Ecumenical Babel, and Christian social thought with the hosts of A Show of Faith on News Talk 1070 AM.
To listen to the interview, use the audio player below:
The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs at Georgetown University and the Governance Studies Program at The Brookings Institution have invited Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, to join a December 6 roundtable discussion in Washington on economics and Catholic Social Teaching. The event is free and open to the public. Friends of Acton in the Washington area are encouraged to attend the talk. Questions will be invited from the floor at the conclusion of the roundtable discussion.
The event will mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ letter “Economic Justice for All.” Joining Rev. Sirico on the roundtable will be E.J. Dionne (Brookings Institution and Georgetown), Ross Douthat (New York Times), and Christine Firer Hinze (Fordham). The discussion will be moderated by Thomas Banchoff, director of the Berkley Center.
The event will be on Tuesday afternoon, December 6, from 4 – 5:30 PM in the Copley Formal Lounge on Georgetown’s main campus (directions). Event organizers ask that attendees register (link) in advance.