Last night I attended an engaging lecture at Calvin College by Dr. William Abraham of the Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology. Abraham, whose religious background is Irish Methodist and who is now a minister in the United Methodist Church and the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins, gave a presentation titled, “The Treasures and Trials of Eastern Orthodoxy.” As someone who was once an outsider to the Orthodox Church and is now an insider (as much as a former outsider can be, I suppose), I can say that Dr. Abraham’s lecture highlighted many things that I see in the Orthodox Church myself as well as bringing others into focus, in particular five treasures the Orthodox bring and four trials that they face in our current, global context. (more…)
President Obama has been re-elected, and as many commentators point out, he faces a nation even more divided than when he took office.
In his victory speech, the President’s message came back to unity, how “we rise and fall together as one nation and as one people.” This comes, I should note, after a campaign that sought to demonize the rich and downplay the efforts of the entrepreneur. For those who believe prosperity comes from a full-scope appreciation of mankind, from the minimum-wage worker to the business owner, the President’s calls for national unity likely ring hollow. This is an administration that has taken a fracturing zero-sum approach to human engagement. If unity is at all possible, as the President hopes, it will require a fundamental realignment of rhetoric and policy.
Yet I am hopeful that such a realignment is indeed possible. Unlike his victory speech in 2008, the President seemed refreshingly aware of the inevitability of ideological conflict. “Each of us has deeply held beliefs,” said the President. “And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t.”
As I’ve written elsewhere, this stirring of the passions is a positive sign of social and moral engagement—what Madison called democracy’s “relief”. If properly identified and channeled, such sparring can be a boon for authentic unity should we actually recognize our disagreements and move to the dirty work of sorting things out. Ideology is important, and the first step to restoring economic confidence, whether through the investor, the entrepreneur, or the low-level laborer, will be for this administration to recognize that it has thus far led a significant segment of economic producers to feel isolated, insecure, and picked on.
Thank you to our friends at The High Calling for excerpting this passage of Lester DeKoster’s Work: The Meaning of Your Life, recently republished by The Acton Institute and Christian’s Library Press. DeKoster, the former professor and director of the library at Calvin College and Seminary, also edited The Banner, the Christian Reformed Church’s monthly publication. Acton is grateful for its relationship with both The High Calling and DeKoster, who left his 10,000+ book library to the Acton Institute upon his passing in 2009.
On October 31, 1998, Charles Colson came to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan to deliver the closing address at Acton’s “The Legacy of Abraham Kuyper & Leo XIII” conference, sponsored jointly with Calvin Seminary.
“This is a momentous time for the Church as we reflect on two thousand years since the birth of Christ, and as we approach the millenium. And the question, I suspect, that all of us are asking and that the Church should be asking across the board is the question the Jews asked of old after a time of great trial. And that was: How shall we then live?”
Speaking of the time he spent in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal, Chuck Colson said: “I couldn’t have made it without Christ in my life, I know that. But I couldn’t have made it if there wasn’t in the back of my mind a belief that God had a purpose for this.”
You’ll hear those words in “Like I Am,” a segment from the Acton Institute’s Our Great Exchange: Discover the Fullness of What it Means to Be God’s Steward small group curriculum scheduled to be released this summer. This September 2011 interview was the last Colson granted before his death on April 21, according to Prison Fellowship Ministries. The “Like I Am” segment was produced by David Michael Phelps in association with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Gorilla Pictures for Acton Media.
We have also published “Chuck Colson and the Acton Institute,” a web-based resource page where you’ll be able to access “Like I Am” and a lot more of Colson’s Acton-related writings, interviews and media extending back almost 20 years. Of special interest is his concluding keynote address “How Now Shall We Live?” at the October 1998 Acton Institute and Calvin College conference, A Century of Christian Social Teaching: The Legacy of Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper.
In his PowerBlog tribute to Colson, Rev. Robert A. Sirico expressed his admiration “for a man whose witness to the reality of Jesus Christ and his redemptive power was an inspiration for me to be a better priest and a better Christian. The authenticity of Chuck Colson’s conversion and the integrity of his life were evident to any honest observer.”
As Prison Fellowship and The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview put it, in a joint statement, “Chuck’s life is a testimony to God’s power to forgive, redeem, and transform.”
In my commentary this week, I reflect on the unemployment rate of many newly separated military veterans of our Armed Forces. The grim jobs outlook affects our reservists and National Guard forces too. As You Were, a book I reviewed on the PowerBlog in late 2009, touched on this topic quite a bit.
My first job out of college was working on veterans issues for former Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) I was able to meet and get to know combat veterans from battles like Okinawa, the Chosin Reservoir and Khe Sanh. It was a rewarding and educational experience.
I suspect we will hear more from Washington about how to solve this problem with additional centralized government action. But we already have real commitments and promises to veterans that must be honored and a debt of $15 trillion and growing that is staring down at us. My commentary is printed below in its entirety.
Playing Politics with Unemployed Veterans
Getting the U.S. economy back on a path to solid growth and the job creation engine jumpstarted is dominating the headlines, talk shows and policy debates in Washington right now. Many of the legislative prescriptions focus on the dismal unemployment woes of newly separated military veterans, whose rates outpace the civilian population. The troubling figures reveal a persistently bleak and stagnant economy.
National unemployment currently hovers around 9 percent, while unemployment for veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is more than 13 percent. Veterans in the age group of 18-24 are worse off, with an unemployment rate of 30 percent. Dead last in the Union is Michigan, where 30 percent of all former service members are unemployed.
These numbers may only get more discouraging as defense budget cuts push more and more from the active duty ranks into a weak job market.
Federal legislation passed at the end of last year seeks to address the problem with tax credits for companies who hire veterans. The measure could help some, but tax incentives like these generally offer no substantial improvement for removing people from the unemployment rolls.
Better immediate solutions would be omitting special licenses and training required by states to work in certain fields. There is no reason a combat medic in Iraq should not be able to work as an emergency medical technician. Many already have more training than their civilian counterparts do.
In his election-year State of the Union address, President Barack Obama painted a vision of a post-WWII society where triumphant veterans came back and created the strongest economy in the world. In his words, they understood that they were “part of something larger.” Part of that “something larger” after the defeat of fascism was a growing free economy, but they also faced a long twilight struggle against the spread of communism.
To restore prosperity today, President Obama called for a “common purpose” to rally behind. But the obvious common purpose, the reduction of the staggering national debt, was largely ignored by the commander-in-chief during his address. For the unemployed, all Americans, and a free economy, the debt is the largest obstacle to restoring prosperity and reawakening the most expansive economy the world has ever seen. The failure of the American government to live within its means threatens to eviscerate the promises made to America’s veterans. It is a classic case of one moral failing leading to another.
The “something larger” greeting veterans when they come home today is a national debt of more than $15 trillion and an economy burdened by more and more regulations. The White House has already requested a debt ceiling increase to a whopping $16.4 trillion dollars. So great is the obstacle, and so serious is the threat, Indiana’s governor Mitch Daniels dubbed it “the new Red Menace.”
The threat to veterans is substantial. Although veterans’ benefits are justly generous, the government’s fiscal crisis has put those guarantees at risk. Last year, for the first time, some in Washington talked about the necessity of trimming promised pensions and health benefits for military retirees. Politicians are playing politics with veterans when they talk of reducing promised benefits with one side of their mouth and say they are creating jobs for veterans with the other.
Older military retirees can remember a time when they counted on the promise of free health care for life. Many sacrificed more lucrative private sector careers, nonpayment for overtime, and additional time with their family because of patriotism and promised security. Now they pay premiums for their care.
Thomas Jefferson warned of the moral pitfalls and decay of debt when he said, “The earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation.” Profligate spending in the past undermines our capacity to honor present commitments.
With their skills, work ethic, and patriotism, veterans have the ability to overcome the challenges confronting them. Most businesses and companies want to hire veterans. All they need is some assurance that their prospects going forward will not be dimmed by burdensome regulation or economic instability stemming from federal fiscal irresponsibility.
Washington does not understand there is little to be done in terms of a prescriptive policy to cure veteran unemployment. The oft forgotten Calvin Coolidge once warned, “Unsound economic conditions are not conducive to sound legislation.”
The best cure is still a market unleashed from needless regulation and spending policies that reflect a moral and rational resolve. In the end, a federal government that is broke can do little for veterans who earned and are entitled to benefits already promised.
Next Tuesday Calvin College will be hosting two lectures by Dr. John Baden, president of the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment (FREE).
The first lecture from Dr. Baden is titled, “Revelations and Institutions: The Theology and Political Economy of Hutterite and Mormon Experiments with Intentional Communities,” Tuesday, September 30, 3:30 pm, Calvin College North Hall B78.
Later that day Dr. Baden will lecture on, “The Political Economy of Endangered Species,” Tuesday, September 30, 7:30 pm, Calvin College Commons Lecture Hall.
These lectures are sponsored by the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Christian Perspectives on Political, Social and Economic Thought at Calvin College.
The last couple years I’ve received invitations to FREE’s seminars on environmental stewardship for religious leaders. I’ve been unable to attend, but the schedules have always looked quite promising.
“Is American higher education doing its duty to prepare the next generation to keep America free?” Apparently not, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy (UConnDPP), in a study commissioned by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s (ISI) National Civic Literacy Program.
In a survey of 14,000 freshman and seniors at 50 colleges and universities across the country, every school scored poorly. Also, college seniors, sadly, scored little better than freshman. The average senior score was a failing 53.2%; the average freshman score was 51.7%. In fact, no school scored higher than a D+. The top ten school are listed below:
1. Harvard University 69.56%
2. Grove City College (PA) 67.26
3. Washington & Lee University (VA) 66.98
4. Yale University 65.85
5. Brown University 65.64
6. University of Virginia 65.28
7. Wheaton College (IL) 64.98
8. University of Pennsylvania 63.49
9. Duke University 63.41
10. Bowdoin College (ME) 62.86
A link to the rankings of the fifty schools in the survey are found here. My alma mater, Ole Miss, scored 36th, and Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI ranked 21st.
Some shocking or not so shocking analysis is quoted below, directly taken from the American Civic Literacy Website. You can also examine the entire website for a treasure trove of facts, findings, and analysis.
Students were asked 60 multiple-choice questions to measure their knowledge in four subject areas: America’s history, government, international relations, and market economy. The disappointing results were published in the fall of 2006 in The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education’s Failure to Teach America’s History and Institutions.
The website declares, “This report is not designed to tear down American higher education, but to hold it accountable.” After taking the quiz myself, I scored a 93.33 %, which is 56 out of 60. You can take the quiz here, and see how you measure up against American college students.
In an appropriate quote also taken from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute website, John Quincy Adams, then a state senator, praised the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock:
Among the sentiments of most powerful operation upon the human heart, and most highly honorable to the human character, are those of veneration for our forefathers and of love for our posterity. They form the connecting links between the selfish and the social passions,” he said. “Respect for his ancestors excites in the breast of man, interest in their history, attachment to their characters, concern for their errors, involuntary pride in their virtues. Love for his posterity spurs him to exertion for their support, stimulates him to virtue for their example and fills him with the tenderest solicitude for their welfare.
Received an announcement today about this event to be held later this week, “Faith and International Development Conference,” at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from February 1-3.
Check out the list of sponsors at the bottom of the page, including:
- Bread for the World
- Micah Challenge
- Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action
Just a hunch, but I wouldn’t expect a lot of market-friendly perspectives to be included.