In the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty, the “In the Liberal Tradition” section profiles Metropolitan St. Philip II of Moscow for his defense of faith and freedom in the face of the tyranny of Tsar Ivan IV, known to history as “Ivan the Terrible.” In contrast to Ivan, who used his power to oppress his own people, Philip taught, “He alone can in truth call himself sovereign who is master of himself, who is not subject to his passions and conquers by charity.” Among the many spiritual disciplines of the Orthodox Christian spiritual tradition geared towards freeing a person from being “subject to his passions,” we can see Philip’s love of labor in his many projects at the Solovki monastery in the years before he was made Metropolitan of Moscow. (more…)
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. (Deut. 15:7-8)
As part of its annual summer program series, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary is producing a conference on poverty on Friday, May 31, and Saturday, June 1. The event, held on St. Vladimir’s campus in Yonkers, N.Y., is being produced in collaboration with the Acton Institute.
The event, which looks at the causes of poverty, how Christians should respond to the poor, and broad questions of social justice, is offered as a tribute to Dn. John Zarras, a 2006 SVOTS graduate who earned his M.Div. degree over a period of several years as a late–vocations student. Deacon John also served as a member of the Board of Trustees and the president of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Foundation.
If you register online before May 15, the seminary will waive the $50 registration fee.
Speakers include Jay Richards, author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute; Susan R. Holman, adjunct lecturer at Episcopal Divinity School, senior writer at Harvard Global Health Institute, and editor of Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society; and Michael Matheson Miller, Acton Institute Research Fellow.
Explaining why he no longer went to Ruggeri’s, a St. Louis restaurant, baseball legend Yogi Berra said, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” The same seems to be true of Easter church attendance: Nobody goes to church on Easter anymore. It’s too crowded.
A survey taken by LifeWay Research last year of Protestant pastors found that 32 percent of Protestant said Easter typically has the highest attendance for worship services, with 93 percent saying it is in their top three in terms of attendance. But a recent survey finds that 39 percent of are not planning to attend an Easter worship service while 20 percent say they are undecided. Only 41 percent of Americans say they plan to attend.
For self-identified Christians, the numbers are much higher. Protestants (58 percent) and Catholics (57 percent) are most likely to say they plan on attending Easter services, followed by 45 percent of nondenominational Christians. While higher than the national average, for only 60 percent of believers to attend on one of our most important religious holidays seems peculiar. What could be the reason they’re staying away?
A friend at church recently loaned me the New York Times bestseller Same Kind of Different as Me, which tells the story of how a wealthy art dealer named Ron Hall and a homeless man named Denver Moore struck up a friendship that changed both their lives. I’m only half way through it, but it’s already instructive on several levels that connect to the work of Acton.
Denver grew up as an illiterate sharecropper in Louisiana, an orphan who loses a series of guardian relatives while growing up and eventually finds himself in a class a notch below sharecropper—the field laborer who isn’t entitled to a share of the crops he works but simply works dawn to dusk for the food, clothing and minimal shelter he’s given on credit. In Denver’s case, since he couldn’t read, write, or do arithmetic, he couldn’t determine how much he owed, what the interest was, what his labor was worth, or even that he’d been denied his right to an education.
Economic conservatives talk a lot about the morality of the free economy, and the power of the markets to better the lives of the poor. It’s stories like Denver Moore’s that underscore why Acton spends so much time talking about a free and virtuous society, about the importance of ordered liberty. You see, in the book, at no point did anyone put a gun to Denver’s head and make him pick cotton dawn till dusk. At a superficial level, he was a participant in an un-coerced labor market (slavery had been abolished generations ago, after all). But any thoughtful look at Denver’s extraordinary story of struggle, despair, and escape will register the fact that Denver’s liberty had been violated in a host of subtle and not-so-subtle ways during his youth. These were like the strands of a spider web: individually they are of little consequence and hard to see, but taken together they have the power to bind. (more…)
Today is Maundy Thursday in the Western church. One account of the origin of the unique name for this day is that comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means “command.” The command referred to here is that contained in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
There’s a sense in which this command isn’t new, of course. The basic obligations to love God and love our neighbors were constitutive of the covenantal community from the era of the Old Testament. Consider, for instance, Leviticus 19:18, which enjoins the Israelite to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
As Cornelis Vonk writes of the Torah, “It acquaints the church of today with her God, Yahweh, the Creator and Giver of life, who also has shown himself to be a Lover and Preserver of life, of genuine human life. We know that he loved life so much that he sent his own Son so that we might have life.”
So while there is continuity with the old dispensation of the covenant of grace, there is something really new about the commandment as well. Just as we refer to the era of salvation history ushered in by Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection as the “new” covenant, so this new commandment takes up the obligations of the old covenant and displays them in a new way.
The most obvious new way in which this love is displayed is in the life and work of Jesus Christ himself. This is what is “new” about the new commandment: Jesus himself is basis and the model for our love.
Over the rest of this Holy Week, consider just what that love means: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV).
But just as in the old covenant, the covenantal relationship isn’t just about God and the individual person. We are to “walk before” God, to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” But just as Jesus’ example shows us, this love must be expressed in the context of community. There must be “others” for us to love, “friends” for us to show our sacrificial love to.
This is the new community created in the new covenant of Christ’s blood, governed by the new commandment: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Coming during the week prior to Easter, I naturally thought the email I received from Sojourners — which I have been reading for my Lenten penance religiously — would contain some spiritual admonishment. “Just one week until … ” the subject line said. Am I at fault for thinking my mind was going to be directed to the good news of human redemption in the Resurrection of the Lord just a few days hence?
Ironically, the organization that so regularly decries free markets and denounces profit-making was merely hyping Jim Wallis’ new book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good. Wallis, as far as I can tell from his previous efforts, wants us to believe that you are on God’s side as long as you are on Jim’s side, because that is God’s side when it comes to economic life.
Willard goes on to explain how God does not wait for Christians to use business as a means for serving the needs of the world:
If God wasn’t in business it wouldn’t even be there. It has this natural tendency to reach out to the neighbor and the neighbor and the neighbor and the neighbor all around the world. That’s in the nature of business…It’s like most of God’s operations, they are running beyond the conscious motives of the people who are doing it.
Business is a primary moving force of the love of God in human history, and it doesn’t wait until Christians get a bright idea about it…It’s just there. That’s God. That’s the kingdom of God at work…We have to recognize that God is always out front of the church and he’s working in many ways.
Yet even though God doesn’t wait for us to perform his work, this needn’t lead us to throw up our hands. Rather, such truth should inspire us to be more active and discerning in the larger economy. Through the work he’s already doing, God is openly inviting us to participate. (more…)