Chuck Colson’s long association with the Acton Institute began in 1993 in part because, as he said, he “couldn’t believe that a Catholic priest had set up shop in the Vatican of the Dutch Reformed Church,” and he had to come to Grand Rapids to see for himself the work that Rev. Robert A. Sirico had begun. He came, saw, and was impressed, and thus began a nearly 20-year friendship with the President of the Acton Institute, who joined host Al Kresta on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon to reflect on Colson’s life, his conversion, and his many contributions to both evangelical Christianity and the broader ecumenical movement.
The 10 minute interview is available via the audio player below:
As we move deeper into the 2012 election cycle here in the United States, many people are beginning to pay closer attention to the issues and candidates, and for many Christians this naturally raises questions about how Christian principles should be applied to the economic issues that are of such concern in the electorate this year. Pastor Christopher Brooks, host of Christ and the City on FaithTalk 1500 in Detroit, Michigan, was kind enough to invite Acton’s President Rev. Robert A. Sirico on his show on Monday to shed some light on how Christians should approach economic issues. They also took some time to remember the life and work of Charles Colson.
You can listen to the 20 minute interview via the audio player below:
On the Observer, the blog of the American Orthodox Institute, Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse looks back on the life and the legacy of Chuck Colson:
I heard him explain his experience in prison during one of his talks. It was the lowest point in his life where he had lost everything and began to question purpose, decisions, and direction. He was visited by a friend (former Minnesota Governor Al Quie) who shared with him how Jesus Christ came into the world to redeem man. Colson listened, cried out to God for help and, as his life would later prove, God heard him. His repentance was deep and lasting.
Prison opened his eyes not only to God, but the desperate conditions of other prisoners. He founded Prison Fellowship, an organization they helped prisoners while incarcerated, after they got out, and their families. The Russian Orthodox Church called on Prison Fellowship after Communism fell to help them build viable prison ministries in Russia.
Colson’s work grew to incorporate what he called teaching the Christian World View. He saw that decline in culture was moral in nature and that a return to the values and precepts of the Christian faith were the only hope for cultural renewal. This meant that he had to do the work of an evangelist. It also meant that a deep ignorance among Christians about their own history, the history of Western culture, and the viability of the Christian message in a relativist age needed to be addressed. That led to ecumenical outreach, and it was at one of his ecumenical events that I first met Colson.
I attended a conference with Christian leaders (cultural activists mostly) from all types of Christian communions; the first Orthodox priest ever invited to such a gathering. Most of us were not academics but more of what I call “rubber meets the road” types; people used to debate, interaction, dealing with crisis, and so forth. As such, the conference had a very practical, even edgy feel to it at times. All shared the conviction that the Christian faith has a public dimension and that we should not cede the public square to secularism. Christendom is, well, Christian and no amount of brow-beating, public scorn, the insecurity and impotence of liberal Christianity, or any other malady should stop us from boldly speaking out with intelligence and conviction.
It was there too that I first recognized how much that Orthodoxy has to give the culture. I saw that many Christians of other communions are waiting for us to step to the plate and make our contribution. They welcome us.
Napp Nazworth, a reporter for Christian Post, interviewed Rev. Robert A. Sirico about House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s budget plan, “The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal.” Nazworth asked Rev. Sirico, Acton’s president and co-founder, to talk about how closely Ryan’s plan lines up with Catholic social teaching, as the Republican budget chair has claimed, and to speak to criticisms of the plan. “A group of about 60 politically liberal Christian leaders wrote a letter taking exception to Ryan’s comments, calling it ‘morally indefensible,'” the reporter wrote. “In an interview with The Christian Post, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) also said the Ryan budget is in opposition to Catholic teaching.”
Nazworth: Ryan said that subsidiarity is essentially federalism and that the budget considered the poor and vulnerable by reducing or cutting programs that lead the poor to become dependent on government. Did Ryan seem to understand those Catholic doctrines correctly?
Sirico: Subsidiarity is not “essentially” federalism. There is a dimension of federalism that reflects some of the values of subsidiarity. But, federalism is a political structure. And, subsidiarity is more of a social and theological principle, so that federalism speaks about one way of governing people. You could have subsidiarity in a society that didn’t live under an American form of government.
There is a kinship. I wouldn’t say it is essentially the same, but there is a kinship between the two, that you should leave things to people who know best. The motivation of subsidiarity is that human needs are complex and sometimes very nuanced. When you pull back and make human needs abstract, you don’t get to the core of what the need is, so that people closest to human need can make that determination better than bureaucrats or politicians that have other pressures and motivations far away from the person who is actually in need.
A new report about the depth of people’s belief in God reveals vast differences among nations, ranging from 94 percent of people in the Philippines who said they always believed in God, compared to only 13 percent of people in the former East Germany. Yet the surveys found one constant—belief in God is higher among older people, regardless of where they live. (more…)
Jon Erwin, director of the pro-life October Baby movie, was recently interviewed by National Public Radio and, in the background article that accompanied the audio, the network reported his view that Christians didn’t feel very welcome in Hollywood’s movie community. This provoked a lot of comment by NPR listeners about what, really, a Christian is. The title of the NPR article, “‘October Baby’ Tells A Story Hollywood Wouldn’t” probably had something to do with that.
What we have, then, is a question that goes beyond NPR to what should be a national debate over how to use the word “Christian.” A truly useful debate would extend even further, to what it means to be Christian, given that nearly 80 percent of Americans claim to be one.
Yesterday evening, Schumacher-Matos published a roundup of responses to his question in a post titled, “Christians: Who Are The 78 Percent?” Overall, a pretty even-handed job of deepening the discussion, which he hopes to continue. Schumacher-Matos invited Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, to participate. Because of space limitations, Rev. Sirico’s response was slightly edited, so I’m published it here in full:
Christianity is and always has been a religion that “receives” its faith rather than one that “invents” it. Hence, a basic definition of “Who are the Christians?” begins with an adherence, doctrinally, to the ancient Creeds of the Church, beginning with the Apostles Creed (believed to have been of apostolic origin, the Apostles having in turn received their mandate from Christ Himself) and continuing on to the faith articulated at the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon, Orange, Hippo and Quicunque Vult (aka, The Athanasian Creed), all of which were formative for the belief of Christians. The traditions that would agree with this ecumenical Trinitarian confession (most Catholics, Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox, et al.) have historically recognized that whatever other doctrinal differences may separate them, this is the meaning they share when they use the term “Christian.”
However, many Americans—and almost all journalists—are less interested in theological distinctions than they are in determining how the moniker can be shared by groups who differ on matters of political dogma. Asking “Who are the Christians?” is less an existential query than a question about partisan branding: What political group gets to claim the word for themselves—and exclude others from its rightful use? The irony is that many mainstream groups wish to recover the franchise at a time when several historically Christian organizations (such as the YMCA) are attempting to distance themselves from the Christian brand. Mr. Edwards claims that “politically and socially conservative Christians have in fact co-opted the title.” But perhaps they never really abandoned it while the politically and socially liberal Christians discarded it, embracing instead, the sort of Christianity that Niebuhr so memorably described as, “A God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross” (H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1959), 193.).
Wheaton College recently hosted “A Conversation on Unity in Christ’s Mission” with pastor John Armstrong, founder and president of ACT 3, and Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago. The dialogue between Pastor Armstrong and Cardinal George explored the common ground and current challenges that face Catholics and evangelical Protestants in Christian faith and mission. You can watch a video of the event on the ACT 3 website.
Armstrong also examined this theme in his recent book The Unity Factor, published by Christian’s Library Press. In his book, Armstrong outlines his vision for a deeper unity between Christians of various traditions and challenges our easy acceptance of divisions while helping us envision how our future can be better than our recent past.
This video (loads slowly, allow it to buffer for a few minutes before watching) is a very good 20-minute report on Syrian Christianity that offers a glimpse of what it’s like to have lived for centuries as a religious minority in a land dominated by Islam. Indeed, Arab Christians have been worshiping in some of these Syrian communities since the earliest days of the Christian faith.
While the report is from a Catholic viewpoint, produced in 2000 by the Catholic Radio & Television Network, it looks at the ways other Arab Christian faith traditions — such as the Orthodox Church — are working together cooperatively in very tough times.
The Barnabas Fund reports that the “city of Homs, the third largest in Syria, has now seen almost its entire Christian population of 50,000 to 60,000 flee.”
The number of Christians left in the city has reportedly fallen to below 1,000 after the strife between the troops of President Bashar Assad and anti-government forces reached its peak there last month. Christians have fled to surrounding villages, other major Syrian cities, and even Lebanon. Those who remain have spoken of a growing “atmosphere of fear”.
During the worst of the conflict, the opposition forces attacked churches and also occupied an evangelical school and home for the elderly, which were then shelled by the army. Church leaders have reported that Muslim neighbours are turning on the Christians, and that Muslim extremists from other countries have been coming to Homs to join the fighting.
Christians have also suffered kidnappings and gruesome murders. Some Christian families, unable to pay a ransom for their relatives’ release and fearing that they may be tortured, have been driven to ask the kidnappers to kill their loved ones at once.
The Syrian Orthodox Church, which represents over half of Syrian Christians, issued a statement saying revolutionary fighters had expelled some 50,000 Christians from the embattled city of Homs. That figure is estimated to account for about 90 percent of the Christian community there. Hundreds more — including women and children — were slaughtered, according to charitable organizations operating in the area.
The Orthodox Church referred to the persecution as the “ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians” by Muslim militants linked to al Qaeda. According to its report, the so-called “Brigade Faruq” is largely to blame, with Islamic extremists going door to door and forcing followers of Christ to leave without even collecting their belongings. Their property is then stolen by rebels as “war-booty from the Christians.”
Christians in Homs were reportedly told that if they did not leave immediately, they would be shot. Then, pictures of their bodies would be sent to the pro-Syrian-regime-change Al Jazeera — a media broadcaster controlled by the dictatorship ruling Qatar — with a message claiming that forces loyal to Assad had murdered them.
On The American Spectator, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg examines how the left wages “a war of rejection and rationalization against whatever contradicts their mythologies.” Which explains why leftists get into a snit when you point out factual details like how Communist regimes “imprisoned, tortured, starved, experimented upon, enslaved, and exterminated millions” throughout the 20th century. And it makes it so much harder to wear that Che Guevara t-shirt without being mocked in public. Gregg:
Overall, the left has been remarkably successful in distorting people’s knowledge of Communism’s track-record. Everyone today knows about the Nazis’ unspeakable crimes. Yet does anyone doubt that far fewer know much about the atrocities ordered by the likes of Lenin, Castro, Mao, and Pol Pot? Do those Occupy Wall Street protesters waving red hammer-and-sickle flags actually understand what such symbols mean for those who endured Communism?
But while the left’s response to such awkward queries won’t likely change, the unanswered question is why so many left-inclined politicians and intellectuals play these games.
Part of the answer is the very human reluctance of anyone to acknowledge the dark side of movements with which they have some empathy. Even today, for example, there are Latin Americans inclined to make excuses for the right-wing death-squads — the infamous Escuadrón de la Muerte — that wrought havoc in Central America throughout the 1970s and ’80s.
The sheer scale of denial among progressivists, however, suggests something else is going on. I think it owes much to the left’s claim to a monopoly of moral high-mindedness.
In a new analysis in Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg examines “the shifting critiques” of the pontificate of Benedict XVI including the latest appraisal that the world is losing interest in the Catholic Church particularly because of its declining geopolitical “relevance.” But how do some of these critiques understand relevance?
On one reading, it involves comparisons with Benedict’s heroic predecessor, who played an indispensible role in demolishing the Communist thug-ocracies that once brutalized much of Europe. But it’s also a fair bet that “relevance” is understood here in terms of the Church’s capacity to shape immediate policy-debates or exert political influence in various spheres.
Such things have their own importance. Indeed, many of Benedict’s writings are charged with content which shatters the post-Enlightenment half-truths about the nature of freedom, equality, and progress that sharply constrict modern Western political thinking. But Benedict’s entire life as a priest, theologian, bishop, senior curial official and pope also reflects his core conviction that the Church’s primary focus is not first-and-foremost “the world,” let alone politics.