The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty released an Easter week statement titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” The document outlines recent threats to religious liberty in the States and abroad while endorsing an upcoming “Fortnight for Freedom” to defend what it calls “the most cherished of American freedoms.”
We suggest that the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, be dedicated to this “fortnight for freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.
This thoughtful and well-reasoned statement is a necessary read not just for Catholics, but for all concerned with religious liberty. To read it in its entirety, click on the link above.
The Hunger Games may lack a single reference to religion or God, but as Jordan J. Ballor and Todd Steen point out in an article for First Things, the books and film presents a secularized alternative to the Christian virtue of hope: (more…)
On Sunday Bubba Watson, one of the most untraditional golfers on the PGA Tour, was the surprise winner of the 2012 Masters Tournament. But while golf may be his vocation, it isn’t Watson’s top priority. What he considers most important can be gleaned from the description on his Twitter account:”@bubbawatson: Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer. Owner of General Lee 1.”
Danny O’Dwyer of Gamespot has created an interesting video on religion in video games. As a self-described atheist, he examines the reasons why video games “haven’t reached the point where Islam can be portrayed without a suicide bomb.” The video also looks at various instances of religion in existing games and includes an interview with his Muslim friend Tamoor who works in the game journalism industry. You can watch his 15 minute video below.
Danny’s article over at Gamespot has an interesting quote that touches on truth: “I believe ignoring an entire culture out of some fear of offending their faith is a fantastic way of promoting intolerance.”
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.).
Is it not integrity that you are pursuing? Then you ought to know: places with faith have more integrity. For China’s crawling economic reforms, this ought to be an important inspiration. Market economies with churches are different in another respect from those without: in the former, it is much easier to establish a commonly respected system. The reason is simple: a people that share a faith, compared to people who only believe in themselves, find it easier to establish mutual trust, and through that to conclude agreements. However, where is the cornerstone for the American constitution? In fact, as early as the first group of English Puritans who came over to the New World on the Mayflower, there was the Mayflower Compact, which would become the foundation of autonomous government in the separate states in New England. Its contents comprised civic organizations as well as working out just laws, statutes, regulations, and ordinances, and the first line of the covenant was “In the name of God, Amen.” So shared faith is the foundation for shared law. Otherwise, a legal system, should it arise, will not be respected.
On Wednesday, April 11, Victor Claar will join us for an Acton on Tap. Victor Claar is a professor of economics at Henderson State University in Arkansas, and previously taught for a number of years at Hope College. I’ll be introducing Victor and the topic for the evening, “Envy: Socialism’s Deadly Sin.” We’ll begin to mingle at 6pm, and the talk will commence at 6:30, followed by what’s sure to be some lively discussion. Join us at Derby Station, and if you’re on Facebook, check out the event page, where some enjoyable dialogue has already commenced.
That same evening George Weigel is visiting Grand Rapids to lecture as part of the Catholic Studies Speaker Series at Aquinas College. Weigel is a prolific author, perhaps best known for his magisterial biography of Pope John Paul II, and holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC. At 7pm at the Wege Ballroom, Weigel will speak on the topic, “John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and the Future of Catholic Higher Education.” Check out the event and Catholic Studies at Aquinas College on Facebook.
The following morning, Thursday, April 12, at 8am Victor Claar will be headlining a breakfast at Kuyper College. Kuyper has recently introduced a business leadership major, and this breakfast is the latest event held to promote development among the students, faculty, staff, and broader community around the vitally important challenges of faithful engagement of business and economic aspects of life. Claar is the co-author of Economics in Christian Perspective, and will draw on this well-regarded text as he provides principles for understanding the relationship between Christian faith and commercial activity. There is some limited seating available for this breakfast, so check out the details at Kuyper’s website for more information on reserving a spot.
I’ll also be attending the 21st annual Wheaton Theology Conference, which this year focuses on the theme, “Bonhoeffer, Christ, and Culture.” One of my many projects at present is a dissertation (my second!) on Bonhoeffer’s ethics, and so I’m looking forward to this event, which runs Thursday and Friday next week and is at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.
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.
From the first chapter, titled “Preparation for Lent,” of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’sGreat Lent:
Christian love is the “possible impossibility” to see Christ in another man, whoever he is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a “good deed” or an exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself. For, indeed, what is love if not that mysterious power which transcends the accidental and the external in the “other”–his physical appearance, social rank, ethnic origin, intellectual capacity–and reaches the soul, the unique and uniquely personal “root” of a human being, truly the part of God in him? If God loves every man it is because He alone knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure, the “soul” or “person” He gave every man. Christian love then is the participation in that divine knowledge and the gift of that divine love. There is no “impersonal” love because love is the wonderful discovery of the “person” in “man,” of the personal and unique in the common and general. It is the discovery in each man of that which is “lovable” in him, of that which is from God.
In this respect, Christian love is sometimes the opposite of “social activism” with which one so often identifies Christianity today. To a “social activist” the object of love is not “person” but man, an abstract unit of a not less abstract “humanity.” But for Christianity, man is “lovable” because he is person. There person is reduced to man; here man is seen only as person. The “social activist” has no interest for the personal, and easily sacrifices it to the “common interest.” Christianity may seem to be, and in some ways actually is, rather skeptical about that abstract “humanity,” but it commits a mortal sin against itself each time it gives up its concern and love for the person. Social activism is always “futuristic” in its approach; it always acts in the name of justice, order, happiness to come, to be achieved. Christianity cares little about that problematic future but puts the whole emphasis on the now–the only decisive time for love.
John Schmalzbauer, who teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Missouri State University where he holds the Blanche Gorman Strong Chair in Protestant Studies, concludes about the situation sixty years after the founding of the Reformed Journal:
Though the surnames remain the same, American politics has changed. Defending Franklin Roosevelt, Lester DeKoster once wrote that “laissez faire has never been Calvinism’s way.” A loyal New Deal Democrat, DeKoster was also an outspoken advocate of the free market, arguing that “The Lord God is a free enterpriser.” Today it is harder to find a pro-market advocate of the welfare state.
In 2012, Reformed intellectuals are divided on economic matters. While the ecumenical Acton Institute uses Abraham Kuyper to advocate for free market principles, scholars like Nicholas Wolterstorff speak of social justice.
Which vision represents the true neocalvinist approach? Can a Reformed understanding of social justice be reconciled with a vigorous defense of the free market? The Reformed Journal used to be the arena in which these questions were discussed; is there such an arena today?
As someone who came to the Reformed tradition as an adult (with a French-Canadian surname, no less!), the recent history of Reformed and specifically neo-Calvinist approaches to social questions is important. It helps us understand how the intellectual atmosphere of Grand Rapids, and by extension some significant portion of broader evangelicalism, has been formed. And to know where we are going, we must know where we have come from.