The Hastert Center at Wheaton College will host a debate tomorrow night between Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, on the question, “Does Capitalism Have a Soul?” Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson will moderate.

In framing the debate, Dr. Seth Norton, Hastert Center director, notes in the press release:

“It’s a good chance to compare different visions of capitalism and market economies, and to discuss the role of government in those economies. There is a lot of debate on these issues in secular venues, but this is a chance to hear two people who have a spiritual common denominator address complicated issues related to economic systems, and that’s a rare event.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.

One of the interesting things you learn when you start working at the Acton Institute is that the brother of Acton Institute co-founder and president Rev. Robert A. Sirico is an actor.  A pretty famous actor, actually.  And eventually it sinks in that Father Sirico’s brother Tony is, in fact, Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos.

Now, if you know anything about Paulie Walnuts, you know that he’s a pretty tough character: a gangster with few scruples about engaging in all manner of violence and mayhem and who regularly curses a blue streak.  And if you know anything about Tony Sirico, you know that—as his younger brother Robert has said on a few occasions—he doesn’t have to act much to play the roles that he has played.  So you can imagine that there was a touch of anxiety from certain quarters here at Acton when it was learned that Tony had been invited to introduce his brother’s keynote address at the 20th Anniversary Dinner that was held last Thursday at the JW Marriott Hotel here in Grand Rapids.

Well, we’re pleased to report that Tony successfully restrained his “French” in his introduction of his brother – “a real priest.”  Here’s the video:

We’ll have more highlights from the dinner this week, so stay tuned to the PowerBlog!

There were a few stories from the Grand Rapids Press over the weekend that form data points pointing toward some depressing trends: a decline in charitable giving (especially to churches), supplanting of private charity by government welfare, and the attempt to suppress explicit Christian identity.

Here’s a list with some brief annotations:

  • “Study reveals church giving at lowest point since Great Depression” (10/23/10): This is really a damning first sentence: “…congregations have waning influence among charitable causes because their focus now seems to be on institutional maintenance rather than spreading the gospel and healing the world.” For various reasons, people seem to increasingly see places other than their local congregations as the place where their charitable dollars ought to go. Overall, I think this is probably a bad thing, but it does show that there is some basic accountability inherent in the donor/charity relationship. That may not be the best way of characterizing the relationship between the individual member and the local congregation, but it at least has to be seen as an element of it.

  • “West Michigan food pantries see drop in demand, but not for a good reason” (10/23/10): As the headline states, there’s no good reason that state aid by government should be supplanting the help given by private local and regional organizations.
  • “Should it be illegal to post ad seeking Christian roommate?” (10/22/10): What business does the government have regulating postings on a church bulletin board? The Alliance Defense Fund is helping out with the woman’s defense, and the words used by their counsel represents the case pretty well: “absurd” and “insane.”

David Bahnsen, writing on The Bahnsen Viewpoint, has a great report on last night’s Acton dinner:

“Good news – the President has announced a reduction of the government work force by one million people (20%). Bad news – the cuts were ordered by President Raul Castro in Cuba.”

So began the 20th anniversary dinner of The Acton Institute tonight in Grand Rapids, MI. Acton co-founder, Kris Alan Mauren loosened up the crowd with the aforementioned joke which served the dual purpose of making me laugh, and disturbing me deeply. But of course, the fact that Canada, Germany, France, England, China, and even Cuba are currently moving the ball in the opposite direction that we are here in the United States is now common knowledge. and as Kris said, it reinforces why the stakes are so high right now for lovers of liberty.

The event itself was a delight, as always. Kate O’ Beirne was a fantastic master of ceremonies. She is a national treasure. Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway and one of the wealthiest men in America, was awarded the Faith and Freedom Award. His testimony was extraordinary. Humble. Visionary. Principled. Devout follower of Christ. 600 people came tonight to celebrate the organization that, the more involved with I get, the more excited I am to see what they represent. Acton’s mission is almost exactly identical to the ruling passion in my life: the intersection of markets and morality. Acton is so much more than a think tank (though they surely do feature the great intellects in the fields of religion and economics). But they also are an activist and educational organization, producing content in a variety of media that literally challenge the presuppositions people bring to the subjects of work, calling, wealth, freedom, and virtue. They are producing DVD’s that are viewed by millions of people, and are revolutionary in terms of content and message. My commercial for the organization could go on and on, but just go to their website and see for yourself all they are doing.

The video vignette from their new documentary, “Poverty Cure”, was powerful. “How can you know what causes poverty if you do not know what causes wealth?” Acton’s approach to the great social ills of our day is extremely contrarian to the right and the left. They do not advocate a cold “eat what you cook” kind of capitalism, and they certainly do not advocate the dependency-creating solutions of the left. They know that free markets open up the widest lanes to a society that can create and sustain real alleviation of poverty. As an African priest put it in the video clip tonight describing the solutions they pursue in their own village: “We do not aim to create job-seekers; we aim to create job-makers”. Thoughtful, sensible, and deeply compassionate. But not an iota of coercion or redistribution.

As always, Father Sirico’s keynote address was remarkable. In describing the necessity of a perspective that understands the dignity of man he said, “If we don’t get the anthropology right, we get nothing right. Human beings are a composite of heaven and of earth. It is the ultimate tragedy when we decide to try and dichotomize the two.” What he means, of course, is understanding the theological principle that man is created in the image of God, yet not God; man is a part of the created order, yet possesses a dignity and ability to reason that no other part of creation does. Understanding these things is the very first step in understanding economics. To reduce economics to mathematical abstractions is to give way to the worst kind of moral relativism.

Much more here.

Also, Bahnsen tips us off about an event he is organizing in Southern California in February:

Yours Truly, Father Sirico, Jay Richards, Andrew Sandlin, and Dinesh D’Souza will all appear TOGETHER in my hometown of Newport Beach, CA on February 25 & 26 of 2011. The Virtue of Prosperity: The Moral Implications of Wealth and Work – coming soon. The promotional materials are at the printer, and the web page will be up shortly. I am producing the event (and speaking at it), but am working with my friends at CCL and Acton. After hearing Father Sirico tonight, I am glad I will be speaking Friday (and he Saturday). He would upstage some of the great orators and preachers of the last three centuries.

News from the Acton Institute:

Grand Rapids, Mich. (October 22, 2010) – The Acton Institute won first place in the Ethics and Values category in the 2010 Templeton Freedom Awards for Excellence in Promoting Liberty competition. The award, managed by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, recognized Acton for its production of film documentaries that “communicate the principles and values of individual liberty and a free society.”

Atlas cited Acton for “first-rate documentaries designed to communicate the importance of virtue, limited government, and free enterprise to general audiences. They have impressed the judges through two of their very successful documentaries, The Call of the Entrepreneur and The Birth of Freedom,” which have “attracted attention from U.S. media, public policy institutes around the world, and even education ministers in Eastern Europe.”

This is the fourth Templeton Freedom award for Acton. The Institute also won an award in 2007 in the Free Market Solutions to Poverty category for its “Don’t Just Care, Think!” campaign; in 2005 in the Excellence in Promoting Liberty category for its Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conferences; and in 2004 in the Ethics and Values category for “its extensive body of work on the moral defense of the free market.”

Acton shared the 2010 Ethics & Values award with the Centro de Divulgación del Conocimiento Económico para la Libertad (CEDICE) in Venezuela which won for its initiative, “A Country of Owners.” The project promotes awareness in Venezuelans of one of the most basic human rights, which is the right to own property. The purpose of “A Country of Owners” is to encourage ideas and actions in favor of individual private property through educational activities. The initiative has been called “a courageous and timely response to the events in Venezuela” as well as a “beacon in the growing darkness of Venezuela.”

Exceptional think tanks from 10 countries have been recognized by the 2010 Templeton Freedom Awards for Excellence in Promoting Liberty for their accomplishments in advancing freedom. Representing three continents, the 16 recipients were chosen from over 132 applications from 48 countries by an independent panel of expert judges.
Named after the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the Templeton Freedom Award was established in 2003 and is the largest international prize program that celebrates think tank contributions to the understanding of freedom. The Templeton Freedom Awards program has awarded more than $1.5 million in prizes and grants in the past 7 years. This year’s awards program grants a $10,000 prize to each winner.

The Awards include eight different categories including Free Market Solutions to Poverty, Social Entrepreneurship, Ethics and Values, Student Outreach, Initiative in Public Relations, Innovative Media, and Awards for Special Achievement by a University-based Center and by a Young Institute.

The Atlas Economic Research Foundation has supported a worldwide network of independent think tanks that promote a society of free and responsible individuals for nearly three decades. Atlas, based in Washington, currently works with more than 400 partners in 84 countries. More than half of these organizations were assisted in their formative years by Atlas through financial support or advisory services.

I remember my first Acton event in 2002, a “Toward a Free and Virtuous Society” conference that I attended as a graduate student.

There are a number of things I remember quite clearly, but perhaps most striking was an occasion when someone said something to the effect that those with wealth are able to do more for the Kingdom of God than the poor. This is basically the same view that was once articulated in John Stossel’s special TV program on greed, that Michael Milkin had done more for the poor than Mother Theresa. To this I responded with the example of the widow’s mite (Mark 12; Luke 21). Fr. Sirico then proceeded to correct the mistaken view in a quite, shall we say, pointed fashion.

The lesson: God doesn’t need your money as such. He wants your obedience. He can turn two minas into millions if he so desires, just as he fed thousands with two loaves and some fish. Don’t let your concern about effectiveness and quantitative analysis distract you from the reality that we are called to be obedient and faithful, sine qua non.

Tonight the Acton Institute is hosting its twentieth anniversary Annual Dinnner. Share your favorite Acton memory from the first twenty years below.

Update: It was a great night all the way around. David Bahnsen passes along his reflections on the dinner: “The Liberty to do what we ought.”

The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, also known as Cape Town 2010, was reportedly the target of an cyber attack. The official statement from the congress says, “The sophisticated computer network developed for sharing Congress content with the world was compromised for the first two days of the Congress.”

“We have tracked malicious attacks by millions of external hits coming from several locations,” said Joseph Vijayam, IT Chair of The Lausanne Movement, sponsor of the gathering. “Added to this was a virus brought into the centre on a mobile phone.”

Officials are holding off making public claims about the source of the attack. “We have a pretty strong indication, but one can never be absolutely certain, so we prefer not to share our suspicions,” said Vijayam.

But a prominent evangelical blogger, Andrew Jones, who is attending the conference speculates regarding the attack: “…now we have heard that 95% of these internet hits came from the country of China, and the 66 locations were also situated in China, and that account of a Chinese fellow taking photos of Congress participants before running away, and this has caused us to consider China at least as a potentially suspicious candidate.”

This is on the heels of roughly 200 Chinese Protestants having been denied departure from China to attend the congress. More on that story below the break.
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Acton podcast host Marc Vander Maas was joined by John Pinheiro, Jordan Ballor, and myself to discuss the issue of American Exceptionalism. Click on the link below to listen:

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There has been quite the uptick regarding the topic because of fears that America has lost its greatness. “America’s Destiny Must Be Freedom,” is a commentary I penned in June related to that fear, as well as an overview of America’s freedom narrative. I also hosted an Acton on Tap on American Exceptionalism last August. I addressed the history of the theological roots, the different strains of thought related to American Exceptionalism, and the debate today.

After you listen to the podcast, check out the links below for additional resources related to American Exceptionalism. The sources offer a diversity of thought on the subject.

World churches’ leader’s speech reaches to evangelical Christians
By Munyaradzi Makoni

Cape Town, 18 October (ENI)–The head of the World Council of Churches has reached out to a global gathering of Evangelicals saying Christians of different traditions need to learn from each other to participate together in God’s mission.

“We are called to be one, to be reconciled, so that the world may believe that God reconciles the world to himself in Christ,” the WCC general secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, said in a 17 October address on the opening day of the 3rd Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization.

It is the first time a WCC general secretary has addressed a congress of the Lausanne Movement, which takes its name from the Swiss city where the first such gathering was held in 1974. “This historic invitation is a sign that God has called all of us to the ministry of reconciliation and to evangelism,” said Tveit at the Cape Town meeting which has gathered more than 4000 participants and runs until 25 October.

The WCC and the Lausanne Movement have often been seen as representing different strands of Christianity – the WCC being seen as focussing more on social action, and the Lausanne movement known for its promotion of evangelism.

The 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne resulted from an initiative by the U.S. evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, and produced the “Lausanne Covenant” as a statement of beliefs of participants.

“Although not intended to be simply a reaction to the World Council of Churches (WCC), [the congress] did serve as an evangelical counterpart to the ecumenical WCC by establishing and fostering an international network of evangelical leaders,” the Lausanne Movement notes on its Website www.lausanne.org.

The second Lausanne congress, held in Manila, Philippines, in 1989, issued a manifesto that urged the WCC to, “adopt a consistent biblical understanding of evangelism”.

In his address, Tveit, a Lutheran theologian from Norway, said he had read the Lausanne Covenant for the first time when he was 15 years old. “I was struck by the clarity of its vision: We are called to share the gospel of reconciliation with all,” he said.

Tveit noted how the congress is taking place in Cape Town, the city in which Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu was Anglican archbishop during the apartheid period of white minority rule. He recalled how Tutu had once said, “Apartheid is too strong for a divided church.”

Tveit added, “The needs of the world for reconciliation with God, with one another, and with nature are too big for a divided church.”

He noted how many of those at the Cape Town gathering had taken part with WCC representatives at a meeting in Edinburgh in May to mark the 100th anniversary of the World Missionary Congress held in the Scottish capital.

“I can see how much we share a common vision of the holistic mission of God,” said Tveit. “I am very encouraged by how Evangelicals, churches and individuals share our calling as the WCC to address the needs of the whole human being and the whole of creation.”

The WCC groups 349 churches, predominantly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member but works with the WCC on some programmes.

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Update: I provide some more context for these remarks over at Mere Comments.

It turns out there’s a phrase for the reality of ‘crony capitalism’ in Hebrew: hon v’shilton, which is “literally translated as capital and government, an expression Israelis use to describe the rich’s influence on government.” Check out Bloomberg Businessweek for an overview of current controversy on Israel’s “business elite.”

Of course business need not corrupt government. But the temptation for those with a concentration of economic power to turn that into political advantage in order to retain economic dominance is perennial. In a 2008 interview with venture capitalist Ronny Douek, who founded the Israel Center for Civil Society, Jerusalem Post interviewer Ruthie Blum Leibowitz asked Douek about hon v’shilton:

Doesn’t the connection between business and politics – what we call “hon v’shilton” – have negative connotations?

Yes, unless it is defined as taking mutual responsibility for society. With the right balance, it can only be a good connection. Take, for example, people here who saw ways in which they could have an influence on road safety or education…

Douek’s answer refers to his pluriform view of social life, in which he likens Israel “to a table resting on three legs – the government, civil society and business.”

As an aside, one instance of the ancient Hebrew root for the modern term shilton appears in Ecclesiastes 8:4 as supreme: “Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?'”