Christianity Today looks at the way the State Department has recently begun using the phrase “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion.” The Obama Administration sees these phrases as more or less equivalent.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the shift in language. In a December speech at Georgetown University, she used “freedom of worship” three times but “freedom of religion” not at all. While addressing senators in January, she referred to “freedom of worship” four times and “freedom of religion” once when quoting an earlier Obama speech.

[...]

The State Department does acknowledge that worship is just one component of religion, said spokesperson Andy Laine. “However, the terms ‘freedom of religion’ and ‘freedom of worship’ have often been used interchangeably through U.S. history, and policymakers in this administration will sometimes do likewise.”

But “the softened message” is probably meant for the Muslim world, according to Carl Esbeck, professor of law at the University of Missouri. He told CT that Obama, “seeking to repair relations fractured by 9/11, is telling Islamic countries that America is not interfering with their internal matters.”

Reporter Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra also interviewed Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. She sees something much more troubling about the “freedom of worship” language. (Read an interview with Shea in the current issue of Religion & Liberty).

Freedom of worship means the right to pray within the confines of a place of worship or to privately believe, said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom and member of the commission. “It excludes the right to raise your children in your faith; the right to have religious literature; the right to meet with co-religionists; the right to raise funds; the right to appoint or elect your religious leaders, and to carry out charitable activities, to evangelize, [and] to have religious education or seminary training.”

Read “Freedom of Worship’ Worries” on the Web site of Christianity Today.

This week’s Acton Commentary. Benjamin B. Phillips is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Houston Campus. This commentary was based on an article in the Journal of Markets & Morality (Vol. 12, No. 2).

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Evangelicals and Global Warming

By Benjamin Phillips

Since 2005, evangelicals have divided into two roughly opposing camps over the question of anthropogenic global warming. Official statements of the Southern Baptist Convention through its resolution process, its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the Cornwall Alliance have typically rejected the theory of anthropogenic global warming and catastrophic climate change predictions. They assert that it is more likely that global warming will be moderate and have moderate or even helpful effects on the environment over all. They also argue that the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is unlikely to have significant impact on global warming. These groups have focused primarily on the impact of climate-change policy on developing economies and the poor. On the other side, the Evangelical Environmental Network, through its Evangelical Climate Initiative and (as it seems) the SBECI have affirmed the existence and danger of anthropogenic global warming and have called for action to prevent it.

Despite conflict among evangelicals over the existence of anthropogenic global warming, there has been a great deal of consensus on the theological basis for addressing environmental degradation. Most evangelical statements appeal to the fact that God is the creator of the world as a basis for understanding the value of nonhuman creation, and many note that God is its owner. Virtually every evangelical statement on the environment and climate change acknowledges that God has commissioned humanity with the responsibility of stewardship/dominion over the earth and that the execution of this responsibility has been perverted by sin, with negative impact on the environment. Evangelicals have also, almost without exception, affirmed the responsibility of Christians to care for the poor as an important factor in considering environmental policy.

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In preparing for an Acton University lecture last week on Christianity and Government (you can listen to it here)

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I was reflecting on some of the core differences between a Christian vision of government in comparison to modern, secular visions.

While there is no single Christian vision of government and good Christians can disagree on a host of topics, one of the things that sets apart the Christian vision is a robust vision of the good life and integrated human flourishing directed toward certain ends that are fitting to man as a rational and free creature with an everlasting destiny.

The Christian idea of the good life is one of the reasons why for Christians, politics and the state, while necessary and ordained by God, are just not that important in the way they are to many ancients and modern visions.

Many critics say this is because the Church is focused on otherworldly matters. But this is insufficient. While it is true that the main concern of Christianity is eternal salvation, the Church is very concerned with living in this world—but its vision of the good life is found first in relationship with God, and then in the Church, families, and other associations in the place or places in which a person finds himself. This contrasts with certain ancient visions, or those influenced by the thought of Rousseau, which tend to see a plurality of associations as a dividing force and see man becoming integrated in and through the larger “community” of the state, thus making the state and politics central to life.

For Christians the purpose of politics is to create peace and order under which men can live out their freedoms, their responsibilities, and pursue an integrated vision of the good life. Politics is necessary and important, but by no means sufficient, primary, or the end of life–even life here on earth.

This is the vision of medieval thinkers like Thomas Aquinas and the Reformed theologian, Johannes Althusius, who wrote that “politics is the art of associating men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them.” He called this “symbiotics” and said that “the end of the political symbiotic man is holy, just, comfortable, and happy symbiosis…”

This is why Christians today need to be concerned with the revival of community, private charity, mutual aid societies, strong families, and vibrant churches. But it is also why we must beware of finding community in the state, but I’ll leave that for another post.

For those interested you can find Althusius’ Politica at Liberty Fund, and Acton colleague, Jordan Ballor discusses Althusius’ contribution in his new book Ecumenical Babel just out from Christians Library Press and available at the Acton Book Shop.

In the most recent edition of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Acton’s Research Director Samuel Gregg has an article in which he argues that the ongoing financial and economic crisis has raised serious questions about the credibility and usefulness of much mainstream contemporary economics. Drawing partly on his recent book, Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy (2010), Gregg suggests that much mainstream economics after Keynes became gradually dominated by a fixation upon econometrics that has threatened at times to reduce economics to a poor cousin of mathematics. As Gregg writes:

Since John Maynard Keynes’s time, mainstream economics has undergone a steady process of mathematization and immersion in abstraction. One need only glance through their nearest copy of the American Economic Review and observe the plethora of algebra that is now central to most mainstream economists’ argumentation. (p.445)

Gregg suggests that this partly reflected an unhealthy relationship between parts of the economics profession and the trend to government economic planning that accelerated after World War II. In this connection, Gregg notes:

The postwar “new economics” helped to support the belief that the state could “manage” the economy and therefore facilitated expectations that governments should attempt to do so. Governmental institutions committed to interventionist policies wanted macroeconomic research that added empirical credibility to such proposals. . . . A form of collusion consequently developed between the postwar economics profession and states pursuing interventionist strategies. (p.454)

In the second part of the article, Gregg makes the case for a re-look at the type of political economy pursued by Adam Smith: i.e., one committed to a fuller appreciation of reality.

Economists wishing to re-engage economics in a wider discussion about the truth of human reality could thus do worse than return to the writings of Adam Smith. Here one finds a truly synthetic approach to comprehending not just the economic dimension of human reality, but also how that economic component fits into a fuller picture of human reality—one that is committed to treating moral virtues as real to the same extent as the forces of entrepreneurship and peaceful free exchange, not to mention institutions such as the rule of law that are the very stuff of modern flourishing economies. Returning to Smith does not imply wholesale abandonment of all the tools and methods developed in a range of different schools of economic thought since 1776. It does, however, suggest that efforts to quarantine economic science from normative considerations or even knowledge of the basic moral goods knowable by human reason ought to be themselves viewed as unreasonable and unscientific. (p.463)

Read Gregg’s “Smith versus Keynes: Economics and Political Economy in the Post-Crisis Era” in its entirety in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

Last week’s Acton Commentary, “Unity or Unanimity at Reformed Council?” was picked up by a number of news outlets, including the Detroit News and the Holland Sentinel. The latter paper published a response to the piece by Jeffrey Japinga, “Intersection of economics and faith is valid subject for church council.”

I think Japinga misreads me, and in doing so (perhaps unintentionally) ends up agreeing with me. He thinks that I oppose the Accra Confession because “what it says disagrees with the conclusions of the Acton Institute.” I do disagree with the Confession on those grounds, to be sure. But that Accra and Acton conflict on economic questions is really the least of my concern in opposing the Accra Confession.

My greatest problem with the Accra Confession is that it proposes to make its own position a matter of confessional integrity. When Japinga compares the confession to the Acton Institute’s core principles, for instance, he’s making a number of category mistakes. The Acton Institute is a nonprofit educational and research organization, a think tank. The World Communion of Reformed Churches purports to be a global institutional representation of the Christian church.

Can you see the difference? It is the job of organizations like Acton to engage in debates in the public square about political policy, prudential and particular concerns, in this case economic. This isn’t the primary task of the institutional church, however.

What I really want at the WCRC is the “kind of open, healthy discussion” Japinga celebrates. I don’t really desire to expel what I consider to be the voices of liberation theology and neo-Marxist ideology from the WCRC. That’s not in danger of happening any time soon and my book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, describes some of the reasons why.

My real concern is to see that voices that view globalization as having good aspects as well as bad, as the Accra Confession most certainly does not, are not excluded from the Reformed ecumenical discussion. I believe the adoption of the Accra statement as a confessional standard would do just that and serve to silence dissent and undermine intellectual diversity. It would turn an economic ideology (one that also happens to be false) into an article of the Reformed ecumenical faith.

As Ernest W. Lefever writes, “Taking sides and not taking sides both have moral and political pitfalls. But supporting the wrong side is the worst of all options.”

We’ve posted a dozen or so AU 2010 lectures in our online store and expect to be putting up many more in the days ahead. They’re priced at $1.99 and transactions are through a secure server at the Acton Institute Digital Downloads page. Check back often. Here’s what available now:

– Thoughts on Human Dignity – Rev. Robert A. Sirico – June 15, 2010

— Centralization and Civil Society – Dr. Daniel Mahoney – June 16, 2010

— The Federalist Debate: Balancing Liberty and Order – Dr. John Pinheiro – June 16, 2010

— Alexis de Tocqueville: Philosopher of Civil Society – Dr. Daniel Mahoney – June 16, 2010

— Christian Poverty in an Age of Prosperity – Rev. Robert A. Sirico – June 16, 2010

— Medieval Economics: The Untold Story – Jeffrey Tucker – June 16, 2010

— Cultural Decay in Free and Planned Economies – Dr. Jonathan Witt – June 16, 2010

— The Ecumenical Movement and Economics: A Critique – Jordan Ballor – June 16, 2010

— Introduction to Catholic Social Teaching – Rev. Raymond de Souza – June 17, 2010

— Social and Economic Context of the New Testament – Dr. Stephen Grabill – June 16, 2010

— The Emergent Church – Dr. Anthony Bradley – June 17, 2010

— Stewardship, Generosity, and Charitable Giving – Brett Elder – June 17, 2010

— The New Deal and the Great Society: Moral and Economic Failure – Klay & Claar – June 17, 2010

At Public Discourse, Acton’s Research Director Samuel Gregg examines why many European governments are so hesitant to engage in much needed but painful economic reforms – especially reforms that involve diminishing the size of expansive welfare states. The causes are many, but in “Fatal Attraction: Democracy and the Welfare State,” Gregg zeroes in on a potentially damaging linkage between democratic systems of government and the growth of large welfare states that seek to provide economic security to ever increasing numbers of people. Substantive economic reform becomes extremely difficulty in these circumstances. Gregg writes:

No doubt, this reflects a disinclination of many European politicians—on the left and right—to concede that the post-war European effort to use the state to provide as much economic security as possible has encountered an immovable obstacle in the form of economic reality. Yet it is arguable—albeit highly politically incorrect to suggest—that it also reflects the workings of a potentially deadly nexus between democracy (or a certain culture of democracy) and the welfare state.

One justification for democracy is that it provides us with ways of aligning government policies with the citizenry’s requirements and of holding governments accountable when their decisions do not accord with the majority’s wishes. But what happens when some citizens begin viewing these mechanisms as a means for encouraging elected officials to use the state to provide them with whatever they want, such as apparently limitless economic security? And what happens when many elected officials believe it is their responsibility to provide the demanded security, or, more cynically, regard welfare programs as a useful tool to create constituencies that can be relied upon to vote for them?

Read more of “Fatal Attraction: Democracy and the Welfare State” on Public Discourse.

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, June 18, 2010
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Because of the crush of Acton University blogging activity, I’ll be posting mostly links today. Watch for a wrap up in the days ahead.

Also, Jordan Ballor’s fine Acton Commentary “Unity or Unanimity at Reformed Council?” was published yesterday in the Detroit News under the headline “Ballor: Church activists shouldn’t adopt separation as doctrine.”

Blogging AU:

— Grzegorz (Greg) Lewicki explains what we mean by, “Get lost from my porch, or I’ll break your neck right now.”

— Jackson Egan offers “Acton University: A Student’s First Impressions of the Acton Institute.” He follows up with “The World is Not Changed by Good Intentions.”

— Adam Thompson unpacks “Hijacked Solidarity.”

— Dr. Charles Self meets “leaders and thinkers from Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic and non-denominational traditions” in his Day 2 post.

— Marcos Hilding Ohlsson is “Hablando de libertad y Religión.”

— Amy Hall reflects on “Wealth and the Bible.”

— Joshua Brown digs deeper into the “Notion of Liberty.”

— Brett Kunkle asks: “Can You Change Parenthood With No Consequences?”

— Along the same lines, Erin Kunkle explains why “Children Need Dads, Societies Need Dads.”

— Gerry Breshears indulges his “curiosity bump” at AU.

— Armando Regil Velasco looks at “Populism in Latin America.”

— Jeffrey Tucker wonders: “Why Do We Keep Singing this Music?”

— Patrick Russo does not overlook the “empty spaces” in the Scottish Enlightenment.

— Day Two from Kaetana Leontjeva: “Acton – tęsinys.”

“Immaculée Ilibagiza puts everything in perspective” for Stephen Heiner.

— Kristy Kieda offers an appreciation of “Immaculée” and looks at aid to the developing world in “The Moral Hazard of Charitable Giving.”

— Robby Moeller talks about the friendship he has forged with Acton’s Jim Healy and takes a humorous look at Rev. Sirico on Fox News engaging with the producers of “What Would Jesus Buy?”

— Juan Callejas is back with “Personas sobre Datos.”

— Lenny McCallister has “A Thought on Christian Anthropology and Saving America.” What’s more, Lenny experiences an “Immaculée” moment, and has good things to say about “Dr. [Jennifer Roback] Morse’s analysis” on the breakdown of families and its impact on economic systems.

— Chris Armstrong announces that “Emergent is dead, and the leftovers have gone to the Christian Left, neo-Anabaptism, and neo-Puritanism.” He digs into Catholic Social Teaching and find the foundations of the free and virtuous society.

— Eric Teetsel looks at “Family Matters.”

— Elise Hilton quotes Rudy Carrasco and Jennifer Roback Morse and has better luck with the lemon drop martini.

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, June 17, 2010
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More great coverage of Acton University. Also check out our Flickr and Twitter (hashtag: #ActonU) feeds in the sidebar.

— Carl Sanders, chair of Bible and Theology, at Washington Bible College/Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, Md., has posts up at Insomniac Memos and 100 Days, 100 Books: A Reader’s Journal. He reviews the foundational lectures:

Our final afternoon session was a wide-ranging question section with the panel of presenters from the day. Unlike many such sections, I felt the questions were of high quality and the answers helpful. Topics addressed ranged from the proper definition of nominalism, the distinction between what is moral & evil (i.e., how do we decide when to legislate morality), the notion of just prices (vs. market prices) and a reevaluation of Rousseau (perhaps…). Interesting stuff.

Dr. Charlie Self takes us through “24 Hours at Acton.”

My personal motto is “Think deeply and act decisively.” Acton is proof that deep thinking and decisive action are connected and crucial to the future of our planet. It is refreshing to hear intellectual giants affirm that government exists to protect God-given rights, not bestow them. It is exciting to see compassionate leaders dedicated to helping the poor affirm that free markets are the most empowering way forward, not bureaucrat-controlled enterprises. Economics is more than tax policy – it is the delightful art and science of creating wealth, serving human need and expressing our calling to create, discover and manage the wonders of the world.

— Adam Thompson, the Catholic Teacher Man, reflects on the Wednesday evening talk by Immaculée Ilibagiza.

The critical moment in the dark night of Ms. Ilibagiza’s soul occurred when all seemed lost as a search party full of bloodlust ransacked the preacher’s home looking for any “cockroaches” and “snakes” to exterminate. In an episode that can only be accounted for by divine intervention, the mob inexplicably abandoned their efforts on the threshold of the bathroom. Ms. Ilibagiza remarked that her faith in God was restored and her life changed in that epiphanic moment. She determined to spread the message of the Good News in an apostolate of gratitude and forgiveness, which she conveyed through her bestselling memoir, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. She later returned to Rwanda where she visited her family’s murderer in prison and forgave him.

— Jeffrey Tucker at the Mises Economics Blog on “Revisiting that Rwanda Slaughter”:

As Rothbard has noted, the whole conflict between the two groups stems from the absurdity of colonial borders forcing these two groups to live under one state in which domination of one by the other is an inevitable. What I had not realized until tonight is the extent to which the Hutu government had actually promoted and even ordered the mass death of the Tutsis, in radio broadcasts following the death of the Hutu president. In other words, the genocide had been legally condoned and promoted.

— Kaetana Leontjeva, an attendee from Vilnius, Lithuania, blogs the Acton universiteto programa.

Mieli skaitytojai, artimiausiomis dienomis norėčiau pasidalinti įspūdžiais iš Acton universiteto programos, kurioje šiuo metu dalyvauju. Acton institute Grand Rapids mieste Mičigano valstijoje, JAV vykstanti programa trunka kiek mažiau nei savaitę, tačiau šis trumpas laikas žada būti labai turiningu. Šiandien vyksta “pamatiniai” kursai pirmąkart dalyvaujantiems, o nuo rytojaus lankysiu pasirinktus kursus (kiekvienos sesijos metu galima rinktis net iš 6 skirtingų kursų).

— Stephen Heiner, gives us the Confessions of a Conference Junkie: My first day at Acton University:

Acton delivers what I’ve come to expect at “these sorts of things,” and some extra items:
1. A truly diverse crowd. There are attendees from 6 different countries, including what appear to be at least a dozen priests and even more seminarians. We have Catholic priests, Orthodox priests, and every shade of Protestant minister. It is overwhelmingly male (I’d guess 70/30), but the women who are here are quite attractive (not that a single guy notices such things).
2. A dazzling array of lectures. While I endured the “foundational series” of lectures with the rest of my Acton freshmen colleagues, tomorrow starts the courses that we hand-picked ourselves. Here are a few of them …

— Armando Regil Velasco, from El Instituto de Pensamiento Estratégico Ágora A.C. (IPEA) in Mexico, has “Thoughts on Human Dignity from Acton University”:

I am delighted and inspired to share some thoughts on human dignity. Robert Sirico, President and Co-Founder of the Acton Institute has been a great source of inspiration since I met him in 2006. Every time I listen to him, I feel thankful to know that there are extraordinary persons that dedicate their lives to be intellectual pilgrims and to give testimony of what really matters.

— Erin Kunkle at the Please Convince Me blog reflects on Governance without Government:

Today, society seems to have turned from caring about “persons”—your extended family, friends, neighbors—to caring for “people” in general. When you merely care about “people,” you may want help for those in your community that need it but you are removed from any responsibility or obligation and simply expect the government or someone other entity to provide help. As I reflected on this, I thought of the disappearance of the Good Samaritan in society. News stories tell of someone getting hurt or victimized but instead of individuals stepping in to help, they walk by expecting someone else to take care of it. Father Sirico argued this would never have happened in the 1950’s and 1960’s …

— At the Stand to Reason blog, Brett Kunkle wants to know: “Are You a Greedy Capitalist?”

The basis of capitalism is not selfish greed but rather, appropriate self-interest. This distinction is vital to grasp. Self-interest is not wrong. Do you desire food and shelter? Do you wish to take care of your loved ones? I hope so. Are these greedy desires? Of course not. They represent a proper self-interest. Self-interest is simply looking out for one’s interests. Indeed, Jesus endorses self-interest. How does He tell us we ought to love others? As we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

— Juan Callejas from Guatemala offers “Reflexiones sobre la Dignidad Humana” at Discusión Inteligente:

La antropología socialista asume que la persona humana es producto de la casualidad evolutiva y biológica de la naturaleza, y cómo tal, está destinada a la vida terrenal como principio y fin de su existencia. Esta antropología también coloca al hombre como medio para el servicio de la nebulosa entidad del “Estado” o la “Sociedad”. La reducción de la persona humana como mera pieza de la máquina estatal le roba su dignidad porque le despoja de la posibilidad de escoger, del motor creativo y del sentido trascendente que tenemos todos tanto de manera física a través de la familia, cómo de lo que físicamente creamos, como también de nuestra trascendencia espiritual.

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, June 17, 2010
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Ryan T. Anderson, editor of Public Discourse, weighs in on BP’s blowout in the Gulf of Mexico:

What we’re seeing is an animus directed toward modern technology and industry, an unmodulated suspicion of the private sector’s motives, an unexamined belief that markets have failed, all coupled with an uncritical (and nearly unthinking) faith that, in the final analysis, only government and extensive regulation will save us from ourselves and protect Mother Nature.

But the history of environmental progress tells a different story. And the lessons of this story ought not to be obscured by this tragic event. First, governmental attempts to protect the environment often have been inefficient, ineffective, and even counterproductive. Second, economic growth—and the affordable energy and market economies that allows for such growth—is largely responsible for the environmental gains we have witnessed over the past decades. And third, property rights and the market itself—not the supposedly angelic intentions and intelligence of government officials—best protect the environment.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and perhaps the best-known governmental misstep—still in full force—when it comes to environmental policy is the Endangered Species Act. Signed into law in 1973, the act was meant to protect species on the verge of extinction as “a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.” The law has had some good effects, but in certain respects the remedy was worse than the disease. Instead of bringing economic growth and development into harmony with concern for and conservation of endangered species, the act gave some an economic incentive to kill and destroy the habitats of the very animals it sought to protect.

“Shoot, shovel, and shut-up” best captures the attitude of some ranchers, farmers, harvesters, and other land-owners who stand to lose all access to their land should an endangered animal be discovered on it. If an endangered species is discovered on private property, governmental officials can tell the owners what they may and may not do with the land—imposing criminal sanctions if they fail to comply. This can greatly decrease the value of the land, but the government does not offer any economic recompense.

As a result, land-owners know that if they spot an endangered animal they should get rid of their problem by getting rid of the animal before the government finds out—“shoot, shovel, and shut-up.” This same logic also provides the incentive for land-owners to manage their properties in such a way (by clearing undergrowth, limiting the size of forests, etc.) so as to prevent them from providing habitat for endangered species.

Imagine how many more endangered species would be discovered and protected if there were an economic incentive to doing so. What if conservation groups paid land-owners to purchase the properties where these species were discovered? Barring that, what if the government compensated land-owners, thus implementing a policy that makes sense by providing the proper economic incentives. No one suggests getting rid of the Endangered Species Act, only reforming it to make use of market-based solutions.

Read “The Gulf Oil Spill and Eco-nomics” on Public Discourse.