Anytime I can get a progressive/dissenting Catholic magazine/blog like the Jesuit-run America simultaneously to quote papal documents, defend the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, embrace the Natural Law and even yearn for a theological investigation “by those charged with oversight for the Church’s doctrine” of a writer suspected of heresy, I consider that I have had a good day.

And to think that all this was prompted by two sentences of mine quoted in a New York Times story on an attempt by adjunct professors at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University to form a union! Times reporter Mark Oppenheimer asked how I made sense of the resistance on the part of Duquesne, a Catholic University, to unionizing efforts by adjunct professors in light of the Church’s teaching about unions. We had a pleasant half hour talk on the subject in which I first explained that the Church generally looked favorably on unions – certainly not all of them, at all times or in all places, and not at all they do, and not as an end in themselves, but rather for the well-being of those workers and their families (i.e., that the Church’s support for unions is contingent). This favorable bias does not mean that workers are obligated to join a union, nor that management is obligated to accept the terms of a union. The right to join a union, in Church teaching, is rooted in the natural right of association, which of course also means that people have the right not to associate. It all boils down to the details of the specific case, meaning that Duquesne was probably considering the ever-rising costs of education and its impact on the lives of students and their families.

It was in this context that I uttered what the America magazine/blog writer Vincent Miller deemed offensive when I observed that Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum, “In the industrial revolution, [when] the church was concerned about communism, and not just capitalism but savage capitalism . . . People were being brutalized. That’s just not the case in Pittsburgh today.” (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, June 28, 2012

Renaissance Center (GM building)

Renaissance Center (GM building). Creative Commons: paul (dex) bica via Compfight

Some time back I argued that urban farming and the entrepreneurial spirit in Detroit was something that should be embraced rather than dismissed. Detroit mayor Dave Bing has given verbal support for urban and community farms in the past, but in many cases some regulatory hurdles remained and he was somewhat skeptical at times about the importance of large scale urban agriculture projects.

But that ambivalence seems to be history, as yesterday Michigan State University and the city of Detroit announced an agreement under which MSU “will invest $1.5 million over the next three years to help turn the city into a world hub for food system innovation.”

“We want to demonstrate that innovation based on metropolitan food production can create new businesses and jobs, return idle land to productivity and grow a more environmentally sustainable and economically vital city,” said Bing.

One concern about the MSU partnership is whether this might encourage government to over-regulate gardens, and therefore stifle innovation. As I have observed in the past, the city’s own incompetence and incapacity has actually in some limited cases provided an environment that allows entrepreneurship and revival. But there’s always legitimate worry over whether a government embrace of an industry might become crushing.

This week, 40 pastors and church leaders are gathered to discuss important ideas of integrating faith, work, and vocation into our daily lives. Vocation is integral, not incidental to the missio Dei, the work that God has called us to do each day. The pastors and church leaders represent a diversity of evangelical traditions and geographic locations in the US.

Over the next year, this group will meet for face-to-face retreats, field trips and a few webinars with the goal of each pastor and church developing an infusion plan to infuse these important ideas into the DNA of each church. The churches represented here are on different places on this journey and it is our hope this community will truly be a learning community where pastors and leaders can learn from each other and immediately incorporate those ideas into their congregations and use them in their infusion plans.

Joining me on the community’s leadership team are Amy Sherman, Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute, Steve Garber, director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture, and Stephen Grabill, Director of Programs and International. We are looking forward to thoughtful discussions and infusion plans to integrate these ideas and concepts throughout this next year.

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, June 28, 2012

For those wanting to read the recently released decision, the Alliance Defense Fund has a copy of the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare.

On C-Span2’s BookTV, Rev. Sirico talks about his new book, ‘Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy’, and argues that moral people should embrace capitalism and the free market.  This talk was hosted by the Catholic Information Center in Washington, DC. The next scheduled air times are Saturday, June 30th at 7pm ET and Sunday, July 1st at 6:15am ET.

We could learn a lot about liberty from our pioneer forebears, argues Meghan Clyne. And an exemplar of this model of freedom and self-reliance can be found on our children’s bookshelves, in the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder:

Who in America’s past, then, can show us the way to a mature, sustainable democratic life — one defined not by the rebellious seizure of liberty, but by the consistent and wise exercise of it through a dedication to self-reliance? The answer is the men and women who extended the freedoms articulated in Philadelphia and secured at Yorktown out to the Pacific Coast: the pioneers.

Their history has, sadly, been under-appreciated. This is due in part to the fact that the academy — which does most of the work of professional history — dismisses them as plunderers and marauders, despoilers of pristine environments and native civilizations. But it is also because the pioneers’ history is complicated, and does not lend itself to easy summary through the deeds of a few extraordinary figures. The history of the pioneers is, for the most part, the story of average people who pursued typical American desires: greater prosperity, breathing room, adventure, religious liberty. In fact, it is their very ordinariness that makes them such promising examples for today’s Americans seeking models of self-reliance and self-government.

Fortunately, there is one pioneer life that has been preserved in exhaustive detail — a life with which many Americans, though not enough, are already familiar. This life belongs not to someone known for authoring a governing document, achieving heroic feats on the battlefield, or amassing a staggering fortune. Rather, she is known and beloved precisely for giving Americans a sense of ordinary pioneer lives through the example of her own.

Read more . . .

Father Peter Preble, pastor of St. Michael Orthodox Church, and Stephen Kokx, adjunct professor of political science and columnist, both recently reviewed Rev. Robert Sirico’s new book Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

Fr. Preble says the book changed his outlook on how to treat the poor. He refers to the third chapter and highlights the book’s emphasis on asking new questions:

Dr. Richard Vedder, the Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University and the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, recently addressed the topic of federal aid and the cost of higher education, an issue that has received some attention on the PowerBlog as of late. Vedder critiques federal aid initiatives like the Pell Grant, which today helps the middle class more than the poor, but saw a twofold size increase from 2007 to 2010. Vedder’s article, titled “Federal Student Aid and the Law of Unintended Consequences,” levels a string of critiques against the current system and ultimately argues for a complete re-examination of federal student aid programs. A portion of his argument his excerpted below:

In the real world, interest rates vary with the prospects that the borrower will repay the loan. In the surreal world of student loans, the brilliant student completing an electrical engineering degree at M.I.T. pays the same interest rate as the student majoring in ethnic studies at a state university who has a GPA below 2.0. The former student will almost certainly graduate and get a job paying $50,000 a year or more, whereas the odds are high the latter student will fail to graduate and will be lucky to make $30,000 a year.

Related to this problem, colleges themselves have no “skin in the game.” They are responsible for allowing loan commitments to occur, but they face no penalties or negative consequences when defaults are extremely high, imposing costs on taxpayers.

In the conclusion of his article, published in Hillsdale College’s monthly speech digest Imprimis, Vedder notes the good intentions with which federal aid programs were established. Unfortunately, these good intentions do nothing for the effectiveness of the system, now responsible for more debt than credit cards. With the debt crisis handcuffing so many Americans, a strong sense of moral urgency–paired with sound economic thinking–is necessary in rethinking the future of student aid in America. Vedder’s article is a useful start.

I had the opportunity to speak at the Fortnight for Freedom event held by the Church of the Incarnation in Collierville, Tennessee, on June 21. The venue and the crowd were among the best I’ve ever encountered. Below, you can read my excerpted remarks:

On the Question of Religious Liberty

If I understand correctly, this is the beginning of the Fortnight for Freedom here at the Church of the Incarnation and around the nation. The need for this special fortnight arises from recent actions of the government which indicate that religious freedom may be in serious danger. Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate requiring all employers who offer insurance to provide coverage for contraceptive and abortifacient products and services. The mandate contained no exemption for religious institutions such as universities, charities, and hospitals who might find difficulty complying for reasons of faith and conscience.

“I was Hungry and You . . . Called your Congressman” is a good report from Kristin Rudolph over at the IRD blog. The article covers Bread for the World president David Beckmann’s comments to a group of “emergent Christians” in Washington D.C.

From the piece:

Beckmann lamented that “very little progress has been made against poverty and hunger” in the US over the past few decades. This, he explained, is because ”we haven’t had a president who’s made the effort” to address hunger since President Lyndon Johnson launched the “war on poverty” in the 1960s. Unfortunately, he said, every administration since Johnson has prioritized other issues ahead of solving poverty and hunger. Beckmann admitted: “The federal government can’t solve all the problems,” but it can “provide a framework” for others to follow. Further, he said “the states cannot do it [address poverty] without the federal government. The federal government has real power and authority and we have to use that.”

Rudolph ably addresses many of the problems in Beckmann’s argument. The religious left and its insatiable appetite for more government continues to neglect the underlying issues of poverty.

Bread for the World has been highlighted on the PowerBlog specifically by Jordan Ballor in “The Politics of Hunger.” The appetite to solve hunger will be unfulfilled for any organization where its primary mission is to look towards the federal government. Beckmann, perhaps unknowingly, has made one good point though, government is now such a bloated bureaucracy, it can no longer prioritize or achieve goals.