I’ve been on record more than once regarding my own doubts and criticisms of the precise political pronouncements made by various church groups, especially offices and branches seemingly representing the institutional church. So when I see something sensible and good coming from these same sources, it’s only right and fair that I acknowledge and celebrate them.

Here are two items worthy of notice:

The first is from the newsletter of the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJHA) of the Christian Reformed Church, which linked to an article, “Can Violence Ever Lead to Peace?” In this piece Paul Kortenhoven explores how “the use of violence in reaction to an extremely violent attack by an extremely violent rebel force simply stopped them. Along with the British stance in Sierra Leone, this also was a main catalyst for peace.”

I have to say I was pretty surprised to see an explicit acknowledgment of the positive role that military and coercive intervention can play as a backdrop for lasting peace. Kortenhoven’s piece is the diametric opposite of what IRD’s Mark Tooley has called in another context the attitude of “pseudo-pacifist academics and antiwar activists.”

It’s an article that takes seriously the complexities involved in answering such questions as, “How, in a world of such strife, are Christians to build peace? How should we think about war? And how do we talk to one another about these issues with open hearts and minds in patience, love and humility?”

The second item of note comes from the ecumenical world, where at the end of last month leaders of WARC “called for the lifting of the United States’ economic embargo against Cuba in the interest of justice and right relationships.”

Unfortunately, this position shouldn’t be construed as part of a broader agenda pursuing economic liberty and international openness, linked as it is to the overall “covenanting for justice” outlook of the 2004 Accra, Ghana meeting. How can you decry embargoes and at the same time militate against “neoliberal economic globalization”? Your guess is as good as mine, but at least on the issue of the Cuba embargo, WARC leaders are in the neighborhood of a prudent approach.

Beyond this, I do have a word of concern as well as praise. Regardless of the rightness of the positions espoused above, there is the methodological and eccelsiological issue of whether these are the appropriate groups to be campaigning for such things. That is, should the institutional church, which the ecumenical clearly fancies itself as representing, be speaking so clearly and particularly on prudential policy matters?

Blog author: kosten.joseph
posted by on Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Rome students Joe Kosten (left) and Chris Wells.

Recently, I had the distinct honor to represent Canada at the Papal Rosary for University Students in Rome. The event was held in the Pius VI Hall and was well attended by more than 12,000 students and faithful. Though the story behind my choice of country remains long and obtuse, suffice to say it was an honor to represent any English speaking country before the Holy Father.

The Pope’s message following the Rosary promotes virtue, freedom, and justice for all.

Benedict XVI’s opinions on virtuous living and freedom are well known in the intellectual world. As Pope, he has been working to promote a society of freedom and justice through which man can grow and develop with dignity. The message for students and young people was clear: You are disciples and witnesses of the Gospel, because the Gospel is the herald cry of the Reign of God; the society of love.

As a student in Rome and an intern for the Acton Institute, this call applies directly to my activities here in the Eternal City. However, the call can extend to all young people as they work and function within society. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote in his autobiography, Treasure in Clay, “Our Blessed Lord said: ‘Go into the world and make disciples.’ Here was not only a cosmic mission, but a personal one . . . to bring souls under the discipline of Christ. . . . God never intended that individual and social justice should be separated”(Treasure in Clay, 107-108). Sheen foresaw what the current Pope now asks of youth everywhere: to actively live the society of love in everyday life, and thus give witness to the truth of the Gospel.

“Recycle or go to Hell, warns Vatican”. “Vatican Increases List of Mortal Sins”, “Vatican lists ‘new sins’, including pollution”. These were three of the most sensationalist headlines in yesterday’s English-speaking press, picking up on an interview with a Vatican official published in L’Osservatore Romano on Sunday.

The official, Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, is the second-in-command at the Apostolic Penitentiary (despite the name, it is not a jail but the Vatican office responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins in the Roman Catholic Church). The bishop spoke the day after the Penitentiary concluded a course for confessors. The bulk of the interview dealt with matters concerning canon law and the sacrament of confession, items of little interest to the general public. But the bishop also spoke about some new forms of social sin. Here are the relevant questions and answers:

Sometimes people do not understand the Church’s (issuing of) indulgences and Christian forgiveness? Why do you think it is that way?

Today it seems that repentance is taken to mean opening one’s self to others when resolving issues found within his or her own special social sphere, within which one expresses his very own existence, and does so by offering his own contribution of clarification and support for those having such problems. Repentance, therefore, today takes on a (special) social dimension, due to the fact that relationships have grown weaker and more complicated because of globalization.

In your opinion, what are the “new sins”?

There are various areas today in which we adopt sinful behavior, as with individual and social rights. This is especially so in the field of bioethics where we cannot deny the existence of violations of fundamental rights of human nature – this occurs by way of experiments and genetic modifications, whose results we cannot easily predict or control. Another area, which indeed pertains to the social spectrum, is that of drug use, which weakens our minds and reduces our intelligence. As a result, many young people are left out of Church circles. Here’s another one: social and economic inequality, in the sense that the rich always seem to get richer, and the poor, poorer. This [phenomenon] feeds off an unsustainable form of social injustice and is related to environmental issues –which currently have much relevant interest.

(Download an English translation of the entire interview [PDF].)

Anyone reading these passages can see that the Church is not proposing any new list of mortal sins, and certainly did not list “obscene wealth” and “pollution” as matters to be confessed by the faithful. The bishop simply referred to the social consequences of sin, some of which seem to be exacerbated by an increasingly inter-connected world.

So how did the American and British press reports get it so wrong? Back in February 2007, John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter wrote an incisive piece about irresponsible reporting at the Vatican, and there is even an entire website, GetReligion.org, devoted to this problem.

Having worked in the Vatican for several years, I know many of the beat reporters, including some of those who botched this social sin story. Most have absolutely no interest in the larger theological or philosophical issues discussed at high levels, so in a way this is all the fruit of culpable ignorance.

But real damage is done to the Church and her flock by such slipshod reporting. Knowledge of Catholic social doctrine has surely suffered and people who may otherwise be interested in the Church have been driven away, all in the name of an eye-catching headline.

Thankfully, not all the news is bad. Institutions such as the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross have started seminars to train journalists in reporting on the Church, though it seems not all the English-speaking ones in Rome have yet been able to attend.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Tuesday, March 11, 2008
A victimless crime?

Via Hugh Hewitt, here are Carol Platt Liebau’s thoughts on the prostitution scandal now engulfing New York Governor Eliot Spitzer:

The whole idea, pioneered by you-know-who and enabled by you-know-who-else, is that illicit sexual behavior and the scandals resulting therefrom can be brazened out by the insistence that they are irrelevant to the discharge of public duties. As I argue in my book, it’s all part of a new ethical calculus concluding that — uniquely in the constellation of virtues — sexual morality is a subjective and purely personal matter that’s of relevance only to “religious” people (or else prurient and “judgmental” ones), even when it impacts the public.

All of us are human, all of us are sinners, no one is perfect. Certainly, there but for the grace of God go any of us. But that doesn’t mean that there should be no standards. In particular, it’s unfortunate if and when public officials conclude that sexual behavior that’s deeply disgraceful (not to mention illegal) doesn’t merit resignation. It degrades our culture, makes others complicit in condoning conduct that shouldn’t be condoned, and normalizes behavior that’s wrong.

As has become the norm, there are also plenty of voices (here’s one) decrying the fact that Spitzer may be forced to resign over a sexual indiscretion, that the worst he’s guilty of his hypocrisy, and that prostitution is essentially a “victimless crime.” It remains to be seen whether or not Spitzer will step down as a result of the scandal, but in the meantime Jordan Ballor offers some food for thought in this post, which looks at the differing standards that seem to apply to business and church leaders on the one hand and governmental officials on the other when sexual indiscretions are revealed. And be sure to take a look at the David Hess essay that Jordan references in his post as well.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Should Spitzer step down, or is his indiscretion not that serious?

When I lived in Philadelphia, Pa. as young boy, I always wondered why they called it the city of “Brotherly Love,” especially since some of the neighbors seemed so mean. The name “Philadelphia” is mentioned in Revelation 3:7. William Penn gave the city that name so as to serve as a reminder of the importance of religious liberty, peace, and an optimistic spirit. “We must give the liberty we seek,” said Penn.

Some of my family roots hail from the city simply known as Philly. Crime has long been an epidemic, where even relatives of mine have been victims of violent crimes. Philadelphia elected a a new mayor named Michael Nutter, a former city councilman. Nutter was sworn on January 7 of this year. David Whelan writes about Philadelphia and its fiscal mess in an article titled A Philly Tax Cutter for City Journal. Whelan believes while crime receives most of the attention, lasting repair and reform for the city is dependent on economic improvement.

Whelan points out how Philadelphia, with its unpopular business-privilege tax, is not friendly to entrepreneurs. Nutter has long championed a reduction or outright repeal of the business-privilege tax. Whelan notes of Philadelphia’s tax burden:

Philadelphia continues to have the nation’s second-highest individual tax burden after New York City. Philadelphia Forward cites a study finding that a typical city resident’s total tax burden from state and local taxes is 14 percent, compared with 9 percent in the nearby suburbs. For businesses, it’s way worse—roughly nine times what businesses pay in other large American cities or nearby suburbs. Defenders say that Philadelphia has been a victim of the same deindustrializing forces facing other densely populated, older cities. Yet it has adapted poorly. Even the mild-mannered Federal Reserve has spoken out against Philly’s taxes, calling them “onerous” and an “incentive to leave.”

Philadelphia was of course the first capital of this nation. States and individuals, many of them merchants, came together to cast aside the tyranny and taxation of the English Crown. It will be interesting to see if “A Philly Tax Cutter” who campaigned as a reformer can help reform Philadelphia’s hostility towards business and entrepreneurs.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Friday, March 7, 2008

Surely these are the words of a disciple of Hayek or Friedman, right?

Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior…

…The real question for policy makers is how to protect those worthy borrowers who are struggling, without throwing out a system that works fine for the majority of its users (all of whom have freely chosen to use it). If the tub is more baby than bathwater, we should think twice about dumping everything out…

…Anguished at the fact that payday lending isn’t perfect, some people would outlaw the service entirely, or cap fees at such low levels that no lender will provide the service. Anyone who’s familiar with the law of unintended consequences should be able to guess what happens next…

… I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.

Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don’t take away cars because we don’t like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don’t operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.

The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

Give up? How about George McGovern?

Ed Morrisey, writing at Hot Air, notes:

I find it fascinating that McGovern has transformed himself from a statist to a free-enterpriser simply because he left office. That isn’t a coincidence, and it explains why politicians tend to “grow in office” towards state-based solutions. After McGovern had to stop justifying his existence as a legislator, he discovered that legislators don’t need to intervene in the markets anywhere near as much as he presumed while in office.

As many PowerBlog readers will be aware, homeschooling is an educational choice that increasing numbers of parents are making. Once a fringe activity operating under the radar of the law, over the course of the last thirty years it has practically gone mainstream, being legalized de jure in most states and de facto in the others. No one has precise numbers (the government can’t track them!), but everyone agrees that the number of homeschooled children in the US has long passed the one million mark.

The practice has confronted severe legal challenges internationally—most notably in Germany—but the legal climate in the US seemed calm. Until now. Proof that liberty requires constant vigilance, this particular form of educational choice is under assault in California, where a judge has ruled that all teachers, including parents, must be “credentialed.”

Granted that the legal status of homeschooling in California was especially vulnerable to such an attack, this move adds fuel to a campaign by the main homeschooling legal action organization, HSLDA, to enact a federal constitutional amendment in defense of home education. I’m ambivalent. Leaving aside the question of tactics and political viability, I tend to oppose such campaigns on the belief that defenders of freedom concede important ground by rushing to alter the Constitution every time a threat is perceived. The right of parents to educate their children as they see fit (within certain limits, of course) exists and should be recognized. But that doesn’t mean it must be spelled out in the Constitution. We need to abandon the concept that every right must be explicitly enumerated constitutionally. Instead, we need to shift the burden of proof back to the government expansionists: If the Constitution doesn’t say that the state has the power to do it, then what’s your justification?

But as I say, the California ruling stokes the fires of those who think we do need such freedoms made explicit.

Speaking of Chuck Colson, he’s participating in a debate sponsored by the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia tonight at 7:00 PM (Eastern). The proposed resolution is: “Religion should have no place in politics or government.”

Arguing the affirmative are Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Jacques Berlinerblau, Associate Professor and Director of the Program for Jewish Civilization, Georgetown University. Taking the negative are Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship Ministries and Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., Senior Pastor of Hope Christian Church.

Like Colson, Jackson has co-authored a new book, his with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Personal Faith, Public Policy.

The debate will be webcast live and archived on the Miller Center’s web site (linked above), and will be broadcast on PBS analog and digital channels nationwide (check local listings for details).

Related: “Private Faith and Public Politics”

As part of our participation in the blog tour for Chuck Colson’s book The Faith, we got to submit a question for Chuck to answer. Here’s our exclusive Q&A:

PowerBlog: You talk about the history of the faith and tradition in your book a great deal. What do North American evangelicals stand to gain from examining more closely their own history and traditions? In what sense ought Protestantism be understood as “catholic”? Part of that great Christian tradition has to do with the witnesses to the faith, which you survey in the book. What do the concepts of martyrdom and suffering have to do with a Western context where most Christians live comfortably and without the threat of persecution?

Colson: “All true Christians confess the creed: we believe in one holy, catholic, apostolic church. Protestantism of course distinguishes itself from the Roman Church doctrine, but regards itself as part of the one body of Christ, one holy catholic apostolic church.

It is crucial that Christians understand history and tradition. Just look at how America was founded in the midst of a Great Awakening led by George Whitfield, who had been greatly influenced by the Wesley Awakening and by Wesley himself. Look at the role of Jonathan Edwards, not only in shaping the early structures of American society but in producing some of the great writings that is part of our own heritage, both as Americans and as Christians. The Encyclopedia Britannica said that Edwards was the greatest mind produced in the western hemisphere. We also need to understand the history of revivalism and how it profoundly affected the shaping of American society and culture. Christianity’s role in bringing educational institutions to the new world is indispensable.

On the subject of martyrdom and suffering, we’ve had some, but precious little. We’ve lived in a largely contained and protected environment. And that may be one of the reasons why secularism is advancing so rapidly even in the church.”

Be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour, along with all of the other Q&As to come. Next up today: The Dawn Treader. Also, be sure to raise questions in the comments section below. The word is that Chuck will be answering some of the questions raised in the comments throughout the blog tour. (Be sure to comment and raise questions at other stops on the tour, if you find the topics raised there to be of more interest.)

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Vladimir Solovyov

Towards the end of his life, the 19th century Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov published his “On the Justification of the Good: An Essay on Moral Philosophy” (1897). In this book, wrote historian Paul Valliere, Solovyov abandonded his vision of a “worldwide theocratic order” in favor of the more concrete demands of building a just society. With “Justification of the Good,” Solovyov (1853-1900) presented a general theory of economic and social welfare based on the idea that all human beings have “a right to a dignified existence.”

The following excerpt is from the chapter, “The Economic Question from the Moral Point of View” in Solovyov’s “On the Justification of the Good.” Translated by Nathalie A. Duddington; annotated and edited by Boris Jakim; foreword by David Bentley Hart. Wm. B. Eerdmans (2005). Cross posted from The Observer.

For the true solution of the so-called ‘social question’ it must in the first place be recognized that economic relations contain no special norm of their own, but are subject to the universal moral norm as a special realm in which they find their application. The triple moral principle which determines our due relation towards God, men, and the material nature is wholly and entirely applicable in the domain of economics. The peculiar character of economic relations gives a special importance to the last member of the moral trinity, namely, the relation to the material nature or earth (in the wide sense of the term). This third relation can have a moral character only if it is not isolated from the first two but is conditioned by them in the normal position.

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