umcWhen the Obamacare legislation was rushed through Congress in 2010, Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the Council of Bishops for The United Methodist Church (UMC), said he “rejoiced” at the passage of the bill because it aligns with the denomination’s values. But now, many Methodists bishops — and other Christian clergy — are wishing they hadn’t waited for the bill to pass to find out what was in it.

According to a statement released by the UMC’s General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, clergy and lay employees of United Methodist churches may soon lose their health care coverage due to some coming Obamacare provisions:


McDonald’s has been under fire over its Practical Money Skills Budget Journal, a planning tool designed to help employees organize their personal finances. The tool’s sample budget fails to account for a variety of first-world expenses, leading to a predictable cacophony of folks calling for newer, fresher, more enlightened price-fixing tricks. Stephen Colbert channels the sentiments well.

McDonald's Budget

Sample Budget for McDonald’s Employees

On the finer points, it can be tempting to get into the weeds, and many already have. Some have focused on the budget itself, debating everything from the actual cost of heat to the necessity of a $100 cable bill. Others have aimed to play the CFO, imagining how Big Mac prices might be impacted if McDonald’s paid its workers the $15 per hour they demand. It’s all been thoroughly deconstructed, but rest assured, the next hypothetical is well on its way.

Yet as fun as all this back-and-forth may be, it misses the larger reality: Prices are not play things.

As economist Art Carden has pointed out, raising the minimum wage is likely to lead to a host of deleterious effects: (more…)

Monsanto PlantWriting over at the Live58 blog, Catherine Sinclair describes her transition from uncertainty regarding GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) to outright opposition: “After doing some more research, I’ve come to the conclusion that we should avoid GMO as much as possible.” This a conclusion that we might think is counter-intuitive, to say the least, for an organization committed to ending the scourge of global hunger and poverty.

Sinclair’s main indictment of GMOs comes down to the agribusiness giant Monsanto: “Because they are companies seeking profit, seed developers like Monsanto do whatever they can to control the agricultural industry.”

It’s important to distinguish the theoretical and ethical basis for genetic modification from the actual behavior and practice of corporations like Monsanto. Too often the two are conflated. In my new book, Get Your Hands Dirty, I have an updated discussion of a theological framework for evaluating GM foods. As I caution at the conclusion of my examination of GM foods, “nothing in this framework presumes any particular policy outcome in the realm of law, and so, for instance, concerns about the use of property rights as a means to tyrannize or monopolize particular industries ought to be considered.”

Making such a distinction allows an approach that is more nuanced and responsible than simply identifying Monsanto with GMOs in general. So, for instance, a self-identified “hippie” writes in Slate:

I think Monsanto is evil, that patenting seeds and suing farmers is unethical, and that some GMO crops (like Roundup Ready Soybeans) lend themselves to irresponsible herbicide and pesticide use and cross-contamination.

But I’m also not going to let my anti-corporate sentiments get in the way of a diverse and promising field of research. (emphasis added)

Genetic modification and the cronyism that is so endemic to big agribusiness simply aren’t identical. That distinction strikes me as a helpful starting point for responsible discussion of GMOs.

For a critical but balanced examination of GMOs in theological context, check out Brad Littlejohn’s treatment of his “inner Luddite” at Mere Orthodoxy.

europe-muslimBy failing to recognize the importance of religion and its relationship to human rights, says Roger Trigg, European courts are progressively eroding religious liberty:

[T]he Council of Europe affirmed in 2007 that “states must require religious leaders to take an unambiguous stand in favour of the precedence of human rights, as set forth in the European Convention of Human Rights, over any religious principle.”

It is ironic that freedom of religion is expressly protected by the Convention and that the council recognizes this protection, because now the right to manifest one’s religion is highly qualified. In the council’s words, “a religion whose doctrine or practice [runs] counter to other fundamental rights would be unacceptable.”

In Europe, as opposed to the United States, freedom of religion translates to “freedom of religion or belief,” a phrase that covers not just atheism, but “philosophies” like vegetarianism or environmentalism. “Religion,” however defined, is no longer regarded as a unique contribution to the common good.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, August 5, 2013

Syria’s sorrowing clergy
The Economist

For people concerned about the fate about Syria’s Christian minority, these are dark times. It has now been exactly 100 days since two bishops from the ancient city of Aleppo were kidnapped near the Turkish border, and there is no definite news of their fate.

Seeing What We Want to See: Millennials Look at Government, Capitalism and Religion
Josh Good, Values & Capitalism

Psychological discouragement among younger Americans runs deep. The Silent Generation (ages 66-88) is the only group for whom a majority still thinks they are better off than their parents’ generation.

Privacy and Common Core
Paul Kengor, Crisis Magazine

FERPA is the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Changes have been made to FERPA that (some believe) will leave parents uninformed as to how their children’s records are shared.

Tradition, Business, and Culture
Vincent Bacote, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

A prominent feature of Eastern Orthodoxy is the emphasis on the participation in the liturgy, an experience that can be literally described as a trip to heaven. Those who encounter this liturgy for the first time find it an experience of sensory overload in sound, sight, and smell.

city-journal-hirschOne of the core principles of the Acton Institute is commitment to wealth creation since material impoverishment undermines the conditions that allow humans to flourish. We consider helping our fellow citizens to escape material deprivation to be one of the most morally significant economic concerns of our age. But how to do we gauge whether our neighbors are able to improve their economic security? A key metric that is often used is income or social mobility, the ability of an individual to improve their economic status over time.

Last month I noted a study that highlighted four broad factors that appear to affect income mobility:

1. The size and dispersion of the local middle class,
2. Two-parent households,
3. Better elementary schools and high schools, and
4. Civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups.

Saying that schools should be “better” is unhelpfully vague. But a recent article in City Journal by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., explains just what qualitative factor is most important: The key to increasing upward mobility is expanding vocabulary.

Hirsch’s article is one of the most important essays on education published this year — perhaps even of the decade. I highly encourage you to read the entire feature. But if you only have time for a bullet-point presentation, here are ten key facts and recommendations from Hirsch’s brilliant article:


Blog author: jcarter
Friday, August 2, 2013

Saudi activist receives 7-year sentence, 600 lashes for insulting Islam
Ed Payne and Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN

A Saudi court has sentenced a activist to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for violating the nation’s anti-cybercrime law, Human Rights Watch reported Wednesday.

An Environmental Conservatism?
Peter Blair, Public Discourse

Roger Scruton argues that conservatism is a better home for good environmental policy than liberalism.

Yes, Threats to Religious Liberty Happen Here
Ryan T. Anderson, National Review

Advocates of same-sex marriage are classifying Biblical teachings as “hate speech.”

Conservative Catholics and the New Pope
Ross Douthat, New York Times

Why it might actually be good for conservative Catholics in America to have a pope who makes them a little more uncomfortable, and (what’s left of) the American church’s liberal wing a little more enthusiastic, than either John Paul II or Benedict did.