“Private charities do demanding and heroic work for vulnerable people. We seek to reward their good work with prizes and publicity.”

The Samaritan Guide Web site has been revamped and we’d love for you to stop by and check it out. The Guide is an online database of charities that accept little or no government funding and that serve vulnerable human populations. The Guide focuses on outcomes and personal transformation, how religious and moral principles are implemented, and funding sources for the programs of non-profit organizations.

On a related note: Acton is gearing up for the Samaritan Awards! The annual Samaritan Awards identifies and rewards programs that exemplify the Seven Principles of Effective Compassion and demonstrate accountability and transparency. These exceptional charities help individuals break the cycle of dependency by providing help that is direct, personal, and accountable. All the programs that apply for the Samaritan Award will be entered into the Samaritan Guide and also will vie for a $10,000 grand prize and various capacity building prizes. The application period for the Samaritan Awards is from April 15, 2008 to May 30, 2008.

It’s election time in Italy, with voting scheduled for April 13 and 14 to select a new parliament and government. With the center of the Roman Catholic Church located within the Italian republic and historic tensions between the Church and State in Italy, it is worth asking how Italian pastors address public issues in this notoriously political country.

On March 18 the Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), Giuseppe Bertori stated that the Church does “not express any involvement or preference for any politician or political party.” Local bishops can and do react differently, however. Vatican journalist Sandro Magister recently highlighted how the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Caffarra, has issued specific guidelines for his priests.

Bologna is a noted left-wing city, where the cultural and political life is dominated by professors of Europe’s oldest university and Italian communists (yes, they still exist!). So the temptation for Bolognese priests is often to find common ground with the dominant part. Perhaps as a result, Cardinal Caffarra has forbid his priests from getting involved in partisan politics, primarily because it would compromise the communion of the Church.

The Cardinal has also prohibited the use of Church property for any political meetings or debate, will not allow parties to campaign on Church grounds, and has forbid the posting of any election posters, most likely making these parts of Bologna the only manifesti-free zone on the peninsula.

None of this means that the pastors cannot “guide” their flock. The last guideline says, in part, “If a parishioner should ask for counseling concerning the upcoming elections, priests must bear in mind that every elector is called to express a choice [….] The priest is called to help the parishioner, guiding him, so that he may distinguish those human rights worthy of being defended.” Finally, Cardinal Caffarra directs his priests to Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s note on the participation of Catholic in political life.

So while the Church in Italy is non-partisan, it clearly has something to say about politics, especially when it comes to issues such the taking of innocent life, marriage and family, Catholic education and biotechnology. It has not, to date, addressed the various economic proposals of the parties, so we can assume that faithful Italian Catholics can differ on these matters in good conscience. The argument over economic reform should therefore take place on the basis of sound economics, which would probably mark an historical occasion in this country.

One of the most frustrating things about politics is the use of simplistic labels to categorize political beliefs-in particular, the terms “conservative” and “liberal.”

Instead of a “left-right” political spectrum, Libertarians are quick to note that people embrace various degrees of freedom (or government) in two separate realms: economic markets and personal or social behaviors. A popular and useful “two-dimensional” quiz along these lines is available at www.theadvocates.org/quiz.

A two-dimensional quiz results in four categories. Conservatives are described as those who prefer a large degree of economic freedom, but significant limits on personal freedom. Liberals are those who prefer a large degree of personal freedom, but significant limits on economic freedom. “Statists” want a lot of government intervention in both realms. Libertarians favor minimal government involvement in both realms.

While a two-dimensional quiz is preferable to a one-dimensional spectrum, it still falls short in that it reduces complex policy preferences into relatively narrow categories.

In particular, the terms “conservative” and “liberal” are immediately complicated by the fact that there are various types of each. At the end of the day, unless adjectives are added to these one-word labels, they are not particularly helpful for drawing lines in shifting political sands.

Some pundits are quick to make such distinctions. And so, for example, they commonly make references to more specific groups like fiscal conservatives and environmentalists.

But many others use the simple but muddy terms, adding to the confusion. Perhaps it is a desire to unify things under a single label. Perhaps it is driven by a desire to make politics into an “us vs. them” (conservative vs. liberal) contest. In any case, the tendency to use simplistic labels is more tempting under three circumstances.

First, when the general public does not pay much attention to politics (as is common), then labels are a convenient though flawed way to communicate about politics with most people. At some level, this is as unavoidable as the 30-second “sound-bite.” The fact of the matter is that most people are busy mowing their lawns and raising their kids and aren’t going to give much time to thinking about politics. Thankfully, we live in a country where this is possible!

Second, labels will be more prevalent when politics are not likely to solve much in terms of policy. Quick labels allow politicians to distract the general public from the inability of politics to address certain problems.

Third, when much is at stake in terms of political power, labels allow a political party to shore up its base and demonize its opponents. When combined with a general inability of politics to address our problems, the result will be more demonization — and shoring up the base indirectly by criticizing “them.”

As such, labels often encourage people to focus on who (or what) they oppose instead of who (or what) they support. We see a lot of this today. For example, people routinely vote for “the lesser of two evils” rather than avidly supporting a certain candidate.

From there, the essay continues by describing different types of libertarians, different types of conservatives, and different types of liberals.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Sunday, March 23, 2008

If it be all for nought, for nothingness
At last, why does God make the world so fair?
Why spill this golden splendor out across
The western hills, and light the silver lamp
Of eve? Why give me eyes to see, the soul
To love so strong and deep? Then, with a pang
This brightness stabs me through, and wakes within
Rebellious voice to cry against all death?
Why set this hunger for eternity
To gnaw my heartstrings through, if death ends all?
If death ends all, then evil must be good,
Wrong must be right, and beauty ugliness.
God is a Judas who betrays his Son
And, with a kiss, damns all the world to hell–
If Christ rose not again.

–Unknown Soldier, killed in World War I
(From The Life of Christ in Poetry, comp. Hazel Davis Clark)

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Friday, March 21, 2008

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” – Luke 24:5b,6a

The Lord Jesus Christ makes all things new. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and his glory knows no end. Isaiah says in his 65th Chapter, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

Christians understand everything is summed up in Christ. For believers, all of our sins, trials, afflictions, pain, and heartache is made perfect and right through the victory of Christ over death. “The despair of all past history is reversed by the resurrection, and the hope of all future history is enabled by it,” says Thomas C. Oden.

In his horrible affliction and despair, Job cried out long before the incarnate presence of Christ on this earth, “I know my redeemer liveth.” Job had lost everything on earth. He lost his children, his comfort, and his health. His utter despair made him see the need for a mediator and vindicator, one who could reverse the deep despair and suffering that covered his circumstances and his entire body. Job points to the future triumph of the risen Lord.

The testimony and the witness of the Saints finds its meaning in the risen Lord. I know for me the testimony of their life has been decisive in my own belief. The same followers who were known to be in despair and hiding because of the death of Christ, then find super-natural authority and power in the name and reign of Christ. This makes sense, because through the resurrection, Christ raises humanity. The resurrection points to what we are to become. In the hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today“, Charles Wesley says it well:

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

I was reading about Bill Gates’ speech to the Northern Virginia Technology Council last week, which received a lot of media coverage (PDF transcript here).

In the speech about software innovation, Gates “speculated that some of the most important advances will come in the ways people interact with computers: speech-recognition technology, tablets that will recognize handwriting and touch-screen surfaces that will integrate a wide variety of information.”

“I don’t see anything that will stop the rapid advance,” Gates said. I appreciate the insight that a corporate mogul and business insider like Gates provides.

The predictions did make me think about this observation from Alasdair MacIntyre, however, which serves to temper some of the more audacious claims often made about technological progress.

MacIntyre writes,

Any invention, any discovery, which consists essentially in the elaboration of a radically new concept cannot be predicted, for a necessary part of the prediction is the present elaboration of the very concept whose discovery or invention was to take place only in the future. The notion of the prediction of radical conceptual innovation is itself conceptually incoherent.

To his credit, much of what Gates is describing doesn’t meet these criteria. They are not “radically new” concepts, but the integrative alteration of already existing concepts (some might argue that this has essentially been the modus operandi for Microsoft’s success: not innovation per se, but rather innovative popularization of integration).

That said, we need to be cautious about the precision of our claims about future innovation. Statistically we can predict that radical innovations are quite likely to happen, but by definition we can’t know what they will be.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Edward C. Green and Allison Herling Ruark of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies cut through the nonsense and offer clear thinking on AIDS in Africa. Their article in the April issue of First Things more specifically criticizes a recent report on faith-based organizations and AIDS emerging from the Berkley Center at Georgetown University.

Green and Ruark take pains to be respectful and deferential toward the Georgetown researchers, even where the egregious errors of the latter might have been treated with sarcastic wit. For example, there is this:

The Georgetown report clearly gets it wrong when it states that, for the ABC approach “to be effective, abstinence and fidelity must be practiced by both partners.” In fact, abstinence is always 100 percent effective in preventing sexual transmission when practiced by an individual.

Um, yes.
The article concludes,

…the central fact that has emerged from all the recent studies of the HIV epidemic: What the churches are called to do by their theology turns out to be what works best in AIDS prevention.

Hostility towards globalization is not the exclusive territory of the left in Italy. Giulio Tremonti, a former minister of the economy in Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government, has written a book called Fear and Hope (La Paura e la Speranza), largely arguing against free trade and the opening of international markets.

Tremonti blames the recent rise in the prices of consumer goods on globalization and says that this is only the beginning. The global financial crisis, environmental destruction, and geopolitical tensions in the struggle for natural resources are also fruits of globalization, according to Tremonti. He identifies the main problem as a lack of international governance of the process of globalization and calls for a new Bretton Woods-like system to confront the multiple crises caused by what he calls “marketism”.

The “dark side of globalization” can only be countered by a return to European values: tradition, the family, and the nation, adds Tremonti. Europe “needs a philosophy which makes politics and not economics the primary mover [of globalization]. This can only work if we go back to the roots of Europe, these are the roots of Judeo-Christianity”.

This “cure” to the ills of globalization remains vague (as one would imagine in a book of only 112 pages). Still more puzzling is his insistence on a contrast between market principles and traditional European values. The idea that a return to values must be coupled with a stronger politicization of the world economy clashes with experience. More regulation and state interference not only tend to reduce growth and living standards but also create new opportunities for rent-seeking and corruption, and thereby undermine the traditional virtues that Tremonti supports.

He misses the opportunity to discuss how certain values are enhanced by the market and how international competition has in fact strengthened Europe by highlighting its best qualities, both technologically and culturally, while repressing its worst.

Tremonti’s vision is inward-looking and profoundly pessimistic. Some market-oriented Italian commentators have pointed out that his ideas seem dangerously close to old-style protectionism. It is clear if Europe followed his analysis, it would be led on a path of future irrelevance both as an economic and a cultural model.

Dr. Frank S. Page
President, Southern Baptist Convention
and
Mr. Richard Land
SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
and
Pastor Jonathan Merritt
Cross Pointe Church

Brothers in Christ:

As a member in good standing of the Southern Baptist Church and a Christian who has through much prayer and Bible study come to acknowledge God’s desire that the church take seriously her role in stewardship of creation, I have been closely following the release of A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change and the Southern Baptist Convention’s reaction to it.

First let me say I respect the SBC’s right as an organization to issue public policy statements on the environment and climate change, even when these statements don’t always reflect my personal views. I appreciate many of the previous resolutions passed by the SBC urging stewardship of the earth’s resources while caring for the poor in developing countries.

I also appreciate that both the SBC and Pastor Merritt have formally stated our need as Baptists to fully engage in many areas of Christian environmental stewardship. Certainly these are tasks about which, through the power of Christ, God expects us all to be dilligent until His return.

I am concerned, however, that in the haste to distance the SBC from A Southern Baptist Declaration or the signers of their Declaration to distance themselves from the SBC you both are misrepresenting me and thousands of other Southern Baptists in two important areas.

First, there is the needless appearance of deep division. The messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007, urged Southern Baptists to

"proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research."

"A Southern Baptist Declaration" says

We recognize that Christians are not united around either the scientific explanations for global warming or policies designed to slow it down…this is an issue where Christians may find themselves in justified disagreement about both the problem and its solutions. Yet, even in the absence of perfect knowledge or unanimity, we have to make informed decisions about the future.

Both resolutions suggest Southern Baptists move forward on ecology while respecting that there will inevitably be disagreement on the nature and extent of climate change.

The remedy for this should be obvious. We should not be afraid of tackling any social issue, including environmnental ones. And we must press forward and commit to praying for each other and for wisdom and unity within the body of Christ. This public and rather unseemly display is a foothold that the enemy of the church is happy to exploit. To that end I hope that you [and all those reading this letter. db] will join me in prayer this week, humbled by the fact that only God ultimately controls the affairs of His Creation.

Much more importantly, none of you seem concerned about the tragedy of missing our God-given opportunity here under the Great Commission. An editorial to the Tuscaloosa News by a Mr. James W. Anderson illustrates my point:

I urge the leadership of our Southern Baptist Convention to be about serving our member churches, evangelism and bringing lost souls to Christ. To those currently choosing to carry the liberal environmental torches, perhaps you should consider leaving the organization and entering politics. The two do not mix — at all!

Don’t let his confusion on the pedigree of the Declaration distract you from the real spiritual disaster. Mr. Anderson sees environmentalism as a hinderance to evangelism rather than an opportunity to establish relationships with, and bring the love of Christ to, vast numbers of God’s children who would never darken the door of a Baptist church.

The fact that he doesn’t apparently know about scriptures referencing God’s heart on ecology, doesn’t understand the role of creation in bringing glory to God, doesn’t see creation care as a mission field, doesn’t view climate change action opponents and proponents both as human beings in need of a Savior, and doesn’t think engaging in challenging environmental issues like climate change provide openings for the Gospel message to our generation is not his failing. Rather, it is a direct reflection on the historic failure of our Southern Baptist leadership and many of those in our pulpits to communicate a Spirit-filled, biblical message on creation care.

Rather than continue this division I urge you, therefor, to return your focus to the Lord of Creation. Join with me to pray for reconciliation, for wise yet diligent action, and for the earnest encouragement of pastors and their congregations to make stewardship of the environment as important a priority as stewardship of their missions budgets and church growth projects.

Thanks for your consideration.

Grace and peace,
Don Bosch

[Don's other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist]

Forever known for his signature, the American Founding Father John Hancock (1737-93) was also staunch opponent of unnecessary or excessive taxation. “They have no right [The Crown] to put their hands in my pocket,” Hancock said. He strongly believed even after the American Revolution, that Congress, like Parliament, could use taxes as a form of tyranny.

As Governor of Massachusetts, Hancock sided with the people over and against over zealous tax appropriators and collectors. Hancock argued farmers and tradesmen would never be able to pay their taxes if their land and property were confiscated. He barred government officials from imprisoning farmers too poor to pay taxes. In addition to his views on taxes, Hancock supported cuts in government spending.

Hancock inherited a substantial amount of wealth from merchant trading, a business started by his uncle known as the “House of Hancock.” Hancock’s father, a minister, died when he was just a child. He was raised by his wealthy uncle and aunt. Their wealth gave him a first class education.

Hancock went on to increase the assets and income of his uncle’s business, when he took control of the enterprise. He was quite possibly the richest man in the American Colonies. Hancock enjoyed owning the finest home, attire, furniture, coaches, and wines. As a fault, he could even show a comical attachment to material possessions from time to time. He once organized a military party to challenge the British during the revolutionary war, his part in the conflict was only to last a few weeks and was close to his home, still he galloped to battle with six carriages behind him carrying his finest warrior apparel and the finest French wines. Patriot Generals poked fun at his unnecessary show of pomp and pageantry. Still he fretted, when he realized he was missing a pair of imported leather boots.

While his wealth was immense, so was his generosity. Hundreds of colonists depended on his business for their economic livelihood. In addition, he helped his own ambitious employees start their own entrepreneurial endeavors. He gave lavishly to local churches, charities, the arts, assisted widows, and paid for the schooling of orphans. Hancock also spent his own wealth on public works and aesthetic improvements for the city of Boston.

His enormous popularity was in fact, to a large degree, due to his substantial giving. Hancock was also known for treating others with the characteristics of Christian principles. He treated those of modest means with the same respect as those who had access to wealth and power. Several authors have affectionately referred to him “As a man of the people.” A German officer who fought for the British was astounded at the way he befriended and talked to the very poorest citizens of Boston. (more…)