In response to the question, “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

Jordan Ballor kindly asked me to offer a few words in response to this question, as I made it an area of expertise during the previous Administration. I’ve been working up to writing something more formal, but I’ll begin by thinking aloud here, as well as at my my home blog.

Without further ado, here’s what I posted over there:

By now, you’ve probably heard about the President’s attempt to tweak the initiative, renaming the office and expanding somewhat its mandate. If you leave aside the breathless media accounts of his efforts, the most measured response I’ve seen is this one, written by two prominent evangelicals long involved in these issues.

Candidate Obama called for an “all hands on deck” approach to our social problems, with government as the senior partner and the payer of the piper. He said much about the evils of religious discrimination and not much about the wonders of religious freedom. That was disheartening and led me to fear that he would follow the lead of his erstwhile Congressional colleagues and sacrifice religious hiring rights on the altar of equality. He may still do that, but not in one swell foop. Instead, we’re told, the new Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (so different from the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives!) will consult with the Department of Justice about the law and these rights on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps, then, the Obama Administration will nibble away at religious hiring rights somewhat out of the limelight, avoiding the public repudiation of them embraced by candidate Obama. And I have a hard time believing that the President will spend any political chips resisting the efforts of Congressional Democrats to promote equality and non-discrimination at the expense of religious liberty.

In other words, I think that the President is trying to extend his honeymoon a bit, but that, in the end, the only deckhands he’ll really welcome are those who are willing to serve secular governmental ends in a secular governmental way.

One last point: the new head of the OFBNP, Joshua DuBois, seems to get high marks from everyone. I can’t speak from any experience of him, up close or at a distance, which is only to say that he wasn’t involved in the substance of these issues during the Bush Administration. I will note that he comes to this position from the political side of Obama’s life (is there any other?) and that he lacks the stature and long-standing experience with faith-based social services that all those associated with the Bush Administration efforts had. Perhaps this is a good thing, on some level, for if this version of the faith-based initiative is closer to the political heart of the Obama Administration, perhaps folks outside the OBNP will take it seriously, which seemed always to be the problem in the Bush Administration.

But then let’s not delude ourselves about the nature of this initiative: its goal seems above all to be to keep the religious Left engaged (as opposed to enraged) and to charm those theologically and socially conservative evangelicals who are charmable.

We’re facing a genuine challenge to religious liberty here, one that can’t be managed just by withdrawing from government’s embrace. This government will almost inevitably embrace more and more, likely trying to dominate its partners and crowding out those who are reluctant to play.

And lest you think that this Bush Administration stepchild is the only program at risk, watch closely to see what President Obama’s actions reveal about how he’ll deal with other issues in which government and religion intersect. Consider, for example, how his Adminstration will treat healthcare providers who have conscientious objections to certain medical procedures and how it will regard those who have scruples about same-sex marriage. Stated another way, I’d bet that claims couched in the language of equality will almost always win out over those phrased in the language of liberty.

I’ll be watching.

Maltese-American marketing professor, Dr. Andrew Abela, is the winner of the Acton Institute’s 2009 Novak Award.

Dr. Andrew Abela

Dr. Abela’s main research areas include consumerism, marketing ethics, Catholic Social Teaching, and internal marketing communication. Believing that anti-free market perspectives seem to dominate discussion about the social impact of business, Dr. Abela is working to explore Christian ethics further to show how these issues can be resolved more humanely and effectively through market-oriented approaches. To aid this work, Dr. Abela is currently preparing a catechism for business leaders, which will address tough ethical questions in business in the light of Christian social ethics.

A frequent guest on television and radio programs, Dr. Abela has recently addressed such issues as the moral underpinnings of the current financial crisis and ethics in advertising. Dr. Abela is also widely published in refereed academic and professional journals, including the Journal of Marketing, the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, and the Journal of Markets & Morality.

For a look at some of Dr. Abela’s work, click on the below links:

“The Price of Freedom: Consumerism and Liberty in Secular Research and Catholic Teaching”Journal of Markets & Morality
“Is Consumerism Harmful?”Religion & Liberty
• “Subsidiarity and the Just Wage: Implications of Catholic Social Teaching for the Minimum Wage Debate” (forthcoming) – Journal of Markets & Morality, Spring 2009

Named after distinguished American theologian and social philosopher Michael Novak, the Novak Award rewards new outstanding research by scholars early in their academic careers who demonstrate outstanding intellectual merit in advancing the understanding of theology’s connection to human dignity, the importance of limited government, religious liberty, and economic freedom. Recipients of the Novak Award make a formal presentation on such questions at an annual public forum known as the Calihan Lecture. The Novak Award comes with a $10,000 prize. To learn more, visit Acton’s awards and scholarships page.

Dr. Abela received his Ph.D. in Management with concentrations in marketing and business ethics from the University of Virginia, Darden Business School in 2003 and an MBA from the Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. He is an Associate Professor of Marketing and Chair-elect of the Department of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He also has extensive professional experience, including most recently as the Managing Director at the Marketing Leadership Council, a research program serving Chief Marketing Officers of leading global firms. Dr. Abela also spent several years with the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company, and was a brand manager with Procter & Gamble.

In response to the question, “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

As part of Christianity Today’s Speaking Out (web-only) feature, Stephen V. Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies, of Calvin College’s Henry Institute and the Center for Public Justice respectively, address the future of the faith-based initiative under President Obama.

Monsma and Carlton-Thies outline five “encouraging signs” and one “major concern.”

The encouraging signs include the naming of the office executive director (Joshua DuBois) and advisory council (including “recognized evangelicals” like Richard Stearns, president of World Vision; Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Frank Page, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention; and pastor Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida).

The major concern? “The hiring issue. The status quo remains in effect but without a strong administration defense of it.”

Last week’s National Prayer Breakfast featured a speech by President Obama which was his most substantive address concerning the future of the faith-based initiative since his Zanesville, Ohio speech of July 2008.

In the Zanesville speech, then-candidate Obama discussed “expansion” of the faith-based initiative, and some details were added as Obama announced his vision for the newly-named Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The announced priorities of the office are fourfold:

  • The Office’s top priority will be making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete.

  • It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.
  • The Office will strive to support fathers who stand by their families, which involves working to get young men off the streets and into well-paying jobs, and encouraging responsible fatherhood.
  • Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.

With the developments in recent days and the formation of this new White House office, this week’s PowerBlog Ramblings question is: “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

Ramble on…

Ramblings:

Here’s a brief report from The Environmental Report on mountain-top removal mining, and the increasing involvement of religious groups weighing in on the question. One of these groups is Christians for the Mountains. A quote by the group’s co-founder Allen Johnson was noteworthy, “We cannot destroy God’s creation in order to have a temporal economy.”

One other thing that struck me about the interview is that the AmeriCorp involvement smacks of “rebranding” secular environmentalism. Add the magic words “creation care” and all of a sudden you’ve gained the moral authority of all kinds of Christians and churches.

The report from Sandra Sleight-Brennan is quite short, and even though it doesn’t find anyone to speak up for the mining companies, the workers, or the mining methods, it does manage to get a quote from “creation care” advocate Richard Cizik (formerly of the NAE).

And what are the economic options beyond mountain-top removal mining for these communities? They include “wind energy, tourism, and not letting the mining companies decide the fate of the Appalachian mountains and the people who live there.”

As the report makes clear, though, the issue is a complicated one, and a simple juxtaposition of “economy” versus “environment” isn’t sufficient to tease out all the answers. There are legitimate concerns on the one side regarding negative externalities like pollution of habitat and waterways as well as what might be called a kind of aesthetic pollution. But on the other are legitimate concerns about property rights (which include responsibilities for negative externalities), energy needs, and economic freedom.

“Government budgets are moral documents,” is the often quoted line from Jim Wallis of Sojourners and other religious left leaders. Wallis also adds that “When politicians present their budgets, they are really presenting their priorities.” There is perhaps no better example of a spending bill lacking moral soundness than the current stimulus package being debated in the U.S. Senate.

In my commentary this week, “The Moral Bankruptcy Behind the Bailouts,” I offer clear reasons how spending more does not equate to morality, but quite the opposite in this case.

In fact, among many believers it seems that Christian thrift is lost as a value altogether. We forget how important financial responsibility and thrift was to the entire Christian tradition as important evidence of outward faith and devotion. Jordan Ballor offers some great words in his own commentary last year titled “The Fourth Pillar of the New Economy: Spend all you can:”

The eighteenth-century theologian and pastor John Wesley once preached that we should “earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” Productivity, frugality, and generosity are the core moral virtues that have animated prosperous and free economies in the West for centuries. But now the federal government seemingly wants to add a fourth and conflicting principle to these traditional values: “Spend all you can.”

As for Jim Wallis, not surprisingly he enthusiastically supports the stimulus package, and because of the enormous stakes involved for future generations, this shows a lack of moral judgment and courage on his part. It may also be that Wallis is hesitant to pull his support for this $1 trillion spending bill because he is afraid to go against a President that reminds him of the Prophet Nehemiah.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, February 5, 2009

In response to the question, “What is wrong with socialism?”

In answering this question we could point to the historical instances of socialist regimes and their abhorrent record on treatment of human beings. But the supporters of socialism might just as well argue that these examples are not truly relevant because each historical instance of socialism has particular contextual corruptions. Thus, these regimes have never really manifested the ideal that socialism offers.

So on a more abstract or ideal level, what is wrong with socialism is that it promotes governmental tyranny. The state becomes the option of first resort rather than last (or no) resort in concerns related to economics, social institutions, the family, and the church. The state in its local, regional, federal, or global form coopts the roles of all kinds of mediating institutions.

On the basis of this critique we can then point to concrete examples where the socialist ideal has been manifest and we can observe what the effects are. In the Acton documentary The Call of the Entrepreneur, George Gilder discusses the “cuckolding” of the man by the welfare state, which preempts the role of the family’s economic provider. But in general the nanny state infantilizes its own citizenry.

Theodore Dalrymple’s recent book discusses the decline of Western civilization, and of his homeland he writes that there are

many people in contemporary Britain with very little of importance to decide for themselves. … They are educated by the state (at least nominally) … the state provides for them in old age and has made savings unnecessary … they are treated and cured by the state when they are ill; they are housed by the state if they cannot otherwise afford decent housing. Their choices concern only sex and shopping.

Maybe “sex” and “shopping” are still relatively free, but rest assured socialism won’t stop until it has undone even these last instances of relative liberty. See, for instance, talks not only about socializing procreation (a max of two children per couple?) but also the encroaching regulations on what can be purchased or consumed (e.g. “sin” taxes in various forms).

So there’s a sense in which what is wrong with socialism is that it has a faulty anthropology. But its anthropology is flawed not only in the sense that it fails to recognize and respect the fundamental place of individual human liberty, but also that it substitutes an inauthentic, disingenuous, and ultimately corrupted form of social relations for those that form God’s orders of human sociality: marriage and the family, work and culture, the church, and divinely-ordained and -limited government.

Because socialism attacks all of these institutions, one or another of them becomes the focus of resistance in the midst of actual socialist regimes. So the church might be the truest bastion of freedom in one socialistic situation, while the family might be the outpost of liberty in another, and free enterprise the haven of flourishing in yet another.

The pope has certainly earned his salary this week. In his attempt to heal a schism, he inadvertently set off a fire storm.

As most everyone knows by now, the pontiff lifted the excommunication of four bishops illicitly ordained by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre in 1988, whose dissent from the Second Vatican Council drew a small but fervent following. One of these bishops, Richard Williamson, is a holocaust denier.

To understand the saga, it is necessary to peel back its various layers.

Many who followed Lefevbre did so because of a devotion to the traditional form of what is known as the Latin (Tridentine) Mass. A smaller number rejected the whole of the efforts of Vatican II to take account of the modern world by engaging in ecumenical relations, and a deepened appreciation for religious tolerance and human liberty. Part of their complaint, rightly in my estimation, was that an excessively optimistic outlook whereby everything that was simply new was seen as automatically good was simply wrong and weakened Catholic identity. This would result in a spiritual malaise and moral mediocrity that would ultimately become unattractive and deadening. History bears out their insight, but as Chesterton once observed, “Heresy is truth gone mad.”

There are toxic vapors at the far end of the Lefevbre swamp and Bishop Williamson seemed to have breathed deeply of the fumes. The man, for sometime evidently, has been a marginal character, a fact that the Vatican and the pope admittedly should have known but did not. Some preliminary effort should have gone into uncovering Bishop Williamson’s conspiratorialist propensities. What’s more, an assessment of the communications failure on the part of the Vatican is appropriate.

The bishop now has a choice to make: paddle further out into the swamp (the Lefevbrites having already silenced him), or he can pull back and recant. The Vatican has demanded that he “distance himself in an absolutely unmistakable and public way from his position.” Unless he comes to see the historical absurdity and moral obtuseness of his assertions, he will have no ministry in the Church.

We need to be clear that the lifting of the excommunication of the bishops did not re-establish full communion between these men and the Roman Catholic Church. They remain suspended priests, forbidden by canon law from practicing their ministry. They will remain so until some resolution is achieved as to their full adherence to the authority the pope, which would include the authority of Vatican II. The lifting of the excommunication begins the discussion, it does not settle it.

Among the documents that Vatican II published is Nostra Aetate (The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions) which emphatically decries all forms of anti-Semitism, anywhere and by anyone. Whether or not these bishops follow the teaching of this document will be followed carefully.

It seems at least worth pondering the possibility that when people are offered the opportunity to come in from the cold they sometimes may come to learn the lesson of reciprocal responsibility which is what civilized life is mostly about. But sometimes they don’t.

Some of the reaction to all this is clearly justified. Certainly Joseph Ratzinger knows full well the evil of denying the very evil he witnessed at close range. This was the man who grew up in a family known for its resistance to the fascists, who as a child in his native Germany refused to attend the mandatory Hitler Youth meetings, and who had a cousin with Down’s Syndrome euthanized by the Nazis as part of their war against the disabled. He has spoken out repeatedly and consistently against anti-Semitism, as a priest, bishop, cardinal and now pope.

But some of the reaction smacks distinctly of opportunism by politicians, theologians and even some bishops who have other axes to grind with Pope Benedict. These opportunists have sought to exploit whatever confusion, ignorance and possibility this controversy affords.

For those of us inspired by Pope Benedict’s efforts at the renewal of the Church’s liturgy and life, it is sad that what might have been an occasion for a spiritual deepening — both for Catholics and with those outside the Church — has instead turned into a political imbroglio.

Was the real Che Guevara a lover of “humanity, justice and truth”? In his commentary today, Bruce Edward Walker reviews Steven Soderbergh’s new four-hour “Che” film epic and discovers “a cinematic paean to one of the twentieth-century’s most infamous butchers.”

Read the entire commentary at the Acton Institute website.

Amid the Washington clamor for more and bigger bailouts, a few brave voices among elected officials and government veterans are being raised about the moral disaster looming behind massive government spending programs. If we ignore these warnings, writes Ray Nothstine in today’s Acton Commentary, we may be “continuing down a path that may usher in an ever greater financial crisis.”

Read the full commentary here and share your comments below.