On Tuesday, Acton’s president, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, joined three other prominent Catholic thinkers for a roundtable discussion of the U.S. bishops’ 1986 letter “Economic Justice for All.” Georgetown Univeristy’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs sponsored the discussion, and Berkley Center director Tom Banchoff moderated the proceedings.

The discussion, held on the left-leaning document’s 25th anniversary, addressed its legacy. Fr. Sirico’s contention was that the bishops “exceed[ed] their authority in an area where they lack competency,” in a way that, in hindsight, is “frankly embarrassing.” “Bishops should be bishops, not managers, not policy-makers,” he said, and noted that in the case of “Economic Justice for All,” it wasn’t even necessarily the bishops themselves who produced the silly economic arguments in the first place, but they had signed the letter.

Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat agreed with that assessment, adding a point that Acton’s been making for 20 years: “Well-meaning public policy isn’t effective public policy.”

Catholic News Service article here, and Georgetown Vox Populi blog post.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
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Abraham KuyperAbraham Kuyper (1837-1920), the multi-talented Dutch theologian, statesman, and journalist, is dead. But a new group has formed to make sure that his ideas and legacy are not.

As Chris Meehan of CRC Communications reports, the Abraham Kuyper Translation Society has been formed to “translate and promote books, articles and other materials written by Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper.” Kuyper College will act as the host institution for the society, which involves scholars from a variety of institutions around the world.

As Meehan writes, “Also deeply involved in formation of the society is the Acton Institute, a Christian research, educational and outreach organization in Grand Rapids.” Acton’s director of programs Stephen Grabill has had a leading role in developing the current Common Grace Translation Project, which marks the first of many proposed projects undertaken by those forming the translation society.

The first fruits of this project and this broader initiative have already arrived. With Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art we have the first downpayment on the larger three-volume series. We’re hosting a public launch event this Saturday at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids. (You can connect with the event as well as the Common Grace translation project on Facebook.) This event will feature a talk by Dr. Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College, “Another Amazing Grace.” I’ll also be moderating a Q&A session following the talk with Dr. Bacote, Dr. Nelson Kloosterman (who translated Wisdom & Wonder), and Dr. Mike Wittmer of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

Dr. Bacote appeared on The John & Kathy Show on WORD FM in Pittsburgh last Wednesday to talk about the importance of Kuyper’s work in general and Wisdom & Wonder in particular:

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He’s also scheduled to appear tomorrow at 5pm (Eastern) to talk with Paul Edwards, so be sure to tune in to hear more about how the doctrine of common grace influences Christian engagement with broader issues of work and culture.

As the famed sociologist Peter Berger observed just today with respect to Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention,

The New Calvinists have shown a particular interest in a Dutch theologian whose work seems particularly relevant to the American situation. Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) also used the term New Calvinism to define his position. He combined orthodox Calvinist theology with a strong commitment to the separation of church and state (he split with the official Dutch Reformed Church over this issue)…. He taught the sovereignty of Christ over all realms of reality, but he believed that, if grounded in a strong Christian culture, Christians could participate in a pluralist society and a democratic state. He visited America and lectured at Princeton. Kuyper founded a political party, and he was prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905. One can understand how Kuyper would appeal to Baptists, who always held a strong belief in the separation of church and state.

Berger comes to a rather bizarre conclusion about the future of Calvinism and the SBC, but the influence that Kuyper has had (mostly) indirectly on American evangelicalism is undeniable. One glance at the list of those who have endorsed Wisdom & Wonder is enough to confirm that fact. The Abraham Kuyper Translation Society is poised to help make that influence more direct by providing direct access to a broader range of material from Kuyper’s expansive body of work.

Abraham Kuyper is dead. Long live his legacy.

Friedrich Hayek called it a weasel word. The American Spectator has my new essay on it here.

More on social justice as it appears in Catholic social teaching here. And more on social business here.

Acton On The AirActon’s Director of Media Michael Matheson Miller was in-studio this morning on The Tony Gates Show on WJRW Radio to talk about global poverty, PovertyCure, and his recently completed trip to London to speak about those issues at an Acton conference. To listen to the interview, use the audio player below:

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Abraham KuyperIn preparation for this Saturday’s Grand Rapids book launch of Wisdom & Wonder, the latest translation from the Dutch theologian, journalist, and politician Abraham Kuyper, The Grand Rapids Press ran an excellent article in the religion section over the weekend. Press reporter Ann Byle did a great job explaining the complexities of the content of Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art and how that connects with the larger common grace work that we are translating. We hope to have Volume 1 available by Fall 2012.

So this Saturday at 10am at the DeVos Auditorium at Calvin Theological Seminary we’re happy to host “Another Amazing Grace: Wisdom & Wonder Book Launch,” featuring Dr. Vincent Bacote, professor at Wheaton College and writer of the introduction to Wisdom & Wonder. Dr. Bacote will make a brief presentation on Kuyper and then we will have a time of roundtable Q&A with Dr. Bacote, the translator of the volume Nelson D. Kloosterman, and Dr. Mike Wittmer of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

In related news, Chris Meehan of CRC Communications wrote an article describing the formation of Abraham Kuyper Translation Society to be housed at Kuyper College. This society is a new organization formed with scholars from institutions like Calvin Theological Seminary, Calvin College, Acton Institute, and Kuyper College for the purpose of translating and disseminating Kuyper’s work. Wisdom & Wonder and the common grace volumes are but the first of many new translation projects. A good sense of the wealth of material that remains untranslated from Kuyper’s work can be seen in the massive new bibliography available from Brill, Abraham Kuyper: An Annotated Bibliography 1857-2010.

The Wisdom & Wonder book launch event is free and open to the public. Please share with your friends and colleagues who are interested in solid teaching on faith integrating with science and art. And be sure to check out the event page on Facebook as well. You can also download and distribute a poster for the launch event.

Blog author: kjayabalan
Friday, December 2, 2011
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In my opinion, those words coming from the mouth of Declan Ganley were the most memorable from our distinguished speakers at yesterday’s conference “From Aid to Enterprise: Economic Liberty and Solutions to Poverty” in London.

Ganley compared what European governments were doing in their attempts to deal with their sovereign debt problems with the attempts of rock stars to solve the problem of hunger in Africa with Live Aid back in the 1980s. It was just one of many precious remarks coming from the Irish entrepreneur who also led his country’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the Lisbon Treaty. As someone who’s quite committed to a unified Europe, he worries a lot about the future of the European project, should the euro no longer serve as a common currency. We’d all be better off if governments just let creditors that made bad loans bear the brunt of their decisions, Ganley told us, instead of trying to prop up banks that are considered “too big to fail.” The problems affecting Europe is also the same one that plagues many developing nations – the collusion of big government and big business to squash competition. As a result, Europe and to a lesser degree the United State are in no position to preach and need to get their own houses in order, a lack of meddling that could well benefit poor countries in the end if we recover the importance of enterprise and trade.

Some of the other speakers, such as Lord Brian Griffiths and our own Anielka Munkel, very ably addressed the importance and centrality of the human person along with the vital role played by social institutions such as the family and churches in the free society. It’s a relatively straightforward, even obvious point but one that’s under attack in international development circles. (I can add from my personal experience with the Holy See at the United Nations that many developed, and especially European, governments refuse to admit the role of parents and the family in development, and I have the battle scars to prove it!)

Antoinette Kankindi of Strathmore University in Nairobi did something I’d never seen before as a student of political philosophy and economics by bringing Aristotle and his discussion of work and leisure into a conference on foreign aid. Prof. James Tooley gave the remarkable story of low-cost private schools in many parts of the developing world and how they thrive where governments are most inefficient and and ineffective, all drawn from his book The Beautiful Tree. The Ghanian entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse also related many funny-if-not-sad accounts of doing business in places where State officials try to pick winners and losers.

For me, the most edifying presentation was the one by Marcela Escobari from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, of all places. Using a lot of new mapping data, she destroyed many of the myths surround how countries grow out of poverty and underlined the importance of increasing economic complexity, the diversity of knowledge and even imitation, rather than narrow specialization and an overemphasis on innovation, for developing countries. We don’t often have a speaker with such a good grasp of new research and important technical details at an Acton conference but her contribution makes me think that we should.

There were many good questions from the audience about the challenges of Christian individuals and organizations in the development field and I’d say the take-away message from our panel was: do not involve yourselves in misguided foreign aid schemes in the name of charity, which only serve to exacerbate the scandal of poverty and corruption in many parts of the world. It looks like the message was well-received, even if, in the end, a certain Londoner named Tony did not grace us with his presence.

The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs at Georgetown University and the Governance Studies Program at The Brookings Institution have invited Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, to join a December 6 roundtable discussion in Washington on economics and Catholic Social Teaching. The event is free and open to the public. Friends of Acton in the Washington area are encouraged to attend the talk. Questions will be invited from the floor at the conclusion of the roundtable discussion.

The event will mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ letter “Economic Justice for All.” Joining Rev. Sirico on the roundtable will be E.J. Dionne (Brookings Institution and Georgetown), Ross Douthat (New York Times), and Christine Firer Hinze (Fordham). The discussion will be moderated by Thomas Banchoff, director of the Berkley Center.

The event will be on Tuesday afternoon, December 6, from 4 – 5:30 PM in the Copley Formal Lounge on Georgetown’s main campus (directions). Event organizers ask that attendees register (link) in advance.

Blog author: kjayabalan
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
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Greetings from London, which is only partially shut down today due to a public sector strike over the British government’s not-so-temporary austerity plan. The worst fears of extremely long delays at the airports and of possible violence have yet to materialize and let’s hope they never do.

We’ll be holding the last of our Poverty and Development conferences here tomorrow on the theme “From Aid to Enterprise: Economic Liberty and Solutions to Poverty.” Our speakers will look at the (rare) successes and (recurring) failures of government-to-government development assistance, and it just so turns out that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair weighted in on the subject with a Washington Post op-ed last Sunday entitled “Ending global aid in a generation.” Blair boldly and confidently predicts: “I believe that within a generation no country need be dependent on aid. This matters around the world but especially to Africa, the continent most dependent on aid and a focus of my own work. ” You’d be forgiven for thinking that Blair was the keynote speaker at our event, having seen the light on the futility of Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Alas, you’d be wrong. For while Blair does cite the positive example of South Korea’s development based on enterprise, he still clings to the dogma of the church of ODA: governments must still fulfill their commitments to provide 0.7 percent of GDP to ODA. He doesn’t seem to ask the obvious question, which will surely be raised at our conference: if ODA is generally ineffective, in some cases counterproductive to the cause of development and only serves to breed economic dependence, why should governments continue to honor their commitments to a failed policy? Courage in the service of an ignoble end is no virtue, after all.

I, for one, still note an lingering prejudice against free enterprise in Blair’s supposed conversion: “Lord, make me trade with others as equals, but not yet”, to adapt St. Augustine. Like everyone else in these times of austerity, Blair preaches the need for economic growth. But also like many others, he doesn’t seem to realize how to achieve it. Yes, he addresses important factors such as governance and investment, which only leaves me wondering why he couldn’t seem to mention that dreaded word “business” in his article. Development, for Blair, remains in the hands of government leaders and aid experts, rather than in the hands of the people who take risks, seek new opportunities to provide goods and services to others, and thereby create wealth.

In the words of a former U.S. president, “Yo, Blair!” You should stop by our conference tomorrow to complete your bold vision of world without foreign aid.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine Jesus’s famous parable of the Lost Sheep in the context of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the parable after some people grumble about him eating with “tax collectors and sinners.” Tax collectors at the time had a bad reputation of unfair business practices and government ties. Yet, Jesus tells the parable of a man who left ninety-nine sheep to find the one that went missing in order to caution his detractors about marginalizing even these tax collectors.

In light of this, does the “we are the 99%” rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which implicitly insinuates that anyone in the top 1 percent has gotten there unjustly, amount to shunning the lost sheep (and others) of our society today? Read this week’s Acton Commentary for more.

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Unported Author: Another Believer

Over at Patheos’ Black, White and Gray blog, where a group of Christian sociologists “share our observations and research and reflect on its meaning for Christian faith and practice,” Margarita A. Mooney writes about “Faith-Based Social Services: An Essential Part of American Civil Society.”

Many of the points she raises echo the principles of effective compassion that have long animated the Acton Institute’s engagement with welfare reform and social service. Be sure to check out the Hope Award program sponsored by WORLD magazine and the American Bible Society, which carries on this legacy of emphasizing effective compassion carried out by private faith-based organizations.

Mooney points out that long before the last few decades of welfare reform and faith-based initiatives at the federal level, faith-based social services were alive and vigorously engaged in charitable activity. As Mooney writes of the 1996 and 2002 federal efforts, “most research shows that these initiatives did little to change the size or focus on faith-based social services. Why? Because most of these faith-based social services existed long before recent federal programs, and because some of what religious organizations do best in social services focuses on deep personal transformations, goals best pursued without government support.”

She quotes Robert Wuthnow on the faith-based social service organization’s vision of the human person. For religious organizations, the human person is more than just a material being with material needs. As Marvin Olasky notes, this older model knew that “true philanthropy must take into account spiritual as well as physical needs.” On this, writes Wuthnow,

…the research that has been conducted among faith-based organizations, although quite sparse, suggests that it is probably their ability to forge encompassing whole-person, personally transforming relationships with clients that accounts for any special success they may have.

Mooney goes on to examine some compelling particular instances. All of this leads to the key question: “Aren’t there ways to allow government support for large faith-based organizations that neither lead to government support for proselytizing nor impede religious organizations from carrying out their missions as they define it?”

On this question, be sure to check out the review essay by David A. Wagner on Lew Daly’s book, God’s Economy: Faith-Based Initiatives and the Caring State, which appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, “A Liberal ‘Welfare Conservative’ Boldly Explains Why Nineteenth-Century Popes Are Relevant to Twenty-First-Century Welfare Reform.”