Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, is scheduled to join Fox Business host David Asman tonight to discuss the new documentary, “What Would Jesus Buy?” They’ll be joined by documentary producer Morgan Spurlock and performance artist Bill Talen, of the “Church of Stop Shopping.” The segment is set to air between 7-8 p.m. Eastern time. Check your local listings — and expect a lively debate.

Watch the WWJB? trailer here.

Update: Here’s the interview…

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Thursday, December 6, 2007

For those of us who cherish liberty and the freedom we enjoy in the west to engage in spirited debate, stories like this are very disturbing:

Up north, the Canadian Islamic Congress announced the other day that at least two of Canada’s “Human Rights Commissions” – one federal, one provincial – had agreed to hear their complaints that their “human rights” had been breached by this “flagrantly Islamophobic” excerpt from my book, as published in the country’s bestselling news magazine, Maclean’s.

Here’s hoping that this one gets tossed out of court quickly. And remember – eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, December 6, 2007

The following is a statement by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, on Mitt Romney’s Dec. 6 “Faith in America” speech:

Mitt Romney is right that religion and morality are core convictions in American society. Our freedom depends on this, I completely agree. Without the ability to manage our lives morally, the state steps into the vacuum, both in response to public demand and to serve the state’s own interests in expanding power.

But soon after spelling this out, in part, he makes this bold claim, which I believe repeats John F. Kennedy’s error: “Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.”

So here we have an odd tension. Religion matters, he says. But religious authority does not and should not matter in the management of our public lives. If this proposition had been believed by the kings of Europe in the Middle Ages, freedom would never have been born, for it was precisely the jealousy of religious authority that led to limits on the state and kept that state at bay.

Similarly, it was the churches before and after the American Revolution which said no to the leviathan state, precisely because it had intruded into areas that more properly belong to religious authority. The churches didn’t merely mind their own business; they spoke to the whole of society, and we should be thankful for that.

Maybe we are not accustomed to thinking of religion as a limit on government. But this has largely been so and continues to be so. It was the Catholic Church that beat back communism in Eastern Europe and just last week prevented dictatorship in Venezuela. In our own country, the churches are the main protectors of religious liberty, for they tend to resist intrusion by the state at every level.

The idea of authority is inescapable. If public officeholders are not to obey religious authority, what authority do they submit to? Perhaps we can say the Constitution but the signers of that document too held fast to religious convictions. More likely the authority to which they submit is legislation and its enforcement arm, meaning that to the extent that they brush off their religious institutions, they will tend to become obsequious toward the state.

For my part, I find it strange that American culture should require someone running for president to make a break with his or own religious authority. This strikes me as an attack on the conscience. The right question we should be asking: What does the religious authority teach about the role of the state?

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is expected to address the topic of his Mormon faith in a speech at the George Bush Library in College Station, Texas, tomorrow. The obvious comparisons are being made to President John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, who gave a speech in 1960 to assuage the concerns of American protestants over papal influence in the White House.

Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association can be found here. In addition, there is also a link for the question and answer portion of his speech found here.

How much does Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith play into his recent slip in Republican primary polls? Some polls have pointed to the fact that one in five of all voters would not support a Mormon candidate for president. But Romney has picked up the support of many evangelical leaders, including the very conservative Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University. For the record, Jones believes, like many conservative evangelicals, that Mormonism is a cult. While the cult language may be too strong, Mormonism certainly falls outside of Christian orthodoxy.

Theological differences aside, many evangelicals support Romney for his new found conservatism, and as the best conservative alternative to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Romney previously supported abortion as Governor of Massachusetts, and was once seen as a strong defender of gay rights. He has since altered his stances on those issues to better attract more conservative Republican primary voters.

In his speech Romney will probably avoid any serious theological discussion of the Mormon faith, while stressing the shared sense of moral and political values he shares with conservative Christians. It is obviously wise for voters to support the candidate who best fits their world view.

Understandably, conservative Methodists would not vote for Hillary Clinton just because she is a United Methodist. The same thing could be said about left of center United Methodists and their unlikelihood to vote for another fellow Methodist, President Bush.

It’s a process that has continually played itself at the ballot box before. In 1980, evangelicals overwhelmingly supported President Reagan over confessed born again Christian, Jimmy Carter. Reagan’s brand of conservatism resonated powerfully with evangelical voters. While Reagan was also a Christian, he was not as outspoken in his Christianity as Carter. In addition, Reagan was also the first divorced man to be elected president.

Romney should be supported or opposed on the issues, and not for the simple fact that he is a Mormon. Romney can use the speech to highlight similarities with all traditional faith communities in America, and the shared American heritage of religious freedom.

For further information on this issue listen to the radio interview titled Romney, Giuliani, Faith & Politics . The interview is with Acton’s Education Director Michael Miller, who appeared on Mitch Henck’s radio show, Outside the Box. Miller also appeared on John Watson’s radio program to discuss “Romney’s Faith and the Presidency.”

Update: A link to the text of the speech can now be found on Mitt Romney’s campaign website. In addition, there is also a link to the video of the speech found here.

Quote from Romney’s speech today:

“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

Add another crisis to the list of problems caused by climate change – a lack of jet parking at small international airports. To be fair, this isn’t a direct consequence of climate change, but it wouldn’t be a problem in Bali, Indonesia right now if not for the big UN climate change shindig that’s going on. Via Newsbusters, a report on the urgent situation:

Tempo Interaktif reports that Angkasa Pura – the management of Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport are concerned that the large number of additional private charter flights expected in Bali during the UN Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) December 3-15, 2007, will exceed the carrying capacity of apron areas. To meet the added demand for aircraft storage officials are allocating “parking space” at other airports in Indonesia.

The operational manager for Bali’s Airport, Azjar Effendi, says his 3 parking areas can only accommodate 15 planes, which means that some of the jets used by VIP delegations will only be allowed to disembark and embark their planes in Bali with parking provided at airports in Surabaya, Lombok, Jakarta and Makassar.

It’s bad, folks. It’s really bad.

Artist’s conception of the current state of Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport – Click for full size

Adding insult to injury is this nasty little fact:

Never before have so many people converged to try to save the planet from global warming, with more than 10,000 jetting into this Indonesian resort island, from government ministers to Nobel laureates to drought-stricken farmers.

But critics say they are contributing to the very problem they aim to solve.

“Nobody denies this is an important event, but huge numbers of people are going, and their emissions are probably going to be greater than a small African country,” said Chris Goodall, author of the book “How to Live a Low-Carbon Life.”…

…The U.N. estimates 47,000 tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants will be pumped into the atmosphere during the 12-day conference in Bali, mostly from plane flights but also from waste and electricity used by hotel air conditioners.

If correct, Goodall said, that is equivalent to what a Western city of 1.5 million people, such as Marseilles, France, would emit in a day.

But he believes the real figure will be twice that, more like 100,000 tons, close to what the African country of Chad churns out in a year.

A couple of questions spring to mind:

  • have these folks ever heard of videoconferencing?
  • If that isn’t possible, wouldn’t it make more sense to hold the conference in a place served by many airlines that already fly regularly scheduled routes rather than a place that requires so many chartered flights? Say, someplace exotic like, oh, I don’t know – how about… New York?

A hat tip on the carbon footprint link goes to Texas Rainmaker, who closes this update with a friendly reminder:

The conference is aimed at developing a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty whose members actually increased greenhouse emissions after ratifying it.

Are farmers hooked on pork?

Jordan Ballor and Ray Nothstine look at the current battle over farm subsidies. “By encouraging the production of overabundant commodities, the government is creating a cycle of dependency that undermines entrepreneurial initiative,” they write.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What’s behind the stunning defeat of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in a popular referendum this week? Undoubtedly, he overestimated the appeal of his “21st century socialism” among Latin Americans. A new poll also shows that the most trusted institution in Latin America is not the government — but the Catholic Church.

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Institute on Religion and Democracy has issued a background report on the drafting of a new “Social Creed for the 21st Century” by members of the National Council of Churches. As Alan Wisdom and Ralph Webb point out, the “strong ideological tilt” at the NCC (that would be to your left) “contrasts sharply with the careful efforts at balance evident in public policy guidelines produced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals.”

What kind of society does the NCC, the longtime institutional voice of the Religious Left, hope to establish? The 20 goals of the new creed, IRD says, read “like a laundry list of primarily progressive causes.”

The new creed proclaims “a message of hope for a fearful time.” That hopeful message, according to the NCC, is “a vision of a society that shares more and consumes less, seeks compassion over suspicion and equality over domination, and finds security in joined hands rather than massed arms.” What follows is a list of 20 broad social and political goals, ranging from “sustainable communities marked by affordable housing, access to good jobs, and public safety” to “cooperation and dialogue for peace and environmental justice among the world’s religions.”

… There is a call for “an end to the death penalty.” There is a demand for “binding covenants to reduce global warming.” Blessings are pronounced upon “alternative energy sources and public transportation.” Censure is directed at “greed in economic life.” The United Nations must be “strengthened,” according to the new NCC social creed.

On the other hand, the creed makes no mention of any causes usually identified with more conservative Christian viewpoints. There are no echoes of the Hebrew prophet Samuel’s warning against an all-consuming government that levies burdensome taxes (1 Samuel 8:11–18). There is no concern expressed about regimes like North Korea and Iran that repress their own peoples and threaten annihilation of their neighbors. There is no sense of the need for a strong military to deter such threats.

The 2008 creed says nothing about the importance of upholding marriage as a fundamental social institution. (Virtually all NCC member communions define marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.) While the creed advocates sparing the lives of convicted murderers, it does not speak up for the lives of unborn children being aborted, human embryos destroyed through experimentation, or the old and the infirm vulnerable to euthanasia. In seeking more liberal “immigration policies that protect family unity [and] safeguard worker’s rights,” the creed makes no request for enforcement of laws controlling who crosses U.S. borders.

The new creed also glosses over the deep theological divisions — if not political activism — that divides the NCC member churchs. As IRD notes: “The theology of the new creed is fairly minimal and bent toward a liberal social action perspective. That same combination — theological laxity and political one-sidedness — led the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America to leave the NCC in July 2005. The new social creed does not address the doctrinal or social policy differences between the member communions of the council.”

Writing in 1950, the late historian Henry Steele Commager observed that the Social Gospel movement in the United States naturally de-emphasized theological concerns in favor of a practical humanitarianism. “Americans naturalized God,” Commager wrote, “as they naturalized so many other concepts. Because they were optimistic, they insisted upon His benevolence … No American could believe that he was damned.”

It’s unclear if Commager considered that a positive development. In any case, he wouldn’t be surprised by anything in the NCC’s new “Social Creed.”

I’ve had a number of new book catalogs cross my desk over the last few months. Given the gift-giving season that is upon us, I thought I’d highlight some of the more interesting items from the various publishers. If you share my varied and rather eclectic interests, ranging from scholarly to popular works on a number of subjects, you might find something here you could add to your own Christmas list (although some items are forthcoming for 2008).

Today’s post will look at the Ashgate Reformation Studies catalog and the Crossway Academic & Pastoral Resources catalog:

Titles from Ashgate:

Titles from Crossway:

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Not to belabor the topic of divorce (following Don Bosch’s interesting post from yesterday), but Acton senior fellow Jennifer Roback Morse has a thought-provoking piece on NCRegister.com on the perverse incentives of marriage law. She makes several important points, but I am most intrigued by her suggestion that the frequency of divorce, combined with the peculiarities of the legal system designed to handle it, has created one of the most invasive areas of American law.

The discussion recalls Dr. Morse’s earlier book (Love and Economics), which argued persuasively that a free society requires virtuous families, for within them are molded citizens capable of handling freedom responsibly. (“Liberty is government of Conscience,” said Lord Acton.) More directly, when families fail to fulfill their role, demand is created for government action. Divorce is but one more example.

None of this should be construed as beating up on those who have suffered broken marriages. It is, instead, a recognition of the far-reaching impact of family life and a reminder to do all we can—individually and as a society (e.g., in law)—to encourage rather than discourage the lasting bond that is the core of the family, “the first school of the social virtues” (Vatican II, Declaration on Christian Education, inter alia).