Last week, I joined a group of Christian leaders in Washington to announce the publication of the Manhattan Declaration. This is a landmark document signed by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders who joined together to “reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them.” These truths are the sanctity of human life, the definition of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

The Manhattan Declaration’s statement on religious liberty is, of course, something that fits perfectly with the core principles of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. Here is a key passage:

The struggle for religious liberty across the centuries has been long and arduous, but it is not a novel idea or recent development. The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself, the God who is most fully known in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Determined to follow Jesus faithfully in life and death, the early Christians appealed to the manner in which the Incarnation had taken place: “Did God send Christ, as some suppose, as a tyrant brandishing fear and terror? Not so, but in gentleness and meekness…, for compulsion is no attribute of God” (Epistle to Diognetus 7.3-4). Thus the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the example of Christ Himself and in the very dignity of the human person created in the image of God – a dignity, as our founders proclaimed, inherent in every human, and knowable by all in the exercise of right reason.

Christians confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience. No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions. What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.

The rationale for this statement is simple and powerful. Though historically many Christians have had differences related to doctrine, we feel we must come together, make common cause, to affirm our right — and more importantly to fulfill our obligation — to defend principles of justice and the common good that are now under assault. As the Manhattan Declaration states: “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we will under no circumstances render to Caesar what is God’s.”

The drafting committee for this statement included Robert George, Professor, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University; Timothy George, Professor, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University; and Chuck Colson, Founder, The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview in Lansdowne, Va. Go here to see a list of the initial signers. When I last checked, some 87,000 people had signed since Friday.

Those of us involved in this important project invite other Christians to advocate for these foundational biblical and rational principles and to stand in solidarity with us by signing the Manhattan Declaration at ManhattanDeclaration.org

Again, the full text of the Manhattan Declaration is available for download here.

My new column on health care was published in the Detroit News today. Full text follows:

As the health care debate moves to the U.S. Senate, much of the focus has been on how the Catholic bishops’ support of the amendment by U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, the Menominee Democrat, to prohibit the use of tax dollars to fund abortion was a major victory for the pro-life side. The bishops urged the House of Representatives, through local parishes and in a Nov. 6 letter, to ensure that “needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all.”

All people of good will, all those who value human life and dignity, should cheer this development.

But there’s more to this health care juggernaut that should give us reason to oppose it in its current form. We should first be concerned with the vast expansion of government reach into the private lives of millions of Americans.

This “reform” will create a system that will put bureaucrats in charge of personal health care decisions — not doctors. It will give the federal government an avenue to nationalize more than 15 percent of the U.S. economy, putting bureaucrats and elected officials in the role of manager and regulator — much as we’ve seen in banking and automobiles.

Amazingly, with the push for a $1 trillion-plus health care package and the attendant debt, we may soon see Canada with lower government spending (as a percent of gross domestic product) on heath care than the United States. All this, too, is a threat to human dignity.

What will this heavy burden of government spending and regulation have on U.S. health care innovation and competitiveness, which has to date pioneered so many advances? How many medical research and development firms would leave our shores under threat of higher taxes and regulation?

All the assurances from President Barack Obama that health care reform will not add “even one dime to our deficit over the next decade” seem more fantastic with every passing day.

A new report shows that projected Medicaid cuts, on which rests much of the financial funding for health care reform, would prove to be so onerous to hospitals and nursing homes that they would simply stop taking such patients. The report, by the chief actuary for Medicare and Medicaid, also questions how doctors and hospitals would cope with an additional 30 million people to the ranks of the insured, many of them into public health programs.

As it’s been said, if you think health care is expensive, wait until it’s free.

I also worry about the crowding out effect that this vast expansion of the government into health care will have on voluntary charitable action. Somewhere along the line, we have lost sight of the fact that charity and health care was not an invention of Washington bureaucrats.

How did the more than 600 Catholic hospitals and clinics, and many more hospitals bearing the names Jewish, Presbyterian, Methodist, Adventist and Baptist, get built in this country? It wasn’t through the sufferance of government.

Faith is the source of these works, not policy initiatives. Faith, because it involves the entire scope of the human person, body and soul, has not only a larger claim on our allegiance but a deeper commitment to our well-being. Our faith communities know us as persons, not as welfare case numbers or voting blocs.

The effect of the proposed massive expansion of government and vast increase in federal debt is unknown, but if the experience of other countries is any guide, it will lay a crushing burden on the lives of future generations.

The Senate health care reform package should be scrapped. The ill-conceived plan will break the budget, provide fewer opportunities for market-driven health care solutions and limit those who want to practice real charity.

shirley-reaganPresident Ronald Reagan was far from the common Republican. If anything he was the exception to the rule in a party dominated by moderates and pragmatists. It’s one of the overarching themes of Craig Shirley’s new and epic account Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America. The book follows Shirley’s masterpiece Reagan’s Revolution, a study of Reagan’s 1976 insurgent candidacy against President Gerald Ford.

Shirley is exceptional at taking the reader back into the time period rather than reading back into the history from today’s vantage point. The account chronicles Reagan’s run against the Republican primary field and President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Today many think Reagan’s victory over the Republican field and his general election landslide over Carter were inevitable and Shirley is superb at recalling all the forces lined up against Reagan during this time. Since Carter could hardly run on a positive record his campaign strategy was to “scare the hell out of them with Ronald Reagan.”

Echoing a topic addressed by Hunter Baker in the pages of Religion & Liberty, Shirley discusses Reagan’s broader appeal:

He proposed a fusion between those mercantile and economic interests long associated with the GOP, who were mostly concerned with government regulations, and social conservatives, who believed the fabric of society was also threatened by big, intrusive government.

One of the areas where Reagan was transcending politics was his appeal among Democrats. In many open primaries he had strong crossover support from Democrats that helped him carry states. “As for Reagan, the [Washington] Post discovered an astonishing fact: the Gipper’s commercials were more popular with Democrats than they were with Republicans,” Shirley writes. The book also notes how many in the new right and followers of Reagan were making a visible break with big business. “Big business has become the handmaiden of big government,” said Congressman Jack Kemp. Shirley elaborates further on his appeal:

Reagan spoke to these urban, ethnic Democrats in a way no other politician had since JFK. He talked about community, responsibility, privacy, patriotism, the evils of Communism, and their children’s future. Although Reagan was Protestant, his father had been Roman Catholic and he had inculcated in his young son a parish perspective. As an adult campaigner, the Gipper still preferred the pronouns ‘us’ and ‘we’ over ‘me’ and ‘I,’ and these voters loved him for it. He made them feel good about themselves and, by extension, America. ‘Reagan has a personal following all his own,’ noted Time magazine.

Of course one of the biggest jabs against Reagan was that he wasn’t intellectual and was often referred to as a “simpleton” or merely a performer. Clark Clifford famously called him an “amiable dunce.” Shirley recalls many of the attacks on his intellectualism from the media and opponents. He also delves into the manner in which Reagan was so successful at popularizing conservative principles. The author captures the great wit and lines of Reagan from the campaign trail as well as some embarrassing gaffes.

Some who lived in this period may not remember just how hard George H.W. Bush fought Reagan for the nomination. He ended up lasting through many of the primaries and had many supporters in the party who were terrified of Reagan, but loved Bush too. Bush had a lot of support from GOP moderates. He capitalized on some of Reagan’s early mistakes and the author discusses how Bush and other candidates used the age issue against Reagan. Bush of course famously attacked Reagan’s tax plan dubbing it “vodoo economics.” The two absolutely did not like each other, and privately Reagan called Bush “a wimp.” Tough words from a man who was known for his graciousness. Of course after Bush was chosen as Reagan’s running mate a lifelong and genuine friendship would emerge, so much so that the 41st president would eulogize his former boss saying with a cracking voice, “As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness; we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did.”

In the general election campaign of 1980 Reagan hit Carter hard on the economy. He delivered this memorable line in front of the Statue of Liberty:

Let it show on the record that when the American people cried out for economic help, Jimmy Carter took refuge behind a dictionary. Well, if it’s a definition he wants, I’ll give him one. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his!

The crowd was largely an ethnic blue collar constituency and at the end of his speech when Reagan embraced Stanislaw Walesa, the father of Polish labor leader Lech Walesa, the crowd went wild.

Another focus of Shirley’s is just how nasty the Carter campaign was at attacking Reagan. Carter said Reagan would bring about the “alienation of black from white, Christian from Jew, rich from poor, and North from South.” He continually predicted that a Reagan presidency would bring the country to a nuclear precipice. The author also notes that Carter’s campaign approached Ted Kennedy after he defeated him in the primaries, asking Kennedy to attack Reagan as anti-Catholic. Kennedy refused the request.

There are some very moving quotes by Reagan in Shirley’s book about the connection between God and the free society in America. Reagan said world peace was “jeopardized by those who view man not as a noble being, but as an accident of nature, without soul, and important only to the extent he can serve an all powerful state.” He brought to the forefront the importance of America’s spiritual commitment and made deep moral contrasts with Soviet totalitarianism.

This is a lengthy book that is well over 600 pages. It is wonderfully researched and is a treasure trove of information from the 1980 campaign. It is incredibly moving too. However Shirley is also responsible by covering many of Reagan’s weaknesses and how at times it almost cost him the presidency. There are numerous new books about Ronald Reagan, and while many don’t offer a lot of new information, this one does.

The epilogue is very emotional in that the author discusses the Reagan legacy and examines all the political forces who try to claim the Reagan mantle. Inspiring words about Reagan from Alexander Solzhenitsyn can be found in the pages of the epilogue. A friend of the Acton Institute, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar said simply, “Without this man, I would be somewhere in Siberia in chains.” Included also is a gracious quote from Reagan’s most ardent opponent in the Senate not just on domestic policy, but foreign policy as well. Ted Kennedy called Reagan at his death, “the president who won the Cold War,” and added, “His deepest convictions were matters of heart and mind and spirit – and on them, he was no actor at all.”

Awhile back I referenced the Post-Reformation Digital Library, a project which I had some role in developing. I’m appending below the full news release. This is a great resource that’s already getting some recognition around the world. It also represents the kinds of projects that will become increasingly important in the age of digital information dissemination.

The PRDL is always looking to increase its coverage, so if there are figures in the various traditions that are overlooked, or works that we’ve missed, please feel free to comment at the site and suggest updates. We’re especially hoping to add sources in early modern Orthodoxy (as they are available).

Meeter Center Launches New Web-based Resource for Reformation and Post-Reformation Studies

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (October 31, 2009) — A newly-available research tool, sponsored by the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies and the Hekman Library at Calvin College and Seminary, promises to aid the work of scholars from around the world. The Post-Reformation Digital Library (PRDL) is a select bibliography of primary source documents focusing on early modern theology and philosophy, spanning publicly-accessible collections from major research libraries, independent scholarly initiatives, and corporate documentation projects.

The core of the PRDL project involves the organization of thousands of documents available in digital form from sources including Google Books and the Internet Archive. Also included are the offerings of select libraries from Europe and North America, which are beginning to make digitized forms of their holdings available to the public. The project covers the work of hundreds of authors from a wide variety of theological, philosophical, and ecclesiastical traditions, from figures like John Calvin and Martin Luther to the Jesuit Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) and Jacob Arminius (1560-1609).

According to David Sytsma, moderator of the PRDL editorial board, the current availability of a vast array of materials is unprecedented in academic history. “The opportunity presented by this kind of digital access is matched by the challenge to the individual researcher to deal responsibly and comprehensively with a broad cross-section of source material,” observes Sytsma, a doctoral student in historical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. “The PRDL is one way to help ensure that the reach of technical digitalization does not exceed the grasp of the scholar,” he says.

The first stage of the PRDL project involved the collaboration of dozens of scholars from around the world on a privately editable website, or wiki. Once a standard level of comprehensiveness was achieved, the wiki was transitioned to a publicly available bibliography hosted by the Meeter Center. The site will continue to be updated and users will be able to suggest revisions via interactive web forms.

Dr. Richard A. Muller, P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Seminary and current chair of the Meeter Center Governing Board, notes the potential of the PRDL to advance research in a variety of disciplines. “The Post-Reformation Digital Library will be a boon to both students and professional researchers alike,” he says. Muller also serves as a member of the PRDL editorial board, as does Lugene Schemper, theological librarian at Calvin College and Seminary, who oversaw the migration of the resource to Hekman Library’s LibGuides system.

Members of the PRDL editorial board represent institutions from across North America and Europe. In addition to Muller and Schemper, the PRDL editorial board includes: Jordan J. Ballor (University of Zurich/Calvin Theological Seminary); Albert Gootjes (Calvin Theological Seminary/Institut d’histoire de la Réformation, Geneva); Todd Rester (Calvin Theological Seminary); and moderator David Sytsma (Princeton Theological Seminary).

Schemper led a roundtable discussion of the PRDL and other digital research tools at the Fall meeting of the Chicago Area Theological Library Association earlier this month. Board members Jordan J. Ballor, David Sytsma, and Todd Rester are scheduled to present on the PRDL at a “New Technologies” session at next year’s annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, to be held in Venice, Italy (April 8-10).

Access the Post-Reformation Digital Library:

http://libguides.calvin.edu/prdl

Contact Jordan J. Ballor at (616) 617-7669 or jballor1@calvinseminary.edu for more information.

About the Meeter Center:

The H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies is a research center specializing in John Calvin and Calvinism that opened in 1981 and is located at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.

http://www.calvin.edu/meeter/about/

###

Blog author: jballor
Monday, November 23, 2009
By

Contrary to the belief of some, the two realities referred to in the title of this post are not identical.

But the discussion around a recent Boston Globe article reminds me of the saying from Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, “Capitalism without the threat of bankruptcy is like Christianity without the threat of hell. It doesn’t work very well.” It may well be that capitalism without the threat of hell doesn’t work very well either.

The Globe piece refers to a bit of research that links belief about punishment in the afterlife with economic development. This is important, since “knowing exactly how and when God influences mammon could lead to smarter forms of economic development in emerging nations, and could add to our understanding of how culture shapes wealth and poverty.”

It is promising that there is “a larger movement in economics, in which the field is looking beyond purely material explanations to a broader engagement with human culture, psychology, and even our angels and demons.”

Blog author: hunter.baker
Saturday, November 21, 2009
By

I have been thinking a lot about the way we sell church-related goods and services.

jesus-money-changers-temple

I have been thinking about that and about Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers and sacrificial animal sellers in the temple.

The marketing inside the church has probably never been more feverish than it is today. Hollywood hires savvy Christian marketers to try to gin up interest in certain films among our demographic. We trademark little phrases for sale to Christians. I recently heard an acquaintance excitedly describe a system for integrating Prayer and Your Priorities. I shall not share the catchy name for this system so as to avoid smearing the person working on it. This results in a marketing platform for an inspirational book, a devotional, a daily planner for the system, calendars, sticky notes, etc. I imagine it will prove attractive for some Christian publishing house.

My question, though, is whether this is a wholesome thing for the church. As the author of a book, though not a super consumer-oriented one, I think about it all the time. For example, if called upon to preach at a local church, should I take along a box of books to sell at the end of the service? Should I even mention the book? Should I ask whoever introduces me to mention the book? Should we sell ANYTHING in the church?

The question is not as easy as it may appear. For example, the market instincts of new publishers spread Martin Luther’s work to a large audience. Without the printing press, Luther probably would have died as just another dissenter. Marketing and the honest profit motive are surely reasons why the Bible is as incredibly widely available as it is.

But the question remains. How far do we go in making a profit from the gospel of Jesus Christ? I don’t have a good answer.

The other day I was tracking down a quotation I heard repeated at a local gathering and came across an interesting book published in 1834. On the title page of the “Googled” Oaths; Their Origin, Nature and History someone had scribbled “full of information… a superior work.” The introductory paragraph reads:

It is well observed by an ancient writer [Hilarius of Arles] that would men allow Christianity to carry its own designs into full effect; were all the world Christians, and were every Christian habitually under the influence of his Religion in principle and in conduct, no place on earth would be found for Oaths; every person would on all occasions, speak the very truth, and would be believed merely for his word’s sake; every promise would be made in good faith and no additional obligation would be required to ensure its performance.”

A few years ago I was asked to help organize a “business ethics conference” for a Catholic diocese. At the end of the day it was in fact a fundraising event, but the cause was good — supporting urban Catholic schools — and everybody knew what we were doing. Former Gonzaga University President Fr. Robert Spitzer was one of the speakers and I’ll never forget his “utility based ethics versus principle based ethics” talk. Enron was the whipping boy of those times and the example made by Fr. Spitzer was rather easy to understand. Enron’s accountants had spent too much time wondering how much they could hide rather than questioning whether hiding was the right thing to do. Lately, we’ve had Barney Frank and his famous “roll the dice” strategy with low income housing loans take Enron’s place, but the Massachusetts Congressman doesn’t seem to be reaching for a scourge. Not for that sin at least.

Speaking of Massachusetts, Harvard University’s Safra Foundation Center for Ethics had an interesting speaker on November 12th. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer [no relation — you can be sure] spoke on the topic “What Should Be the Rationale for Government Participation in the Market?” Since his resignation brought about by a prostitution scandal in March 2008, Mr. Spitzer has been teaching classes in Political Science to the kids at City College in New York and working at his daddy’s real estate firm. Kristin Davis, the former madam who supplied Spitzer’s needs and a reported Harvard alumnus wrote the Center’s Professor Lessig protesting the Spitzer apperance in which she described her former client as “a man without ethics.” The Spitzer appearance at Safra was characterized by some as the start of a “comeback.” We’ll see.

To sort this invitation out it’s probably worthwhile to read Safra Foundation Center’s mission statement:

Widespread ethical lapses of leaders in government, business and other professions prompt demands for more and better moral education. More fundamentally, the increasing complexity of public life – the scale and range of problems and the variety of knowledge required to deal with them – make ethical issues more difficult, even for men and women of good moral character.

But wait there’s more. Under the banner of one of the Center’s niches — Practical Ethics — we find the following:

“The diversity of the various methods and disciplines on which we draw and the range of the social and intellectual purposes we serve are too great to permit an orthodoxy to develop.”

For me, that leads to a version of I’m okay, you’re okay, it’s okay.

On the heels of Spitzer’s Harvard appearance The Wall Street Journal ran a story titled “Networking for Social Responsibility” in which they report on other business ethic efforts at some of the nation’s colleges. Creating an ecumenical balance to Harvard’s Safra Center is Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship organized because “a growing number of companies are turning to business schools these days for help in redefining what it means to be socially responsible.” In North Carolina at yet another college, Gil McWilliam, an executive director at Duke Corporate Education says, “One reason for the heightened interest in social responsibility is that companies seeking to expand globally need to first understand what social issues matter most in their target countries.”

Speaking about expanding globally, several years ago some guys I knew in the real estate business got introduced to some rich Chinese from the mainland. They were looking for investors and opportunities but ran into this cultural roadblock everyone called Guanxi. That doesn’t sound like our word for it, but Guanxi translates as a payoff or bribe. “Everybody does it.” they told me.

Most of these ethics centers have “green” and “eco-friendly” in their brochures and promotional materials. Synonyns in the Thesaurus of social responsibility. But those words sound empty when one hears them from Maureen Kelly, founder of Tart Cosmetics who, during a video interview for The Wall Street Journal tossed them out unsparingly while touting her start up cosmetic company — she uses recycled products because her customers care about global warming — but was unashamed to tell us that her big break came when she lied to a potential customer about an order she had from one of their competitors in order to seal a deal. Maybe she can sign up with the folks at Harvard, or BC or Duke for some remedial work. Or not.

Because that brings us back to where we started — with oaths? How about “the truth and nothing but.”

With the health care debate heating up once again, and a vote pending on the legislation on Saturday in the US Senate, here are a few bits of commentary on the process from Acton’s audio archives that will help you to understand some of the important issues at stake:

  • September 10, 2009: Dr. Kevin Schmeissing joins host Al Kresta to analyze President Obama’s address to Congress on health care reform:

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • September 10, 2009: Dr. Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, discusses how Catholic principles such as subsidiarity and solidarity apply to the current health care debate with Drew Mariani on Relevant Radio:

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This morning, Kishore Jayabalan – Director of Acton’s Rome office – joined hosts Melanie Morgan and Ernest Istook on America’s Morning News to discuss the ongoing controversy over abortion coverage in the hotly debated Obama/Pelosi/Reid health care bills currently under consideration by Congress, and to give some perspective on how the Catholic Bishops have dealt with the issue to date. You can listen using the audio player below.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, November 20, 2009
By

A common criticism of Catholic social teaching from businesspeople is that it remains too vague or abstract to provide concrete guidance for daily practice. There’s a new blog at CatholicCulture.org, where Peter Mirus, as a businessman, reflects on the moral dimensions of various aspects of his work. Here, for example, is a thoughtful one on being truthful. “At my company,” he says,

some our greatest successes in consulting have come through telling a current or potential client the hard facts. That decision hasn’t always resulted in revenue, but it has always moved our company in the right direction.