God and Money passes along a news story about a church in Nebraska raising money “to buy motorcycles (probably not Harleys) for pastors in the African country of Tanzania. Pastors there serving multiple congregations cannot simulcast their sermons–they have to walk upwards of 60 miles to be with their flock.”

It brings to mind the early American Methodist practice of sending out circuit riders. But it also illustrates the kinds of needs that can be met in unconventional ways. This is the key insight that allows a venture like World Bicycle Relief to be effective.

We often bring our own preconceptions about what life should be like when we encounter and engage those in other parts of the world. That’s how we come up with the idea that what the poor in Africa need are laptops and access to the Internet. No. What is really needed now is much more basic, things like bicycles and motorcycles.

Blog author: rnothstine
Friday, February 4, 2011
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Rev. Robert Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute called Ronald Reagan a “sunny warrior for freedom” with “a clear sense of moral priority.” The commentary was written a day after the former president’s death in 2004. If you walk into the Acton office you might notice a photo of Rev. Sirico and Acton executive director and co-founder Kris Mauren with Reagan at his former office in Century City, California. He holds a visible imprint at Acton.

Sunday is Ronald Reagan’s centennial birthday. ABC News has a good overview of some of the festivities. The Super Bowl even has a tribute video planned for the giant jumbotron in Dallas. The centennial site at the Reagan Library has news about the celebration and a list of events. General Electric, a former employer of the president, has their own centennial page.

Here in Grand Rapids, we are hosting our own event, Acton on Tap: Faith and Public Life in Ronald Reagan’s America. You are invited.

Acton has a lot of rich Reagan content. Some of the best is linked below:

Today is the 105th anniversary of the birth of the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From the R&L archives:

Bonhoeffer’s resistance to the Nazi regime included his support for and pastoral participation in the Confessing Church along with other prominent Protestant theologians like Karl Barth and Martin Niemöller, as well as his intricate association with the broader ecumenical movement. When the effectiveness of the Confessing Church’s opposition to Hitler was blunted and his efforts to bring the moral authority of the ecumenical movement to bear failed, Bonhoeffer became involved with the so-called Abwehr conspiracy, which intended to assassinate Hitler, overthrow the Nazi regime, and end the war.

After imprisonment for his role in the escape of Jews to Switzerland, Bonhoeffer was implicated in the failed assassination attempt of July 20, 1944. At the age of thirty-nine, he was hanged by the S.S. at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just weeks before the liberation of the area under Allied troops. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and death are a testament to his commitment to the Christian faith and his ardent opposition to the absolutism and idolatry of Nazi Germany.

I also recommend checking out the new biography by Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. You can read my review of Metaxas’ book here.

The single best work of Bonhoeffer’s to familiarize yourself with his life and thought is the little classic, Life Together.

Stephen Grabill and I follow up on the Lausanne Congress in this week’s Acton Commentary:

After Cape Town: Still Learning to Talk About Business and Ministry

By Brett Elder and Stephen Grabill

The Cape Town Commitment — a document that flows out of the Third Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization held in Cape Town, South Africa, this past October — has generated a great deal of discussion since its release last week. Prior documents and declarations proceeding from the previous two Lausanne Congress gatherings (such as the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, and the 1989 Manila Manifesto) have been embraced as a sort of social encyclical and common rallying point for the evangelical church — broadly defined — around the world.

Last fall, we sat with rapt attention in the multiplex session on “Workplace Ministry” in Cape Town. It was during this insightful session that we were humbly reminded that one of the shortcomings of the Manila Manifesto was the glaring omission of the business community in the cause for global evangelization. Here we were apprised of the secular-sacred divide that has plagued the Christian church for centuries. Mark Greene, of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and other distinguished speakers and panelists described eloquently the main reasons why, historically speaking, “ministry” and “business” have frequently operated in hermetically sealed compartments. The bottom line is that the evangelical church has yet to integrate ministry and business or harness its potential synergy in significant ways for the cause of global evangelization.

The sad reality for far too many in the church is that “ministry” is sacred and “business” is secular. You do not have to be a theologian to grasp the logical conclusions that follow and that perpetuate these bifurcated realms. Christian discipleship is reduced to one form or another of ministry effort and all ministry is done through the institution of the local church or a nationally or globally oriented parachurch organization. Therefore, all those serious about ministry will be drawn to spend as much time as possible in the “ministry” world. Perhaps one can even take some of that ministry into the “secular” workplace and redeem it? Perhaps Bible studies or personal evangelism efforts will help redeem that space?

When we relegate work (which God ordained before the fall) to the “secular” realm we cede territory that is squarely a part of God’s kingdom design. This separation has profound consequences. In fact, from a biblical vantage point, what we commonly refer to as “ministry” is no more sacred than “business” — God is the author and designer of all of life. That means that reflecting God’s image in our business activity is indeed a sacred calling and one worthy of a lifetime of intentional effort. It is most certainly not a necessary evil. We commend the framers of the Cape Town Commitment for very clear language that charts a fuller, more robust trajectory for evangelism and discipleship; thereby inviting the remaining 98 percent of the Christian community who do not serve in formal ecclesiastical roles to understand their vocation as “ministry.” We all must reflect God’s image as we employ our unique areas of giftedness in service to our neighbor, the kingdom, and the world around us. (more…)

The following is my latest article for Acton Commentary:

Stewardship and the Human Vocation to Work

By Rev. Gregory Jensen

Paying the bills and contributing to the collection basket are laudable. But Christian stewardship is significantly more than these; like prayer, fasting, and the sacraments, it is an essential part of our Christian life. More than what we say, the way we use our time, talent and treasure, reveals what we value, how we understand ourselves as men and women of faith, and what we believe it means to be human.

It is this last point that I want to focus on here. What does it mean to be human? Maybe this is a strange place to begin, but before we are Christians, we are human. Before any of us are baptized or make a commitment to Jesus Christ, we are human. We can only be Christian because we are human and the importance of our shared humanity should not be minimized; we are saved and made one in Christ precisely because God took on our humanity. He becomes as we are, in the frequently repeated phrase of the fathers, so that we might become as He is.

Salvation, justification, sanctification, deification—whatever terms we use for the mystery of our New Life in Christ—all presuppose not only divine grace poured out by the Holy Spirit but also a common humanity that we share not only with each other, but most importantly with Jesus Christ the God-Man. Too often in the early years of my own spiritual life and like many young Christians I saw the Gospel as an escape from the shared human nature and struggle. I was wrong.

As I’ve grown older, if not wiser, I’ve come to appreciate the argument made by St. Irenaeus. He said that the whole of human life is recapitulated in Jesus Christ who is Himself the first born of the new creation (see Colossians 1:15). Irenaeus also says that whatever in our humanity is not assumed by Christ is not healed by Him. Extending this argument we see that is our shared humanity that keeps us from living as strangers to each other and to God.

Scripture tells us that the human vocation is written not simply in its sacred pages but in creation as well.   When the Church fathers read Genesis they saw our First Parents as both an icon of the Most Holy Trinity and as the goal of creation. It is for us, for the whole human family, that God creates; even as later it will be for us that He becomes Man in Jesus Christ.

Viewing humanity in light of the Incarnation, the fathers see humanity as the point at which the Uncreated and created meet. To be human is to be the place of communion between God and the cosmos. We are both a microcosm and a macrocosm; we are the creation in miniature even as we also contain the whole creation in ourselves. Is it any wonder then that after turning his mind and heart to God, King David says of us all: “What is man that you care for Him?” (Ps 8:4)

We also hear in Genesis the divine command to our First Parents to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it” (Gn 1:28). This refers not simply to procreation, to the begetting and raising of children in marriage, it also has a more general application. To be human is to be productive and profitable and to make of the creation a fit home for the human family. In a word, the primordial vocation of the human person is to work.

Work in Genesis means much more than what we tend to think, living as we do on the other side of Adam’s transgression. In first verses of Genesis, we see God as an artisan. As the potter forms clay into vessels both beautiful and useful, so too God takes the unformed matter of the universe and shapes it into creatures beautiful and good, animate and inanimate (see Isaiah 29:16 and Rom 9:20-23). The goodness and beauty are not an abstraction, but the characteristics of a cosmos that is a fitting home for man. God creates something beautiful and good for us. He then charges us to continue that work of shaping creation as a beautiful, good and fitting home for the whole human family.

So the anthropological foundation upon which stewardship rests is this: After God and in God, we are to be as God for the creation and one another. We are called by God to exercise our gifts and abilities to shape the material world as well as the social and cultural world according to the Gospel and for the needs of the human family. Yes this requires technical skill but it is not simply a functional task. Rather it is one which, from beginning to end, is to be characterized by beauty and goodness.

Before all else, to be a steward is to commit oneself personally and generously to using the gifts of time, talents and treasure God has given each of us the capacity to help to create a good and beautiful home fit for the human family. But how we use our gifts is not only an expression of our original vocation. Because of Adam’s transgression our work is often frustrating and marred by want and conflict. Though sin has sullied our vocation, it has not been undone. If anything, one of the great sorrows of human life is the myriad ways in which our original vocation is so often left unfulfilled—stillborn and even aborted by human selfishness and material want.

To be what it is, work must itself be redeemed; it must be work in Christ since it is only in Christ that we can transcend the consequences of sin. And in Christ, our stewardship becomes not only an expression of our shared human vocation, but our personal assent to Christ and His desire to redeem human work, creativity and ingenuity.

There’s still time to register for tomorrow’s opening lecture of the 2011 Acton Lecture Series (click here to reserve your seat for Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s “Christian Poverty in the Age of Prosperity”), and while we’re anticipating the start of the 2011 series we’ll continue our blog recap of the 2010 series. Today, we highlight one of my favorite lectures from last year: Joseph Morris’ “Alinsky for Dummies: His Persistent Influence and Its Meaning for American Society and Politics.”

Saul Alinsky might be called the “anti-Acton”. As Lord Acton warned that power corrupts, Saul Alinsky — the father of modern “community organizing” — rejoiced that corruption empowers. Decades after Alinsky’s death his ideas and teaching continue to shape the American political and social landscape. Barack Obama’s first job in Chicago was as an “organizer” for an Alinsky group; Hillary Clinton’s undergraduate thesis was written on Alinsky’s precepts; contemporary organizations from the notorious ACORN to the Catholic-Church-supported United for Power and Justice are among Alinsky’s progeny. Morris’ lecture supplies an overview of Alinksy’s thinking and shows its application in current events.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
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Yesterday I noted some items related to the question of punishment and restorative justice in the American criminal justice system. And in the past we’ve looked here at the PowerBlog of the issues surrounding political and social activism on prison rape.

Now today Joe Carter, web editor at First Things, considers the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the broader cultural attitudes toward prison rape:

While such laws are a useful beginning, what is needed more than any legislation is a change in attitude by the American public. While jokes about conventional rape are always considered in bad taste, humor about prison rape is common and broadly accepted.

Joe makes an important case, and it is worth serious consideration. Given his position on water boarding and torture more generally, I’m sure that Joe agrees with what I’ve written previously on this issue: “Inmates are still people, and therefore need to be treated as such, with all the challenges and potential that face all human persons.” One of the things it means to treat someone with the dignity they deserve as a human being is to not subject them to conditions where the threat of rape is rampant.

With regard to the relationship between humor and prison rape, Joe is right to point to the double standard. One commenter on one of my previous posts contended, however, that “I don’t think the vast majority of people who joke or threaten about prison rape are seriously indifferent to it when it comes to making real decisions about the penal system. Instead, I think they are simply pointing out one of the ugly realities of any penal system.” You can judge for yourself the accuracy of that claim.



But I wonder too whether one aspect of why prison rape humor is so relatively prevalent in our culture is that, as Joe has noted in his always worthwhile 33 Things, comedy has something to do with “making immoral behavior seem harmless.” In this sense, then, the danger isn’t that humor about making prison rape seem moral, but rather that it makes prison rape seem inconsequential or “benign.”

Continuing our recap of last year’s Acton Lecture Series in anticipation of Thursday’s opening lecture of the 2011 ALS (which you can register for right here), we’re pleased to present the video from February and March of 2010.

On February 18, 2010, Acton’s Director of Media Michael Miller Delivered a lecture entitled “Does Capitalism Destroy Culture?” His lecture discussed the positive and negative impact of capitalism in society today. Miller pointed out that it’s not just Christians that are worried about culture and that it is just not a right or left issue. Many are also worried about rampant consumerism and the perceived danger of technology. Miller also addressed the Southern Agrarians and their conservative critique of industrialization. Video is below:

A month later on March 18, we welcomed Rudy Carrasco to our podium to deliver a lecture entitled “Do the Poor Need Capitalism?” A 2009 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research says that the number of people in the world living on less than $1 per day fell from 403 million in 1970 to 152 million in 2006. An analysis from the American Enterprise Institute says the biggest factor was the rise of the middle class in China and India, at a time when the world’s population grew by 3 billion. Carrasco discussed whether capitalism is a greater asset than liability in the fight against poverty, and whether capitalism must be moderated by virtue and morality before a Christian can embrace it. Again, the video is below:

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Feb. 1, 2011) — A new survey of 5,500 organizations by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania ranked the Acton Institute among the best global social policy organizations and in the top 50 think tanks overall in the United States.

The 2010 Global Go-To Think Tank Rankings, directed by James G. McGann of the International Relations department at Penn, put Acton at No. 12 on the Top 25 Social Policy Think Tank list. Acton was ranked No. 47 among the top think tanks in the United States. Overall, there are more than 1,800 think tanks in the United States, according to the survey.

McGann noted in his report that think tanks are indispensable to the creation of a “robust” civil society which, in turn, creates a “virtuous cycle” of consolidation for the public good. The potential for think tanks to build a healthier, more closely knit society, he said, was “far from exhausted.”

The rankings show that the two decades of work by the Acton Institute and its supporters aimed at the creation of a “free and virtuous” society are widely recognized by journalists, scholars and public policy experts, Executive Director Kris Mauren said. “Increasingly, Acton’s research is being used where policy issues engage the faith community,” he said. “There’s a growing realization that good intentions must be connected to sound economics.”

Mauren said he was particularly heartened by the growth of global networks and the partnerships between think tanks that were highlighted in the report. Acton’s international reach has expanded greatly in recent years through the expansion of its affiliate program, the publication of web content in several languages, and its association with groups like the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. The translation of the Acton documentaries Call of the Entrepreneur, Birth of Freedom and the Effective Stewardship DVD curriculum into more than a dozen languages has also made them available to think tanks and broadcast networks outside the United States. The Call of the Entrepreneur has been translated into Spanish, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, German, Polish, French, Slovak, Romanian and (in 2011) Portuguese.

For more on the 2010 Global Go To Think Tanks Rankings, and to download the report, please visit www.gotothinktank.com

Link to news release here.

The Detroit News today published a new column by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute:

Civility, not just after tragedy

The Rev. Robert Sirico

The tragic shootings in Tucson that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded and a score of others dead or wounded have sparked a national discussion about how we conduct our public discourse.

This is something we should all welcome, in an age of instantaneous media and its often vitriolic political and social debate.

For those of us who are Christians, our guide should always be to speak the truth in love. That is, we witness to the truths that are revealed to us by the Lord, without shying away from critical issues or glossing over important differences we have with others. This is especially important in an era of globalization and the need for greater interfaith relations, where words or phrases can so easily be misunderstood. And it’s possible to have this dialogue in a reasonable and respectful fashion.

Yet, I find it not a little strange that many of the voices calling now for civility and temperance in our political discourse were, not long ago, either silent in the face of hateful language or participants.

I speak, of course, of the religious left, which was so much a part of the “Bush derangement syndrome” in recent years and, with the rise of the tea party movement, seems to have shifted its fire in that direction.

Take, for example, the Rev. Jim Wallis, the self-appointed chaplain to the Democratic National Committee, who in recent weeks has become an apostle of civility. This is the same man who said this in response to the “shellacking” that the Democrats got in November: “There was very little values-narrative in this election. And there was almost no attention to the faith community and its concerns.”

Really? This was true of those millions of Americans who were pushing back against out-of-control government spending, ruinous debt, an intrusive and badly flawed health care bill, and a general sense that our nation was losing its moral bearings?

Remember, if you will, the invective and hate hurled at former President George W. Bush over the Hurricane Katrina response. Entertainer Kanye West famously said at the time that Bush “doesn’t care about black people.”

Where was the hue and cry from the liberal pastors and priests over West’s outrage? In fact, former Sen. Bill Frist, a physician, said the Bush administration funding for AIDS relief and malaria eradication programs for Africa probably saved 10 million lives worldwide.

Following the election of Bush in 2000, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called for a “civil rights explosion.” He stood in front of the Supreme Court and vowed to “take to the streets right now, we will delegitimize Bush, discredit him, do whatever it takes, but never accept him.” I had my differences with Bush on a number of important issues. But he endured eight years of attacks, some of them vile, like this and the “social justice” ministers said nothing about it.

We all need to raise the level of public discourse, and not just as it applies to our political favorites. The Christian’s calling is to purify the heart, because it is the seat of the passions. And all actions begin there.

St. John Chrysostom, in a famous homily on fasting, warned us not to be too legalistic in its observance. More important than the foods we are abstaining from are our actions and the “disgraceful and abusive words” which we sometime use to “chew up and consume one another.” In this he echoes the words of Jesus Christ, who taught us that “what goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean” (Matthew 15:11).

The point here is to remind us that our words have weight and effect. Yes, let’s proclaim the truth, and do it in a civil and even a loving fashion. That’s the civility that both the left and the right deserve.