Here’s a round-up of early reaction (to be updated as appropriate) to Obama’s speech about his proposed future for the faith-based initiative under his administration.

  • Rev. Richard Cizik of the NAE (HT): “Mr. Obama’s position that religious organizations would not be able to consider religion in their hiring for such programs would constitute a deal-breaker for many evangelicals, said several evangelical leaders, who represent a political constituency Mr. Obama has been trying to court. ‘For those of who us who believe in protecting the integrity of our religious institutions, this is a fundamental right,’ said Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. ‘He’s rolling back the Bush protections. That’s extremely disappointing.’”
  • Stanley Carlton-Thies of CPJ (HT): “Sen. Obama’s speech sketches the new approach he hopes to introduce. The speech does not make clear the radical restriction he intends to impose on faith-based organizations that receive federal funding.”
  • Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns: “He doesn’t say much that he hasn’t at least hinted at before, nor much of anything that would jar the ears of the most hardened secularist Democrat. ‘Faith-based’–I’d say, faith-erased–groups are welcome partners with government as long as they’re virtually indistinguishable from the bureaucrats they’re assisting.”
  • Douglas L. Coopman, Calvin College professor of political science: “Sen. Obama’s version of faith-based initiatives creates a great first impression. But the closer one looks at its details and the senator’s defense of it, the more disrespectful toward faith and naive about old approaches it appears.”
  • Byron York at NRO’s The Corner: “I remember an NR cruise several years back in which Father Robert Sirico, of the Acton Institute in Michigan, expressed reservations about Bush’s faith-based program. As I recall, he wasn’t upset about anything specific that Bush was doing; he just didn’t look forward to an entirely different set of policies being given a faith-based gloss in a Democratic administration…”

And speaking of the long view of the issue, check out this piece by WORLD’s Joel Belz from 2001 as a valuable backgrounder (HT), “Go for the vouchers.” See also, “Hazards of Public-Private Partnerships.”

Update: One of the FAQ for the Acton Institute’s unique program, the Samaritan Guide (emphasis added–all of the FAQ are worth reading in the context of the discussion of the faith-based initiative):

“Why does Acton run this charities rating program?

Acton works with religious leaders and other shapers of the moral consensus, who are involved in charitable work. However, they are often unaware of the pitfalls of accepting government funding or of supporting government social welfare programs. They may also lack reliable information about effective charities. Acton Institute began the Samaritan Award and Guide to help connect the good intentions of these opinion leaders with charities that implement the principles illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan.”

Christian socialism.gif

“[Christian Socialist Movement] is a movement of Christians with a radical commitment to social justice, to protecting the environment and to fostering peace and reconciliation. We believe that ‘loving our neighbour’ in the fullest sense involves struggling for a fair and just society, one in which all can enjoy the ‘fullness of life’ Jesus came to announce. And we want to work to make it happen.”

The rise of the Christian neo-socialists has been quite surprising. These Marxists have been using the Sermon of the Mount and Beatitudes and “Jesus’ teaching” to smoke screen the resurgence of a Christian Socialist agenda. It’s amazing.

We see this clearly in socialist redistributionists like Barack Obama, Jim Wallis, Wendell Berry, Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Ron Sider (although he’s moving more toward center), Brian McLaren, and many others I’d love to name.

At least in the U.K. leftist Christians are honest about being socialists. You will see no difference between this agenda and anything you’ll find in Jim Wallace’s neo-socialist organization Sojourners.

Here’s part of the neo-socialist Christian manifesto from the U.K.’s Christian Socialist Movement. At least these folks are honest. It should sound familiar:

Our values

We believe that Christian teaching should be reflected in laws and institutions and that the Kingdom of God finds its political expression in democratic socialist policies.

We believe that all people are created in the image of God. We all have equal worth and deserve equal opportunities to fulfil our God-given potential whilst exercising personal responsibility.

We believe in personal freedom, exercised in community with others and embracing civil, social and economic freedom.

We believe in social justice and that the institutional causes of poverty in, and between, rich and poor countries should be abolished.

We believe all people are called to common stewardship of the Earth, including its natural resources.

Objectives

Christian Socialist Movement members pledge themselves to work in prayer and through political action for the following objectives:

  • A greater understanding between people of different faiths

  • The unity of all Christian people
  • Peace and reconciliation between nations and peoples and cultures together with worldwide nuclear and general disarmament
  • Social justice, equality of opportunity and redistribution economically to close the gap between the rich and the poor, and between rich and poor nations
  • A classless society based on equal worth and without discrimination
  • The sustainable use of the Earth’s resources for the benefit of all people, both current and future generations
  • Co-operation, including the creation of cooperative organisations

If you’re going to be a Wal-mart-boycotting, “fair trade” coffee-protesting, “no more income gaps between CEOs and other employees” ranting, wealth-redistributing, minimum-wage supporting, socialist you are free to do so but please don’t call it “Christian” or “consistent with Jesus’ teaching,” etc. Many of us are honest about being in tradition of Althusius, Wilberforce, Kuyper, Booker T. Washington, J. Gresham Machen, Michael Polanyi, C.S Lewis, and others and continuing to battle the socialism that keeps people in generational poverty and I think the Christian socialists should be more honest to their allegiance to their own tradition of Marx, Lenin, Keynes, FDR, etc.

We live in a country where people are free to be socialists and that’s the beauty of the whole thing but why hide behind “Christian Social Justice” lingo when it’s really socialism proof-texted from the Gospels only. Why don’t the Christian socialists in America confess it like the Marxist Christians in the U.K.?

Any thoughts on why the Wal-Mart-boycotting socialist Christians don’t just to come out and say, “We are socialists, who also love Jesus?” Why the secrecy? Any insights?

The schedule for this year’s GodblogCon has been announced. Building on our involvement last year, the Acton Institute is again sponsoring this unique event. As a think tank committed to exploring the dynamic connection between theology and economics, the Acton Institute is proud to be a part of the innovative evolution of dialogue in a digital age. At this year’s Acton University, we had the pleasure of welcoming a number of bloggers who covered the event.

The dates for this year’s GBC are September 20-21, and will be held in conjunction with the BlogWorld & New Media Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The BlogWorld expo features media powerhouses like Townhall.com, Technorati, and Pajamas Media. See APM’s Future Tense for more about the economic clash between old (content) and new (linking) media.

If you’re a Facebook user, you can join the GodblogCon group here. And while you’re at it, be sure to become fans of the Acton Institute.


The Wall Street Journal offers a welcomed reminder of the value of tax revolts titled, “The Spirit of 13.” Proposition 13 is a notable property tax revolt which was led by the late California citizen Howard Jarvis in 1978. There are several books about the famed revolt and many attribute the event to helping fuel the “Reagan Revolution.”

Proposition 13 passed with 65 percent voter support, and ever since has been part of the California Constitution. As a result, property taxes were slashed by 30 percent and annual increases were capped at no more than a 2 percent increase. Retirees with limited income benefited greatly from Proposition 13. Perhaps most important, taxpayers know exactly how much to budget for their property tax. The law continues to hold very popular support among Californian voters, a state where citizens are taxed heavily already.

Still there are tax and spenders who constantly decry the lack of tax revenue, and Proposition 13 always finds its way back in their crosshairs.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Christian Reformed Church’s two-month long Sea to Sea bike tour, whose slogan is “ending the cycle of poverty.” As a member of the CRC, I’ve been hearing a lot about how the denomination’s sponsoring agencies and various cyclists are “gearing up” for the tour, which began yesterday in Seattle, and will conclude on Saturday, August 30, 2008 in Jersey City, New Jersey. covering more than 3,800 miles.

I plan on going through the Shifting Gears devotional and tour guide over the following months. During this time I hope to offer some reflections here about what I read and encounter. I hope to find some sound wisdom about how to confront the problem of poverty over and above the obvious good intentions connected with this tour.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, June 30, 2008

The latest issue of Christian Scholar’s Review (vol. 34, no. 4, Summer 2008) features a contribution from me, “Bonhoeffer in America—A Review Essay.” Using the rubric of Bonhoeffer’s two trips to America in 1930-31 and 1939, I examine his reception in the United States and the broader English-speaking world via a number of recent texts by and about the German theologian.

Earlier this month, the United Methodist Church recognized Bonhoeffer as a Christian martyr, the first recognition of its kind for that denomination.

One of the books I consider in the review essay is Craig Slane’s excellent study, Bonhoeffer as Martyr: Social Responsibility and Modern Christian Commitment. One of the nice things about this book is its attention to the historical development of martyrdom and suffering as a phenomenon in the Christian church, as well as the focus on bringing their significance to bear in the modern West.

Also forthcoming from me in the more distant future is a contribution to the International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest: 1500 to the Present on the assassination plot of July 20, 1944, related to the work of the resistance circle of which Bonhoeffer was a part.

A feature film, Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise is due out next February and “is based on the July 20 Plot of German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler.” (An interview with Ralph Winter, who produced previous films by Valkyrie director Bryan Singer, appears in the Autumn 2005 issue of Religion & Liberty.)

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, June 26, 2008

In preparation for the G8 summit in Japan in July, the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the respective G8 nations have collaborated and released a joint statement to their political leaders. I mean to diminish neither the importance of the topics addressed nor the respect due to the bishops’ teaching by saying that such statements are usually rather bland and predictable. This one, however, contains some interesting language concerning, in particular, global warming. “We urge you,” the bishops exhort, “to deepen your commitments and actions to reduce global poverty and address global climate change.”

And later, this:

The costs of initiatives to prevent and adapt to the harmful consequences of climate change should be borne more by richer persons and nations who have benefited most from the emissions that have fueled development and should not unduly burden the poor.

At the risk of reading too much into this language (one must assume, after all, that it was carefully chosen), consider the terminology: “reduce” poverty, “address” climate change. Not “stop” climate change, or even “reduce” it, but “address” it. Combine that formulation with the later passage concerning the consequences of climate change for the poor. Admittedly, this could be read in several ways, but one possible way to read it is this: If rich nations are going to take measures to address climate change that have economic costs, rich nations need to bear those costs, not impose them on other nations.

In sum, although the statement devotes much space to the issue of climate change—which is comprehensible in light of its importance as a topic for the G8—the emphasis is almost exlusively on climate change’s impact on the poor, including the impact on the poor of efforts to stem climate change. In light of the ongoing debate about what the effects of climate change will be (good or bad) as well as whether human action can significantly influence it one way or the other, this seems to me exactly the right approach to take.

It has also to be noted, however, that the bishops continue to press for increased foreign aid to developed nations. Made in the context of the G8, one must assume this means government aid. It is too bad that they do not display some awareness of the increasing evidence that government aid has been largely ineffective (arguably, counterproductive) in this cause. To their credit, they do stress that “the poor must be empowered to be drivers of their own development.” Wouldn’t it be refreshing if they also said something along these lines?:
“We urge the governments of the wealthy nations to promote the development of poorer nations by taking the following measures: 1) refuse to dispense aid to or through any government or agency that has a record of corruption; 2) foster the activity of private foreign aid agencies through deregulation and tax benefits; 3) abolish tariffs on foreign goods and subsidies to domestic production.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, June 26, 2008

Awhile back I passed along some insight into J. K. Rowling’s view of tyranny, as expressed in the words of Albus Dumbledore. Here’s another bit from Rowling’s wizard on the related topic of power:

I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, p. 718).

That section recalls for me Lord Acton’s famous words, which adorn this blog’s masthead. Here’s that quote, within the context of its surrounding sentences, “Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

Something to keep in mind this election season, I think.

Earlier this month “Red Letter Christian” Tony Campolo wrote a blog post for Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics blog that criticized the American government for not properly taking into account the effect its foreign policy has on fulfilling the Great Commission.

Here’s a bit concerning the Iraq war:

It doesn’t take much for Red Letter Christians to recognize that the hostilities between Muslims and Christians have increased greatly as of late because of certain geopolitical events—particularly as we consider what has been happening in the Holy Land and the consequences of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Mark Tooley of IRD does a thorough job fisking all of the faulty assumptions and oversights in Campolo’s piece.

One of the things Campolo is right about is the victimization of Christians at the hands of militant Muslims in Iraq. He writes,

For the first time in a thousand years, churches in Baghdad are being burned down. The Coptic bishop of Iraq was kidnapped and later found dead. Christians, facing persecution, have fled Iraq by the tens of thousands, so that a Christian community that once numbered more than 1.3 million is now down to 600,000.

The problem is that Campolo is acting as if the proximate cause of Muslim violence against Iraqi Christians is anger at American occupation. As Tooley notes, in the Iraq conflict as in so many other genuine Muslim-Christian conflicts around the world, Campolo fails to see the belligerent militancy of Muslim extremism. Campolo, among others, “can never admit that radical Islam itself is innately violent and spiteful, and would remain so, even if the United States were to curl up and die a quiet death.”

A much more plausible explanation for the suffering of the Iraqi church is that the protections of minority groups, including Sunnis and Christians, that were in place under Saddam Hussein disappeared during and after the invasion, and have not yet been adequately reinstated. As Robin Harris writes, “With other (still smaller) religious minorities, such as Yazidis and Mandaeans, Iraq’s Christians are suffering sustained persecution. While constituting less than 4 percent of the population of Iraq, Christians constitute 40 percent of the refugees leaving the country. Most of these have found refuge in Syria and Jordan, where they are living in utterly degrading conditions.”

The plight of Iraqi Christians in post-invasion Iraq is an important reminder that all government actions, whether domestic or international, have unintended consequences. Again, Robin Harris:

Unfortunately, until now there has been a conspiracy of near-silence. Some in the U.S. administration have been unwilling to have public attention drawn to the problem, for fear it would undermine support for the surge strategy. Other countries — with the notable exception of Germany — do not wish to do so either, for fear that they will be expected to take in more refugees. (Britain has a particularly shameful record in this respect). Meanwhile, diplomatic circles have a politically correct repugnance against any initiative directed towards helping a particular religious group — especially, of course, a Christian one. At an international level, only the pope has called for urgent action to avert the tragedy.

The best thing the U.S. government can do for Christians in Iraq is not to beat a hasty retreat and withdraw, as so many “Red Letter Christians” desire, but rather to acknowledge the unintended consequences of its foreign policy, including the increased persecution of Iraqi Christians. This also means taking responsibility for those unintended consequences. As so many have observed regarding the invasion of Iraq, once you decide to invade a sovereign nation, you take on all kinds of responsibilities for what happens afterwards. This applies in no small measure to the suffering of minority groups, including especially the Christian church in Iraq.

Global Warming Consensus Alert LogoNASA Scientist and chief global warming “consensus” cheerleader James Hansen testified before Congress yesterday that the chief executives of oil companies should be put on trial for high crimes against humanity for spreading doubt about global warming.

Pardon me while I consult Wikipedia for a moment:

In international law, a crime against humanity is an act of persecution or any large scale atrocities against a body of people, and is the highest level of criminal offense.

The Rome Statute Explanatory Memorandum states that crimes against humanity “are particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. However, murder, extermination, torture, rape, political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances, war crimes, but may fall short of falling into the category of crimes under discussion.”

Once again, here’s the opening sentence of this post: NASA Scientist and chief global warming “consensus” cheerleader James Hansen testified before Congress yesterday that the chief executives of oil companies should be put on trial for high crimes against humanity for spreading doubt about global warming.

I hereby propose that James Hansen be prosecuted for high crimes against reasonableness, perspective, and good sense for making such a ridiculous statement.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that a prominent global warming alarmist has proposed strengthening the global warming “consensus” by throwing those who would dare to question it in prison. The last time I noted such a proposal here on the PowerBlog, it was from Canadian scientist David Suzuki, and was immediately walked back by a spokesman who said that the statement was not meant to be taken literally. I’d guess that the same is true of Hansen in this case, although it should be noted Hansen isn’t known for being overly charitable to his critics, even when it turns out that they’re correct. Nor does he seem very interested in allowing people to check his results. Click here and scroll to get a sense of how difficult it is to figure out exactly how Hansen’s formulas for determining historical temperatures actually work.

One final note – “Satellite measured global temperature trend from the University of Alabama, Huntsville shows that it is cooler now than when he made his testimony in 1988.”

Update: Here’s a worthwhile read that asks some good questions about the accuracy of NASA’s thermometer:

…whatever motivations NASA had for picking the 1951-1980 baseline undoubtedly have some valid scientific basis. Yet, when the data is calibrated in lockstep with a very high-profile and public political philosophy, we should at least be willing to ask some hard questions. Dr. James Hansen at GISS is the person in charge of the NASA temperature data. He is also the world’s leading advocate of the idea of catastrophic global warming, and is Al Gore’s primary climate advisor. The discrepancies between NASA and other data sources can’t help but make us consider Einstein’s advice:

“If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.”

What’s more fun than a web poll? Answer: Lots of stuff. But that doesn’t mean web polls aren’t fun. So head over to NewsBusters and vote in theirs

Thanks to Web-Genius and Photoshop King Jonathan Spalink for the snazzy new GWCA logo!