While the recent contraceptive mandate controversy has exposed the Obama Administration’s disregard for religious freedoms, it has also reveled their natural disdain for subsidiarity. As George Weigel notes, this incident tells us “something very important, and very disturbing, about the cast of mind in the Executive Branch.”
When we launched the PowerBlog in 2005, we had little idea that it would grow into one of the Acton Institute’s most popular and powerful communications channels. Nearly 4,000 posts, and 8,000 comments later, the PowerBlog is still going strong. And for that, we heartily thank our many readers, contributors and commenters.
Now we have for the first time a dedicated editor to help sustain and grow the blog for the advancement of the “free and virtuous society.” Veteran journalist Joe Carter is joining Acton as Senior Editor beginning today.
Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, online editor for First Things, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. A 15-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously worked as the managing editor for The East Texas Tribune and the online magazine Culture11. He has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign, as a director of communications for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, and as director of online communications for Family Research Council. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator (Crossway).
Please join me in welcoming Joe to the PowerBlog.
After asking his most pressing question, “After all, do we really want to make accommodations across the range of faith?,” he makes this amazing statement:
“The basic principle of American life is that we try to respect religious beliefs, and accommodate them where we can.”
That sentence caught the immediate attention of many. Could someone of Nicholas Kristof’s influence and stature really write and mean that?
Mohler highlights some of Kristof’s commendable work on human rights abuses (he’s the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes), but Mohler says “when it comes to human rights at home, Mr. Kristof reveals a horrifying blind spot.”
Our country is not a country that “accommodates” or “tolerates” religion. There is undoubtedly a growing disconnect of those who have no fundamental understanding of the meaning of religious liberty in the American framework. Now we are clearly seeing that the exponential growth of government is a grave threat to religious liberty. Some of the “enlightened” want to somehow “accommodate” religion, at least publicly.
Face it, many who no longer look to the Lord for their help, look to the state as their provider, caretaker, and the dispenser of whatever freedoms they are granted.
Concerning our fortress of religious liberty, look no further than a book I recently reviewed on James Madison by Richard Brookhiser. Madison objected to the “fullest toleration” of religious freedom in Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, and his language found its way into the Bill of Rights. Brookhiser spells it out perfectly in his Madison biography and points to the uniqueness of America’s first freedom:
Madison, half Mason’s age, improved his language, proposing a crucial change to the clause on religious liberty. Mason’s draft, reflecting a hundred years of liberal thought going back to John Locke, called for “the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion.” Yet this did not seem liberal enough for Madison. Toleration implies those who tolerate: superiors who grant freedom to others. But who can be trusted to pass judgments, even if the judgment is to live and let live? Judges may change their minds. The Anglican establishment of Virginia, compared with established churches in other colonies, had been fairly tolerant – except when it hadn’t, and then it made water in Baptists’ faces. So Madison prepared an amendment. “All men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise” of religion. No one could be said to allow men to worship as they wished; they worshipped as they wished because it was their right as men. Madison’s language shifted the ground of religious liberty from a tolerant society or state, to human nature, and lifted the Declaration of Rights from an event in Virginia history to a landmark of world intellectual history (23, 24).
Furthermore, take a look at “Birth Control Yes, Government Control No” in The Wall Street Journal for more on the threat to religious liberty.
Toleration or accommodation is of course flawed because it posits the notion that religious freedom or freedom of conscious is offered by the whims of the state. Many pundits rolled their eyes at the “war on religion” ad by Rick Perry during his presidential campaign. I admit, I think I rolled my eyes and thought it was quite the overreaction. I was too enlightened and nuanced for an ad like that. Given the actions of the executive branch, I don’t know if we can say it’s an overreaction anymore.
The Grand Rapids Press has a story today about the Acton Institute’s plans to move into new office space in the heart of the city. Stay tuned to the PowerBlog for exciting updates in the days and weeks ahead about the move.
GRAND RAPIDS – The Acton Institute, a conservative think tank dedicated to blending Christian doctrine and free market economics, may be better known on the international stage than in its home town. That may change soon. The 22-year-old institute is purchasing an old department store and office building in the heart of downtown. “We’re the only public policy think tank in Grand Rapids, but we’re probably better known internationally than in Grand Rapids,” said Acton spokesman John Couretas.
The institute’s new home at 98 E. Fulton Street was built as a Jacobson’s Department store and was known as the White & White Medical Arts Building during the 1980s and 1990s. Last year, the building’s east wall was the 2nd Place winner in ArtPrize as artist Tracy Van Duinen’s Metaphorest Project. The building currently is occupied by the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT), a nonprofit organization that helps students stay in school through exposure to the arts and aid under- or unemployed adults through technical skills training. WMCAT will continue as a tenant.
The Acton Institute, which has more than 40 staffers, is currently headquartered in leased space at the Waters Building, a downtown landmark at 161 Ottawa Ave. NW.
Read more on “Acton Institute will raise its profile in Grand Rapids with purchase of downtown landmark building” by reporter Jim Harger in The Grand Rapids Press.
Methodism was once the largest denomination in America. The faith grew rapidly from America’s beginning and has traditionally been characterized by aggressive evangelism and revival. It has carried a vibrant social witness, too. Methodist Church pronouncements once garnered front page headlines in The New York Times. Its high water mark undoubtedly came during prohibition, the greatest modern political cause of the denomination. Methodists even built and staffed a lobbying building next to Capitol Hill believing a dry country could remake society.
In Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century, Mark Tooley has chronicled Methodism’s denominational political pronouncements from William McKinley, America’s first Methodist president, to 9-11. Tooley has unearthed a staggering amount of official and unofficial Methodist declarations and musings on everything from economics, war, civil rights, the Cold War, abortion, marriage, and politics.
Tooley, who is also the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church, offers very little of his own commentary on the issues in Methodism and Politics, instead allowing Methodism’s voice for over a century to speak for itself. Ultimately what emerges is a denomination that begins to recede in significance, perhaps because of the sheer saturation of their witness in the public square. But its leadership often trades in a prophetic voice for a partisan political one, and sadly at times, even a treasonous voice.
Methodists not only led on prohibition, but were out in front on issues like women’s suffrage, the New Deal, and the Civil Rights Movement. While they did not always carry a unified voice on these issues, even many Southern annual conferences and bishops broke with the popular political position of defending segregation in their home states.
While support for the New Deal and greater federal intervention in the economy was not rubber stamped by all Methodists, an emerging and often biting anti-free market voice would dominate official pronouncements. This continues to this day with declarations calling to support greater government regulations, single payer health care, and a host of measures calling for government wage and price controls. Way back in 1936, one Oklahoma Methodist pastor offered his own advice to some of his brethren:
Why do [these Methodist Reds] not get passports, emigrate to Russia where they can prostrate themselves daily before the sacred mummy of Lenin and submit themselves to the commands of Joseph Stalin?
Tooley chronicles the pacifist sentiment that begins to overtake the denomination. This amounted to the equivocating of a denomination that once was harsh in its critique of communism to one where a committee of bishops would pronounce by the 1980s, that “actions which are seen as ‘Marxist-Leninist’ by one group are seen as the core of the Christian message by others.”
Perhaps most shameful was the action of several bishops during the American hostage crisis in Tehran, Iran, from 1979 – 1981. United Methodist Bishop Dale White said of the new Islamic fundamentalist regime, “I know there are individuals in the Iranian power structure who do trust The United Methodist Church.” White offered assessments of the new regime being “democratic.” The General conference sent a message to Ayatollah Khomeni declaring that it hears the “cries of freedom from foreign domination, from cultural imperialism, from economic exploitation.” Methodist officials participated in pro-Khomeni student demonstrations in Washington D.C. and met with and offered praise for officials in the new Iranian government. One former hostage recalled:
Some of the people who came over especially the clergy were hypocrites because they came to aid and comfort the hostages but ended up giving aid and comfort to the Iranians and actually making it worse for us.
The election of President Ronald Reagan naturally sent many United Methodist Church officials into a tizzy. “People voted their self interest instead of the Social Principles of the church. It looks like United Methodists with everybody else forsook their Christian idealism at the ballot box,” said Bishop James Armstrong. Some United Methodist Bishops had already declared their denomination much more aligned with the Democratic Party. It was downhill from there for many Methodist leaders, as they coddled the Sandanistas and “Brother Ortega” in Nicaragua and dove head first into the nuclear freeze movement.
In the 1990s one General Board of Global Ministry official bewailed the Republican Congress by saying, “White, male supremacists now wear suits. They talk states rights and anti-taxes. The climate of hate and violence is a challenge to us.” General Board of Church and Society official Robert McLean declared that the GOP Contract with America effectively “cancels” the Sermon on the Mount.
Hyperventilating over partisan politics would continue in The United Methodist Church and continues to this day by American officials. Most recently many have joined forces with the “What Would Jesus Cut Campaign?” But because Methodism is a connectional denomination, the growing African influence is counter balancing what Methodist progressives and political liberals can accomplish. They have already reached the pinnacle of their power, which has been shrinking for decades. And because progressives have made so many predictable pronouncements, they no longer speak with the weighty spiritual authority they once held. It is a lesson for all churches and those that wish to bring their faith into the public square. At the 1934 Illinois Annual Conference one lay delegate offered what can be seen only as prophetic now when he declared, “It is time for churches to stop adopting resolutions and then finding out what they mean afterward.”
Just a few weeks ago, The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church & Society heaped praise on President Obama’s HHS mandate with no mention of the measure’s threat to religious liberty, deciding to only view it as a partisan measure to defend for furthering the role of government in health care.
At the conclusion of the book, after reading through 100 years of political pronouncements, Tooley finally offers just a hint of his own assessment,
American Methodism in 1900 was growing, confident, largely unified, and politically formidable. One hundred years later, it had already endured several decades of steep membership decline and accompanying political marginalization as church officials were no longer presumed to speak for most church members.
Tooley, through the myriad of voices that he has chronicled over such a lengthy period, understands those voices only need to speak for themselves to make his point.
In the 1920s Calvin Coolidge once said of Francis Asbury, one of the first two Methodist Bishops in early America, that “he did not come [to America] for political motives,” but came to bear “the testimony of truth.” One wishes Methodist denominational officials would not only follow more of Asbury’s doctrine, but his praxis as well.
Daniel Hannan, a British Member of the European Parliament, issued a strong warning to conservative Americans worried about their country’s future in a speech he delivered at the CPAC rally last week in Washington.
The self-proclaimed Euroskeptic and author of The New Road to Serfdom, warned U.S. political conservatives not to follow in Europe’s tragic footsteps by allowing their governments to seize too much power and create dependency on mismanaged socialized government programs — the very Welfare State culture that has a strangle hold on the Old Continent’s major economies such as Britain, France, Germany and Italy.
In Hannan’s opinion, Europe is “in the grip of a prolonged winter … of discontent” where there are nation-wide protests and grumbling every day against political and economic liberalization — but with little hope for actual change. Europe is in such a dire state, he says, because it is has long lost its culture of enterprise and self-responsibility.
Hannan said he always admired Americans for their optimism and “anything’s possible” attitude, but they need to make sure their “rulers remember they are not rulers but representatives.” He humorously noted that in Belgium, where he works in European Parliament, the country was without a government for nearly two years “and it was working brilliantly!”
Below you can watch Hannan’s interview and full speech delivered at CPAC.
The Catholic High School Honor Roll, a biennial list of America’s top 50 Catholic high schools, will now be sponsored by The Cardinal Newman Society, beginning with the 2012-13 Honor Roll application period. The Acton Institute, which has sponsored the Honor Roll since its inception in 2004, is turning the program over to The Cardinal Newman Society.
“It has been gratifying to see how the Catholic High School Honor Roll has grown to be a reliable standard for faithful Catholic education. In order to insure its continued growth, it seems logical to us that its mission be entrusted to a fine organization with a solid track record to take it to the next level,” states Fr. Robert Sirico, president and co- founder of the Acton Institute.
The Acton Institute encourages all past participants to continue utilizing the Catholic High School Honor Roll as a means of measuring academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education, and congratulates The Cardinal Newman Society for its on-going efforts to renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic education. Please watch the Catholic High School Honor Roll website for further updates and announcements.
Also, please note that the new Honor Roll project manager, Mr. Bob Laird, will be sending a separate e-mail introducing himself to the Honor Roll schools. He is available at HonorRoll@CardinalNewmanSociety.org, 703/367-0333, ext. 103.
On Jan. 20, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ordered most employers and insurers to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs (the “morning after” pill) free of charge under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Yesterday, President Obama — reacting to a firestorm of criticism that this new mandate violates freedom of religion and conscience protections — announced a compromise that shifted the cost of the mandate to insurers. That, however, has done little to allay fears about the erosion of constitutional rights from many religious leaders. Roman Catholic Bishop Richard Pates in Des Moines, for example, told the local paper the compromise didn’t go far enough and asked parishes in his diocese to publish a letter tomorrow titled, “At stake: Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Conscience.”
A number of economists and other critics of the HHS mandate are equally unimpressed with the cost shifting at the heart of the president’s revised plan.
In a LifeSiteNews.com report, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg observes that “Someone has to pay. And it would be entirely reasonable – and very probable – for the insurance companies to simply charge religious institutions extra for their overall insurance policies in order to cover their not-so-free costs.”
Read more from Gregg and other experts in “‘Birth control pills don’t fall out of the sky like manna’: economic experts blast revised mandate” by Ben Johnson on LifeSiteNews.com.
As promised in the context of yesterday’s discussion here and at First Thoughts, my piece on the future of fusionism is up over at the Comment site, “Small is Beautiful (Except When it Isn’t.)” I take my point of departure in the “crunchy” or “communitarian” conservatism of Rod Dreher, recently profiled by the NYT’s David Brooks.
My basic point is that the social or communitarian conservatives generally have a great deal to learn about economics and the way that economic development underpins the very lifestyles they manifest. But on the other hand, economic or “market” conservatives have a great deal to learn about the cultivation of virtue and the value of communities and civil society from social conservatives. So in contrast to those who perennially herald the divorce between economic and social conservatives, I find that they are “deeply interdependent in many often overlooked ways.” I conclude that in this time of crisis (financial, moral, and spiritual), “Perhaps now more than ever communitarian and market conservatives need each other’s insights to mutually test their respective assumptions and the practical implications of their views.”
One of the distinctive features of the fusionist project over the last couple decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union is the absence of anti-communism as a unifying force. Instead, the dynamic of globalization, and the generally differing evaluations of globalization between social and economic conservatives, has served as a centrifugal rather than centripetal force for the fusionist project.
In this regard I think it is worth taking note of a paper given by then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 1985 (PDF) about the relationship between ethics and the market economy. He lays out in brief but brilliant fashion a framework for fusionism in his concluding paragraph:
A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism. As such it is the antithesis of morality. A scientific approach that believes itself capable of managing without an ethos misunderstands the reality of man. Therefore it is not scientific. Today we need a maximum of specialized economic understanding, but also a maximum of ethos so that specialized economic understanding may enter the service of the right goals. Only in this way will its knowledge be both politically practicable and socially tolerable.
I think “a morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws” sometimes too painfully represents the position of social conservatives, including Rod Dreher, as I note in the Comment piece. But all too often economic conservatives take a “scientific approach that believes itself capable of managing without an ethos.” The union of these two wings of the conservative movement is the fruitful, and indeed necessary, basis for fusionism, which still, I believe, represents the most hopeful way forward for conservatism in America.
A couple of Acton radio appearances to let you know about: First of all, Acton’s Director of Research Dr. Samuel Gregg joined host Al Kresta yesterday to discuss the modern papacy on Kresta in the Afternoon. He focused on the social and political thought of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. You can listen to the interview by using the audio player below:
Additionally, Acton’s Director of Media Michael Matheson Miller provided some additional commentary on the controversy surrounding the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate decision on America’s Radio News, which you can listen to below: