A few weeks ago Hunter Baker posted some thoughts on secularism and poverty, in which he wrote of the common notion that since private charity, particularly church-based care, had failed to end poverty, it seems only prudent to let the government have its chance.

Hunter points out some of the critically important elements in creating a culture of prosperity and abundance, what Micah Watson calls “cultural capital.”

But it’s worth examining in more detail the point of departure, that is, considering the relationship between the church’s approach to charity and the creation of the welfare state. Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write of this in a brief essay contained in their book, The Deacons Handbook: A Manual of Stewardship, first published in 1980.

DeKoster and Berghoef argue in “The Church and the Welfare State” that “The Church is largely responsible for the coming of the modern welfare community.” But they also contend that the diaconal office is the key to answering the challenge posed by the welfare state: “The Church could be largely responsible for purging welfare of its faults and problems. IF enough deacons caught the vision!”

The church helped to bring about the welfare state in two ways. First, the Church embodied the idea of loving self-sacrifice in service of others. “The Word which the Church proclaims demands charity and justice for the poor. As this Word has permeated at least the Western world, an alerted public conscience has demanded public welfare,” write DeKoster and Berghoef. “The Church is the parent of the welfare community.”

But this “welfare community” became secularized when the Church “did not, and perhaps in some respects could not, measure up to her own ideals. Not all the starving were fed, not all of the homeless given shelter, not all of the oppressed and exploited relieved. The cries of the needy ascended to heaven. The Lord answered with the welfare state. The government undertakes to do what the Church demands and then fails to achieve by herself.”

In this sense, the welfare state is understood to be God’s preservational (thus imperfect) answer to the failed duty of the Church:

Thus the Church is, both by commission and by omission, author of the welfare state. Deacons start from here. Government has undertaken to do what conscience, tutored out of the Scriptures, demands but fails, through the Church, entirely to achieve.

In the brief essay Berghoef and DeKoster go on to outline some practical steps that can be taken to address this failing and rein in the scope of governmental responsibility. Some of these specifics need updating given what has happened in the United States over the last thirty years. But the vision of The Deacons Handbook, that the core of the answer lies in the diaconate, is a worthy and compelling insight.

Hunter will be pleased to note that among the practical advice given by Berghoef and DeKoster is that the meaning of the First Amendment needs to be reconsidered. Their advice for the deacon? “Do a study of what is so readily called ‘the separation of Church and state’.” This aligns with the argument Hunter makes in his new book, The End of Secularism.

This much remains true:

What is important, with an eye on tomorrow, is to discern what constructive relations may be developed between alert diaconates and public welfare. And it is immediately obvious that diaconates are uniquely qualified to amend what are commonly perceived as defects in the welfare system.

Check out an excerpt from the original edition of The Deacons Handbook containing the essay, “The Church and the Welfare State.” And sign up over at Christian’s Library Press to keep informed about upcoming releases in 2010, including new editions of The Deacons Handbook, The Elders Handbook, and more.

Deacons Handbook Excerpt

Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Acton’s Rome office, was asked by Vatican Radio to comment on the debt crisis in Dubai that has been causing concern in world financial markets over the last week. To listen, use the audio player below.

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Washington

Washington

A blessed Thanksgiving to PowerBlog readers.

[New York, 3 October 1789]

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Blog author: jwitt
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
By

Got the socialism blues? Worried that a friend or maybe a teenage son or daughter may contract a nasty case of it? Marvin Olasky at World magazine recommends former Acton research fellow Jay Richards’ 2009 HarperOne book, Money Greed and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and not the Problem:

Among the myths Richards demolishes: The Nirvana Myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its real alternatives), the Piety Myth (focusing on good intentions rather than results), and the Materialist and Zero-Sum Game Myths (believing that wealth is not created but simply transferred).

Richards, one of that rare breed with a theology doctorate but an understanding of economics, also points out the errors of the Greed Myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed), the Usury Myth (that charging interest on money is immoral), and the Freeze-Frame Myth (that what’s happening now regarding population, income, natural resources, or so on, will always happen).

Want to administer some of the immunizations in delicious DVD form? Try a high-quality, narrative-driven Acton documentary that was irenic enough to air on scores of PBS stations around the country but with enough red meat to also air on Fox Business: The Call of the Entrepreneur shows why entrepreneurs and capitalism are part of the solution, and why socialism delivers the opposite of what it promises. The story of Jimmy Lai–the boy who escaped Communist China, founded a media empire, and confronted the Chinese leaders behind the Tiananmen Square Massacre–is alone worth the price of admission.

It’s ironic – and tragic – that as the world celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Communism’s defeat in Europe, the comic-opera that is Hugo Chavez’s “21st century socialist” Venezuela is descending to new lows of absurdity. Beneath the buffoonery, however, there’s evidence that life in Venezuela is about to take a turn for the worse.

By buffoonery, I mean President Chavez’s decidedly weird statements of late. These include threatening war against Columbia, advising Venezuelans that it is “more socialist” to shower for only three minutes a day, telling his fellow citizens to eat less because “there are lots of fat people” in Venezuela, eulogizing convicted murderer Carlos the Jackal as “a revolutionary fighter”, defending Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe as a “brother”, and wondering whether Idi Amin was so bad after all.

It’s not unusual for Latin American caudillos to say things that suggest a growing detachment from reality. The truth, however, is that for all Chavez’s eccentricities, it would be a mistake to dismiss these comments as nothing more than egomaniacal ravings. (more…)

Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joined host Dennis O’Donovan this morning on Religion, Politics and the Culture on WLVJ in south Florida for a wide ranging, hour-long discussion on health care reform and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ role in the debate, among other topics. You can listen to the interview by using the audio player below.

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Giancarlo Ibárgüen, President of Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala City, Guatemala, received the institute’s first Guardian of Freedom Award in a ceremony at the university’s campus on Nov. 16. More than 250 guests attended the award ceremony including the presidents of leading free market institutions such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the Cato Institute, Liberty Fund Inc., the Fund for American Studies, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Acton MBA Program in Entrepreneurship.

Rev. Robert Sirico, Dr. Alejandro Chafuen, Jeff Sandefer and Giancarlo Ibárgüen at the Award Ceremony
Rev. Robert Sirico, Dr. Alejandro Chafuen, Jeff Sandefer and Giancarlo Ibárgüen at the Award Ceremony

Rev. Robert Sirico presented the award sculpture and citation to Giancarlo stating “The Acton Institute proudly recognizes your outstanding commitment to the principles of freedom and the vital importance of your mission as you educate a new generation of men and women striving to live a life marked by a dedication to liberty and graced by the dignity of responsibility.”

Giancarlo’s emotion came through in his remarks. “I am overwhelmed… I just want to repeat that I am overwhelmed and I am very, very thankful with Father Sirico and Kris Mauren who have organized this wonderful event. This recognition that I take not as a personal recognition but as a recognition to those who have come before me at this wonderful institution.” He also thanked the team at UFM saying “I think the applause should be for them because it is really an extraordinary team.” Giancarlo concluded with some words of appreciation for his family, for Jeff Sandefer, and for the guests who came to the celebration.

The event’s program also included remarks from Edward Crane from Cato, Mary Anastasia O’Grady from The Wall Street Journal, Chris Talley and Allan Russell from Liberty Fund, Manuel Ayau from Universidad Francisco Marroquín and Jeff Sandefer from the Acton MBA Program in Entrepreneurship.

The Guardian of Freedom Award was created by Acton, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in order to recognize the ongoing contributions of leaders who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to liberty.

Mary O’Grady, Edward Crane, Dr. Emilio Pacheco and Lawrence Reed during the Q&A session of the first panelMary O’Grady, Edward Crane, Dr. Emilio Pacheco and Lawrence Reed during the Q&A session of the first panel

Acton also hosted “The Progress of Freedom” conference at the UFM campus on that same day. About 400 participants joined the conference as two panels of experts analyzed the last 50 years of freedom and the challenges ahead.

Participants included:

  • Alejandro A. Chafuen– Atlas Economic Research Foundation
  • Edward H. Crane — Cato Institute
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady — Wall Street Journal
  • Emilio J. Pacheco — Liberty Fund, Inc.
  • Roger R. Ream — Fund for American Studies
  • Lawrence W. Reed — Foundation for Economic Education
  • Jeff Sandefer — Acton MBA Program in Entrepreneurship
  • Rev. Robert A. Sirico — Acton Institute

About Giancarlo Ibárgüen
Giancarlo Ibárgüen has been President of Universidad Francisco Marroquín since 2003. A university trustee, he has been a member of its board of directors since 1992, serving as secretary general (provost) from 1995 to 2003. His memberships include the Centro de Estudios Económicos Sociales (CEES), the Association of Private Enterprise Education, the Mont Pelerin Society, and the Philadelphia Society. He is a board member at Liberty Fund and currently serves as financial advisor to various industrial, commercial and software companies. He was a member of the board of the Asociación de Gerentes de Guatemala and the editorial board of Gerencia magazine from 1992 to 1994. He was founding president of the grass-roots Asociación por el Poder Local (APOLO) in 1991, and a founding collaborator of the philosophical magazine Intuición. His articles on economics and telecommunications have appeared in Libertas (Argentina), Telecommunications Policy (Great Britain), the website of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) eLibrary. His editorials have been published in Guatemala’s daily Siglo Veintiuno and in various international publications including The Wall Street Journal. Giancarlo holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Texas A&M University. He has been married to Isabel Dougherty since 1983 and has three children.

Some of the aspects of the movement in ‘new economics’ highlighted by Sumita Kale sound quite promising. For instance, it is true that “many issues of economic policy (traditionally called ‘welfare economics’) are primarily ethical-economics in nature, and should be informed by moral philosophy rather than economics in isolation.” The growing conversation between economics and other disciplines, specifically moral philosophy and theology, is most welcome.

Indeed, some of the principles animating the work of the Cambridge Trust for New Thinking in Economics sound similar notes: “economic behaviour is influenced by aesthetic and ethical values as well as economic values.”

But when we drill down to the objectives of the Trust and look at some of the other principles, it becomes clearer that what is “new” about “new economics” is that economic research is pursued with an overtly and explicitly socio-political agenda: “It is vital that two social problems be solved. The first is the obvious degradation of the planet and its atmosphere by over-consumption and over-production through the exploitation of resources in pursuit of monetary gain. The second problem is the toxic pollution of the global money supply, also obvious, caused by financial practices over the past twenty years, led by the investment banks of Wall Street and the City of London.”

What we have here is economics as social engineering, providing norms for behavior rather than describing it. “New” economics (traditional economics with just a dash of moral philosophy thrown in) becomes a prescriptive rather than a descriptive discipline, and therefore simply one more voice among many clamoring for dominance in the legislative process.

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.