Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 9, 2007

I’m a bit behind on this story, but as was reported by numerous media outlets over the past few months, a new trend has begun at some American churches. ATM machines, dubbed “Automatic Tithing Machines,” are appearing at some Protestant churches in the South. The machines are administered by the for-profit business SecureGive, run by Pastor Marty Baker and his wife, who integrated the machines at their Stevens Creek Community Church in 2005.

Proponents point to the transition to a digital age and the convenience of electronic transactions. Stevens Creek Community attendee Josh Marshall said of using the machines, “I paid for gas today with a card, and got lunch with one. This is really no different.”

Amy Forrest said this, “If you give cash, you think about it. And if you swipe a credit card, you don’t. It makes it easier to type that 4-0.”

These attitudes may not be truly representative, but they at the very least illustrate the potential for the convenience offered by these machines to turn faithful giving into something that is unreflective, automatic, mundane, and worldly. That’s certainly not the kind of giving that God wants.

Baker says of his concept, “It’s truly like an ATM for Jesus.” (more…)

In this month’s issue of Christianity Today, John D. Beckett, chairman of the privately held R. W. Beckett Corporation, speaks about his new book, Mastering Monday: A Guide to Integrating Faith and Work.

When asked, “Do you think churches still don’t understand business as a calling?” Beckett responds,

I do. Relatively few churches and pastors are reinforcing the legitimacy of a call into so-called “secular work.” I have colleagues with tremendous business influence who are starving spiritually in their local churches. There’s zero feeding; there’s zero reinforcing of the call they have in the marketplace.

There’s still much work to be done. Check out the trailer for Acton’s forthcoming documentary, “The Call of the Entrepreneur” here.

This year’s Super Bowl was widely hailed as an advance for black Americans because, for the first time, two black coaches faced off in the game. But, as Anthony Bradley observes, coaches Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith pointed to an even greater achievement: They did it “the Lord’s way.”

Read the commentary here.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Make trade, not war? In an excerpt from his new book “The Commercial Society,” Sam Gregg examines the long held view that nations engaged in trade are less likely to wage war. He notes that nations which are busy with commercial pursuits, instead of war making, may also be more vigilant about “protecting the fabric of freedoms upon which commercial societies depend.”

Read the commentary here.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, February 7, 2007

I mentioned a long time ago that this book, with its provocative and interesting thesis, was in the works. Stepping Out of the Brain Drain: Applying Catholic Social Teaching in a New Era of Migration, by Michele Pistone and John Hoeffner, is now available from Lexington Books. The blurb:

Catholic social teaching’s traditional opposition to “brain drain” migration from developing to developed countries is due for a reassessment. Stepping Out of the Brain Drain provides exactly this, as it demonstrates that both the economic and the ethical rationales for the teaching’s opposition to “brain drain” have been undermined in recent years, and shows how the adoption of a less critical policy could provide enhanced opportunities for poor countries to accelerate their economic development.

The story of a Confessing Church pastor and his family who welcomed in two prisoners who escaped from the Buchenwald concentration camp is told in, “Seeing the Other Side-60 Years after Buchenwald” (RealMedia).

The short film, about 14 minutes, is based on Mona Sue Weissmark’s Justice Matters: Legacies of the Holocaust and World War II.

Why did Pastor Seebaß and his family help the prisoners and in the process endanger themselves? “It was all about loving your fellow man.”

Last month Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) reintroduced legislation from the previous Congress, this time as the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007, or GOFA (HT: Slashdot). According to the commentary on Slashdot, “GOFA would create a U.S.-government-designated list of ‘Internet restricting countries’ and would in most cases prohibit U.S.-based companies from censoring content or turning over users’ information to the governments of those countries.”

This law directly affects the situation of companies like Yahoo!, Google, and MSN who have been pretty roundly criticized for their practices in markets like China. Awhile back I discussed the complexity of these kinds of situations, attempting to recast the discussion within the context of this question: “What is the best way to move China toward economic, political, and religious freedom?”

Rep. Smith has repeated the oft-heard criticisms: “By helping dictators stifle free speech and spy on dissidents, American IT companies are putting profits before principles.” The Slashdot commentary notes that the major impact of the legislation is not likely to come in the area of censorship of Internet sites, but rather “where the law could make a difference is in the prohibition against turning over users’ personal data to law enforcement in censoring countries.” The piece also outlines why U.S. Internet companies might actually endorse such regulation, since it would give them bargaining power in negotiations with oppressive regimes.

Meanwhile, Google exec Sergey Brin has admitted that their policy of censoring web searches in accord with the demands of the Chinese government was ‘a net negative’ for their business, given the critical reaction from Western consumers and damage to the company’s reputation (HT: Slashdot).

Of course, given Google’s massive profit in 2006, including a fourth quarter near-tripling, the company can probably handle some short term negatives. And there’s speculation that Google’s growth may be a little too “hot” and so perhaps the fallout from Google’s practices in China, a net negative as it may be in itself, has done the company some good. After all, Google has now got a toehold in a hugely developing market.

Still, foreign companies have not been hugely successful so far in competition with domestic Internet companies in China, “partly because of regulatory restrictions that favor homegrown companies, but also because foreign companies often do not understand China’s Internet market, which is geared primarily to entertainment and mobile phones.”

What is clear is that the rise of economic freedom in China presents a multi-faceted challenge to the West to show how economic, religious, and political freedom are interwoven. Calvin College has received a $2 million grant from the Templeton Foundation to educate Chinese scholars about “how philosophy, science, morality, economics and religious belief have interacted in the West.”

Other efforts are trying to include concerns about religious freedom within the broader context of human rights. The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom is advocating that the U.S. government use the economic leverage represented by the Olympic Games, which come to China in 2008, to “pressure Beijing into reforming” its human rights practices (HT: ENI).

Joseph Loconte, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, writes in an extended essay in the current issue of Christianity Today, that “evangelicals could lobby for the creation of a U.S. Commission on Human Rights, in the same way they rallied in the 1990s for a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.”

Perhaps adoption of the GOFA would be one small step in showing China just how the West views the relationship between freedom in various spheres of human activity.

So yeah, I’m a global warming skeptic. Why? Well, this sort of thing:

…and when you exhale, you’ll see the steam.

Maybe for the same reason we believed, 30 years ago, that global cooling was the biggest threat: a matter of faith. “It is a cold fact: the Global Cooling presents humankind with the most important social, political, and adaptive challenge we have had to deal with for ten thousand years. Your stake in the decisions we make concerning it is of ultimate importance; the survival of ourselves, our children, our species,” wrote Lowell Ponte in 1976.

I was as opposed to the threats of impending doom global cooling engendered as I am to the threats made about Global Warming. Let me stress I am not denying the phenomenon has occurred. The world has warmed since 1680, the nadir of a cool period called the Little Ice Age (LIA) that has generally continued to the present. These climate changes are well within natural variability and explained quite easily by changes in the sun. But there is nothing unusual going on.

Since I obtained my doctorate in climatology from the University of London, Queen Mary College, England my career has spanned two climate cycles. Temperatures declined from 1940 to 1980 and in the early 1970′s global cooling became the consensus. This proves that consensus is not a scientific fact. By the 1990′s temperatures appeared to have reversed and Global Warming became the consensus. It appears I’ll witness another cycle before retiring, as the major mechanisms and the global temperature trends now indicate a cooling.

Imagine that. Global warming caused by… the sun?!? Can humanity survive this dreadful Solar Menace? Stay tuned!

A favorable review of Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness in Liberty: “The Importance of ‘Happyness’.”

And just in case you thought that libertarians have no appreciation for social bonds whatsoever, here’s the conclusion of the piece: “Underlying this free-market philosophy, however, is a film that is unabashedly moving, demonstrating that true happiness does not lie in the accumulation of property alone, but in having someone to share the joy of good fortune. Without someone to tell, someone to care, good fortune is just a pile of paper.”

Check out my review of the movie here.

Speaking of the ubiquity of pornography in our culture, last week ABC News’ Nightline highlighted the work of XXXChurch, a ministry aimed at evangelizing porn stars and pornographers, as well as addressing the spiritual problems associated with consuming pornography. Check out the story, “The Porn Pastors: XXXChurch.com.”

JR Mahon of the ministry says in the piece, “Our biggest critics are Christians.” Sadly this comes as no surprise. When XXXChurch came up with the idea of a New Testament with a cover emblazoned, “Jesus Loves Porn Stars,” resistance from the evangelical community was quick and strong. The American Bible Society refused to publish it.

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said at the time that “I think these guys have crossed a line that I would not cross and I would not commit.”

“I just have to wonder what people think when they see that cover,” Mohler said. “In other words, are they expecting the Bible or are they expecting something else?”

Similar furor has erupted over an Australian Baptist church’s display of a sign that read, “Jesus Loves Osama.” Melinda at the Stand to Reason Blog calls such mottoes “bumper sticker Christianity” that is “just so unhelpful.”

The defense in both cases is that the verbiage is that it is simply an attempt to communicate the gospel message in a challenging and thought-provoking way; that we are called to evangelize everyone in the Great Commission and that we are to love our enemies.

There are two errors that are often committed in these areas. The conservative error is to reject both the sinner and the sin in the interests of purity and holiness. The liberal error is to minimize or even celebrate the evil of the sin as good in the interests of acceptance, tolerance, and “love.”

Augustine helps us to avoid both errors. If we are at pains to legislate against certain types of behavior but are not undertaking evangelistic efforts to convert those who need it most, we engage in Pharisaic legalism. If we do nothing to rebuke sin, we engage in licentious antinomianism.

Here are some thoughts from Augustine, that could arguably be pretty well summarized in the bumper sticker slogan, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” (clearly in light of the second quote the word “sinner” would need to be properly parsed):

“That is, he should not hate the man because of the fault, nor should he love the fault because of the man; rather, he should hate the fault but love the man. And when the fault has been healed there will remain only what he ought to love, and nothing that he ought to hate” (City of God, 14.6).

“No sinner, precisely as sinner, is to be loved; and every human being, precisely as human, is to be loved on God’s account, God though on his own. And if God is to be loved more than any human being, we all ought to love God more than ourselves” (De Doctrina Christiana, 1.27.28).