Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Tuesday, December 19, 2006

There can be little doubt that one of the greatest political and economic problems in the US is the way that our Congress “earmarks” billions of dollars for special projects that benefit lawmakers in their bid for personal security and re-election.

The system works in a very straightforward way. Congress can pass massive spending bills and all the while representatives can add “earmarks” that benefit projects and people in their district or state. It is a form, quite often, of legal payback for favors rendered to the elected official. President Bush asked Congress, in his last State of the Union address, to give him a line-item veto. Don’t expect it to happen soon. The idea makes perfect sense really, and it has been done in several states, so why am I so pessimistic about the prospects? The simple answer is plain to see—both parties have found that it pays to spend money in this less accountable way. Incumbents use it to gain favor and to stay in power. Everyone knows that over 95% of the incumbents in the US House are re-elected every two years. Why fix a system that benefits those who are being asked to fix it? Supposedly smaller-government Republicans should favor this idea but many are just as adept at this “earmark” business as the most liberal Democrats.

All the recent talk we’ve heard about reforming the system is really not very impressive when you look at what really happens in Washington. But there have always been a few leaders who have risen above this type of spending and shown themselves to be consistent in their service of the common good of all the people. Michael Reagan recently told the story of how a wealthy businessman in California came to see his late father one day when he was running his first campaign for governor in the 1960s. The man left a paper bag with $40,000 on Reagan’s desk saying, “This is for you.” Reagan took the bag and threw it at his friend and walked out of the room. Later Reagan told this man that if he wanted to make a contribution to his campaign he should send the gift to his campaign committee. And he warned his friend to never try this stunt again, telling him that if he were elected governor the man should never expect to get a single favor from Reagan.

One could wish for more people like Ronald Reagan in public leadership. I think we call this integrity. The lack of such integrity is frankly harming all of us. Everyone knows that this growing practice of budget “earmarks” is called “pork.” Frankly, calling it pork is a disgrace to pigs, who have higher standards that many of those who spend public money to secure their spot in Congress. In a very real sense I call it “legalized bribery.” I pray for the day when the public has had enough of this and pressures Congress to clean up this mess. Changing parties in the last election cycle will not likely change the culture in Washington. We need something much bigger and stronger to do that. I would suggest that what we really need is leadership with courage and vision.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I’ll post the link to this story on an eco-friendly church being built in the Philippines with only one further comment:

I am very surprised at the claim that this is the “world’s first-ever environmentally-friendly church.” Obviously it all depends how one defines “eco-friendly,” but still, I’m skeptical that this is the first church building to incorporate the features listed in the article. Surely some progressive congregation somewhere has already set the standard in this field?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In a much discussed op-ed for CNN last week, hipster church leaders Marc Brown and Jay Bakker (the latter’s profile, incidentally, immediately precedes that of yours truly in The Relevant Nation…a serendipitous product of alphabetical order) lodge a complaint against Christianity that doesn’t respect the call “love others just as they are, without an agenda.”

Speaking of Jesus, Brown and Bakker write, “The bulk of his time was spent preaching about helping the poor and those who are unable to help themselves. At the very least, Christians should be counted on to lend a helping hand to the poor and others in need.”

I’m sympathetic with their concerns that Christianity not become “co-opted by a political party” or only about “supporting laws that force others to live by their standards.” I’m less sympathetic with their emphasis on Christianity strictly as social gospel (the only mention of “hell” in the piece is as part of a rhetorical flourish at the piece’s beginning, having nothing to do with the biblical doctrine of everlasting punishment.)

In a piece for the Christian Science Monitor (HT: WorldMagBlog), Mark Totten writes that “a remarkable trend is emerging among Evangelicals today: the embrace of a social agenda that includes not only abortion and marriage, but poverty, AIDS, the environment, and human rights.” On one level, this reflects the positive engagement of evangelicals with the totality of public life, something that is important given the extent of Christ’s lordship.

Totten writes,

The most telling change is perhaps taking place in the pulpit. For most of the past century, Evangelicals have reacted against the Social Gospel movement of the progressive era, which many felt replaced the Gospel message with one of mere worldly social action. Today, however, a new generation of evangelical pastors is weaving an ethic of “neighbor love” into the fabric of sin and salvation.

(Totten cites the work of Rev. Tim Keller, whose work is discussed in more detail here and here, as a case in point.) The key here is that in an overreaction to the social gospel, some Christians eschewed any and all political or social engagement. We need to be careful, however, that in response to what may be too little engagement, we don’t return to the errors of the social gospel and make Christianity all about material or social well-being.

So, instead of the “either/or” dichotomy that Bakker and Brown set up between traditional political issues of the religious right (e.g. gay “marriage,” abortion) and the “new” concerns of political evangelicalism (e.g. the environment, poverty), it’s really a “both/and” equation. And this “both/and” extends beyond the political realm to the theological, so that we have a socially conscious and active Christianity that doesn’t abandon orthodox doctrine and concerns about salvation.

Augustine, in his monumental work De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Teaching), captures this relationship well (emphasis mine):

Now of all those who are able to enjoy God together with us, some we love as people we can help, some as people we can be helped by, some as ones both whose help we need, and whose needs we help to meet, while there are some on whom we ourselves confer no benefits, and from whom we do not expect any either. Still, we ought to want all of them to love God together with us, and all our helping them or being helped by them is to be referred to that one single end (1.29.30).

As Augustine elsewhere observes, “A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about” (Confessions, 3.2.3).

What does this mean in the context of Christian evangelism? That we not simply seek to bind up physical wounds, but minister to the whole person, body and soul. And real ministry to the soul entails that we relate the true situation of all sinners, for as Augustine also confesses, “my sin was the more incurable for my conviction that I was not a sinner” (5.10.18).

Brown and Bakker write that Christians are to “love others just as they are, without an agenda.” If taken to an extreme, this claim is a radical departure from traditional Christian faith. For not only in the words of Augustine are we to love others as they might become brothers and sisters in Christ (“No sinner, precisely as sinner, is to be loved; and every human being, precisely as human, is to be loved on God’s account”), but also in the words of Jesus we are to show our love to one another by proclaiming the gospel: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The children of the Chinese One-child policy are finding new obstacles in their paths: no one wants to hire them. Incredible, but true. It seems that many of the only children have been so pampered by their parents, that employers do not find them suitable workers. Some have called these children, "Little Emperors," because their parents dote on them so thoroughly. Evidently, this is not good preparation for working in the global economy!

Recently, China Daily reports, the Sinohydro Engineering Bureau No. 1 in the central province of Henan held a job fair for students majoring in hydro-electricity. But when Chen Fengxin expectantly handed over his resume, it was not murmurs of approval he heard but these questions: "Are you from a village? Do you have any brothers and sisters?" If he was from a city, and especially if he was an only child (as city children are more likely to be), the recruiter was not interested. Chen was stunned.

A female representative of the hydro scheme explained to a local paper: "Students from cities and only children cannot endure the hardships incurred in the process of geological exploration. Brain drain is rife," she said, adding that parents of only children hope their offspring can stay close to them and not work too far away.

Just another hidden cost of China’s aggressive population control program.

Cross posted at my blog.

…check out the helpful website by the Seymour Institute. Founded by the Rev. Gene Rivers in Boston, the Institute brings together information and tools to advocate for marriage in the black community.

I recently received a letter from a reader of my Acton Commentary column, "Marriage as a Social Justice Issue," which she had seen reprinted in modified form at Town Hall. My correspondent was concerned that I had overlooked a key fact: the lack of marriageable black men. She said, in part:

Education and the lower number of available black men are 2 major things you left out of your article. I know that marriage is important in the black community, but if every black man you meet has limited education, a criminal record and several children, what is getting married going to do, really? It is going to tie you to a man that can’t provide for you, that wouldn’t make sense. And if he didn’t treat you well, then there really is no reason to marry him.

I think the real propblem here is not that blacks don’t marry, it is that there are just not enough good black men to go around. So they screw around. Women are only human and they have needs. And if you are 30 never married with no prospects, I would imagine that over time, you get lonely, and men can take advantage of that, and they do. Very sad but true. So don’t make the single mom the bad guy here. We are not bad and plenty of us work and don’t get public assistance.

What can I say? She is correct. Put her point another way, many women may be making the best of a bad situation when they choose to have children without husbands.

My question to her, and to my readers: what can we do that would be constructive about the problem of lack of marriageable black men? Part of the problem is crime and incarceration, but that part of the problem is something neither I nor most readers are in any position to do anything about. My correspondent implied that men take advantage of the vulnerability of the woman who hopes for marriage or at least motherhood.

The reason this is important for EVERYONE and not just the black community is this: within the broader culture, the combination of feminist movement, gay rights movement and family law radicals are conspiring to make marriage a gender neutral institution. For all practical purposes, this has meant the marginalization of men from the family. In the black community, the process of marginalizing men is more or less complete. The kinds of family forms, and sexual dynamics we see there, is where the society as a whole is headed.

Cross posted at my blog.

From the new Solzhenitsyn Reader, which I highly recommend (especially if you are behind on your Christmas shopping):

Human society cannot be exempted from the laws and demands which constitute the aim and meaning of individual human lives. But even without a religious foundation, this sort of transference is readily and naturally made. It is very human to apply even to the biggest social events or human organizations, including whole states and the United Nations, our spiritual values: noble, base, courageous, cowardly, hypocritical, false, cruel, magnanimous, just, unjust, and so on. Indeed, everybody writes this way, even the most extreme and economic materialists, since they remain after all human beings. And clearly, whatever feelings predominate in the members of a given society at a given moment in time, they will serve to color the whole of that society and determine its moral character. And if there is nothing good there to pervade that society, it will destroy itself, or be brutalized by the triumph of evil instincts, no matter where the pointer of the great economic laws may turn.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, December 18, 2006

In this week’s Acton Commentary, Anthony Bradley takes a look at the Spanish economy as it faces a “dilemma,” as he puts it, “simultaneously needing immigrants and seeking to curb them.” Bradley also notes that “institutions like marriage and family seem silly to many Spaniards.”

As APM’s Marketplace reports, shifting trends in Spain might claim another Spanish institution, the siesta. A variety of factors, including increasing competition with labor forces in other nations, are leading some to question the viability of the siesta system in Spain.

The siesta works like this: in the middle of the workday, beginning at around 2pm, offices and businesses close up shop for a few hours, giving workers an extended break. It used to be that employees could go home, spend some time with the family, have a meal, and take a brief catnap, returning fresh to work after the siesta concluded.

But nowadays, the lengthy commutes for urbanites makes a trip home impractical. And many workers don’t like having to stay at work until 9pm in order to get a full day’s work in after the siesta break. What once was a way to create family time is now being seen as contributing to an anti-family work environment. As Jerome Socolovsky reports, “Young parents who want to go home before 9 o’clock to be with their kids can meet with disapproval from the boss.”

One interesting thing about this story is the juxtaposition of the situation in Spain, which seems to be heading away from the siesta model, and the reality in some other industrialized nations, such as Japan, where “power napping” is becoming big business.

In his depiction of the Christian’s daily activities in Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that “the noonday hour, where it is possible, becomes for the Christian family fellowship a brief rest on the day’s march. Half of the day is past. The fellowship thanks God and prays for protection until eventide. It receives its daily bread and prays…”

It strikes me that in the rise of the Japanese power nap and the fall of the Spanish siesta, we’re seeing two extremes come together. Perhaps working 12-hour days, as is common in Japan, isn’t the human ideal. And neither is the extended break during the hottest hours of the day necessary in places where the work being done isn’t manual labor.

Appropriate rest is needed, that is beyond question. But exactly what constitutes the right amount of rest seems to be an open question, or at least culturally contextual to some extent. As Calvin observed, the moral requirements of the fourth commandment concerning Sabbath observance are universal, and include provision for “our servants and labourers relaxation from labour.” This includes the “carnal” labor of daily work, as but a pointer toward “the mystery of perpetual resting from our works.”

Update: Marketplace takes a look at the immigration boom in Spain here. According to one immigration lawyer, a major reason immigrants head to Spain is “the generous welfare system. Illegal aliens get free health care here.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 15, 2006

Seth Godin wants to know.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, December 15, 2006

The January 2007 issue of First Things features a lengthy review of Stephen Grabill’s new book on Protestant natural law thinking (no link to the review, unfortunately). J. Daryl Charles, an assistant professor at Union University, has this to say about Grabill’s Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Eerdmans, 2006):

Grabill’s examination of theological ethics in the Protestant Reformed mainstream is utterly compelling, and it represents a shot across the bow of theological ethics, as it were. Protestants for the past 250 years have found practical as well as theological justification for ignoring or vehemently rejecting natural-law theory. And despite its bewildering diversity, there exists across Protestantism a broad consenus that rejects the natural law as a metaphysical notion rooted in divine revelation. This consensus is mirrored in the fact that one is hard-pressed to identify a single major contemporary figure in Protestant theological ethics who has developed and defended a theory of natural law.

The Charles review, titled “Reforming Natural Law,” goes on to say that Grabill “has performed a valuable service in plumbing the rich texture of Reformed theological ethics.”

For a limited time, the book is on sale in the Acton Book Shoppe for only $20.