“Christian consumption has gone far beyond the book as millions use their buying power to reinforce their faith and show commitment to the Christian community,” reads an article in the current edition of USAToday (HT: Zondervan>To the Point)

According to the piece, “Nearly 12% of Americans spend more than $50 a month on religious products, and another 11% spend $25 to $29, according to a national survey of 1,721 adults by Baylor University, out in September.”

There has been a great deal of media attention paid to the Bible market in particular in the past few weeks. Here are some examples from Publisher’s Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker (HT: Reformation21).

Much of this phenomena flows from the affluence of the North American church, which itself entails a responsibility to be good stewards of those resources. As Ron Sider has poignantly reminded us, the way the church approaches the responsibilities and opportunities of wealth and affluence shouldn’t mirror the broader culture’s.

Reading through the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 the other day, I was struck by the danger of the third type of seed, that which “fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” In Jesus’ explanation, “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” Let us pray that the church in North America doesn’t fall prey to the temptations of the penultimate, but rather produces an abundant harvest for God.

If you’ve read any of David F. Wells’ books on this subject, such as God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, you know that he shares these concerns.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, December 14, 2006

Geoffrey Norman at NRO offers a delightfully sarcastic discussion of the move by a couple of Michigan state senators to use the BCS title game controversy as an opportunity for political grandstanding. “Keep your hands off our football,” is Norman’s message to government.

In point of fact, however, there is a long history of government intervention in American sports. An early and famous example is the Supreme Court’s 1922 decision granting Major League Baseball an exemption from antitrust laws. The financial stakes and cultural importance of athletics are too great a temptation for participants not to seek advantage through political maneuver.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, December 14, 2006

In a recent open letter to immigrants to the United States, Jennifer Roback Morse expands on the words of Emma Lazarus engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus wrote: “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.” Morse goes one step further, asking immigrants to give their hearts as well.

What Morse explains is that America values immigrants. In fact, almost all Americans are descended from immigrants. But a trend that Morse observes is a segregation between new immigrants and “native” citizens. New immigrants come to America, but leave their hearts abroad. Morse implores new immigrants to embrace the United States, to accept it as their home. “If you are going to be here, we want you to become Americans. Not just citizens, but Americans in every way,” writes Morse.

Immigration into the United States is by no means an absolute right (for more on that see here). It is a privilege, granted to some and not to others; sometimes for good reasons, and sometimes not. There are certain obligations that should be met when becoming a citizen of a new country, or even for being allowed to live and work in another country.

Those obligations include, but are not limited to, following the laws of that land and being sensitive to the customs of that land. They could extend as far as learning the language. It seems to me that these are just requests in exchange for the privilege of being in a place that benefits both you and your family.

And if you seek to become a citizen, your allegiance is required. You trade your own loyalty to the government in exchange for protection and the opportunity to seek “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” at least here in the States. For immigrants, this contract is voluntary. If you happen not to agree with or like the exchange, you may leave. Should you choose to stay, you should do so whole heartedly, embracing the freedom and liberty that the United States can provide you with.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 14, 2006

I can’t offer a wholesale endorsement, but it’s a critique worth a hearing…give it a watch.

See here for Acton’s answer to the One Campaign.

HT: eucharism

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A debate about the future of energy policy is being held over at sp!ked, sponsored by Research Councils UK. From their notice:

THE FUTURE OF ENERGY
Expanding supply or managing demand?

In the opening articles, five commentators address the question from different viewpoints.

ADAM VAUGHAN, online editor, New Consumer magazine argues that saving energy is the way forward: ‘By taking a number of simple steps, consumers can save energy and money – and help save the planet.’

JOE KAPLINSKY, science writer, spiked, believes that we need to greatly expand energy supply: ‘The best thing that we could do for future generations is to build a new energy infrastructure, bigger and better than the old one.’

MALCOLM GRIMSTON, associate fellow at Chatham House, argues that we need to embrace nuclear power: ‘Nuclear energy remains the only proven large-scale option that can deliver major saving in greenhouse gas emissions.’

MARK JACCARD, professor of resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver believes that fossil fuels, particularly coal, remain central to energy supply: ‘Zero-emission fossil fuels will remain cost competitive for at least a century.’

JIM SKEA, research director, UK Energy Research Centre argues that renewables are not a panacea to all our energy problems, but ‘A variety of renewable technologies may play an important part in energy generation in the future.’

spiked is keen to find out what readers think, and you can respond to the debate here.

I would also briefly mention that you can read a related article by me here, and that in general I think the options posed in the debates subtitle (reduction of use or expansion of supply) is similar to the options posed by the problem greenhouse gas emissions (reduction of emissions or increase of sequestration).

Most of the policy recommendations I’ve seen regarding CO2 emissions have focused on reduction of emissions rather than an increases in the rate and amount of carbon sequestration (in forests and so on). There’s a lot of work to be done on that latter point, especially if largescale reduction of emissions is untenable both politically and economically for the foreseeable future.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A genuinely thorny pastoral issue that often arose in the course of my counseling was the question of two-career marriages. What should a couple do if the wife wanted/needed to work outside the home when children were present, especially when the children were young? Because I served suburban churches (from 1972-1992) some of my congregants needed to be two-income families just to survive. Others did not but made a choice to pursue two careers anyway. The scenario always varies from place to place. In urban and poorer communities the need for two incomes is so great that there is little choice but to have both husband and wife fully employed at all times. The choice is never an easy one and always filled with real pressures no matter which way you decide to go.

(Continue reading the rest of the article at the ACT 3 website…)

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 12, 2006

As I’ve noted previously, it is probably best for the cause of limited government that political power be divided rather than in the hands of a single party, no matter which party. This AP story offers evidence in support of that claim from early action by the newly Democratic Congress. At the same time, a close reading of the article indicates that congressional Democrats’ cutting of Republican pork may not result in any meaningful or lasting scaling back of needless government spending.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 12, 2006

As noted at WorldMagBlog (among many other places), the incoming Democratic majority in Congress is suspending the process of earmarking, at least temporarily.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the incoming chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, have pledged that “there will be no congressional earmarks” in the upcoming budget.

Earmarks will be available again in the 2008 budget cycle, after “reforms of the earmarking process are put in place.” There’s a lot of smoke right now around the talk of earmark reform. We’ll see next year whether there’s any fire.

Last month Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said that making lasting earmark reform will be difficult: “There are three parties in Washington: Democrats; Republicans; and appropriators,” CAGW President Tom Schatz said. “Democrats should expect any serious reform efforts to meet stiff opposition from appropriators who have no qualms about breaking party lines, or the bank, to keep their pork.”

According to CAGW, Rep. Obey has appropriated over $5.5 million in pork since 2005, and has a lifetime rating of 19% or “hostile.” Sen. Byrd, meanwhile, is crowned “The King of Pork” with a rating of 17% and a tally approaching $1 billion in pork since 2000. More on “the King” here.

It’s an open question, then, whether Byrd’s and Obey’s commitment to real reform is authentic.

In the meantime, I recommend checking out other resources at Citizens Against Government Waste.

Gary Becker and Richard Posner examine the increasing gap between the rich and poor in terms of wealth and income. This gap was most recently highlighted in a report that “the richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth,” and the richest 1% hold 40% of wealth. The report was issued by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (PDF).

Becker seems to accept that wealth inequality is essentially a problem, and seems at pains to show that “the inequality in wealth appropriately defined is not nearly as large as the report might suggest, and wealth inequality in the world has almost surely become smaller over time, not larger as some in the media reported.”

Posner acknowledges that income inequality is increasing in the developed world and in some rapidly developing nations, but seems less concerned. He raises three possible negative social consequences of “the existence of a stratum of exceedingly wealthy people.”

Of the three, the third I think is the most important and real: “Huge personal wealth may play a disproportionate role in political competition. Personal wealth confers an enormous advantage on a candidate, but also permits a person who does not want to be a candidate to exert an influence on candidates and policies.”

I don’t think income or wealth inequality in itself is necessarily negative, and so I tend to agree with Posner’s emphasis rather than Becker’s. The problem comes when the economic power of the wealthy is used to disproportionately skew policy in their favor at the expense of less economically powerful classes. But as a whole, I think the concern about wealth disparity is more due to its effect on subjective well-being, or happiness, and the resulting envy that is engendered.

But, as Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action admitted in a recent debate with Rev. Sirico, the concern for policy-makers should not be primarily the happiness level or sense of subjective well-being of citizens, but rather how the poorest of the poor are doing, whether the objective floor of material well-being is being raised or not.

Sider has said that he would not be concerned with an increasing gap between rich and poor so long as the living standards of the poor were also increasing (so long as that increased concentration of economic power does not manifest itself in corruption of the political process, via rent-seeking, et al.)

People are much more likely to vote with regard to their subjective sense of well-being, however, so that politicians are easily manipulated into catering to their constituency’s sense of happiness rather than appealing to their objective betterment.

Following up on the story from a couple months back about restrictions to bankruptcy filings prohibiting filers from budgeting for tithing, and in the midst of the controversy surrounding Rick Warren’s invitation to Sen. Barack Obama to appear at a Saddleback Church event, news comes both houses of Congress have passed the “Obama-Hatch Tithing Bill.”

The bill would “protect an individual’s right to continue reasonable charitable contributions, including religious tithing, during the course of consumer bankruptcy. The measure passed the United States Senate in late September and will now be presented to the President for his signature” (HT: Religion Clause).

It’s good to see the folks on Capitol Hill respond when the ball is in their court. As U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Littlefield, Jr. wrote in his original decision, “Whether tithing is or is not reasonable for a debtor in bankruptcy is for Washington to decide…. Until Congress amends [the 2005 Act], the court’s hands are tied and the tithing principles that this court once applied pre BAPCPA (the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005) have been effectively mooted.”

The judge says its not his job to legislate from the bench and that Congress needs to take action if they want to protect tithing. Congress acts and tithing is protected. Now that’s the separation of powers at work.