Readings in Social Ethics: Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi (selections), in Melanchthon and Bucer, Book I, Chapter XIV, “Care for the Needy,” pp. 256-59. References below are to page number.

  • Bucer praises the deacon as an office of the institutional church and an artifact of the early church, commending it to reestablishment in the evangelical churches: “it was their principal duty to keep a list of all of Christ’s needy in the churches, to be acquainted with the life and character of each, and to give to individuals from the common offerings of the faithful whatever would suffice for them to live properly and devoutly. For those who, when they are able to do so, refuse to seek the necessities of life by their own industry and labors should be excluded from the churches” (256-57).

  • Since deacons are to be the primary means by which the church cares for the poor, individual almsgiving is discouraged. Bucer provides a fourfold justification for this judgment: “For when each person wishes to distribute his own alms for himself, there is violated, first of all, the institution of the Holy Spirit and the legitimate communion of the saints. Secondly, alms due to the least of Christ’s brethren, and therefore to Christ himself, are more often given to the unworthy than to the worthy. Nor can every single individual know and investigate each of the poor who happen to encounter him; for those who are least worthy are much better instructed at begging, indeed, extorting, the alms which should be dispensed to the poor alone. Furthermore, when everyone gives alms by his own hand, it is with great difficulty that he will exclude from his heart a desire for the appreciation and praise of men; and when he receives this empty reward from men, a real and sure one is not to be expected from God. Finally, since it is obvious that those who voluntarily give themselves over to beggary are men prone to every crime, what else do those people who foster them do but sustain and support very harmful pests of society” (257-58). There is a sense of the need for specialization and professionalization of the work of charity here. Precisely because individuals could not do all the work needed to make charitable giving effective and appropriate, deacons are appointed to take up the task, as representatives of the institutional church.
  • The church needs to be an example to the world and should not be put to shame by greater love and charity being shown outside of rather than inside the church: “And indeed we must be ashamed and grieve when the right care of the poor has already been restored in very may regions which still serve Antichrist, whereas the very ones who glory in the reception of the gospel and the Kingdom of Christ, although they are not unaware how necessary this practice is, and how much it is a part of the salutary religion of Christ, still fail to reestablish it” (258).

Richard John Neuhaus, over at the First Things blog On The Square, posts an excerpt from the upcoming print edition that excoriates the NAB translation (also noted at Mere Comments).

Neuhaus writes of Jesus’ answer in Matt. 18:22 to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” that “Jesus obviously intended hyperbole, indicating that forgiveness is open-ended. Keep on forgiving as you are forgiven by God, for God’s forgiving is beyond measure or counting.”

It’s not so much that I think that Neuhaus’ comment is wrong as I think it misses perhaps the primary allusion in Jesus’ statement: a reversal of the commitment to escalating retribution that marks Lamech’s legacy.

Thus we read in Genesis 4:23-24 of Lamech, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

See also: “Can Neoclassical Economics Handle a Scriptural View of Forgiveness?”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 30, 2007

Last week I linked to this R&L item, “The Leaky Bucket: Why Conservatives Need to Learn the Art of Story.” And two weeks ago, I discussed the relationship between environmental stewardship and economics.

You may recall that the first story featured in Acton’s Call of the Entrepreneur documentary is that of Brad Morgan, a Michigan dairy farmer. Faced with huge costs to dispose of cow refuse, Morgan’s entrepreneurial vision took hold: “His innovative solution to manure disposal, turning it into high quality compost for a variety of purposes, led to the formation of Morgan Composting in 1996, and more than ten years later the business is still going strong.”

Two news items sparked my curiosity as I opened my Sunday paper this week related to these themes of narrative and stewardship. One of the strengths of good stories is their perennial applicability. Narratives that speak to the human condition in a fundamental way will always be relevant, even if the particulars change. With that, I pass on these news items.

First, in “Turkey manure isn’t waste, it’s poultry power,” Ken Kolker and Susie Fair of the Grand Rapids Press write, “The biggest dairy farms in Michigan generate more sewage than the city of Lansing.

With livestock farms getting bigger than ever, all that manure poses a growing threat to the environment, sometimes running off into streams and lakes.”

The piece doesn’t mention Morgan Composting, but it’s clear that Moran’s entrepreneurial vision and practice of stewardship is being duplicated by other farmers facing the problem of waste disposal:

Turkey farmer Harley Sietsema plans next year to start building a turkey-litter-to-electricity plant in Howard City — the state’s first poultry power operation.

A similar plant opened recently on Scenic View Dairy farm in Fennville — manure from cows is heated and churned in enormous tanks, producing methane that powers generators.

A manure-to-electricity plant is expected to open in about a month at den Dulk Dairy in Ravenna.

The 1.2 million turkeys on Sietsema’s farms in Ottawa and Muskegon counties produce 10,000 to 12,000 tons of poultry litter a year.

Three tons of litter — which also contains bedding materials such as sunflower hulls, wood chips and alfalfa stems — is equal in energy production to a ton of coal, but it does not produce polluting carbon dioxide.

Slow-burning litter will heat a boiler, producing steam that drives a generator.

Sietsema plans to use the power to run his farms, saving him $300,000 a year.

And then there’s this piece from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “Garbage in, profit out”:

Waste Management Inc., heeding the proverb that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, is spending $3.5 million to poke holes and run pipes to help the Spruce Ridge landfill expel gases that soon will run three electrical generators.

The project is part of a $350 million investment to be made by Waste Management over the next five years to turn 60 landfills across the country into sites for creating renewable energy.

These projects are examples of searches for alternative sources of energy, specifically from biomass, that results from the reduction or recycling of waste products.

These stories just reiterate the connection between sound economics and stewardship of the earth. Or, in the words of the Cornwall Declaration (PDF), “We aspire to a world in which advancements in agriculture, industry, and commerce not only minimize pollution and transform most waste products into efficiently used resources but also improve the material conditions of life for people everywhere.”

I wrote a few comments explaining why John Edwards’ recent poverty tour may serve as good rhetoric but, in the end, demonstrates very poor economic thinking. His ideas essentially represent the failed “war on poverty” initiatives that came out of LBJ’s “Great Society” foolishness. It’s a 2007 remix of a few old, tired, played out ideologies. The programs didn’t work in the 70s and 80s and they won’t work if Edwards becomes president. Edwards wants to raise the minimum wage to nearly $9.50/hour. Where does Edwards expect that money to come from? In the long run, these ideas eventually hurt the poor as we witnessed before Congress overhauled welfare in 1996.

You can read my comments at the Detroit News as well an extended version of the same editorial here at the Acton Institute.

Ray Nothstine’s Acton commentary on the the ethanol boom and its impact on the poor was published today in the Christian Science Monitor as, “The unintended consequences of the ethanol quick fix.” His timely article was also picked up by a slew of other newspapers and Web sites, including the Bakersfield Californian, the Fresno Bee and the Atlantic City Press.

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Friday, July 27, 2007

For some reason, I had never thought about what pro-life socialist policies might look like. But today, Jim Wallis’s Sojourner’s blog covered a Los Angeles Times story about a strategy shift in the Democratic party to support a House bill “designed not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also to encourage women who do conceive to carry to term.”

Passed last week in the House with strong bi-partisan support, the bill provides millions of federal dollars to:

• Counsel more young women in crisis to consider adoption, not abortion.

• Launch an ad campaign to inform needy women that they can receive healthcare and other resources if they are “preparing for birth.”

• Expand parenting education and medical services for pregnant women, in some cases by sending nurses to their homes.

• Offer day care at federal job-training centers to help new mothers become self-sufficient.

According to the L.A. Times piece, the House is also considering a separate measure that would fund maternity and day-care centers on college campuses so “pregnant students won’t feel they must have an abortion to stay in school.”

So, leaving this open for discussion — Is this bill a step in the right direction that Christians should welcome and embrace as “life-affirming”? (If we federally fund abortions now, isn’t it better to federally fund moral alternatives?) Or is it just a political tactic to win over conscientious, religious voters while steeping them in the socialist principles of universal health care on their own ground? (Abortion is certainly more emotional for such voters than the worn-out, transparent appeals for federal health control they’ve heard in the past. And if much of the newly-allocated money goes to Planned Parenthood anyway, isn’t it just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?)

Perhaps it’s not enough for Christians to be “single-issue voters” on the abortion issue. Maybe what lies beneath the pro-life rhetoric matters, too. And when considering any act of the state, our only question should not be “is it a good idea?” — we should also ask the more important question, “Is it the government’s place?”

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Friday, July 27, 2007

In the July issue of Christianity Today, White House spokesman Tony Snow offers a moving account of his struggle with colon cancer in “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings.” Snow, who delivered the keynote speech at the 2001 Acton Annual Dinner, wrote this in response to CT’s question about “the spiritual lessons he has been learning through the ordeal.”:

The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing though the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain), shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.

Read the entire article on the CT site.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, July 27, 2007

Garbling difficult (and sometimes easy) words is a common and often humorous occurrence among children, as any parent can attest. My daughter did so serendipitously the other day, pronouncing Acton’s film production as “The Call of the Entre-manure.” As chance would have it—and as those who have seen the film or its trailer know—one of the documentary’s stories is about a dairy farmer who turned his animals’ waste into a profitable business. I wondered if Brad Morgan might like to take up the moniker, to distinguish his particular form of entrepreneurship.

On a hunch (as a historian, I pay homage to the nostrum “nothing new under the sun”), I googled what I thought was my discovery of a brilliant new term. Turns out that an Omaha business not only is already using the idea—they sell “Entremanure” T-shirts!

And UrbanDictionary.com offers two definitions of the term (not appropriate for quotation here).

The UrbanDictionary usage is not what I had in mind with respect to Brad Morgan, by the way, who is as admirable an example of a real entrepreneur as one can find.

If you haven’t checked out this piece in the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty, you owe it to yourself to do so: “The Leaky Bucket: Why Conservatives Need to Learn the Art of Story,” by David Michael Phelps.

In this essay, Phelps makes the claim, “While conservativism is now a powerful force in the American political landscape, it is still the underdog in a war of connotation. (This is evident in the fact that the phrase ‘compassionate conservative’ had to be invented.) And I think there are two reasons why conservativism, by and large, does not yet appeal to the heart as does ‘bleeding heart’ liberalism.”

Here are two items in support of Phelps’ thesis. The first is from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society, in which Niebuhr is discussing Marx’s doctrine of the proletariat’s eschatological destiny. It is clear that Marx’s narrative has captured Niebuhr’s imagination:

There is something rather imposing in this doctrine of Marx. It is more than a doctrine. It is a dramatic, and to some degree, a religious interpretation of proletarian destiny. In such insights as this, rather than in his economics, one must discover the real significance of Marx. His economic theory of labor value may be impossible, but this attempt at the transvaluation of values is in the grand style. To make the degradation of the proletarian the cause of his ultimate exaltation, to find in the very disaster of his social defeat the harbinger of his final victory, and to see in his loss of all property the future of a civilisation in which no one will have privileges of property, this is to snatch victory out of defeat in the style of great drama and classical religion.”

The second piece is a quote from a comment on another blog that struck my fancy:

Acad Ronin writes:

I got the following from a mystery novel set on the English-Scottish border in the 14th Century or so. It’s the best treatment of the issue of the rule of law that I have found to date.

Rule of Law

Carey looked down at his hands. “Do you know what justice is?” he asked at last, in an oddly remote voice. “Justice is an accident, really. It’s law that’s important. Do you know what the rule of law is?”

“I think so. When people obey the laws so there’s peace…”

Carey was shaking his head. “No. It’s the transfer of the duty of revenge to the Queen. It’s the officers of the Crown avenging a man’s murder, not the man’s father or the family. Without law what you have is feud, tangling between themselves, and murder repaying murder down the generations. As we have here. But if the Queen’s Officers can be relied on to take revenge for a killing, then the feuding must stop because if you feud against the Queen, it’s high treason. That’s all. That’s all that happens in a law-abiding country: the dead man’s family know that the Crown will carry their feud for them. Without it you have bloody chaos.”

It was strange to hear anyone talk so intensely of such a dusty subject as law; and yet there was a fire and passion in Carey’s words as if the rule of law was infinitely precious to him.

“All we can do to stop the borderers killing each other is give them the promise of justice – which is the accidental result when the Crown hangs the man who did the killing,” he said, watching his linked fingers. They were still empty of rings and look oddly bare. “You see, if it was only a bloodfeud, anyone of the right surname would do. But with the law, it should be the man that did the killing, and that’s justice. Not just to take vengeance but to take vengeance on the right man.”

“So you’ll make out a bill for Sweetmilk Graham and go through all the trouble of trying Hepburn and producing witnesses and finding him-guilty …”

“And then hanging him, when a word to Jock of the Peartree would produce the same result a lot more easily. But that wouldn’t be justice, you see, that would only be more feuding, more private revenge which has nothing to do with justice or law or anything else. Justice requires that the man have a trial and face his accusers.”

Source: Chisolm, P.F. 1994. A Famine of Horses. New York: Walker and Co.

Now there’s a conception of the rule of law portrayed in compelling narrative form.

See also, “The Morality of Narrative Imagination,” “Bavinck on the Moral Imagination,” and Reinhold Niebuhr Today.

Acton’s Sam Gregg looks at the plight of Middle Eastern Christians in ‘Business flight will hurt Arabs,’ a commentary published today in The Australian. Their plight is also the Middle East’s loss as the continuing out migration of Christians saps the economic vitality and entrepreneurial spirit of the region. Sam asks:

So where are these Christian migrants going? The vast majority are migrating to commercially oriented, business-friendly countries such as the US and Australia. In 2002, 63 per cent of Arab-Americans identified themselves as Christian. Given their entrepreneurial history and culture, they quickly start businesses, build their wealth, create jobs and are invariably successful. Welfare dependency is scarce in these communities.