A press release from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, linked over at WorldMagBlog, claims that the bankruptcy reform legislation passed last year is being “reluctantly” interpreted by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of New York to mean that “those going through bankruptcy may not tithe to their church or make other charitable donations … until after they have paid off credit card companies and other creditors. Before the new law went into effect, bankruptcy court judges were required to permit debtors to tithe a portion of their income on a regular basis.”

Those are some pretty strong claims, and you can see the generally negative reaction that this announcement is getting from Christians at WorldMagBlog. Henry Sommer, president of the NACBA, said: “For religious Americans who find themselves deeply in debt due to job loss, catastrophic medical expenses or other circumstances, the 2005 reform legislation didn’t just reword the federal bankruptcy code, it also effectively rewrote Exodus and Deuteronomy. Many who practice their faith and believe that they are bound by creed to tithe a portion of their income will find that Congress effectively decided that what credit cards want is more important than the deeply personal religious practices of Americans.”

Sommer added: “Our nation’s founding fathers who envisioned a separation of church and state never imagined that this division would be used to engorge the profits of moneylenders at the expense of churches.”

If the New York courts interpretation is legitimate, that “this change [under the 2005 law] effectively closes the door for debtors who are above the median income from deducting charitable contributions as an expense unless they can establish the contributions fall under the IRS guidelines,” then what are Christians to do? Is it morally valid for Christians to violate the terms of bankruptcy to continue to tithe?

At the very least, Christians need to be educated about the effects of filing for bankruptcy, one of which apparently may be some infringement on religious practice. As it stands, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Littlefield, Jr. also seems to be calling for some clarification from Congress: “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.”

Christian geneticist and author (The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Simon & Schuster Trade Sales) Dr. Francis Collins is the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Human Genome Research Institute and head of the Human Genome Project.

Recently he was the keynote speaker at the 61st Annual Meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, a group of Christian geneticists, chemists and other scientists.

Over the past week I transcribed his lecture from the audio and blogged it. The first segment describes his salvation experience, and what led him to conclude as a geneticist that the genetic code substantiates the evolutionary fossil record.

In the second half he lays out his primary argument for the existence of God. Then he moves into a brief summary of other Christian positions on the origin of man (creation, Intelligent Design, and his own position).

What does this have to do with ecology? I believe that who we think we are sets to the tone for how we treat ourselves and the world around us, and that includes how we treat all living things. Collins makes his case that we are who we are by virtue of God-evolved DNA, "the language of God" in polypeptide form.

I think you’ll find it thought provoking. Interested in your thoughts and comments.

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist Blog]

Voltaire had a saying: “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” or, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.”

It’s often repeated, especially in public policy circles, that the perfect the enemy of the good, implying that you should favor the realistic good that can be done rather than the unattainable perfect ideal.

And now you know why. Because “good” beats “perfect” in a Google Fight, and by a rather handy margin.

HT: Seth’s Blog, which compares “unique”, “best”, and “finest”.

Oh, and one more thing. Dark Helmet was wrong when he said, “Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.” See for yourself.

The only way that culture can be truly changed, in terms of the gospel, is by movements of the Spirit that are birthed in congregational life. The Christian Right thinks that it can alter culture by direct partisan political pressure led by media personalities and tried-and-true techniques. They could not be more sadly mistaken. The failure of this approach is self-evident over the course of the past six years. The late missional theologian Lesslie Newbigin understood this well when he concluded:

“If the gospel is to challenge the public life of our society…it will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known, and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel. But that will only happen as and when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society.” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 232-233).

This is another reason why revival and mission are intimately related. We need awakening to see and hear the leading of God again and we need a missional perspective in order to reach the culture around us with the good news.

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."

I haven’t started Marvin Olasky’s new book yet, but here’s a bit from the abstract of a new NBER paper, “Rules Rather Than Discretion: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina,” by Howard Kunreuther and Mark Pauly. Speaking of property owners who suffer severe damage and don’t have the resources to rebuild:

To avoid these large and often uneven ex post expenditures, we consider the option of mandatory comprehensive private disaster insurance with risk based rates. It may be more efficient to have an ex ante public program to ensure coverage of catastrophic losses and to subsidize low income residents who cannot afford coverage rather than the current largely ex post public disaster relief program.

That solution doesn’t sound too promising to me, and it strikes me as a false dichotomy. Are the only two options government action before or after the fact?

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, September 7, 2006

An interesting debate is going on over at Mere Comments. The main thread has to do with the morality of the Bush Administration’s approval of over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill and the implications for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. Leaving those issues aside, I was struck by a comment from “Daniel C.”, claiming that the problem really presents an “excellent case for dismantling the Food & Drug Administration.”

It’s a question worth raising. I don’t know enough about the history or current practice of the FDA to judge definitively one way or the other, but I know that there exists significant discontent with its role as (ostensibly) the nation’s guardian of food and drug safety. For example:

1. It constructs unreasonable obstacles to the delivery of medical technology.
2. It stifles pharmaceutical innovation because regulators are biased toward caution as opposed to risk.
3. Its evaluation process is distorted by rampant conflicts of interest on the part of the experts it employs to evaluate new products.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 7, 2006

Seth Godin issued a call recently for marketers to take stock of their trade and embrace the moral aspects of their industry: “You’re responsible for what you sell. When you choose to sell it, more of it gets sold.”

I particularly like how Godin emphasizes personal responsibility. This is something that is not unique to a particular profession, of course, and is therefore a reality that constantly needs to be reiterated. “As marketers, we have the power to change things, and the way we use that power is our responsibility–not the market’s, not our boss’s. Ours,” he writes.

Indeed, the logic of the marketplace is not enough by itself. That’s true for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the powerful and dominating attraction of sin.

“We’re responsible for what we sell and how we sell it. We’re responsible for the effects (and the side effects) of our actions, ” Godin states. “It is our decision. Whatever the decision is, you need to own it. If you can’t look that decision in the mirror, market something else.”

Godin’s analysis may not in itself be sufficient to arrive at a comprehensive and full-blown morality of the marketplace, but I think it’s a pretty darn good start, especially considering it comes as a call from within the profession.

Dr. Grabill can take heart…recognition of the natural law isn’t dead.

“A human brain trapped inside a mouse’s body — not a good idea,” says Anjana Ahuja in the UK Times.

Not convinced? Check out this piece of mine over at BreakPoint, “A Monster Created in Man’s Image.”

In the Introduction to an important new book by J. Budziszewski that engages four distinct traditions of evangelical political thought, Michael Cromartie observes: “While appreciative of the contributions of each of these thinkers [Carl Henry, Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and John Howard Yoder], Budziszewski finds fault with each, to a greater or lesser degree, for failing to develop a systematic political theory as compelling as those offered by the secularist establishment. He suggests that evangelical political thought would be improved if it were informed by the tradition of natural law.” I couldn’t agree more. But I’d like to take this a step further, or, at the very least, in a slightly different direction, and one that I’m sure Budziszewski would also find complementary: evangelical bioethical thought.

There are some very good people and organizations at work in this field already, but, as with Protestant natural law thinking in general, evangelicals as a group must not only catch a vision of what’s at stake in today’s great bioethical issues but also rediscover the resources of the natural-law tradition that lie dormant within their own theological traditions. As Budziszewski states in relation to politics, but which applies perhaps more poignantly in the realm of bioethical debate, “Although evangelicals are rightly committed to grounding their political reflection in [special] revelation, the Bible provides insufficient materials for the task. This I have called the evangelical dilemma. The missing piece of this puzzle lies in the recognition that the Bible is only part of revelation.” The other part, and the one desperately needed at this point in time, is the general or natural revelation that God makes evident not only to believers but to all humankind.

In today’s commentary I attempt to alert evangelicals of the connection between IVF and the embryo “surplus” and to call for increased moral reflection by Protestants about IVF. Protestant ethicists, pastors, and lay people need to probe the moral issues surrounding IVF much more fully and to develop a moral theology that can be applied to the full range of currently contested bioethical issues.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 6, 2006

This article by Mary D. Gaebler, visiting assistant professor of theological ethics at Gustavus Adolphus College, “Eros in Benedict and Luther,” from the Journal of Lutheran Ethics argues, “Lutherans, insofar as they derive their theology from Luther, should welcome Pope Benedict’s Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Luther, I think, would find this latest word from the Vatican surprisingly congenial.” (HT: Mirror of Justice)

One of Gaebler’s main goals is refuting the interpretation of Luther characterized by the work of Anders Nygren, which radically dichotomizes the concepts of agape and eros. She asks whether Luther “categorically” rejects “the kind of self-love that Benedict points to in his use of the term eros? There is much in Luther’s work to suggest that he does not. My own reading points to a more Catholic Luther on this matter of eros, particularly in his mature work.”

The crux of the argument is whether, as Benedict states, “Fundamentally ‘love’ is a single reality, but with different dimensions. At different times one or [an]other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions [eros and agape] are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love.”

Whereas Nygren argues that Luther finds no legitimate place for erotic love, Gaebler says that in Luther’s later and mature theology (during and after the 1520s), “Here we see the very interesting conflation between caring for others on the one hand, and preserving one’s own life on the other. No longer does the earlier “either/or” duality define the character of an action. No longer a matter of either self or neighbor, now both neighbor and self are addressed in God’s command to protect life.”

The strict and radical opposition and separation of agape and eros and the characterization of the former as divine and the latter as merely sinful is simply untenable. You can find great evidence for erotic elements of divine love, I think, in the covenant language of the Old Testament and the corresponding concept of chesed, or covenant-love. The Puritans certainly place a lot of emphasis on this and biblical wedding imagery.

In conclusion, I’d like to pass along this bit from Jonathan Edwards that seems to agree with both Luther and Benedict on this point (contra Nygren). It is taken from his Miscellanies (no. 301) and is titled “Man’s Nature, Self-Love, and Sin”: (more…)