I attended an informative — and very moving — presentation yesterday on the humanitarian relief effort underway in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The talk was given here in Grand Rapids by Mark Ohanian, director of programs for International Orthodox Christian Charities (see my podcast with him here). What I learned was that despite the massive scale of human suffering, the crisis is likely to get much worse. Given the gains that the Islamic State is making in Iraq, that might be a safe prediction.

Ohanian said that the relief effort in Syria, where IOCC works alongside Red Crescent and other principal agencies, is made more difficult and expensive because of the breakdown in Syrian society and the need to import so much of the supplies. The video above shows how entrepreneurial Syrians are already starting businesses in the refugee camps to help themselves.

If you want to offer direct help the refugees, you can make a donation on the IOCC site here. IOCC, in partnership with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, serves all refugees regardless of religion or ethnicity. (more…)

barcode traffickiingHuman trafficking is a huge problem, morally, economically and legally. One reason it’s so hard to fight it is that it’s a hidden crime. Largely gone are the days when prostitutes hang out on darkened streets. Instead, a girl or woman is pimped out via the internet. Even more difficult, traffickers often use the Deep Web:

The term “Deep Web,” refers to the “deeper” parts of the web that are accessible, but are considered hard to find because they aren’t indexed by regular search engines. Information on the Deep Web can be indexed, but only using complex search algorithms that have the ability to break down certain barriers.

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wimbledon_tuesdayTwenty years ago, religious freedom was an issue that almost everyone agreed on. But more recently, support for religious liberty has tended to divide the country along political lines. Most conservatives still consider it the “first freedom” while many liberals believe religious freedom is less important than advancing a progressive agenda and promoting their understanding of “equality.”

What gets lost in the discussion, as Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defending Freedom notes, is that sooner or later everyone benefits from religious liberty protections:
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poorbox1For those in poverty, or those simply facing tough times, churches are often places they turn to for help. It may be organized aid: soup kitchens and food pantries. It may be a gas card given to a single mom who is struggling to get from one pay day to another. But if that help comes with merely a handout, and no spiritual support, is the church failing the poor?

Ross Douthat says so. In his May 16 column for The New York Times, Douthat first takes to task the “progressive” claim that churches are too focused on hot-button issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, and not enough on really helping people.

Over the last 30 years,” Harvard’s Robert Putnam told The Washington Post, “most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for … It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.”

President Obama’s version, delivered when he shared a stage with Putnam at Georgetown University, was nuanced but similar in thrust: “Despite great caring and concern,” the president remarked, when churches pick “the defining issue” that’s “really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians,” fighting poverty is often seen as merely “nice to have” compared to “an issue like abortion.”

It would be too kind to call these comments wrong; they were ridiculous.

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7figuresAt The Atlantic, Derek Thompson provides some depressing numbers related to lotteries in America. Here are seven figures you should know from his article:

1. Americans spend more on lottery tickets than on sports tickets, books, video games, movie tickets, and recorded music sales combined — $70 billion on lotto games in 2014.

2. In five states, people spend more than $600 dollars per person per year on lottery tickets.

3. The poorest third of households buy half of all lotto tickets.

4. Winners of more than $600 are subject to 45 percent windfall taxes on their winnings.

5. Out of the 20 counties in North Carolina with poverty rates higher than 20 percent, 18 had lottery sales topping the statewide average of $200 per adult.

6. As recently as 1980, just 14 states held lotteries. Today it’s 43.

7. As recently as 2009, lotteries provided more revenue than state corporate-income taxes in 11 of the 43 states where they were legal.

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, May 18, 2015
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The Plight of the Middle East’s Christians
Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal

Ancient communities in Syria and Iraq are in mortal peril. Can the West find a way to preserve the Christian presence in the Middle East—and stave off a ‘clash of civilizations’?

Religious Freedom and Sexual Identity: A Proposal for Peace
Adam J. MacLeod, Public Discourse

If law can declare certain reasons for a private business owner to refuse service—such as sexual orientation—invalid, then it can also designate other reasons as valid—such as religious convictions about the nature of marriage.

How Should Christians Think About Management?
Matt Perman, What’s Best Next

Christians should care about whether the organizations they work in are managed well and, if they are managers themselves, they should manage well. This is first of all because, as Patrick Lencioni points out, management is a form of ministry

Oklahoma House OKs resolution to reaffirm religious freedom
Associated Press

The Oklahoma House has passed a resolution calling on President Barack Obama and Congress to reaffirm the nation’s commitments to protecting religious freedom and condemning the deaths of Christians around the world.

least_of_theseThere are a lot of phrases that people assume are in the Bible that are not only not in the text but may not even be biblical (cleanliness is next to godliness, God helps those who help themselves, etc.). There are also a number of biblical ideas that are in the Bible but are attributed to the wrong passage.

A common example is use of the biblical phrase “least of these” (Matt. 25:40, 46) to refer to our fellow citizens who are in poverty or in need. The Bible has a lot to say about poverty—but this phrase is not necessarily talking about the poor. As Denny Burk explains, this is a classic case of right doctrine, wrong text:
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senior-prom-gameIt’s prom season, the time of year when plenty of high school kids eagerly anticipate an invitation to the year’s biggest formal event. It’s no different for the member organizations of religious shareholder activist groups As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Both groups have their tuxedos pressed and dresses tailored for this summer’s highly anticipated climate encyclical from Pope Francis, the progressive left’s version of netting either Kate Upton or Ryan Gosling as prom dates.

In the meantime, ICCR and AYS – who, quite frankly, don’t seem to really care what Pope Francis or any of his predecessors have to say about any topic unless it fits progressive dogma – continue their crusade against fossil fuels while they await the Pope’s invitation to the big dance.

It seems both groups wish to hobble corporations in the name of global warming. Just last month, for example, ICCR released its latest paper, “Invested in Change: Faith-Consistent Investing in a Climate-Challenged World.” From the document’s Executive Summary: (more…)

32045208“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

That line was written in 1906 by Evelyn Beatrice Hall to describe Voltaire’s attitude towards a fellow rival French philosopher. For the next hundred years that line was often quoted to express a particularly American ideal of toleration and the importance of free speech.

But something changed over the past few decades. Certain offensive speech has been deemed not only utterly indefensible, but excludable from First Amendment protections. A prime example was found on Twitter a few days ago when Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor, law school graduate, and son of the New York governor, wrote that “hate speech is excluded from protection.”

That claim, of course, is nonsense. As legal scholar Eugene Volokh says, “Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal aliens, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or Socialism or Democrats or Republicans.”

There are forms of unprotected speech, Volokh notes, but it has nothing to do with “hate speech”:
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weeping statueIf one decides to destroy the American Dream, there are a few steps that would be necessary.

  1. Put Big Government in charge. The average American can’t figure out his or her own dreams, let alone what it would take to make them a reality.
  2. Tell Americans that without the government, the American Dream is hopeless.
  3. Produce a lengthy document about the American Dream. Leave out the word “freedom,” let alone the idea of freedom.
  4. Let people know that “freedom” (without actually using the word) is quite harmful. Don’t worry, thought, Big Government will protect you.

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