Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Seal of Confession Under Attack in Louisiana Court Case
Brian Fraga, Aleteia

Will a priest be forced to testify about what a girl told him in private conversation?

Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop Lori To Senate: Oppose Bill That Attacks Religious Freedom
USCCB

In a letter sent July 14 to all U.S. Senators, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore stated their “strong opposition to the misnamed ‘Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014’ (S. 2578).”

Moralistic Therapeutic Politics
Rod Dreher, The American Conservative

In terms of cultural conservatism, I’ve been a cultural conservative for most of my adult life, but having children really solidified my views on the importance of family and a strong cultural framework within which to raise them.

Fostering Sustainable Economic Development for the Poor
Greg Ayers, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

While much progress has been made toward poverty alleviation, many well-intentioned efforts have led Christians to actions that are not only ineffective, but leave the most vulnerable in a worse situation than before. Is there a better answer?

Blog author: nbarger
posted by on Tuesday, July 15, 2014

As a child, one of the more difficult decisions I had to make was what to have for lunch. Thankfully, my parents always helped out with that decision, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has begun to move towards taking that decision away from my parents and determining it on its own. Recently the FDA determined that it would begin to phase out artificial trans fats after it determined that artificial trans fat would no longer be listed as Generally Recognized as Safe. The proposal follows others made by Michelle Obama and the FDA to change the nutritional labels on food as part of the First Lady’s war on obesity. The problem with this is that the FDA does not have sufficient evidence or the legal authority to make this determination.

There is a fine line between what is considered to be safe and what is healthy. Typically if an item is not safe then it would not be healthy to consume; however, the inverse is not always the case. It may not be healthy for individuals to eat fried chicken, but that does not mean it is unsafe. Webster’s medical dictionary defines safe as,

Having a low incidence of adverse reactions and significant side effects when adequate instructions for use are given and having a low potential for harm under conditions of widespread availability.

(more…)

searching-blindfolded-manIn the latest edition of First Things, Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg discusses how adherence to Catholic social teaching does not require a limited economic viewpoint. In fact, such a limited vision, or blindness as Gregg states in the article’s title, is what holds back development in many parts of the world. (Please note that the full article is available by subscription only, but is excerpted here.)

Gregg recounts how the aggressive or “Tiger” economies of East Asia have resulted in positive changes, despite problems such as endemic corruption.

To be sure, not everything is sweetness and light in East Asia. Memories of the region’s severe financial meltdown in 1997 linger. More ominously, China’s mammoth banking system is a hopelessly run extension of its government. The same banks are heavily and rather incestuously invested in propping up thousands of underperforming Chinese state-owned enterprises. That’s a recipe for trouble. Corruption remains an endemic problem, most notably in China and India, which rank an unimpressive 96 and 134, respectively, in the World Bank’s 2014 Ease ofDoing BusinessIndex, while Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand are ranked in the top twenty.

Nonetheless, the overall benefits of greater economic liberty in East Asia can’t be denied. In 2010, the Asian Development Bank reported that per capita GDP increased 6 percent each year in developing Asian countries between 1990 and 2008. Christians should especially consider how this growth has contributed to the reduction of poverty. The ADB estimated that between 1990 and 2005 approximately 850 million people escaped absolute poverty. That is an astonishing figure.

(more…)

Jordan J. Ballor speaks at Acton On Tap

Jordan J. Ballor speaks at Acton on Tap

Acton Research Fellow and Executive Editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality, Jordan Ballor, was recently named as one of the 40 Under 40 – A New Generation of Leaders in the CRC & RCA. More about the list:

We asked one question to leaders and agencies across the two denominations: “Who do you know under 40 that is doing something very innovative and/or is influential beyond their home church?” We received a plethora of responses and then attempted to pick the leaders with the most votes that represented the widest and most diverse spectrum of our collective movement.

See the whole list here. For some of Ballor’s writing, see his profile on the PowerBlog and his Acton Commentaries and Religion & Liberty articles. Along with his work at Acton, Ballor is the associate director of Calvin Seminary’s Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research. He’s written several books, most recently Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (& Action).

children-600pxWhat is the “border crisis?”

The “border crisis” is the frequently used term for the spike in unaccompanied minors who were caught illegally crossing the border U.S. border over the past few months. According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) arriving in the United States has reached alarming numbers that has strained the system put in place over the past decade to handle such cases.

In 2013 the federal government housed about 25,000 minors who were going through deportation proceedings. This year, that number is expected to rise to over 60,000. There has also been an increase in the number of UAC who are girls and the number of UAC who are under the age of 13.

What countries are the minors coming from?

Four countries account for almost all of the UAC cases (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico) and much of the recent increase has come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

In fiscal year 2009, Mexican UAC accounted for 82 percent of the 19,668 UAC apprehensions, while the other three Central American countries accounted for 17 percent. By the first eight months of FY2014, the proportions had almost reversed, with Mexican UAC comprising only 25 percent of the 47,017 UAC apprehensions, and UAC from the three Central American countries comprising 73 percent.

Why aren’t UACs turned away at the border?
(more…)

In the latest issue of Faith and Economics, a bi-annual journal from the Association of Christian Economists, Dr. Robert Black reviews two of CLP’s four tradition-specific primers on faith, work, and economics: Chad Brand’s Flourishing Faith (from a Baptist perspective), and David Wright’s How God Makes the World a Better Place (from a Wesleyan perspective).

Black reviews each book quite closely, aptly capturing the key ideas and themes in each, and concluding that both are “well suited as a non-technical introduction to biblical and theological aspects of work, wealth, church history, and economic systems.”

Wright - Copy

As a sample, here’s Black’s summary of the Wesleyan connection between Christian conversion and broad-scale human flourishing:

The final section of [Wright’s] book…contrasts an unconverted will at work with the converted will at work. While we may wish not to work at all, we are not freed by conversion from work. Instead, we are freed to enjoy work, “to experience work as the expression of all that is most beautiful and magnificent about us.” Instead of a “lifetime of self-centered pursuit,” Wright encourages us to “use [our] influence to nurture the kind of economic and legal systems that favor meaningful, rewarding work.”

What kinds of people are Christians called to be and how do those characteristics affect economic activity? Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Part Three develop three character traits to which converts to Christ are called to be: people of assurance, people of integrity, and people of authenticity; Assurance of God’s calling overcomes the “[i]nsecurity and fear [that] are terrible burdens to carry into our work” (p. 28). In a “world … awakened to the desperate need for the renewal of ethics,” personal integrity is most welcome (p. 35). Authentic Christians, who are true to the character of Jesus Christ, the original ideal for us, are an antidote to those people who seek to be authentically true to their own selfish hopes and misguided desires. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Senate Passes Special Envoy Bill to Prioritize State Department Engagement on Religious Liberty
Leanna Baumer, FRC Blog

The U.S. Senate took an encouraging step forward in the effort to force the State Department to prioritize the freedom of religion in diplomatic efforts globally. In a unanimous vote, the Senate cleared the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2014 (S. 653).

Supreme Court: Government Can’t Make People Into Religious Hypocrites
Travis Weber, The Federalist

The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision recognized that who people are can’t be separated into separate ‘work’ and ‘faith’ boxes.

Compassion and the Rule of Law
Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary

The surge of illegal aliens–and in particular unaccompanied minors from Central America–across the border in Texas has started a debate in which more than immigration reform seems to be stake.

The Quiet Movement to Make Government Fail Less Often
David Leonhardt, New York Times

When the federal government is good, it’s very, very good. When it’s bad (or at least deeply inefficient), it’s the norm.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Case Challenging Affordable Care ActArchbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, are asking the Catholic faithful and others to reach out to their senators in response to a piece of legislation known as “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014” (S. 2578.) Lori is the chairman for the United State’s Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and O’Malley serves as chair for the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

According to the letter on the USCCB website, the legislation is an attempt to reduce religious freedom, and puts health coverage above one of America’s most cherished freedoms. The bishops list several concerns:

    • This new legislation “appears to override  ‘any other provision of Federal law’ that protects religious freedom or rights of conscience regarding health coverage mandates.”
    • This bill would “rollback” not only federally-protected conscience clauses regarding artificial birth control “but to any ‘specific health care item or service’ that is mandated by any federal law or regulation.” In the future, if the executive branch decides to add late-term abortions (for example) to mandated health care coverage, employers would have no recourse.
    • This bill applies to all employers, not simply for-profit employers.
    • The bill would extend its reach past employees, to their dependents. For instance, a teen girl may wish to have an abortion over her parent’s objection, and the parent’s health care package would have to pay for it. The daughter would be federally-entitled to the abortion coverage.
    • The bishops believe this type of legislation will lead to employers dropping health care coverage for employees all together.

    (more…)

    SONY DSCJapan and Australia recently signed and passed a trade agreement that abolishes or reduces some tariffs on their highest grossing trade items: beef and dairy from Australia and electronics from Japan. State officials as well as the media have branded this a “free trade agreement;” however, this is actually an example of a “Preferential Bilateral Trade Agreement.” While this is not as desirable as free trade agreements are, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Trade is almost always mutually beneficial provided that neither party is coerced ­­­­­– if it were not, then trade would never take place. Because of the international success of free trade agreements in that region, China is being forced to keep up by becoming more competitive in the international market.

    Early this month, China met with South Korea to begin drafting a new bilateral trade agreement. The result is the Won-Yuan trading market in Seoul, which will be complete by the end of the year. This will enable South Korea to trade with China and not rely upon the dollar to do so, thus accelerating trade between the two countries. Up until this agreement passed, the Korean Won was not directly convertible to the Chinese Yuan, requiring the two countries to find another currency as the medium of exchange, specifically, the U.S. dollar. The agreement illustrates that China is increasing the economic freedom of the country in an attempt to boost its wealth and trade efficiency. Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg recently discussed transitions to more economic freedom and the ensuing religious freedom that comes with that. Gregg states:

    Once you grant liberty in one area, it’s hard to preclude freedom from spreading to other spheres. Economic liberty, for instance, requires and encourages people to think and choose freely. Without this, entrepreneurship is impossible. It’s challenging, however, to limit this reflection and choosing to economic questions. People start asking social questions, political questions, and, yes, religious questions. And many Chinese have decided Christianity is the answer to their religious ponderings.

    China has the experienced benefits from economic deregulation experiments, such as in Hong Kong, and the country as a whole seems to be headed down a very similar path. Liberty in China has had a direct connection to economic improvement. The government seems to have had a proclivity to allow such freedoms in order to attain wealth. By lessening trade restrictions, they are crafting a tomb for their socialist regime.

    Thanks to the trade act, China is allowing for religious freedom to take hold as Gregg points out. China is still one of the most religiously repressed countries at this time, which is continued only due to the government’s power over it.  With the wane of the Chinese government’s power, there will be a more vibrant religious and cultural exchange that comes naturally with trade.  When there are multiple faiths and ideals, ideas are challenged and thoughts are provoked. Truth is often the result, and liberty follows, whether it be economic, cultural, or religious. In this particular instance, North Korea sees the trade agreement as an attack.  One stratagem countries such as North Korea employ is isolation. The North Korean people know little more than what the government tells them, and they are only aware of the culture that the government deems appropriate.

    The days of the Chinese socialist state are numbered. Chinese people are ready for change, as can be seen in their willingness to adapt to more Western methods of thinking and ideals such as the growing respect for personal liberty and free markets. If China is careful about the transformation, and realizes what is happening; it could become one of the wealthiest countries in physical capital, knowledge, culture, and liberty. It remains a country to keep a careful eye on over the next decade.

    Rousseau Geneve

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

    Earlier this Spring at The Gospel Coalition I reviewed Moisés Naím’s The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be.

    Naím explores in a variety of fields and with a great diversity of examples the way in which, as he puts it, “the powerful are experiencing increasingly greater limits on their power” and “power is becoming more feeble, transient, and constrained.” I think there’s a real sense in which Naím has identified a real phenomenon. Power is becoming more and more diffused.

    But as I argue in my TGC review, that’s really only half the story. Naím often has to provide a caveat that in spite of much of the centralization that we see, power really is eroding full stop. My contention, however, is that what we’re really seeing is the eroding of power in civil society, an evacuation of the power and place of mediating institutions, in two directions: toward centralized structures and authorities and toward individuals. The inability to see this leads to conclusions that would only hasten and exacerbate the evacuation of power from such mediating structures.

    Some of this echoes what Ross Douthat has been saying recently about individualism, following Nisbet in particular: “In the increasing absence of local, personal forms of fellowship and solidarity, he suggested, people were naturally drawn to mass movements, cults of personality, nationalistic fantasias.” I take my own proximate inspiration from Röpke and his identification of “enmassment,” but there are certainly resonances with Nisbet as well as older thinkers like Tocqueville.

    I should note in response to Douthat’s observation that “from the Protestant Reformation onward, individualism and centralization would advance together,” this dialectic certainly cannot be explained solely in terms of the Reformation, as perhaps Brad Gregory would argue. The role of the Renaissance more generally, and particularly the renewed engagement with the varieties of ancient and pagan philosophy has as much, if not more, to do with the Enlightenment project of the liberated individual constrained by the collective than the Protestant Reformation.