Search Results:

Tending the Garden of the Real

Among evangelical Protestants, one significant rift appears between Christian realism and evangelical populism. Marc LiVecche writes for us today that while the Christian realist will share populism’s recognition of the importance of national interests, it will reject its more jingoistic expressions, which often stokes an isolationist impulse away from responsible engagement in global affairs. Against this, the Christian realist understands that human beings, made in the image of God, have a divine mandate to exercise dominion—providential care—in...


The Memory of One Drowned Boy: Canada's Response to the Global Refugee Crisis

Canadian culture and values are closely intertwined with those of the United States, and many of the same concerns and debates about refugees taking place in the United States are taking place in Canada as well. However, Canada’s overall response to the global refugee crisis and its commitment to refugee resettlement differs in a number of ways from that of the United States. In this article, Paul Rowe discusses these differences and explains how Canadians’ faith, culture, and political views have shaped their...


Evangelicals' Responses to the Immigration Debate

Evangelicals, though often portrayed as a right-wing populist “tribe” in their politics, in fact hold quite diverse perspectives on immigration and have reacted in multiple ways to it. Rather than one evangelical tribe with a singular position on immigration, there are—and have long been—multiple responses to the different ethical principles at stake in immigration. Evangelicals believe, identify, respond and engage with immigration in ways ranging from right-wing populist to liberal...


Evangelical Internationalism in Comparative Perspective: Discerning a Global Social Ethic

Paul Rowe writes today that while the cultural influence, financial support and power of Evangelical populism in the United States remains influential throughout the world, context clearly makes a significant difference in the appeal of political populism among Christians. Put simply, it is impossible to read contemporary populism among evangelicals through a narrow...


Distinctive Christian Citizenship

In this first article of the inaugural series of CPJ’s Public Justice Review, Stephanie Summers poses the question, “Is there such a thing as distinctive Christian citizenship?” The painful and contentious 2016 election season and the uncertain political landscape ahead has left many Christians wondering how best to live out their calling as citizens who faithfully pursue God’s good purposes for their political community. Summers responds to this question with two foundational principles and looks ahead to the important questions that the authors of the series will explore in the coming...


God's Good Purpose for Authority

The transfer of power and authority to a new administration naturally heightens interest and anxiety over the direction that the country will go. In this article, Timothy Sherratt explores the gift of authority and God’s good purposes for its use. As a new administration takes office in a political culture that often regards authority as a synonym for oppression, how might a Christian understanding of authority as a gift for human flourishing stand...


Political Discipleship for the Common Good

What does it mean to follow Jesus as a political disciple? Christians have responded to this question in a variety of ways, and after the contentious election season, disengagement or withdrawal into Christian community have been compelling options. In this article, Bill Edgar urges us to do otherwise, arguing that our political discipleship means deep engagement in the varied institutions we have inherited, rooted in Creation, with a view to fostering obedience to the Lord in each....


Citizenship in Community

Many of us feel isolated in our calling to citizenship. While we may occasionally participate in marches or demonstrations, we largely live out our political lives as individuals, and not as a community. This individualism often leads to disappointment and a sense that our voice and action make no difference. In this article, Rachel Anderson outlines an inspiring vision for citizenship cultivated in community, sustained by a number of practices that can help us work together to pursue God’s good purposes for our political...


Loving Our Neighbors Through Politics

In this first of two articles on loving our neighbors through politics, Katie Thompson tells the compelling story of how a faith community in Arizona addressed a major injustice through their political engagement. The work of this group of Christian citizens to help achieve a legislative victory against the predatory lending industry in their state teaches us powerful lessons about how we can seek the flourishing of our communities through the political...


Protecting Minority Voting Rights

In the second of two articles about loving our neighbors through politics, Kimberly Conger highlights the injustice of voter suppression among the poor and racial and ethnic minorities. Describing this intentional structural injustice that limits access to the ballot, Conger outlines concrete actions that we can take to ensure that our democracy appropriately values and upholds justice for these minorities and allows those voters a voice and representation in the political...


Flourishing in a Pluralist World

How can we live together in the context of deep moral and religious differences, and can we flourish together in a society where we don’t agree on what it means to flourish? In this article, Bryan McGraw explores the various ways these questions have been answered with either exaggerated emphasis on commonality or a blanket celebration of diversity. McGraw suggests that we pursue the goal of “reflective discomfort” that sees pluralism, and its conflicts, clearly. In doing so, we can see where our commitments run up against those of others and where they can coexist and even...


A Crisis and an Opportunity

The number of refugees around the world has soared in recent years as millions of people have fled violence, persecution, and political upheaval in their home countries. As the world grapples with this crisis, the question arises: what does it mean to uphold public justice for refugees? In his introduction to the series, Contributing Editor Matthew Soerens describes the crisis and outlines the theological principles for how Christians should respond. Soerens also introduces some of the other issues to be explored in this series that inform the prudential determinations Christians must make to extend a just welcome to refugees....


From Dislocation to Resettlement

The refugee journey, from the time of dislocation to eventual resettlement, is arduous and fraught with complexity and uncertainty. In this article, Stina Kielsmeier-Cook describes the lengthy process through which refugees are processed and vetted as they struggle to secure safety and stability for themselves and their families. In particular, Kielsmeier-Cook focuses on the vetting process for refugee resettlement in the United States that has come under significant scrutiny...


Refugees and the Politics of Holy Week

This week, as we remember Jesus Christ’s final days on earth leading up to his death and resurrection, Matthew Kaemingk explores the political implications that Holy Week has for how we respond to refugees. Drawing on examples from the Dutch experience with refugees, and challenging the polarizing ideologies of nationalism and multiculturalism that have shaped the debate in the United States, Kaemingk reflects on five key spaces where Jesus demonstrates his alternative politics of...


Fairness for All: A Better Way than the Equality Act

The Equality Act, which would add to federal civil rights laws new prohibitions of discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex, was introduced into the House of Representatives on March 13. Supporters of the Equality Act cl aim that it protects religious freedom, but in fact it would severely constrain many faith - based organizations and persons of faith who simply desire to live by their convictions about human sexuality and marriage without harming others. In this article, f irst published in the e - News of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance and being republished as a companion piece to the 2019 Kuyper Lecture given by Shapri LoMaglio on April 25, 2019, Stanley Carlson - Thies presents the Fairness for...


The Religious Act of Welcoming the Stranger

The elements of President Trump’s Executive Orders that pertain to refugees raise a number of questions about the right roles and responsibilities of the government, churches, organizations, and citizens in responding to the refugee crisis. In this article, Chelsea Langston Bombino discusses how the biblical call to “welcome the stranger” has particular implications for faith-based organizations serving refugees. She argues that helping to resettle refugees is a key response to this call, and the limits placed on refugees entering the country limits the abilities of faith-based organizations to exercise one of the core tenants of their...


A Church's Journey with Refugees: From Sponsors to Friends to Advocates

Claire McWilliams tells the compelling story of how her church congregation has partnered with a resettlement agency in Chicago to welcome a family from Homs, Syria. As cosponsors with the agency, the church community has provided the family with emotional and social support as they adjust to their new life. McWilliams describes how transformational this relationship with the refugee family has been, and how it has been a catalyst for action and advocacy on behalf of the larger refugee community....


Refugees, Security, and the Task of Government

In this final article of the series, Steven Meyer and Stephanie Summers discuss the task of government in responding to the refugee crisis. Meyer and Summers outline the context for the development of US and international agreements regarding refugees and the intended scope of these agreements. In light of that, they argue that we must encourage our government to address two of its important responsibilities simultaneously: that of providing for the security of the nation’s citizens and for the protection for those whose own citizenship must begin afresh elsewhere....


To Repeal or Not to Repeal: Why That Is NOT the Question

The rancorous debate over health care reform has been reduced to a few provocative and often misleading claims. While health care policy is exceptionally complex and multidimensional, what are some guiding principles that Christians should hold our lawmakers accountable to as they enact changes to our health care policy? In this introduction to the series, Contributing Editor Michelle Kirtley responds to that question and explores how these principles can inform our understanding of the current policies under debate. She argues that applying the principles of human flourishing together with an emphasis on institutional pluralism can inform a compassionate and just health care policy that includes multiple sectors and institutions and can help us ensure a...


How Individualism Undermines Our Health Care

American culture’s commitment to individualism obscures the communal foundations of health care and hinders creative ways to transform a broken and deeply unjust system. In this article, Clarke Cochran explores these communal foundations and argues that our entrenched individualism is particularly problematic in health care and is largely why we are embroiled in this highly contentious, partisan, and emotional debate today. Cochran urges Christian citizens to examine our own individualist assumptions and to advocate for health care policies that advance the well-being of the whole...


How Should We Measure Human Flourishing?

Human flourishing is inextricably connected to the health of individuals and communities, but too often, we only debate health care policy in terms of medical health care and interventions provided after people get sick. But what if our definition of health care took into account social determinants of health such as housing, public transportation, strength of the family unit, and connectedness to civic and spiritual groups? This article explores several initiatives that illustrate a more holistic approach to promoting health and human flourishing. These initiatives draw on strong partnerships and collaborations between government and other civil society institutions to serve the needs of the whole person and whole communities....


Becoming a Healer

In the United States, the journey to become a physician is an arduous and expensive process. It shapes and sets most physicians on particular and specialized paths that are very difficult to later change. In this article, Dr. J. Todd Wahrenberger reflects on his path to becoming a primary care physician, now attending to a patient population with severe and persistent mental illness. Although primary care doctors are often the best positioned to provide whole person, integrated care, only about fifteen percent of US medical students choose to enter into a primary care residency. Dr. Wahrenberger discusses current and potential changes in the training process to help more students choose primary care, particularly for vulnerable populations, where integrated care has...


The Way of the Gospel, Health Care, and Religious Freedom

Why is it important that medical professionals and faith-based health care institutions are not compelled to violate their consciences? Grattan Brown responds to this question by beginning with a rich exploration of the formation of conscience and its critical role in soul-shaping institutional engagement that upholds human flourishing. Brown contends that wide institutional pluralism and protections for religious freedom are particularly necessary in science and medicine, where medical technology offers more power and more options for modifying the body and for curing diseases in the human body and psyche. This greater power draws into sharper relief both human limitations and fundamental human questions, especially regarding the...


What Families Need to Thrive

While families offer a locus of care and nurture that no other institution can rival or replicate, families need and deserve support from other institutions as they pursue their vocation. CPJ Fellow and Contributing Editor Rachel Anderson introduces our latest PJR series, Families Valued, and explores how a deeply privatized vision of family life that denies families’ interactions and interconnectedness with other institutions like business and government limits our ability to help families thrive. Paid family leave is just one of the ways that businesses and workplaces support families. In this series, we will further investigate how the interconnection between workplace, church, public policy, and family can promote family...


Gender, Family, and Productive Labor: A (Very) Brief History

Motherhood–like all kinds of caregiving–comes with some undeniable costs. Because of these costs, an argument for women in the workplace does not, in itself, furnish a compelling business case for mothers in the workplace. In this article, Elizabeth Schiltz consider four compelling reasons for why workplaces should offer generous accommodations to mothers, who she argues bring unique gifts, talents, and perspectives to the workplace because they are mothers. Schiltz contends that forging social consensus around the idea that parenting develops crucial work skills could help combat our modern culture’s false and harmful insistence on the incompatibility of work and...


Motherhood: Benefit or Burden to Business?

Motherhood–like all kinds of caregiving–comes with some undeniable costs. Because of these costs, an argument for women in the workplace does not, in itself, furnish a compelling business case for mothers in the workplace. In this article, Elizabeth Schiltz consider four compelling reasons for why workplaces should offer generous accommodations to mothers, who she argues bring unique gifts, talents, and perspectives to the workplace because they are mothers. Schiltz contends that forging social consensus around the idea that parenting develops crucial work skills could help combat our modern culture’s false and harmful insistence on the incompatibility of work and family....


2019 Kuyper Lecture: Bringing A Kuyperian Framework To Religious Freedom And LGBT Civil Rights

    The Center for Public Justice's annual Kuyper Lecture focuses on significant questions of religion in public life and Jesus' Lordship over all creation. Its goal is to inspire and equip Christians to pursue their common calling to...


2019 Kuyper Lecture: Fairness for All: A Framework for Living Together Peacefully

    Fairness for All (FFA) is an important example of peacemaking and prudential policymaking. In the midst of our...


Learning To Value The Family In Crisis

Writing from the perspective of rural communities, Hannah Anderson describes the challenges facing lower and middle-income families whose marriage rates have decreased in recent decades even as out-of-wedlock births have risen. Anderson urges churches, long acknowledged by the pro-family movement as partners in family support and formation, to deepen their attention to families in crisis. She ponders the ways that a widespread cultural idolatry of individualized, romantic marriage combined with the church’s blinkered attention to middle and upper-class families has hobbled church ministry to families who fall short of this norm. Anderson contends that we must imagine how families in crisis might flourish, offering a...


Faith Leaders and Community Residents Respond to Payday Lenders in Missouri

The negative effects of predatory payday lending are becoming increasingly...


The Basis and Orientation of Public Justice: God's Sabbath with Creation An Interview with James Skillen, Part 1

This is the first in a two-part interview with James Skillen, the founder and former president of the Center for Public Justice. CPJ’s Chelsea Langston Bombino discusses with Skillen the themes of his newest book, God’s Sabbath with Creation: Vocations Fulfilled, the Glory Unveiled (Wipf and Stock, 2019) and how those themes relate to the just ordering of a diversified society, which includes faith-based organizations of civil society. In the new book, Skillen makes the case for how all of creation, including human institutions and organizations, are both revelatory and anticipatory of the fulfillment of all things in Christ. In this interview, Bombino and Skillen discuss big-picture ideas related to God’s dynamic purposes for creation, especially for humans created in God’s image. Skillen expands on how everything that humans do in this...


Unleashing the Potential of Faith-Based Universities to Support Faith-Based Civil Society Part 3: Practical Strategies for FBUs

Civil society, especially faith-based organizations, is uniquely effective at helping people, particularly in developing character and learning the ideas and ideals critical for human effort. Faith-based universities are the rare institutions in society with both the understanding of human complexity and the capacity to assist organizations to be more effective. This article, the third in a series, explores some ways faith-based universities can harness their resources, spiritual animating values, and expertise to support faith-based nonprofits and congregations in their communities.  Professor John Larrivee of Mount St. Mary’s explores how FBUs, through engaging faith-based civil society, can (1) help students deepen their engagement with the faith-based social sector beyond service and connect their personal service with the larger structural questions and...


The Sacred Sector, Creation Care, and Public Justice

Public justice insists that caring for the earth is the responsibility of every human institution in society, including government, individuals and diverse civil organizations – from churches and schools, to families and organizations that care about the environment. Many such organizations are inspired by sacred animating beliefs about their responsibility to steward the care of creation. In fact, there are many religious nonprofits of diverse spiritual backgrounds that are committed to supporting the environment through sustainable practices, education, service, advocacy, and more....


Unleashing the Potential of Faith-Based Universities to Support Faith-Based Civil Society Part 2: Practical Implications for FBUs in Forming Civil Society

This article, the second in the three-part series by John Larrivee, explores how faith-based universities (FBUs), like Mount St. Mary’s University, a Christian university in Maryland, can harness their resources, spiritual animating values, and expertise to support faith-based nonprofits and congregations in their communities - specifically through establishing a Center for Civil Society.    Civil society, especially faith-based organizations, is uniquely effective at helping people, particularly in developing character and learning the ideas and ideals critical for human effort. Faith-based universities are the rare institutions in society...


Unleashing the Potential of Faith-Based Universities to Support Faith-Based Civil Society Part 1: Historical Backdrop

Civil society is the broad term for religions, families, and civic associations formed largely by private/voluntary membership. These are often people’s first and major sources of relationship and development. In academic literature, the church’s contribution to society is often analyzed through this lens of civil society, in both the role of ideas and formation of people in relationships. That includes the work of such groups as the Daughters of Charity, founded by Elizabeth Ann Seton, which provide material assistance and education (which provide both skills and ideals)....


Standards for Excellence®: A Holistic Approach to Advancing the Sacred Missions of Faith-Based Civil Society Institutions

Contributing Editor Chelsea Langston Bombino, director of Sacred Sector, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, spoke with Standards for Excellence® Director Amy Coates Madsen about how this initiative, specifically in partnership with CPJ’s Sacred Sector, helps uphold public justice. Bombino begins the article by providing a framework for how CPJ’s Sacred Sector utilizes the Standards for Excellence resources to help nonprofit organizations. The article concludes in an interview with Amy Coates Madsen....


Principled Pluralism: Essential to Advancing a Flourishing Faith-Based Nonprofit Sector

A vision of religious freedom for all is one where persons of all religious faiths, and of none, are free not only to worship or refrain from worship as their beliefs require, but also free to live out their faith as citizens active in the public life of the nation and in the faith-based organizations they have formed. This vision for our nation is based on a commitment to religious freedom, pluralism, and tolerance.  The result is a pluralist society: one where Catholics, evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, nonbelievers, and others are free to live as...


Our Image-Bearing Responsibilities Require Protection of Diverse Civil Society Organizations

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is both deeply personal and communal, meaning it applies to both individuals and institutions. Different elements of the First Amendment reflect something fundamental about what it means to be human. But American society is experiencing deep pluralism and people ultimately answer questions about what it means to be human through the lens of their sacred animating belief systems. These animating belief systems, or worldviews, are shaped by certain fundamental identities we have as individuals.   Many people have core...


Title Example

Summary...


THE SACRED SECTOR AND PUBLIC JUSTICE: DIVERSITY IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE

In our pluralistic society, the sacred sector–the diverse faith-based nonprofit sector–serves a crucial role in daily life, shaping citizens and bringing to bear public justice. A new series from Public Justice Review called “Sacred Sector and Public Justice” will explore how diverse organizations within the sacred sector uniquely embrace what they believe to be their sacred purposes and identities. The series will begin by exploring the theological and philosophical principles undergirding why public justice requires supporting civil society organizations with very different purposes and precepts. The series will also explore the types of organizations that make up the sacred sector in America, and make the case for why a diverse society needs such a diverse sacred sector to meet the varied and unique needs of individuals and their communities. This series will include articles from Contributing Editor Chelsea Langston Bombino,...


Predatory Payday Lending: A Comprehensive & Faithful Response

In the mid-1990s, a new industry emerged offering relatively small loans at excessively high interest rates to borrowers struggling to make ends meet. Today, this industry sells the idea that payday and auto title loans can be a short-term fix for immediate emergency needs. In reality, these loans can result in long-term debt, and are regularly used to pay recurring expenses. The high cost of these loans routinely leads to a series of repeat borrowing or a cycle of paying only fees and interest without reducing the amount owed. According to the Center for Public Justice (CPJ), “the principle of public justice recognizes that much of what contributes to human flourishing is not government’s task.” It also recognizes that “much of what contributes to human flourishing is government’s task. Government is authorized by God to promote what is good for human flourishing. This is often referred to as securing the common good–promoting the...


From Adversity to Progress: A Community-Driven Movement to Reform Payday Lending in Texas

Reforming payday and auto title lending has been an ongoing and difficult fight, particularly in Texas, where lending practices are a $5.2 billion business. In the face of challenges achieving reform at the state legislature, local leaders decided to take matters into their own hands and adopt an innovative effort to rein in predatory lending practices and promote a fair market. Starting in the City of Dallas–with the leadership of a local city council members and support of community-based organizations, faith leaders, and policy experts–an ordinance was passed to establish basic fair standards for payday lending. Thus, the city achieved what...


2. 2019 Kuyper Lecture: Does Supporting Religious Freedom Require Opposition to LGBT Civil Rights?

    Christians promote rather than just tolerate religious freedom — it is a political principle rooted in our convictions about the fallibility of...


Combating Predatory Payday Lending: The Faith Community Responds

In Minnesota, like thirty-three other states, payday lenders can legally offer short-term, small-dollar loans to customers. Payday loans are marketed as helpful and useful tools to address unexpected financial needs. The loans, however, are made based on the lender’s ability to collect, and not the borrower’s ability to repay, so payday loans almost always create a debt trap. Organizations like Exodus Lending and the Center for Responsible Lending, along with...


Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops: A Model for Community Action on Issues of Public Justice

Usury has been a concern of the Church and civil society for millennia. This article outlines ten years of problems, strategies, wins, and losses in Texas as faith leaders and other concerned civic groups have fought for reasonable payday and auto-title lending reform at local, state, and federal levels. Payday and auto-title lenders have a similar business model: market high-cost emergency loans to desperate borrowers. For payday loans, borrowers provide lenders with access to a bank account or Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT), and automobile titles for auto-title loans. This predatory industry receives its revenue primarily from low-income working families....


Predatory Lending: A Framing Conversation

For some people, a vehicle breaking down is more of a nuisance than it is a crisis. But for others, a vehicle in disrepair sets off a chain of events that often includes missed time from work that results in lower earnings and greater financial instability often resulting in threats of homelessness and/or food insecurity. It is this need that payday lenders purport to fill, although there is clear and mounting evidence that demonstrates the industry’s predatory...


That All Might Thrive: The Colorado Ballot Initiative Story

In 2018, a movement with faith leaders at its core known as the Financial Equity...


Predatory Payday Lending: A Concern for Contemporary Christians

Payday loans are marketed and presented to the public as easy solutions to short-term financial challenges. What many borrowers do not realize until too late, is that the payday loans are easy to get into but are extremely difficult to get out of. This article invites readers to explore the challenges of people who have found themselves in the throes of predatory payday loans and the responsibility of Christian citizens to help address this topic. The good news is that it is possible to end the cycle of debt caused by predatory payday loans and there are individuals, organizations, and agencies doing the...


Life after Incarceration: Maintaining Employment as a Practical Challenge Facing Returning Citizens

The term “ex-con” or “ex-offender” is often used to describe an individual who has returned from a period of incarceration. It is common for those who are formerly incarcerated to face barriers related to securing housing, accessing financial aid for college, and even regaining the right to vote. But what happens after a person has paid his or her debt to society? What is the role of institutions in helping the formerly incarcerated resume “normal” life and perhaps even contribute to the common good? This series attempts to provide a public justice perspective on ways the government, concerned citizens, and civil society institutions can aid returning citizens. Bringing her ministry experience and seminary studies to the forefront, co-Contributing Editor Denise Strothers joins with PJR Editor Kerwin Webb to provide readers a robust discussion on the challenges and creative solutions related to supporting the formerly incarcerated. Among the...


Overcoming the Mark of Cain: The Importance of Education in Reentry

There are countless groups and communities suffering from systemic oppression, and Christians must be ready to acknowledge and discuss this complicated reality in our society. Returning citizens – individuals re-entering society after periods of incarceration – can face insurmountable challenges as they navigate basic tasks, such as health care, applying for jobs, finding housing, pursuing education, or even exerting their right to vote. Criminal conviction seems to carry a life sentence for both the formerly incarcerated and their loved ones. The stigma of incarceration is arguably similar to the Genesis story of the mark of Cain, a curse given to him after he murdered his brother Abel. How can Christians, and civil society institutions, contribute positively to the flourishing of these “marked” men and women? Princeton Theological Seminary graduate, Vicar Erich Kussman, M. Div., writes about creative programs and strategies for supporting returning...


Food Security for Returning Citizens in the 21st Century

The subject of mass incarceration leads to discussions about finding ways to help individuals re-enter communities successfully. Pastor Kimberly Luck explores how returning citizens often face food insecurity and shows how food security can act as a means to reduce recidivism. Using a public justice framework, Pastor Luck shows how both individuals and organizations can advocate for changes in policies affecting returning citizens. Faith-based and community organizations can be part of the process by networking, sharing resources, and creating spaces for stories to be told. This interaction can become an educational opportunity for both returning citizens and the broader community. Returning citizens can share their experiences and give voice to their challenges while simultaneously learning about organizations, programs, and opportunities to become more food secure. As a result, collaborative groups that include returning citizens play a role in advocating for legislation and...


Turning to the Community for Reentry Housing: Collaboration between Public Housing Authorities and Civil Society to Promote Reintegration

What can the average citizen do for the nine million men and women who are released from prisons and jails each year? Caring for returning citizens in a time of mass incarceration when the United States holds 25 percent of the incarcerated population and three out of four incarcerated people are rearrested within five years can seem to be a daunting and unrelated task for civil society. As issues of mass incarceration and reintegration are brought to the forefront of public discourse, it can be an easy tendency to look solely to the Bureau of Prisons to fix the broken transition from incarceration to freedom. However, being a neighbor to the returning citizens in our communities, churches, businesses, and neighborhoods is more essential than many realize. People of faith have a unique opportunity and responsibility to extend hospitality to returning citizens in the United States. Safe and supportive housing for men and women as they come home from incarceration is essential to...


Mass Incarceration and Families: A Shared Task of Healing

Much of the talk surrounding criminal justice reform is centered on theincarcerated population and returning citizens. These major social issues have major social ramifications, and the full effects of our prison crisis are actually far more extensive than most Americans probably realize. Political science student Collin Slowey reflects on a new report by FWD.us that reveals the depth and breadth of the wounds that mass incarceration has inflictedon American...


Preempting Incarceration: Restorative Justice for Disruptive & At-Risk Youth in High Schools

Criminal justice reform is a potent issue at this time in our history. Lawmakers, activists, and other community and faith-based groups are working to reverse the trend of human warehousing in the United States. This article will attempt to spell out the importance and reasoning behind why one approach, restorative justice, should be implemented in high schools for at-risk youth. By focusing on the needs of the victims, offenders, and the involved community, restorative justice in schools acknowledges the extenuating circumstances surrounding the student, and attempts to address smaller issues before allowing they turn into bigger problems, such as crime. Practices such as talking circles, mediation, and meditation can be implemented as an alternative to more disciplinary actions like detention, suspension, and expulsion. A public justice perspective recognizes that school administrators, teachers, parents, and students all play a role in creating a system that will maintain school...


Returning Citizens: Components Of A Successful Reentry An Interview With Dr. Dean Trulear Of Healing Communities

Successfully reintegrating the formerly incarcerated into society is important for individuals, families, and the economy. Fwd.us is “a bipartisan political organization that believes America’s families, communities, and economy thrive when more individuals are able to achieve their full potential.” The organization’s website notes “our criminal justice system poses one of the greatest challenges confronting our country today.” Dr. Harold Dean Trulear, an ordained Baptist minister, Associate Professor of Theology at Howard University School of Divinity, and a returning citizen is also the National Director of Healing Communities is a nonprofit organization that assists churches and faith communities for the work of assisting returning citizens, and provides “a framework for a distinct form of ministry for men and women returning from or at risk of incarceration, their families and the larger community.” Dr. Trulear spoke with Public...


Fatherhood in a Changing Economy

This interview with Robert Francis draws on his research into the lives of working-class men in rural America, many of whom are fathers, and his exploration of the declining labor force participation among this group. Francis explains how the American economy has been offering fewer full-time, well-paying jobs to men with less than a college degree, a challenge particularly acute in rural places. However, he has found that men are willing to go to great lengths to support their families, including moving away or taking jobs that require extensive travel, like long-haul trucking. In looking at the US family over time, Francis shows that the male breadwinner model is actually the historical anomaly. The reality for many in...


CPJ as a Discipleship Movement

Contributing Editor Vincent Bacote starts off our special fall series celebrating the Center for Public Justice’s 40th anniversary with a reflection on CPJ as an expression of holistic Christian discipleship. Bacote argues that the current political climate raises these two important questions: “What is a disciple of Christ to do in this climate of division, fear, cynicism, and confusion?” and “How is the Center for Public Justice a discipleship movement that provides guidance at this time and beyond?” Responding to these questions, Bacote explains what political discipleship means and discusses four distinctives of the Center for Public Justice that can guide Christian citizens in their...


Can We Be Better (Christian) Humanitarians?

How can we better connect our faith with our service to others in a complex global environment? What does it look like to avoid some of the common controversies and pitfalls of Christian humanitarianism? Looking at our history to inform our present efforts and our future work can yield important insight. Heather Curtis provides us with an engaging means to do so in her new book Holy Humanitarians, which explores the rise of American Christian humanitarianism and philanthropy through the work of the Christian Herald, one of the most influential religious newspapers at the turn of the twentieth century. This article discusses Curtis’s book and her conclusions about Christian humanitarianism, arguing that we will never arrive at the perfect balance of...


2018: Sacred Sector in Review

2018 has been a busy year for non-profits and activist groups, none more so than in the faith-based sector. As religious communities grow more politically active, the question of not only collaboration and impact, but also of how to “keep the faith” almost always arises. This week, the Center for Public Justice’s Director of its Sacred Sector initiative, Chelsea Langston Bombino, surveys the landscape from 2018 on books and arguments that help Christians, in particular, navigate these key...


Public Justice: A Visual Exploration

Sean Purcell shifts gears and visualizes for us a "graphic novel" on public justice. Drawing together themes and ideas for our final series installment, Purcell draws for us a guide for how to think about, practice, and visualize the work of public...


Biblical Shalom and the Health Care Debate

With human flourishing as the goal of health care reform, the debate becomes about more than the provision of health insurance. Looking closely at God’s created order for the structure that supports flourishing–structural pluralism and sphere sovereignty–helps us to chart a path out of the tired, worn debate between privatization and single payer health care towards a tapestry of policies that encourage us all to contribute to the health of our neighbors and...


Christians, Health Care Policies, and the Dangers of False Equivalencies

Health care policy is one of the central moral issues of our day and a topic on which a clear Christian voice is needed. From a Reformed perspective, the focus of our debates needs to be justice, not charity. Christians should support policies that provide health care as a right. Unfortunately, the Christian church has often supported policies that deny people access to health care, and this denial threatens to undercut their ability to speak with a moral voice on important issues of our...


The Dissatisfactions - and Blessings! - of Civic Pluralsim

In our opening editorial, founder and Senior Director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, Stanley Carlson-Thies asks what is so good about pluralism as a structuring principle for a political community? Should we always qualify civic pluralism as “proximate” to remind ourselves that, even if it is a blessing during our in-between time, when we need to live together with others with whom we have deep disagreements, it is an arrangement for political community that must inevitably disappoint us? These are the questions that lay out the work of this series of the Public Justice Review. While acknowledging the good that is principled or civic pluralism, we will explore the limitations inherent to it...


Civic Pluralism and Human Solidarity (Part 1 of 2)

Civic pluralism is a central implication of the vision of public justice that has guided CPJ since its inception. But while a noble and necessary aspiration, it is often creates the very imperfect realities we lament. Join seasoned scholar Jonathan Chaplin in a two-part series, on what we have “in common” with our fellow citizens, the limits of that commonness, and what to do when our core convictions no longer count as common, and we must learn to stand in solidarity with other minority communities as we uphold public space for...


Civic Pluralism and Minority Solidarity (Part 2 of 2)

Civic pluralism is a central implication of the vision of public justice that has guided CPJ since its inception. But while a noble and necessary aspiration, it is often creates the very imperfect realities we lament. Today, Jonathan Chaplin concludes a two-part series exploring a different sense of solidarity: what it means to find ourselves alongside other minority communities of conviction in a single political community which must uphold the public manifestation of such deep differences, even while it also protects fundamental human...


Christian Responsibility in Governing: What to Do When Democracy Gets Complicated

  Many Christians – particularly conservative ones – fear that a pluralistic society will result in laws that are more tyrannical than democratic. Today, argues Jennifer Walsh, Christians must find a way to successfully govern in an increasingly diverse and pluralistic society and actively love neighbors who view the world quite differently. They must learn to live and work within the constraints of our system—not rebel whenever they do not get their way. And they must learn to accept some justice and some pluralism that will be different and wider than they might...


Religious Liberty and LGBTQ Equality: Civic Pluralism Points to a Path Through the Ongoing Conflict

Disagreements about human sexuality are as pronounced as ever in American society. In the political domain, issues related to whether and how to protect LGBTQ identities in law are a common focal point for these disagreements, and they can become even more charged when religious freedom concerns are involved. This article points to three considerations for addressing these controversial and difficult issues: (1) that the existence of diverse institutions in American society benefits a diverse population that desires to be served in distinctive ways; (2) that religious liberty claims and LGBTQ equality claims place very different demands on society; and (3) that the multi-dimensional nature of sexual orientation and gender identity complicates their...


Augustine's Aspirational Imperfectionism: What Should We Hope for From Politics?

In today’s series finale, Jesse Covington argues that Augustine points us to political faithfulness in light of the full scope of redemptive history. Our hopes for politics include pursuing real goods (could love of neighbor counsel anything less?), but with the recognition that these goods remain tempered, limited, and proximate inside of time. For Augustine, this posture is captured by the image of the pilgrim or sojourner who invests deeply in his current context, but without mistaking it for...


2018: The Year in Published Public Justice

In the upcoming weeks, CPJ will offer a handful of essays reviewing some significant books that speak to areas of our research and advocacy. We will strive to offer a “lay of the land,” naming books that capture something of the spirit of the age, discerning the perspectives in play within these arenas. Today, our Contributing Editor Byron Borger lays out, with broad brush strokes, the year past from the perspective of major publications on public justice. While an outstanding year for issue advocacy, Bryon argues there is a notable absence of more cohesive, public arguments about how our political discipleship hangs...


2018: Institutional Religious Freedom in Review

The past year has been a busy one for discussing and adjudicating deep and abiding differences among citizens, no less so than in the hot button sphere of freedom of religion or belief, and its often-essential institutions. Today, Stanley Carlson-Thies draws a map for us of the most hopeful books of the last year (and a bit) on institutional religious freedom, the pitfalls they signal and the potential for public justice as a way...


2018: Families Valued in Review

At least since Abraham Kuyper wrote on “the social question” and Pope Leo XIII on Rerum Novarum (“of the new things”), the transformation and challenge of work has been a central question in the Christian social tradition. Fast forwarding to 2018 we find no exceptions: the rise of the “gig” economy provides new, unique challenges that require as robust Christian theologies and practices now as they did then. Today, Rachel Anderson, Resident Fellow at CPJ leading our Families Valued project, surveys the past year to bridge these emerging changes in work, life, and society and see how...


Improv for the Kingdom: What Does it Mean to Equip People for Public Justice?

As important as our conviction about public justice is the manner in which we seek public justice. Today, Kristen Deede Johnson invites us to attend as much to our means as our ends in the work of justice. As the people of God, she argues, we are called to manifest such things as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in all of our...


2018: "The Problem of Poverty" in Review

What did Jesus really mean when he said, "The poor you will always have with you"? This question should drive Christians toward, not away, from social, civil and political solutions for the economically marginal among us. Today Katie Thompson tackles this perennial topic, close to the heart of Christian social tradition of CPJ: what to do with “the problem of poverty.” Reviewing two recent books, Thompson argues poverty requires a civil, social, religious and political solution; a simultaneous realization...


2018: Political Discipleship in Review

CPJ Fellow Vince Bacote reviews the year in political discipleship: what does it mean to follow Jesus in the politics of 2018? Reviewing books from Amy Black, Patrick Deneen, John Fee and Fred Van Geest, Bacote finds a diverse set that reaches within and beyond the Christian tradition. It equips us to be disciples whose proclamation and practice reflects an appreciation of the opportunities of political engagement, while maintaining an ultimate hope in God rather than politics itself. Argues Bacote: worshipping God above all, with politics as one dimension of our faithful practice, remains an opportunity and aspiration for us in...


Work for the Sake of the Family

One of God's good purposes for work is for our work to be done in service of others, including our family and community. As our economy undergoes changes that may impact the nature of work and the types of jobs in which people work, how will these changes affect family and community? Work that is more flexible and less structured around the typical rhythms of a workweek presents opportunities as well as challenges to families. Families must redouble their attention to family time. Institutions outside the family, like unions and the social safety net, and may play a valuable role in helping families secure...


Which Side Are You On? Christianity and Labor in an Age of Inequality

While any number of denominations still have pro-labor social teachings on their books, Christian support for unions has largely collapsed in recent decades, hastening not only the demise of organized labor but also the dawn of a New Gilded Age. Believers who are concerned about runaway inequality in the present should consult the past. There they will find a robust tradition of pro-labor faith and practices, cultivated first and foremost at the Christian grassroots. Insofar as this tradition prioritizes justice and solidarity over untrammeled economic freedom, it resonates as provocatively today as it did in the heyday of the early labor...


How Working Parents are Changing What It Means to be "Involved"

In interviews, working parents explain that while they may not expect to be able to be “involved” with every aspect of their children’s school career, they do find ways to provide essential emotional and academic support. For many, these ordinary irregularities and responsibilities of parenthood yield a precarious work-life balance. Emergency circumstances and irregular work schedules—both of which are likely to occur in the lives of low-income families—can lead to imbalance that is, at times,...


Worshipping My Way Toward a Theology of Work

  For CPJ Fellow Gideon Strauss, theologizing about work is not in the first place a scholarly practice. Instead, he argues, it emerges out of the interaction between his lived experience of the Bible and his lived experience of working in the historical times and political places in which he finds himself. Strauss says this emergence happens more often than not while praying the Psalms. In this piece, Strauss shares how the Psalms are paradigmatic for prayer, and worship is paradigmatic...


Cultivating a Work-Wise Family

As the new gig economy gives opportunity, it also presents dilemmas, including weakening the barriers between our public and private lives. If we’re not careful, argues Hannah Anderson in this week’s Public Justice Review, the arena of public life governed by competition and capital can take over our private lives too. To resist this, families must become work-wise, cultivating virtues and practices that honor our work while preserving the rhythms and norms of the...


Dignity in Difficult Work: A Perspective from Health Care Worker Advocates

Dignity in work can be the privilege of a very white-collar conversation. But much work in the world, and in America, is done outside the office and the coffeeshop. How do Christians think about, and practice, work and its balance in the many trades and sectors that too often go unnoticed in these conversations? Today, contributing editor Rachel Hope Anderson interviews Tish Douma and Susan Siemens of the Christian Labour Association of Canada to find...


Work and Pastoral Care

Today, Rev. Dr. Irwyn Ince asks what role the church as institution can play in the work lives, both the employed and the under and unemployed, of its members. He arrives at three practices: prayer, promotion, and provision that form a foundation for pastoral care in the church when people face the trauma that comes from unemployment and...


Evangelical Populists and Their Discontents

This series address the tension between contrasting narratives of nationalism and internationalism within the evangelical tradition. The concept of populism cuts across those narratives. In this opening piece to the series, political scientist Kevin den Dulk examines the intersection of populism and evangelicalism. While any account of “evangelical populism” comes with numerous caveats, den Dulk argues the phenomenon is real, and the drawbacks of populism are too great to ignore for anyone committed to democratic...


Evangelical Tribes? Group Instinct and the Fate of American Christianity

In this essay editor Robert Joustra reviews the claims of Amy Chua’s new book Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations. He wonders, alongside Richard Mouw’s new book, Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground, if Chua’s language of tribes, groups and super-groups organizes or clarifies the battlegrounds of American Evangelicalism. Are Evangelicals a kind of tribe, and if so, what resources might there be for inter-tribal dialogue and...


The Postures of Public Justice

What if we treated our hostile postures as a matter of justice, as a matter of what others are due? In our everyday encounters with others, argues Kyle Bennett, how others stand before us and move in response to us is either right or wrong, fair or unfair. We anticipate and expect right and fair treatment. When events don’t go according to plan—whether at a park, museum, theatre, or municipal parking lot—we are offended, angered, and most likely hurt. This goes for the politician, lobbyist, midwife, and the security guard. I have yet to meet anyone who likes to have rolled eyes thrown at them, enjoys having a finger pointed in their face, or feels edified by shrugged shoulders. Rather, we long...


Are Principles Enough? Virtues in Public Policy

Today, Kevin den Dulk argues that a first-principles approach assesses policies by comparing biblical/theological expectations to the outcomes of those policies. A policy outcome is “good” when it meets those expectations. But, he asks, what if we shift focus from outcomes to the practices and dispositions embedded in the policy process itself?  What if we think in terms of not only the values that define policy outcomes but also the virtues that shape policy analysis and...


A Biblical Vision for Political Life

Christian views of political life have been shaped in a variety of ways over time, with differing understandings of the role and responsibilities of government and of how Christians citizens ought to exercise their earthly citizenship. In this article, William Edgar considers these currents in the context of thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas, Locke, and others, and outlines the theological and philosophical context for CPJ’s distinctive approach to political life. Edgar shows how CPJ grounds its thinking in the biblical doctrine of creation, as it applies to a world that is expanding and shrinking at the same time. In so doing, CPJ advocates for the legitimacy of a plural society that upholds human flourishing, the call to justice for...


Awaiting the King

Stephanie Summers, CEO of the Center for Public Justice, recently spoke with James K.A. Smith about his newest book Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology, the culminating book in his acclaimed Cultural Liturgies project. Summers and Smith discussed a wide range of ideas including the deformative powers of culture on us as Christians, our society’s move away from a sense of a shared life together, and how the church can be a community of political formation in which worship is central. His book provides a number of thought-provoking starting points that our writers will...


Globalization and the Kingdom of God: A Christian Perspective on International Relations

Although much has been done to articulate and develop Christian perspectives on domestic politics, very little exists of this kind of perspective on global affairs and international relations. In this article, Robert Joustra outlines three sign posts that are key to such a perspective, emerging from the Kuyperian tradition, and Kuyper himself, as well as the Center for Public Justice’s own work. CPJ urges Christians of every state and nation to “recognize that they share a common commitment to justice beyond their own nation.” Discussing state sovereignty, international law, and freedom of religion, Joustra explores how the fruit of this justice can be found and upheld in contemporary...


Advancing Religious Freedom and Responsibility Through Changing Times

For the past forty years, CPJ has offered a distinctive, principled pluralist understanding of religious freedom as a vital contribution to the common good. This perspective holds that as Christians seeking to have freedom to fully exercise our faith in every aspect of our lives, individually and institutionally, we also have the responsibility to ensure such freedom for those with whom we have great differences. In this article, the authors discuss how the understanding of religious freedom in the United States has changed over the years. They show how CPJ has responded to these changes by being a key actor in engaging groups across difference around a number of issues and promoting both individual and institutional rights...


Radical (to the Root) Justice in Education

The Center for Public Justice has been addressing issues of injustice in the US education system for many years. In this article, Christy Wauzzinski, an educator in Pittsburgh, discusses how her association with CPJ for nearly four decades has profoundly shaped her thinking, and that of a whole group of citizens in the Pittsburgh area, about the roots of injustice in education. Wauzzinski describes how encounters with the work of CPJ and its founder James Skillen inspired some in this community of citizens to establish a number of faith-based schools and start several businesses, and prompted other civic engagement efforts like a well-researched voter’s guide. She explores four main areas of injustice in our education system and calls...


Imagining Economic Justice

What makes the political arrangements that shape our economic life just? Gideon Strauss responds to this question with a nuanced exploration of the meaning of economic justice. Drawing on his own work and his encounters with the work of CPJ and other traditions of Christian social thought that influenced his thinking, Strauss discusses how we might employ creation’s many riches to produce and exchange the goods and services needed for flourishing. Strauss argues that the future wealth of this nation can be generated and distributed in many different ways, but what this moment requires is moral imagination, oriented towards a...


A Conversation with James Skillen

Over forty years ago, James Skillen and a number of others began to dream about an organization for Christian political action. Their discussions and labors eventually brought about the founding of the Center for Public Justice, with the goal of developing a Christian mindset for civic responsibility. This wide-ranging conversation with Skillen explores the cultural and political climate when CPJ was founded and the engagement of Christians with politics at that time. Skillen compares this to our political currents today, and demonstrates how vital the work and vision of CPJ continues to be in challenging how most Americans, particularly Christians, think about political...


Religious Freedom and the Social Safety Net

What does religious freedom have to do with the social safety net—those partnerships between government and civil society institutions that serve our vulnerable neighbors? Most Americans who associate religious freedom with controversial decisions around contraception mandates or bathroom use have little understanding of the vast social good provided by faith-based organizations. Because of this, there is also little understanding of the need to uphold the freedom of these institutions to serve diverse communities with diverse needs according to their faith-shaped missions.   In this article, Contributing Editor...


Community Restoration After Natural Disasters

Religious organizations and houses of worship are essential to communities, along with other community-based organizations, are often the first responders when natural disasters hit. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, churches and other houses of worship served as staging and distribution centers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), demonstrating how civil society institutions can partner with government to help communities recover and rebuild. However, in spite of this robust partnership, houses of worship are not eligible to compete for FEMA grants for rebuilding after damage from natural disasters because of their...


Hope and Healing in the Opioid Crisis

An estimated 30,000 people will die this year of an opioid overdose. The opioid crisis has been declared a public health emergency, affecting people of all socioeconomic levels and races and ethnicities. So many people are dying that a new study has found that the rise in opioid-related deaths has contributed to an overall decrease in the average American life expectancy. In the face of such devastation, how should Christian citizens respond? A public justice approach recognizes the indispensable role of both government and civil society institutions to combat this crisis. But what does that look like? In particular, how do faith-based organizations offer distinctive care...


Partnering for Health: Federally Qualified Health Centers

An estimated 30,000 people will die this year of an opioid overdose. The opioid crisis has been declared a public health emergency, affecting people of all socioeconomic levels and races and ethnicities. So many people are dying that a new study has found that the rise in opioid-related deaths has contributed to an overall decrease in the average American life expectancy. Faith-motivated groups across the country have long recognized the need for accessible, quality, and affordable health care in their communities, and they have organized to provide health services to vulnerable populations regardless of their patients’ ability to pay. Like many other...


Why the Black Church is Vital for Healthy Communities

Pastor Cheryl Mitchell Gaines, J.D., M.Div, is the founder and Senior Pastor of ReGeneration House of Praise, also known as the Church in the Field, in Southeast Washington, D.C. The impetus for starting the Church in the Field was the tragic death of four young people in the community. Pastor Gaines has spent her career empowering Black families and young people to thrive physically, spiritually, emotionally and vocationally. She spoke with Chelsea Langston Bombino about the vital role that Black congregations play in serving their...


Religious Freedom and Government Partnerships: Where Do We Go from Here?

In this series, we have explored how a public justice framework helps us positively address some of the most significant social problems of our time. As we’ve taken a closer look at issues such as natural disaster relief, the opioid epidemic, and the health care needs of underserved communities, we have seen how vital religious freedom is for serving our most vulnerable neighbors through the partnerships between government and civil society institutions that make up the social safety net. Throughout the series, we have also...


Re-forming Citizens For A Just Politics

How can the church form disciples for lives of public faithfulness and a politics of solidarity and justice? Jonathan Chaplin responds to that question in this article with a rich theological exploration of the dynamic summons of biblical justice. Chaplin discusses the implications of our being created as justice-seeking people whose God-given desire for and pursuit of justice has been dulled and twisted by the fall. Chaplin argues that humans need just familial, cultural, economic, and political relationships if they are to fulfill their original calling to be images of God, tending and unfolding creation’s gifts. Therefore, one of the distinctive tasks of the...


The Social Justice Wars: Where Does Public Justice Fit?

Richard Mouw argues today that the efforts at promoting social justice within each of the areas of public life will be most effective when they occur in a general societal climate shaped by active patterns of public justice. This aspect isn’t simply about crafting legislation—although the need for laws is often a necessity in guaranteeing that individuals get their “due” in specific areas of civil society. But as Gideon Strauss nicely puts it, public justice also requires “shaping a public life for the common good.” Such a public justice both...


Terrorism and the Politics of Worship

How do wise and mature Christian citizens respond to national traumas like 9-11 or the events in Charlottesville? How can the church prepare its disciples to follow Jesus into a divided and traumatized world? Does what Christians do together in worship have political consequences? Matthew Kaemingk offers compelling answers to these questions in his article that explores the political nature of worship. Kaemingk discusses six concrete ways that worship forms Christian citizens to resist the politics of fear, to humble their political agendas, to respond well to trauma, to reach across divides, and to seek and pray for the flourishing of their diverse and divided...


Educating the Political Disciple

Christians often assume that non-educational institutions, like churches and families, are the primary seedbeds of good citizenship. And while we have given some attention to what good citizens are and why they are necessary, we have not devoted the same critical energy to how we form those citizens through the pedagogies most prevalent in formal education. In this article, Kevin den Dulk argues that formation is not held by any monopoly, and our schooling systems have unfolded as key cultivators of young citizens. Den Dulk explores the ways that our most prominent educational frameworks reproduce rather than meet key challenges to citizen formation in the current age,...


Caring for Elected Officials in Our Local Congregations

Many elected officials find it difficult to engage with their local church congregations about their work in public service or about government and politics in general. In this article, Jim Talen, a Kent County Commissioner, reflects on his experience with this in his own congregation. Talen explores some of the reasons why he thinks this challenge is a reality for so many in elected office. Talen argues that if we recognize the appropriate role of government in our lives, alongside other institutions like families, businesses, schools and churches, then it follows that we can support, in a distinctive way, those in our congregations who labor in the political...


Citizenship as Craft

How can we cultivate the craft of citizenship as an expression of the divinely given vocation to steward and order the earth? In this article, CPJ Fellow Rachel Anderson explores our political calling as Christian citizens and its implications for our practice of the craft of...


Why Immigration Is First About Families, Not Economics Or Security

In the struggle between family and nation, now at the forefront of our national debate, who gets priority? The state’s power to decide, divide, and deport, is unmatched. But what is the state’s duty in the work of public justice to immigrants and their families? Does the American state, our civil society, its churches or citizens, owe anything to the millions of non-citizen families who reside...


Family Matters in the Deportation Discussion: A Theological Orientation

At a time of such complex and heated discussions revolving around deportation, it behooves Christians to base their stance on the topic in their Scriptures. This article proposes that consideration of the person of God, the centrality of the family in the Bible, and its consistent concern for widows and orphans are grounds for questioning indiscriminate deportation that leads to family separation. These three scriptural points make it clear that the separation of families is contrary to the person and will of...


The Politics of a Shared Meal

When many of us think about, discuss, and take positions on immigration policy, we do so in the abstract. But for families that include husbands and wives, sons and daughters living sin papeles, abstraction is a luxury they cannot afford. When elected officials debate immigration policy, the unity of the family – that “most basic of human institutions” – is seldom part of the conversation but is always at stake. How do we, for whom immigration policy is less of a daily concern, better understand the experience of being undocumented? How might citizens from...


Will Family-Based US Immigration Survive?

Families are at the foundation of our nation, yet increasingly family-based immigration services are being challenged. Already in 2014 the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement began to detain mothers and children, in cases separating them to deter others. Family detention, separation, and capricious and retrospective terminations of family unification policies are all major challenges to an immigration system that, Meredith Owen argues, is in desperate need of support and...


The Memphis Immigration Project: A Testimony

Rondell Treviño, the founder of the Memphis Immigration Project, gives testimony of his own experience and work with immigrant families. Arguing that family unity is a bedrock belief, he tells the story of how his work led to launching a special project in February 2017, a faith based organization that exists to engage issues of immigration from a biblical perspective in order to help the church–a people on a mission - to be better equipped and challenged to think, dialogue, and act biblically about immigration...


Faith, Refuge, and Resistance: The Innovations and Impact of the Modern-Day Sanctuary Movement

In what ways do faith-based and community organizations serve immigrants and refugees as families in the United States? In this article, Dr. Catherine Wilson examines the role that faith-based organizations play in providing refuge and engaging in acts of nonviolent resistance for immigrant populations at the local level. Using Philadelphia as a case study, Wilson presents distinct kinds of micro-innovations advanced by those organizations involved in the modern-day Sanctuary...


Valuing Families in the Immigration Debate: An Interview with Jenny Yang

Over the past several weeks the Public Justice Review has been exploring the historical and current reality of family-centered immigration policy. Today, we interview Jenny Yang, who has been working with World Relief for about twelve years. She began her time with World Relief as a case manager in their refugee program providing oversight for their cases and operating as a liaison between the World Relief domestic offices and the US State Department. Now, she serves as the Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for the organization. In addition to her passion for engaging the Church in considering its role in the national conversation about immigration,...


Public Justice Review: A Manifesto

In this introductory manifesto beginning my time at the Public Justice Review I want to connect, as it were, how this thing we call public justice might fit with the provisional work of public policy, and how this perspective can meaningfully, and purposefully, equip not only Christians but citizens for the public work of the American project. Contrary to the declinists and the pessimists, we are ruthlessly optimistic about that project, and we hope you’ll join us in a clear-eyed but unflinching vision for its own intergenerational reformation and...


The Basis and Orientation of Public Justice: God's Sabbath with Creation An Interview with James Skillen, Part 2

This is the second in a two-part interview with James Skillen, the founder of the Center for Public Justice (CPJ). CPJ’s Chelsea Langston Bombino discusses with Skillen the themes of his newest book, God’s Sabbath with Creation: Vocations Fulfilled, the Glory Unveiled (Wipf and Stock, 2019)  and how these themes connect to institutional pluralism, including the diverse spectrum of faith-based civil society organizations with varying mission focus areas. In his new book, Skillen explores how every part of human life, including the associational relationships and organizations we form, point beyond themselves to God’s purposes for creation and its fulfillment through Christ in the age to come. The first article of the two-part series explored both the perspectival and practical implications of this new body of work for sacred sector...


The International Institutionalism We Need Now

By Robert J. Joustra June 15, 2015   The lofty phrase “global governance” has often been met with suspicion, if not outright alarm, in the evangelical world. Global governance sounds vaguely like one-world-government on the one hand, or the hegemony of a misbalanced capitalism on the other. And evangelicals are hardly alone in their reaction. The conventional wisdom about global governance, writes Daniel Drezner in The System Worked: How the World Stopped Another Great Depression, resembles an old Woody Allen joke: the quality is terrible – and yet such small portions! I want to make three arguments about this pessimistic picture of global governance-- that set of formal and informal rules that regulate international order and the collection of authority relationships that extend, coordinate, monitor, and enforce them. (1) Suspicion of international...


The Supreme Court: Guardian or Threat?

By Jesse Covington June 8, 2015   Many Americans focused their attention on the Supreme Court when it heard oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges and its three companion cases in April of this year. These cases involve one of the more prominent social issues of our time: whether the Constitution requires states to license same-sex marriages (and, even if not, whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states). People of goodwill on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate are looking to the Supreme Court to resolve policy controversy in this area, to place the stamp of judicial approval on one view or the other. Many see Obergefell as an opportunity to make full access to same-sex marriage the law of the land. Others hope that this view will be decisively rejected. But are these hopes for decisive judgment well placed? To what extent should we expect the judiciary to...


Overcoming Poverty: Beginning with the End

Policy proposals to overcome domestic poverty have been largely absent from the most recent electoral cycles. Acting on the advice of campaign advisors, presidential hopefuls have instead outlined their agendas for middle class voters. In the 2016 campaign season, presidential candidates will be asked by Christian leaders to specifically articulate their agendas for overcoming domestic poverty. Shifting the focus to policy prescriptions has the potential to clarify the distinctive visions of candidates. This in turn has the potential to equip citizens to consider the well-being of the entire political community and not just vote their own interests. But shifting the focus of presidential campaigns is insufficient in and of itself to overcome domestic poverty. Good sound bites and good policy prescriptions often seem irreconcilable. Yet the real challenge to overcome is not one of rhetoric, but of direction. Policy prescriptions are most often made by looking...


Driving with the Brakes On: Why Doing Justice Is So Difficult

By Clarke E. Cochran May 25, 2015   Why does the health care system continue to fail millions? Why have poverty rates remained the same for thirty years? Why do problems like drug addiction, education reform, and world-record murder and incarceration rates remain resistant to resolution? Citizens and policy makers across the political spectrum recognize these social ills. Policy experts regularly propose plausible solutions. Health care, education, and prison reformers come and go with their suggested reforms. All are convinced of the rationality of their proposals for a more just and decent system, with considerable agreement across the spectrum. Yet very little changes. Why? Cultural Anchors Defined Have you ever tried to sail a boat without hoisting the anchor? Or perhaps had the more familiar experience of starting a car and trying to...


Millennials Care About Political Community (and Just Tweeted About It)

Millennials Care About Political Community (and Just Tweeted About It) Katie Thompson May 18, 2015   I am part of a selfie-taking, Netflix-watching, parents’ couch-surfing, Uber-riding, tweeting generation. If you don't know what those things are, then you are probably not a millennial. These are a few of the things that characterize my generation of 18- to 34-year-olds, otherwise known as millennials. Stereotypes of a self-obsessed, social media-addicted generation tend to define us. For millennials who move to cities (we love to do that, according those who study us), this can be even more pronounced. And while some of these characterizations might be true, I want to contest that we are so much more. I was recently on a panel tasked with offering a response to a lecture by Rev. David Kim, Executive...


Serving the City, Shaping the Political Community

By David Kim May 11, 2015    [This article is based on remarks delivered by David Kim at the Center for Public Justice’s 20th Annual Kuyper Lecture.] Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther put forward the idea of the priesthood of all believers. Five hundred years later, Dorothy Sayers wrote an essay discussing how the church has no sense of what is going on in the world. We might start to wonder what we aren’t seeing if, after five centuries, we still don’t seem to get secular vocation right in the church. Much of our posture at the Center for Faith and Work is really about exploration. We are trying to understand what it is like to be a Christian in a place like New York City and what resources the church can provide for there to be a faithful witness in the world. The big question for us all to wrestle with is how our theology works on the ground and how it enables us to approach our world in...


The United Nations: A Global Institution Still Worth Engaging?

By Kathryn Yarlett May 4, 2015   The global landscape is increasingly connected – both in its opportunities and its challenges. The world now has more mobile devices than it has people, and more than 50 percent of people in developing countries are expected to be using the internet by the end of the year. Technology has transformed access to information and communication across the globe. Borders have become more porous; from tourists to refugees, millions of people move across national borders each day. Financial markets in one country determine the economy in other. As we have become more connected, so have the challenges that face us. By 2050, the global population is projected to increase to 9.6 billion and the demand for food will increase by 70 percent. In only fifteen years, 47 percent of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress. While advances in technology and connectivity...


Championing Our Kids

By Michael J. Gerson April 27, 2015   Robert Putnam’s new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis has quickly become the context for America’s national debate on poverty – cited, praised, disputed, criticized – but often at the center of think tank debates and conference discussions. And if the forthcoming presidential election ever rises to a minimal level of sophistication on issues of inequality and social mobility, Putnam’s work will figure prominently. This is a very good thing for our country. Putnam is playing the essential role of reintroducing America to itself, and the experience is unpleasant. A nation once divided between north and south has become bifurcated by a line of class. A single society has become two different worlds of opportunity.  One is the world of the educated and wealthy, characterized by greater family stability, economic prospects, and community cohesion. The...


A Different Kind of Campaign

By Ted Williams III April 20, 2015   “You lost because you didn’t use the information I gave you about your opponent. Remember, as I told you, in politics nice guys finish last.” These were the words from a political mentor and friend as we discussed why my recent campaign for the Chicago City Council came up short. He went on, “If you had spread the negative information we had, we could have gotten the incumbent’s numbers down, but you chose to run the campaign without doing that.” His words stung. As we talked, what had initially been a point of pride for me now made me feel foolish. I thanked him for the conversation and hung up the phone. Was he right? Was I simply a naïve little fish swimming with the sharks in Chicago politics? Is it impossible to run an effective campaign while bucking the traditions of the approach to politics in this country? And then there is the larger question for Christians: How can...


April 15 Is Tax Day -- and It’s Time for Tax Reform

By John Anderson April 13, 2015   During tax season, the presence of the federal income tax becomes palpable as we rush to pay our taxes before the deadline, or eagerly await our refunds. We wonder whether the fiscal foundation of our country is solid. As Christians concerned with sound public policy, we are also confronted with the question of whether the present tax system can be made more consistent with biblical principles of stewardship and justice. In order to provide both fiscal sustainability and a more biblically sound system that enables human flourishing for all, we need fundamental reform of the tax system. How Should We Think About Taxes? Because taxes are a means by which government is financed, our thinking about taxes should be based on an understanding of the proper roles of government. Scripture makes clear that in a fallen world, God mandates that the state should preserve order and...


After the End: An Easter Meditation

William Edgar April 6, 2015   As a child at the movies, I always wondered what happened after the final embrace. Where did the drifter go after he rode off into the sunset? What does the bad guy in jail do for the rest of his life? Movie endings are often so good that if we imagine the next scene, there is bound to be a letdown. Did the young couple set up a household, pay bills, send their kids to school? Did the drifter stop drifting and settle into middle class life? Would the prisoner learn to cooperate with his warden? After the buildup of the story, the increasing tension, and the height of the conflict, the end comes with no potential for anything more. One could think it would be the same for the death, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus Christ. How could anything be added to that dramatic pinnacle? After a long, long wait, Jesus came to die and be raised up. “But when the fullness of time had...


Magna Carta at 800

By David Koyzis March 30, 2015   It doesn’t read like a constitutional document. It contains odd provisions like, “All fish-weirs [fish traps] shall henceforth be entirely removed from the Thames and the Medway and throughout all England except along the sea-coasts.” It wasn’t formulated by a meeting of political leaders intending to establish constitutional government but was drafted in the wake of battle. Nevertheless, Magna Carta, whose eight-hundredth anniversary we observe this year, has come to be considered a seminal document in the constitutional history of the English-speaking peoples, including Americans. Although Magna Carta is the constitutional ancestor of both American and Westminster parliamentary systems, Americans seem...


Changing Flags, Shifting Identities

by Bruce C. Wearne March 23, 2015   The New Zealand government has recently "flagged" a referendum to determine whether this former British colony will adopt a new flag, just as Canada did fifty years ago. The intention is that the national flag will no longer carry the Union Jack, but rather reflect New Zealand's current place as an independent nation. The Prime Minister has even "flagged" his preference: the national flag would feature the silver fern, the emblem known around the rugby world from the jersey of New Zealand's all-conquering international team, the All Blacks. Following suit, the recently elected Fijian Prime Minister has announced that Fiji will have a new flag by October when his country will celebrate the forty-fifth anniversary of independence. The time has come, he says, to show that Fiji is independent of former colonial ties. This...


Rationing Pharmaceuticals in Medicaid: Putting a Price on Human Life?

By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley March 16, 2015   The recent pace of innovation in the pharmaceutical industry is staggering. Emerging technologies have facilitated the production of a new generation of cancer drugs, have resulted in life-saving therapies for debilitating infectious diseases such as Hepatitis C, and have produced novel treatments for genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis. Although welcome news for many patients, the steep prices of these new pharmaceuticals have forced payers (insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid) to face complex ethical dilemmas about how to allocate scarce resources among patients. These health care resource allocation decisions are not new– transplant organs are routinely rationed using wait-lists that are prioritized using strict criteria. But these decisions are becoming more difficult as both the price of pharmaceuticals and the number of patients needing treatment continues to increase....


Sticks, Stones, and Speech

By Jesse Covington March 9, 2015   The old nursery rhyme “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” conveys both a basic truth and a well-worn falsehood. Physical coercion has a unique ability to cause sudden and often irreversible bodily injury; the impact of words is usually less devastating. Nevertheless, the idea that words cannot hurt remains patently untrue. Words can and do cause a variety of harms both tangible and intangible. Our laws account for both realities. Physical assault is subject to greater legal regulation than are speech and press; allowances for self-defense or protecting others are the exceptions rather than the rule. In contrast, legal protections for speech are the rule, to which exceptions are made for fraud, libel, incitement, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the like. Each such limit on the norm of expressive freedom aims to prevent a particular kind of harm...


Israel’s Future

By Steven E. Meyer March 2, 2015   On March 17th, Israel will hold what many commentators argue could be the most significant national election in a generation. Its significance depends not only on who wins (right-of-center Likud or left-of-center Labor), but what the winners do with the victory. Nothing will change unless the victor is willing to break the inertial slugging match that has hamstrung relations between Israel and most of the rest of the Middle East and has shaken support for Israel throughout the West. Current neck-and-neck polls reflect a fluid situation in which voters are unsure where they are going and what they want. But why is this election and, more importantly, this period of time, so significant? The entire Middle East is changing more fundamentally than any time since the end of World War I, and the domestic environment in Israel is splintering more than at any time since its founding in 1948....


Religious Freedom: Cause of Discrimination or Foundation for Diversity?

By Stanley Carlson-Thies February 23, 2015   A common argument heard today is that when a nonprofit, business, or church serves the public, it should be required to leave behind its sectarian limits, its biases and restrictions, and treat everyone equally, “without discrimination.” Isn’t that what it means to serve “the public,” as opposed to dealing with fellow believers in a private organization or private activity? After all, shouldn’t everyone have a right to receive the services offered to the public without being affronted by alien practices and beliefs, or by standards and convictions that imply that their own values and convictions are lesser, or even wrong?  This line of thought is based on the assumption that what is public is always uniform, and that to exist in and serve the public world requires setting aside religious and other distinctive convictions and practices. But this does not accurately reflect...


The Modern Presidency: Populism Vs. Public Justice

By Timothy Sherratt February 16, 2015   Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primaries, and Super Tuesdays will plunge us into another presidential campaign season before long (the pre-campaign is already underway). As we look ahead to this, we would do well to consider not the possible presidential candidates, but rather the office to which they aspire. The aspirants in 2016 will promise us the moon and will want to be our friend. “We Bushes,” George H.W. once declared, “wear our hearts on our sleeves.” Even a populist like Andrew Jackson would have felt no need to make such a claim, but he ran for office long before the bully pulpit, opinion polls, and public relations. I would argue that Jeb and Hillary, Mitt (no longer, it seems), Elizabeth (well, not yet), Chris, and the rest seek an office only partially resembling the one the framers crafted. The framers’ president kept the people at bay, and their congress kept him on a...


My People: Properly Subversive Theology

By William Edgar February 9, 2015   Duke Ellington once remarked that “the foundation of the United States rests on the sweat of my people.” He had just composed the lengthy symphonic suite My People (1963) which addressed race more directly than usual in his music. A close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., Ellington included in the suite a piece dedicated to the civil rights reformer entitled “King Fit the Battle of Alabam.” Yet Duke insisted that social commentary was not the main theme of My People. Rather it was love, woven as a golden thread throughout the suite. This twentieth-century jazz masterpiece shows one of the fundamental principles that has driven African-Americans to respond to their circumstances with both resiliency and generosity toward their oppressors. “Lord, dear Lord above, God Almighty God of love… Please look down and see my people through,” says the refrain from Come...


Citizenship is Our Common Calling

For many Christians, our citizenship can best be characterized by the hope that it is somebody else’s job. I am regularly told what I should do or not do to “fix our broken government,” where government is always the adversary, the sole arbiter of our society’s disagreements, or the chief provider for the common good. I am more frequently told that when one looks at the extent of injustice in the world, being a responsible citizen seems overwhelming and futile.  A core part of our vision at the Center for Public Justice is to equip citizens to understand that citizenship is our common calling. Our citizenship responsibilities are a direct response to the command to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God as articulated in Micah 6:8 and throughout Scripture. Yet God’s good invitation to citizenship in political community has become an invitation many dread receiving.   Can we rediscover God’s good purpose for...


Freedom, Tolerance, and Respect

By Stephen V. Monsma January 26, 2015   News reports have been filled the past weeks with reports and comments on the Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris. Among the seventeen persons killed were editors at the magazine Charlie Hebdo, police officers, and Jewish shoppers at a kosher grocery store. There is no possible justification for the murder of these individuals. One searches for words strong enough to condemn these wanton acts of violence. But that does not say all there is to be said. The murders of the editors at Charlie Hebdo in particular raise important questions for those of us who believe in principled pluralism, a basic commitment of the Center for Public Justice. Principled pluralism recognizes that all societies—including French and American societies—are marked by a diversity of ideological, political, ethnic, racial, and religious groups. The need is for these millions of diverse people...


Selma’s Communal Commitment to Justice

By Josh Larsen January 26, 2015   In the real world, justice is often achieved through mundane means: committees, courtrooms, conversation. In the movie world, however, it’s usually won by a guy in spandex and a cape. So consider Selma a rarity, not only for the attention it gives to procedural history (covering things like logistics and strategy), but also for the way it emphasizes the communal aspect of justice seeking. Sure, there’s a hero here – David Oyelowo’s Martin Luther King, Jr. – but even he is sidelined at times in favor of a more holistic sense of community. The movie, recently nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, dramatizes the three marches staged by King and other civil rights activists in 1965, with the intent of pressuring President Lyndon Johnson to introduce voting rights legislation on behalf of ostracized African-Americans. It’s a stirring picture, directed by Ava DuVernay, with an eye and...


Race and Adoption in America

By Jedd Medefind January 26, 2015 Even as we celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this past week, it’s hard not to feel a shadow over the land. For many whites, it is the wrecked illusion of a post-racial America. For people of color, it is the numerous recent reminders of how elusive Dr. King’s dream remains. Yet as disheartening as the bird’s eye view can be, a closer look yields many micro-trends that give good reason for hope. These include the notable growth of interracial marriages, up 28 percent from 2000 to 2010 and now comprising one in every ten marriages, and the increase of multiracial churches across the United States, actively cultivating communities of authentic relationships.  Another micro-trend is the growing number of cross-racial adoptions, particularly among committed Christians, who adopt...


The Cradle Fund: A Bridge for Shalom in the Middle East

By Charles Strohmer January 26, 2015   A few months ago, I presented some ideas from the biblical wisdom tradition about shalom. I discussed the vital work of repairing socially, economically, and politically damaged and broken lives and relationships, whether domestically or internationally. I want to extend that thinking here. Many Christian and Jewish circles today talk about shalom as God’s vision for a future of peace and harmony for all of creation, including, of course, collective human life. To give that vision legs in the here and now, shalom is also often described as social, economic, and political “flourishing” or “well-being” in this world. Those of us in the West already blessed with goodly degrees of well-being typically maintain the latter idea.  But there seems...


Seeking Just Lending Practices (2)

By Stephen K. Reeves January 19, 2015   This is the second article in a two-part series.   A young father had trouble paying his bills and turned to his Baptist congregation for help. They gave freely from their benevolence fund, no questions asked. When he returned for help a few months later, a mentor was provided to assist with budgeting, and it became clear that there was no way for the family to make ends meet. When his monthly income had fallen short of expenses, the father had taken out a payday loan of $700. Now, $200 was being automatically deducted from his checking account every two weeks, making it impossible for him to keep up. After several months, he still owed the original principal and the same amount of fees and interest as the day he walked away with the loan thought to be the answer to his problems. By the time the church helped pay the balance, that $700 cost over $3,300 in less...


On King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

By Stephanie Summers January 19, 2015   While many Americans are familiar with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington, fewer are familiar with his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – and even fewer with the context in which it was written. On April 3, 1963, a non-violent campaign of coordinated marches and sit-ins against legal racial segregation in Birmingham, AL began. Seven days later, a circuit judge issued a blanket injunction at the request of the city against “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing, and picketing.” Leaders of what had come to be known as the Birmingham Campaign said they would disobey the ruling, based on the First Amendment, which articulates “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Two days later, on Good Friday, King was arrested for disobeying the injunction and...


Military Humanitarian Intervention and International Justice

By Paul Edgar January 19, 2015   Ten years ago, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami compelled us to pay attention for a longer duration than we normally grant a crisis. Within hours of the disaster, the US military flew reconnaissance jets overhead. Unable to provide direct relief, they collected information and provided it to a global network. Within a week, in an operation called Operation Unified Assistance, the military deployed more helicopters to the affected area than any other organization. For many months, all kinds of military units served those who suffered, and their role in that humanitarian crisis has been widely praised.  Borrowing from the name of that historic effort, Operation United Assistance currently includes about 3,000 US service members supporting a USAID-led response to Ebola in West Africa. These two examples hint at the...


“The Hobbit Party” and “Called to the Life of the Mind”

By Byron Borger January 19, 2015   The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot Jay W. Richards and Jonathan Witt (Ignatius Press; 2014) $21.95 Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars Richard J. Mouw (Eerdmans; 2014) $10.00   It is said that many of our most popular actors, filmmakers, and contemporary novelists have a liberal political bent; from John Steinbeck to Robert Redford, from Barbara Kingsolver to George Clooney, I suppose this is so. But J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century whose epic books have been made into some of the most popular films of our time, was a classic Roman Catholic conservative. Indeed, he often described himself as a hobbit “in all but size” and was, as this new book winsomely explains,...


Seeking Just Lending Practices

By Stephen K. Reeves January 12, 2014    This article is the first installment in a two-part series. An estimated twelve million Americans take out a payday loan every year. In recent years, small-dollar lending has ballooned into a multi-billion dollar industry, aided by a systematic and deliberate dismantling or avoidance of traditional usury laws that has allowed this exponential growth. The result is an industry built not on expensive loans given to risky borrowers, but on the creation of previously illegal loan products designed to act as debt traps for working Americans desperately trying to make ends meet. As widespread as the practice is, many do not understand how these products work, particularly those who will never need such a loan. Twenty-five years ago, the storefront payday lender was essentially nonexistent; current industry members trace their heritage back only to the early 1990s. At present,...


Faith-Based Organizations Responding to Ebola

By Anne Peterson January 12, 2015   In October, I visited Liberia and Sierra Leone to conduct an assessment for World Vision of the faith-based response to the Ebola outbreak. My task was to determine what faith-based organizations were doing, what they and their communities could be doing, and how they could be better integrated with the US government Ebola response.  The spread of Ebola has drastically changed everyday life for those living in Liberia and Sierra Leone. People do not shake hands or touch in greeting. As I stood in a church in Liberia, surrounded by children, I had difficulty resisting the urge to hold the children or touch their hands in greeting. Businesses are closed, school is not in session, and half of children are kept at home without school or social outlet. The usual gregarious and joyful African spirit I had experienced here in the past...


Unquotable Quotes

By Aaron Belz January 12, 2015   Al Gore recently made minor headlines by incorporating poetry into a speech at the United Nations Climate Summit in Lima, Peru. The Daily Caller reported that Gore had “recited” poetry, the Washington Times that he’d “gotten lyrical”—when in fact he’d merely quoted three poets. The selection was topical, each passage proclaiming the virtue of continuing to forge ahead where no trail has yet been blazed: Hope is a path on the mountainside. At first there is no path. But then there are people passing that way. And there is a path. –Lu Xun   Traveler, there is no path. You must make the path as you...


Blessed Complexity

By William Edgar January 12, 2015   As we enter this new year, we should remember that the heart of the gospel is simple. It can be put several ways, and never better than John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (ESV)” Intellectualism has often plagued the church. Academic theologians like me have a way of making simple matters needlessly complicated. Instead of “sins of the mind” we say “the noëtic effects of sin.” Instead of “the end” we say “eschatology.” Instead of “the study of salvation” we say “soteriology.” I recently read a blog which made a plea to get back to the simplicity of the gospel and away from things that muddle it up--denominations, complex arguments about evil, apparent contradictions in the Bible. Isn’t this church sign appealing, “God said it; I believe it; That settles it.”? ...


An Important Year for Religious Liberty

By Timothy Sherratt January 5, 2015   The place of religion in public life drew mixed messages in 2014. In Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores, arguably this year’s most important decision, the Supreme Court found that the owners of a “closely held” for-profit company cannot be required to set aside their religious convictions in deference to a government mandate to provide contraceptive services to employees. In its decision, the Court’s majority stressed the unconstitutional burden this would impose on religious liberty. On the question of abortion and contraception, the courts proved willing to uphold the legislative framework created to secure religious liberty two decades ago—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). When the issue was sexuality, however, RFRA was deemed much more controversial. In April, the Supreme Court let stand a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling that a Christian photographer’s...


A New Year for Congress

By Amy E. Black and Kira Dittman January 5, 2015   As we ring in 2015 and look ahead to a new year, many of us will make (and later break?) New Year’s resolutions. Likely no one is in greater need of a fresh start than the new Congress that will be sworn in this month. Congressional approval ratings are at near-record lows, and the institution and its leaders are the constant brunt of jokes on social media and late-night comedy shows. But is it true, as President Obama and others have criticized, that the outgoing Congress has been the “least productive Congress in modern history”? Yes, if we measure productivity by number of laws enacted. The 113th Congress (2013-2014) is projected to enact fewer laws than any Congress since at least 1973, the year govtrack.us began keeping such records. The pattern follows a general downward trend in congressional productivity: 772 laws were enacted during...


The Power and Principle of Nonviolent Protest

  By Harold Dean Trulear January 5, 2015   "You cannot fight a war in the name of the Prince of Peace!" This apocryphal statement is attributed to Bishop Charles Harrison Mason, founder of North America's largest Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God in Christ, upon word that Kaiser Wilhelm prayed for his troops as they entered into World War I. Recent attacks on police combine with police shootings of civilians to paint a picture of communities and police at war with one another. We are not at war. War, by definition, requires adversaries. But police and communities are not adversaries. The killing of New York City police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjien Liu points to an adversarial relationship to police. The protestors who responded to the killing of an armed black teen in a...


Christians: Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

By James W. Skillen January 5, 2015   This edited version of James Skillen’s essay, originally published in 1987, offers a timeless exhortation for this new year to “give public evidence of a selfless concern for justice.” The May 25, 1987 issue of Time magazine portrayed the United States as undergoing a grave ethical crisis. Some dismiss such alarmist rhetoric as inappropriate for a weekly secular news magazine. Others say our society’s sick condition is much worse than imagined—that the United States is under severe judgment. What do news stories revealing sexual immorality in the televangelism world, deception among top appointed political officials, and unethical trading on Wall Street tell us? Beyond the questions of personal misbehavior lie numerous additional problems of serious national concern. Will we ever put the destructive drug culture behind us? Are the schools...


The Limits of European Unity

By David Koyzis December 22, 2014   World War II had been over for only six years, and Europe was a shadow of what it had been four decades earlier. Its people were exhausted by the effects of two world wars that had laid waste to large swaths of the old continent. Millions of people had lost their lives, and millions of survivors continued to suffer from physical infirmities caused by the conflict. Entire peoples were uprooted from their homelands and sent packing because they happened to find themselves on the wrong side of the new borders. Could Europe ever recover from these apocalyptic events? In 1951, six European countries – France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries – began to do so by forming the world’s first supranational organization, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which secured a common market in these...


Torture, Ethics, and the Law

By Steven E. Meyer December 22, 2014   Earlier this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee published the results of a five-year long investigation of interrogation programs employed by the CIA during the years immediately after September 11, 2001. The report is more than 6,700 pages long, and while most of it is classified, the executive summary—which is itself over 500 pages--is unclassified. The report paints a detailed, grizzly, often disturbing picture of what the program’s detractors call “torture” and its supporters describe as “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT). Two major issues divide the proponents and opponents of the interrogation programs. First, has any useful actionable intelligence been received as the result of these programs? Second, were these programs really torture or were they truly EIT? Both issues have shaped up to be a zero sum game, with neither side willing to concede ground to the...


Corruption and Transparency: Who the Data Revolution is Forgetting

By Jenny Hyde December 22, 2015   Corruption reporting websites are gaining popularity. In India, ipaidabribe.com lets users report when, where, and under what circumstances they paid a bribe throughout their day. In the Philippines, citizens can upload data on the condition of services and facilities in their public schools to checkmyschool.org. While the contexts for these websites vary, they all share a common goal: allowing cases of corruption to go public. Corruption is a very real problem that hinders the potential of social programs and civil society groups in every country. Corruption reporting websites, despite their limits, get to the heart of the problem. The data revolution has, for better or for worse, changed the way we look at civic participation. If there’s...


A Christmas Reflection for Ordinary People

By Roy Clouser December 22, 2014   Perhaps it’s a sign of my age, but every year I find the Christmas story more emotionally powerful than the year before. To be sure, its celebration has been grossly commercialized, cheapened by over- decoration, slickly packaged for movies and TV, and even declared illegal in government buildings. And it’s often been badly eclipsed by the charming nineteenth-century fairy story a New England father wrote for his children about Saint Nicholas. But, at least so far, it hasn’t been completely stifled. Just when it seems about to be replaced by its own trappings, the real story shines through again: a section of The Messiah on the radio, the words of a carol in a shopping mall, a picture on a greeting card, or Linus’s moving recital of Luke 2 in A Charlie Brown Christmas. What has struck me recently harder than ever before is how the central characters of the story are such...


Can a Nuclear State be a Just State?

By Robert J. Joustra December 15, 2014   Nuclear weapons are a scourge, but so far the position of western Christian social and political thought has been largely to default on their possession as a necessary evil. They’re the kind of thing in a perfect world we’d all rather be without, but in this one we may just need. That was the refrain from the P5 states that showed up to the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons last week: we all share a vision for a world free from nuclear terror, but in the interim, “minimum credible deterrence” combined with a “no first use” policy provides an environment of international security and stability. This is a powerful and persuasive position, one which rejects absolutely the use of nuclear weapons, but provisionally accepts their existence and possession as deterrents and stabilizers. I am, however, increasingly convinced it is wrong on...


Clergy and Millennials Pursuing Justice in Ferguson

By Harold Dean Trulear December 15, 2014   A recent trip to Ferguson, MO gave me and some forty religious leaders an opportunity to reflect on the integration of spiritual development and social justice. Organized by Sojourners, members of the Faith Table retreat interacted with local religious and civic leaders, and heard (with head and heart) their ongoing responses to the killing of Michael Brown, Jr. and the local grand jury’s failure to indict the officer who shot him. Although TV cameras have focused on the violent responses, those with whom we met had been peacefully protesting and even putting themselves in harm’s way to dissuade others whose anger boiled over to violence. They have discovered that the issues they face go beyond just the killing itself. While all are clear that an unarmed black teenager should not have been killed, the incident is being viewed through the...


Civil Discourse and Principled Pluralism on University Campuses

By Chelsea Langston December 15, 2014   Local chapters of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a well-known and long-established student ministry, have lost their official student group status at the twenty-three campuses of California State University. This evangelical Christian student organization, international in nature and present in the United States since 1941, espouses a leadership policy analogous to virtually all student affinity organizations in any college or university in the United States. InterVarsity requires its leaders to follow the basic belief system and viewpoint that it puts forward, which in this case, are the tenets of the Christian faith.   The California State University system, with its 447,000 students, claims that InterVarsity’s requirement that its leaders reflect the beliefs and mission of the organization contradicts the university’s nondiscrimination policy. This policy mandates that the...


“Fierce Convictions”

By Byron Borger December 15, 2014   Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More – Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. Karen Swallow Prior (Nelson; 2014) $24.99   The Center for Public Justice holds two important and complementary convictions that may appear to be in tension. First, as faithful Christians, we must develop a coherent view of the task of the state, which subsequently shapes our role as citizens. As such, CPJ has a distinctive political voice. A second pillar of our perspective, however, is that not all of life, not even all of civic life, is particularly political. While we want a robust, positive view of government, and we long to see more Christian citizens wisely relate faith and politics, we know that most social problems are not the sort that the government can solve.  Historically, CPJ has taken its cues from the religious and social renewal brought...


Judicial Action and Marriage Inequality

By Stanley Carlson-Thies December 8, 2014 In October, by choosing to let stand the decisions of various federal appeals courts, the US Supreme Court in effect legalized same-sex marriage in eleven additional states, bringing the total (then) to thirty. Advocates of such marriages celebrated while defenders of the historic definition of marriage were puzzled and disappointed by the Court’s inaction. Neither side pointed out that when same-sex marriage arrives by judicial decisions (and non-decisions), it hardly institutes marriage “equality.” Instead, such judicial action creates a legal environment and climate of opinion in which proponents of same-sex marriage triumph over those who hold that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. How so? When the official definition of marriage changes to include same-sex couples along with opposite-sex couples, the government requirement of nondiscrimination (in employment, housing, the provision of services, the renting of...


Protest Psalms

By Greg Ayers December 8, 2014 Does protest music matter to Christians? In an age in which a Republican congressman cites a progressive rap-metal group as his favorite band and contemporary protest songs seem to pale in comparison to their forebears, it’s a question being asked a lot. As it turns out, Christianity and protest music have a long history, with the Psalms being an early example. In Psalm 137, the author laments the ancient Israelites’ Babylonian captivity and pours out his revenge fantasies to God: O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! (Psalm 137:8-9, ESV) This Psalm and others like it, be they laments or expressions of doubt, are protests against the hard realities of a sin-stricken world. Psalm 88 is another good example, with the author...


Christmas Schmaltz

By William Edgar December 8, 2014 I love going to my local barber shop. Not the tedious haircut part, but the conversations. It’s really a social center, where both customers and barbers share the latest about our local sports teams (usually losing ones – we’re in Philadelphia!), whose children are not enjoying school, vacation plans to the Caribbean, where to get firewood, and much more. One of the barbers is from Italy and I try to practice my rusty Italian and talk about the old country with her. There is always background music from the local cable television, which sometimes elicits a lively debate about what to like and what to dislike in the latest pop songs and the singers. It is such a different world from the academic environment I inhabit, and I love it. Just before Thanksgiving, I was in there and Christmas music was already playing. Well, it was the music played around Christmas time. The songs were the usual: “Santa Claus Is...


Native American Education: One (Mostly) Successful Story

By Ron Polinder December 8, 2014 Ben Gibson’s Capital Commentary articles these past months regarding Native American education have been instructive and, may I say, sadly familiar. Ben spent two years of his life immersed in one of the greatest educational challenges of our time. Native education around the country, even continent, remains a grim story. We hear talk about failing inner city schools—just add “inner city and reservation schools” and you get the picture. The story of Rehoboth Christian School in Gallup, New Mexico offers some hope. Rehoboth was started in 1903 by the Christian Reformed Church to serve Navajo and Zuni children. Rehoboth was one of a number of mission schools (three others were started by the Methodists in Farmington, NM, the Presbyterians in Ganado, AZ, the Roman Catholics in St. Michaels, AZ) that did most of the early...


Governing After the Midterms: Intransigence or Productivity?

By Timothy Sherratt December 1, 2014   Despite the strong reactions to President Obama’s decision to take unilateral action on immigration, government will survive the dire forecasts of its reduction to executive diktat. The pull of 2016 and the Republican leadership’s successful resistance to the party’s right wing, together with the spoils of victory and a scarcity of realistic options for responding to the president’s action, should combine to prevent a major conflict between Congress and the White House. Some fruitful policy making may even result. Given six years of quasi-gridlock, the midterm results did not make President Obama a lame duck. They may even have liberated him from those in his own party less willing to reach across the aisle. The president’s unilateral action on immigration did not diminish the...


What Does it Mean to Enforce the Rule of Law for Undocumented Immigrants?

By Stephanie Summers December 1, 2014   On November 20, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration, which were initially met with joy or derision. Loud denouncements of the president’s intentions quickly followed. Many immigration reform advocates stated that the president was doing too little to protect immigrants from deportation. Many members of Congress addressed the means, but not the substance, of the proposed actions, saying that the president had gone beyond constitutional limitations. The president, for his part, responded to his critics with an exhortation to members of Congress to “pass a bill” and an explanation to immigration reform advocates about why certain actions were undertaken, but not others. Some members of Congress responded with numerous ideas having little to do with providing needed reforms to the nation’s immigration system. As Christian citizens committed to public...


Law and Violence

By John Inazu December 1, 2014   The most important thing I learned in law school was that the law is violent. In the unforgettable words of Robert Cover: “Legal interpretation takes place on a field of pain and death.” Lawyers, judges, politicians, and police officers—and grand juries—don’t interpret poetry. They interpret laws and facts. And those interpretations have consequences. As Cover notes: “When interpreters have finished their work, they frequently leave behind victims whose lives have been torn apart by these organized, social practices of violence.” Legal interpretations pronounce guilt, deny custody, demand payments, and destroy lives. These are violent acts. The grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson was a violent act. Like many acts of legal interpretation, it confronted two different narratives, two different claims of truth...


The Role of Young Alumni in Closing the Graduation Gap

By Roy Chan December 1, 2014   In the last ten years, the college completion agenda has defined both national and state policy discussions in American higher education. Notably, many colleges and universities have acknowledged the importance of increasing student access and completion rates. Higher education is the gateway to upward mobility, and one of the most serious challenges facing post-secondary education is the number of low-income students leaving college before graduation. Approximately 56 percent of students who start a four-year degree graduate within six years. At the same time, less than 30 percent of students who start two-year community colleges will graduate with their...


Living and Dying

By Stephen V. Monsma November 24, 2014   On November 1, Brittany Maynard, a 29-year old woman and wife with a terminal brain tumor, committed suicide with the drugs legally prescribed by an Oregon physician. Before her suicide, she recorded a video in which she explained why she chose this course. It has been viewed by millions on YouTube and has raised the issue of whether our laws should allow doctors to help terminally ill persons take their own lives. Three states—Oregon, Washington, and Vermont—already allow physician-assisted suicide. Others are considering such laws, and advocacy organizations are pushing hard for their passage. So how does a Christian understanding of persons, human society, and the God-given, justice-seeking role of governments inform our reaction to Maynard’s suicide and the issues it raises? Certainly, we must consider what level of care should be available to a person when...


Transformative Justice in Ferguson

By Mikael Pelz November 24, 2014   As our nation waits for the grand jury's decision on the shooting death of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, we will find no shortage of views on what justice demands in this and similar situations of racial divisions. In one obvious respect, justice in Ferguson could mean the conviction of the white officer who shot this black teenager. This is a determination based on the facts of this case, which may be emblematic but separate from the larger question of racial justice for all. A charge or no charge in this case, as symbolic as both might be and as much relief as it would provide those aggrieved by this tragedy, will not likely lead to a systematic change in how Ferguson or any other city addresses racial relations. In any case, justice should not stop here. This moment requires larger societal transformation.  The greatest danger at this juncture...


Patriotism, Personal Ambition, and “Foxcatcher”

By Josh Larsen November 24, 2014   Truth is darker than fiction in Foxcatcher, a dramatization of the real-life relationship between millionaire philanthropist John du Pont and Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, who was sponsored by du Pont in a bid for glory at the 1988 games in Seoul. Although the movie lays the doom and gloom on a bit thickly and is undermined by Steve Carell’s exaggerated performance as du Pont, it does explore what happens when patriotism becomes co-opted for other purposes. According to the movie, du Pont’s motivation for putting his considerable resources behind the United States wrestling team is twofold and somewhat at odds. On the one hand, he sees it as a way of separating himself from his family’s legacy of competitive horse training. On the other, he’s somewhat obsessed with his family’s place in American history and sees his sponsorship as an expression of extreme patriotism....


Public Justice and Education in Indian Country (3)

By Ben Gibson November 24, 2014   [This article is the third installment in a series on education in Indian Country.] The two previous articles in this series discussed the main challenges facing schools on Native American reservations and highlighted the perspectives of a Native teacher and student reflecting on the particular strengths and obstacles present in Indian education. These pieces were intended to provide a background and context for understanding the unique challenges of working toward public justice in Indian Country. In addressing potential solutions in this final piece, I hope to communicate two conjoined realities: solutions will not present themselves in quick fixes, yet the ingredients for constructive change are already present on reservations across the country. In his book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, James Davison...


Enlarging Our Understanding of Institutional Religious Freedom

By Stephanie Summers November 17, 2014   Recently, I participated in a small meeting with a delegation of evangelical leaders visiting the United States. These leaders represented many of the traditionally marginalized Christian denominations in their nation, which has in recent years undergone substantial changes in the posture of its political leaders towards religious freedom. One facet of this change has been an increase in visa restrictions, such that many foreign nationals who have served alongside nationals in ministry for years will no longer be eligible to return. With significant implications for international ministries and organizations, this change will effectively sideline many of the groups in the country providing the most aid to the poor and marginalized, regardless of the faith commitments, or lack thereof, of the people being served. Yet when asked directly about this change in their religious freedom landscape,...


A Post-Election Opportunity for Perspective

By Vincent Bacote November 17, 2014   One consistent theme in the aftermath of the recent election is the triumph of Republicans and the significant losses for Democrats, complete with bragging rights and counter narratives. For many people, these party affiliations are a significant aspect of their identity, operating as emblems of their personal convictions and public commitments. These are often indicative of religious commitments as well, sometimes to the point that one’s fidelity to Christ can come under suspicion if you are for the “wrong” party.  What happens when we put these political labels in tension with some dimensions of Christian identity that we find in Scripture? For example, how does the Bible’s proclamation that we are created in the image of God factor into our perspective? This is an important question because this aspect of identity has implications not only for our self-concept, but also for our...


“Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption”

By Byron Borger November 17, 2014   Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau; 2014) $28.00 There is no more compelling way to be introduced to the painful realities of our land than through the study of racially charged mass incarceration and the unequal treatment of poor people by the criminal justice system. It is crucial for our understanding of the need for greater public justice and how legal practices and complex cultural attitudes about poverty and race in the United States too often subvert “liberty and justice for all.” We can learn much from the experiences of those courageous lawyers who toil over legal details at low wages as they serve in legal aid clinics to help the under-represented get a fair hearing in court. In such a world, even stalwart conservatives like the late Charles Colson have spoken out against the death penalty, showing...


The Fall of the Wall

By Steven E. Meyer November 17, 2014   The Berlin Wall fell twenty-five years ago this month. In November 1989, I was the chief of the East German branch at the CIA and was privileged to be in Berlin when the wall came down. Like thousands of others, I took a hammer and pounded on the wall much of the night. I still use a piece of the wall as a paper weight today. Celebrations of this anniversary were capped last week with huge crowds swirling through the city, singing, drinking, and dancing. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev—treated as a hero in Germany and a traitor in Russia--attended the ceremonies.  The wall was built in 1961 to keep East Germans from fleeing to the west. Upon completion, it was ninety-seven miles long, with twenty-seven miles of the wall constructed in the city itself, and seventy miles of the wall zigzagging through the surrounding countryside. Its existence was more than a symbol of the...


Neither Utopia Nor Indifference

By William Edgar November 10, 2014   The realist theologian Reinhold Niebuhr famously said “Democracy is finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems.” During the “Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s, various evangelicals, including Francis Schaeffer, thought there was a new window of opportunity for Christians in politics. Accordingly, various conservative individuals ran for election, and various organizations were created for the purpose of raising consciousness and lobbying politicians and school boards. The best known of these was Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, founded in 1979. Pat Robertson famously asked simply for “a place at the table.” And several evangelicals were indeed elected. The Republican Party, usually the party of choice, courted the New Christian Right (NCR), which often gave them the support they needed in order to stay in power. The title of a conference in 1990, followed by a publication, best expressed...


Memorization

By Aaron Belz November 10, 2014   What could English spoken-word poet John Cooper Clarke and recently appointed Chief Whip of the Conservative Party, the Rt. Hon. Michael Gove MP, have in common? Besides both being incredibly British, they are, as one might suspect, almost entirely different creatures. Clarke’s career began in the legendary British punk scene of the 1970s. His poems—often caustic and funny, delivered rapid-fire into a microphone—depict tough street life, drug use, and sexual activity in a mode perhaps reminiscent of Tom Waits. That is to say, Clarke’s“honest and outlandish rhymes” embrace the counterculture in an over-the-top, romantic way. And he’s had a great deal of success: he has...


The Local Church: A Place of Compassion in the Syrian Crisis

By Rupen Das November 10, 2014   In the “fog of war” in Syria, it is very easy to miss the small signs of hope in the midst of the evil. One of these signs is the role that many local Arab churches have assumed during the Syrian civil war. As the Syrian crisis developed and spilled into Lebanon over the past three years, the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD) decided to respond to the unfolding humanitarian crisis. As a church-based agency, it has worked to empower local churches inside Syria and in Lebanon to reach beyond their comfort zones and social boundaries to help those in need. This is a story of reconciliation that has not yet been told. Syria had occupied Lebanon for twenty years and every Lebanese family has stories of their homes being destroyed, family members killed, imprisoned, and tortured, and the country systematically ruined. The decision by a...


Barriers to Higher Education for Low-Income Students

By Hilary Yancey November 10, 2014   A college education provides a particular kind of benefit for low-income students. It’s an access point that doesn’t, at least on its face, require more than the hard work, grit, and intelligence to successfully enroll and persist. But only about one in ten people from low-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age twenty-five, compared with nearly half of people from middle-income families. The introduction to a White House report on higher education and low-income students states, “The benefits of post-secondary education are well documented and have major implications for economic growth, equality, and social mobility. Getting a post-secondary credential leads to greater lifetime earnings, lower unemployment, and lower...


“Boring” Election, High Stakes

By Timothy Sherratt November 3, 2014   Tomorrow’s elections may cap what David Brooks called the most boring campaign he could remember. But they reflect truly enough a society in flux, divided on what it should ask government to do and unsure about government’s capacity to deliver. With no presidential candidates running, the expected electorate will be smaller, but also older and whiter, a modest boon for Republicans, who look set to reap modest gains. Those gains may give the G.O.P. control of the Senate and thus the entire Congress. They do not otherwise suggest a vote of confidence in the Republicans’ approach to governing. “Boring” may prove to be a relative term and even a welcome one, given the kinds of issues that have fueled polarized politics over many electoral cycles. In 2014, contentious social issues are driving the campaign in few races. Tea Party groups appear muted or lack candidates of their...


Instruction vs. Education

By Charles Glenn November 3, 2014   A distinction exists between instruction and education, one that is enforced more clearly in French, Italian, or Spanish than in English. Instruction refers to teaching of the skills and knowledge essential to successful participation in a particular society and economy; it typically occurs in schools and in workplaces. Education refers to development of the person, his or her character and loyalties, everything required to be a decent human being, family member, neighbor, and citizen. Education also occurs in schools, but begins in the family and is commonly sustained by voluntary associations, typically religious or cultural. In any society characterized by very significant cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity, the instructional and educational missions of schools pose distinct policy challenges. Government appropriately sets standards for the outcomes – though not...


Abortion Regulations and Public Justice

By Clarke Cochran November 3, 2014   Last month, the US Supreme Court stayed a federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that upheld new Texas regulations mandating that abortion facilities must comply with health and safety codes applicable to ambulatory surgery centers. Other similar regulations, enacted up until now by about half of the states, also require physicians who perform abortions in their own offices or in separate abortion facilities to have admitting privileges at a local hospital or an admitting agreement with a physician possessing privileges. Most abortion providers traditionally have not met these requirements. In states with such laws, the number of abortion providers and abortion facilities has declined, in some cases dramatically.  These laws have created intense controversy. As the challenged clinics remain open until a final decision, it is worthwhile to consider these regulations from a public...


Changing the Currency of Rural Poverty

By Annelise Jolley November 3, 2014 Many farmers in rural areas of the world depend for their survival on what they grow from their land. Although they earn a small amount of money selling produce at local markets, they have nowhere to save their income. Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) are an innovative approach to microfinance that provides structure for the rural poor to save their money and easily access loans. Instead of walking to the nearest bank, which could take hours, rural families can save in a community VSLA group. If they need a loan – to pay for children’s school fees or farm improvements – they can access one safely without fear of loan sharks. Convenient, safe, and self-sustaining, the VSLA may just be the secret to tackling rural poverty. Simply put, a VSLA is a group of people who pool their money and take out small loans from shared savings. Developed by CARE International, the VSLA model lends a new layer...


Freedom as Authority

By David Koyzis   October 27, 2014   More than half a century ago, Roman Catholic philosopher Yves René Simon observed that authority has come to have a bad reputation in the modern world. Our western societies value personal freedom so highly that any intervention by an authority outside our own wills is deemed an imposition at best and outright oppression at worst. The French Revolution of 1789, perhaps more than any other event in recent history, has implanted in western consciousness the myth of the heroic popular revolt against oppressive authority. So thoroughly did the Revolution succeed in this that the default position for many of us today is to be suspicious of authority’s claims from the outset, whatever their content. The cultural shifts of the 1960s further exacerbated this...


The Church’s Role in Education

By Mackenzie Harmon October 27, 2014   Christian traditions vary widely in their views of church involvement in government-run schools. The Bible does not speak directly to the issue of church interaction with schools, and different church communities can legitimately draw different conclusions from faithful study of Scripture. However, churches should take into account basic guidelines for engagement with schools. In identifying those basic guidelines, the focus here will be on these roles as they relate to government-run schools. Determining just guidelines for church-school relationships requires that we must draw distinctions between Christians as the church and Christians as citizens, as well as between the church as an institution and the church as a body. These distinctions allow us to determine just guidelines for church-school relationships. Each manifestation of the church is called to play different roles. Each one...


The European Union at a Crossroads?

By Alice-Catherine Carls October 27, 2014   The making of Europe has taken a long century. When World War I broke out in 1914, the fighting was less about competition for land in Europe proper than about access to Central Asia’s lands, resources, and commercial routes. One century later, this competition looks eerily similar, but it is now overt, and the stakes are considerably higher. Between Gavrilo Princip the assassin in 1914 to Gavrilo Princip the hero in 2014, from the Pale of Settlement in 1914 to resurgent anti-Semitism in 2014, from the search for oil in Mesopotamia in 1914 to the dependence on Russian natural gas in 2014, from the first colonial soldiers dying in France for the Allied cause during the Great War to continued Muslim immigration, from the creation of the “Middle East” in 1918 to its collapse in 2014, Europe has had to constantly renegotiate its geographic, economic, cultural, and religious boundaries. It has...


Study Abroad and Health Professions Education

Study Abroad and Health Professions Education By Jessica Ventura October 27, 2010   Four years ago, I created a course for pre-health profession students at Gordon College. Most of these students have grown up in the US health care system and will go on to be educated in that mindset. My goal was for them to spend time abroad getting a taste of what health care means to the 80 percent of the world’s population living in developing countries [1]. Study abroad is largely absent from physical and life sciences programs. Whereas 19 percent of social science students participated in overseas programs in 2012, only 8.4 percent of science and 3.8 percent of health professions students did the same. And only eight of the top twenty-five destinations where US students study abroad are developing countries. So we traveled to Copan, Honduras...


ISIL and the International System

By Paul S. Rowe October 20, 2014   The US decision to lead an Arab coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in northern Syria and Iraq and the month-long ISIL siege of the Syrian Kurdish  town of Kobani have seized the attention of the world. Media interest fastens on the dramatic successes of ISIL and its lauded brutality. And certainly ISIL trades on the reputation it has developed over the past few months as a group too violent and radical even to be allied with al- Qaeda. But beyond the violence and disorder fomented by ISIS, there is a deeper reason why the international community must view it as a threat. When the militant Islamic State movement invaded northern Iraq in the middle of June 2014 and declared that it had restored the age-old Islamic caliphate, it instantly became more than a threat to the Syrian and Iraqi governments. Up until that time, it was a leading faction in the civil...


“Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith”

By Byron Borger October 20, 2014   Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson, Soong-Chan Rah (Zondervan; 2014) $22.99 Perhaps you have seen that Facebook cartoon showing an indigenous First Nations person musing, “Speaking of bringing deadly diseases to our shores…” The cartoon intends to remind us, in the midst of the fear over the Ebola crisis, that white Europeans have wreaked havoc on local populations in the past, and that the horrific impact was only matched by the gross malfeasance. It is appalling to think about the intentional genocidal decimation of whole populations and the later abuses in North America such as the Trail of Tears, the sins of Kit Carson, the dubious treaties signed and broken, and the injustices of Native American schools and reservation policies. Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith...


Public Justice and Education in Indian Country (2)

Public Justice and Education in Indian Country (2) By Ben Gibson October 20, 2014 This article is the second installment in a series on education in Indian Country.   The first article in this series discussed how schools on Native American reservations struggle to meet just standards of education due to the distorted power dynamic between the federal government and local tribes. As a result, situations that are far more practically, historically, and culturally complex than the government acknowledges are met with improper and inadequate policies. In approaching Native education, there has been a...


When Water Poverty Hits Home

By George McGraw October 20, 2014 Imagine for a moment, turning on your kitchen tap and nothing comes out. When you visit the bathroom, the same thing. You even try your garden hose before realizing that your neighbors don't have water either. Twelve hours later, the water still hasn’t come on. Three months later, no change. There’s no utility company to call, no National Guard to intervene… just the pervasive feeling of powerlessness and disbelief. You thought that spending hours a day collecting water was something only rural Africans worried about. Suddenly, water poverty hits much closer to home.  Not too long ago, the people in Tulare County, CA would have dismissed this thought experiment as a distant nightmare. But today, over 1000 of Tulare’s 7300 residents rely on...


Learning from the French

By William Edgar October 13, 2014   New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote recently about a revealing incident. Cohen loves France and owns a house in an old village there, one that he was planning to sell. When the real estate agent came in to talk business, she carefully looked around at various parts of the house and proceeded to tell him with passion that he must not sell. “This is a family home. You know it the moment you step in. You sense it in the walls… This is a house you must keep for your children…” How often would you hear “Don’t sell!” from an American realtor? Why would this woman turn down a potentially tidy commission for selling this property? Cohen called this a “cultural moment.” Simply put, French people have emotional intuitions coming from the soil that trump economic...


Marilynne Robinson’s America

By Aaron Belz October 13, 2014   Is Jonathan Edwards, as Marilynne Robinson called him in NYT Magazine last week, a “pillar”? Is she right to enshrine John Calvin as a “visionary” who admired the human mind? At first blush, they certainly don’t seem to be humanists. Calvin believed in “original sin” which he defined as “a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused through all parts of the soul, rendering us obnoxious to the Divine wrath” (Institutes II, i). Edwards, in his famous sermon, wrote, “Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the...


Why a US Counter-Terrorism Strategy to Defeat ISIL Must Include Women

By Christy Vines October 13, 2014   Though the Obama administration’s strategy for dealing with the ISIL crisis continues to attract widespread criticism and concern—some of it partisan cable news nonsense, some of it intellectually serious—there is usually a glaring analytical omission: the international gender dimension of Muslim radicalization and counter-radicalization. And though religion is now recognized as a primary framework for understanding the security issues at the nexus of these conflicts, the gendered dimensions of ISIL’s continued terror, and government responses to it, are conspicuously absent. ISIL’s war of ideas has now overtaken national and gender boundaries, with their ideological propaganda finding its way into the homes of women and girls worldwide. While their attempts to target girls and women usually eschews the barbaric and tragic images often witnessed in those targeting male...


Law, Politics, and Society: A Special Challenge for Christians

By James W. Skillen October 13, 2014   In his important book on religion and American politics, The Naked Public Square (Eerdmans, 1984), Richard John Neuhaus saves for his last chapter a discussion of law. In that chapter he tries to give an account of the special, authoritative character of law. When we speak of “the law,” he says, “we imply that it is something distinct from ordinary experience. It has a normative status by which we order, remedy, and judge the interactions that make up what we call ‘life’” (p.249). This “high” view of law is connected with religion, according to Neuhaus, because we experience law as a normative, binding power. The word “find” or “bound” comes from the same root as the word “religion,” namely, religare (p.250). At the same time, of course, law does not stand outside of reality. It is part of our experience, part of our moral sentiments, part of our...


Pulpit Freedom, Good News, and Public Justice

By Timothy Sherratt October 6, 2014   Last Sunday was Pulpit Freedom Sunday, initiated by the Alliance Defending Freedom. Since 2008, ADF has challenged the 1954 “Johnson Amendment” in the IRS Code prohibiting churches from intervening in election campaigns on behalf of candidates. Participating pastors were asked to “preach a sermon on a specific day discussing the intersection of the political realm with Scriptural Truth.” This event was featured in a Wall Street Journal article reporting a reversal of Americans’ aversion to “a voice for religion in politics,” which is taking the form of urging pastors to address social and political issues from the pulpit. Fueled by the perception...


Preserving Pluralism in University Student Organizations

By Chelsea Langston October 6, 2014   In college, I was involved in a University of Michigan student organization called the Detroit Partnership (The DP) which connects Detroit and the University of Michigan through mutually beneficial community partnerships. The DP’s mission states that “As a multicultural organization, we strive to raise awareness, break stereotypes, and promote social justice through our service-learning programs.” As a group, we were Jewish and Atheist and Christian and Muslim. We were gay and straight. We were of different races and ages and genders. We were vegetarian hippies and three-cheese meat-lover pizza types (which made our dinner meetings interesting). The DP leadership encouraged students get involved in the Detroit Partnership to challenge their preconceived notions of Detroit and to develop relationships with Detroit residents doing amazing things. We encouraged students to volunteer for a...


The New Climate Economy

By Rusty Pritchard October 6, 2014   The planet and its people are at war. That’s the most popular frame through which to view the issue of climate change—a frame that unites the political left and right. According to conservatives, any effort to forestall climate change threatens economic growth. The progressive view agrees at a fundamental level, seeing capitalism as the enemy of ecological sustainability. An estimated 150,000 people marched this past September in New York City to focus the world’s attention on climate change in advance of the UN Climate Summit. Not many appeared to be fans of the business community. Yet perhaps the most promising development happened prior to the march. Cutting through the narrative that pits economic growth against climate action was a report issued on the...


Why Justice Requires Educational Diversity

By Peter Mitchell October 6, 2014   Principled pluralism reminds us that humanity thrives when it embraces God-given difference rather than when it seeks to impose uniformity. Families and their children are different and diverse; we come from different cultures and countries, different neighborhoods, and different socio-economic backgrounds. We practice different religions and have different views of how children thrive in learning; all these, and more, are important dimensions of diversity. Therefore, an essential part of justice in the education system lies in its ability to promote the flourishing of the diversity that exists, rather than conformity with any one view of education, one language, one religion or one approach to education. Educational diversity is not only something governments should allow, but something they should pursue. Indeed, to fail to pursue flourishing through...


Does Religious Diversity Count?

By Stephen V. Monsma September 29, 2014   California State University (CSU) recently withdrew official recognition from the evangelical student organization, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, on all twenty-three of its campuses. InterVarsity chapters welcome all students as members, but have a policy that their student leaders must adhere to the basic beliefs of traditional, historic Christianity. InterVarsity’s derecognition means it will no longer have free or discounted access to university rooms for its meetings or other events, it cannot participate in student orientation fairs, and it must work under the onus of an organization that the university has decreed “discriminates” and is unworthy of university recognition. The end result, in the words of a Federal Court of Appeals judge in a similar case at San Diego State University, is “to marginalize in the life of the institution those activities, practices and...


Fiscal Justice for Tomorrow’s Children

By Todd P. Steen September 29, 2014   Throughout 2013, Washington was the scene of an extended battle concerning potential cuts in government spending. Because our nation was about to reach the debt ceiling, some agreement had to be reached. After several months of political theater, as well as a partial government shutdown, Congress ultimately suspended the debt ceiling and reopened government. Most people said that this was no way to run a country. The debt ceiling was criticized as archaic and unhelpful and seen as an opportunity for all sorts of political shenanigans. Americans then returned to business as usual-- the business of spending beyond our means. Since then, there has been hardly a peep about reining in government spending. Our politicians have moved on to other issues, and spending is near an all-time high. Although a midterm election is right on the horizon, it is nearly impossible to find a campaign where...


Why are We Prosecuting Sex Trafficking Victims?

By Nate Frierson September 29, 2014   Human trafficking, a form of modern day slavery, is a horrific reality in the world today. Girls, boys, men, and women are tricked, seduced, and threatened into forced servitude of different types, with the most infamous being sex slavery. Unfortunately, we don’t have many credible estimates about the true size of the problem, and a huge part of this tragedy takes place in the United States, with an estimated 20,000 children forced into prostitution by human trafficking networks each year. Human trafficking has received a great deal of publicity recently, with many groups and individuals raising awareness, in addition to law enforcement and government attempting to crack down on traffickers. A few months ago, several bills passed through the House of Representatives that were targeted at slowing human trafficking in the...


Improving Health in Ethiopia Through Partnerships with the Church

By Emily Robinson and Getahun Asres September 29, 2014   Religion, culture, and health are so closely tied that it is often difficult to decipher where one ends and the other begins. Strengthening Care Opportunities through Partnerships in Ethiopia (SCOPE) was founded as a response to this reality. The founders were spurred by the conviction to promote justice in all its forms, not the least of which is the right to access life-saving health care. With these things in mind, University Presbyterian Church (UPC) in Seattle, WA and the Global Health Department at the University of Washington (UW) reached out to the University of Gondar (UoG) and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) in Gondar, Ethiopia and a partnership was born. The prevalence of HIV in the North Gondar zone of northwest Ethiopia is twice that of the national rate. Despite access to HIV testing and treatment, participation in these services remains low. This is a...


Seeking Peace in Election Season

By Stephanie Summers September 22, 2014   This article is the third installment in a series on political campaigns and public justice. “The obvious starting point should be to heed the teaching and example of Jesus who we confess to be the Christ. We should do what he taught his followers to do: serve your neighbors in love, do justice, seek to live at peace with everyone, do not lord it over others but act as servants (Luke 9:23-27, 46-48; 22:24-32).” – James W. Skillen in The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction Scotland’s recent national referendum witnessed record-setting political participation with 97% of eligible voters registered and 85% voter turnout. This level of participation is unimaginable for most of us in the United States facing the prospect of midterm elections. Predictions of voter turnout are grim. In many...


Beyond the “Genderization” of War: Women, Religion, and the Future of Iraq

By Christy Vines September 22, 2015   The “genderization” of war is not a new phenomenon. Yet the rise of religiously motivated conflict has greatly exacerbated problems that women experience within the boundaries of war and conflict, and the Iraq crisis is exposing yet again the international community’s failure to fully understand and adequately respond to these realities. In her poignant and highly charged article on the Islamic State’s persecution and murder of Iraq’s religious minorities, Mariz Tadros, author and fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University, draws attention to the absence of a gendered framework within the growing conversations on Iraq’s religious and sectarian conflict. Over the last several months, the world has witnessed an almost unprecedented attack on the...


Starred Up’s Model Prisoner

By Josh Larsen September 22, 2014   There are, for the most part, two types of movie prisoners. One is the societal menace – think Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs or Tom Hardy’s caged animal (based on Britain’s most notorious prisoner) in Bronson. Then there are the unjustly jailed, such as Michael Fassbender’s Irish protester in Hunger or yet another real-life figure, Mandela. What’s remarkable about Starred Up, a new British prison drama available in select theaters and via online streaming, is that the movie gives us a character who is both a menace and a human being of...


Public Justice and Education in Indian Country

By Ben Gibson September 22, 2014   This article is the first installment in a series on education in Indian Country.   Before my first week of teaching high school math on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Ed Youngman Afraid of His Horses, a modern day chief and cultural leader within the school, told me “The children are sacred.” I still grapple with the significance of his statement, but I believe that such a belief is central to fulfilling broken treaties between the United States and tribes all across the country. President Obama’s historic trip this past summer to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota provides us with an opportunity to explore one of the most important issues faced by reservations today: the education of Native American children. (John Oliver...


Despair or Renaissance?

Despair or Renaissance? By William Edgar September 15, 2014   A rapid glance at events across the globe might drive us to conclude that the Grim Reaper is slowly but surely advancing, dispensing unsparing cruelty from his scythe. Does it not seem that lately we are being assaulted from every corner? Consider Vladimir Putin’s call for “statehood” for the South East, the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Beijing’s increasing restrictions on Hong Kong banking, clashes over oil in the Niger Delta, the frightening advances of ISIS, and so many more headlines of volatility. These are grim by any measure. Perhaps it is worse than we think. French sociologist Jacques Ellul often urged us to look deeper below manifestations of unrest. We mistakenly consider our civilization “quite stable and quite satisfactory, even if, and especially if, we protest against iniquity, inequality, slavery, etc…,” he...


Pluralism, Education Policy, and the Reality of Unintended Consequences

Pluralism, Education Policy, and the Reality of Unintended Consequences Kevin R. den Dulk September 15, 2014 Before his untimely death in 1993, Paul Henry, Calvin College professor, member of Congress, and namesake of the Henry Institute, left his fellow Christians with a treasure of reflections on public life.  (You can find a collection here.)  Some of it is deeply theological; some is historical or biographical.  But I am most intrigued by his clear-eyed wisdom about the nitty-gritty of policy making. His cautions, considered across the intervening twenty years, are often quite prescient. Even before the so-called culture wars had reached their full heat in the 1990s, he warned Christians against the triumphalist tendency to claim moral certainty in their policy goals and political strategies. He also insisted...


"Secular Government, Religious People"

Politics and Prose By Byron Borger September 15, 2014   Secular Government, Religious People Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle (Eerdmans; 2014) $25.00   The Center for Public Justice has long advanced certain principles to faithfully and wisely guide the just formation of public policy. Yet we must continually take up the living project of developing fresh ways to think about these principles and integrate them into our citizenship and political activism, applying them to concrete policies and proposals. While we should strive for overall consensus on principles and frameworks, we will undoubtedly disagree about the best legal and legislative route to enact these larger civic goals. One policy area that generates considerable debate and disagreement is what might broadly be called church-state relations, or, perhaps more accurately, the contours of religious...


The Past and Future of War

The Past and Future of War By Steven E. Meyer September 15, 2014   This year has been awash in publications, conferences, and memorabilia commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War-- a war that changed the world more profoundly than any other major conflict in modern history. World War I started in the Balkans, a poor backwater of Europe in the far southeastern corner of the continent. Although the Balkans was the fuse, it was not the powder keg. While the countries of the Balkans were not immune to indigenous conflict, there were very few characteristics that would have made the Balkans a logical place for a world war to begin. It was, rather, that corner of the world where the Austrian, Russian, and Ottoman Empires came together and where not only they, but Germany, Britain, and France had intense interests—not only with the three empires, but...


Christ and Crisis

By Timothy Sherratt September 8th, 2014 Entering the new academic year, I found myself reading Charles Malik’s Christ and Crisis.* Published in 1962, these seven Christian meditations on the state of the world prove surprisingly prescient now at the end of a long summer full of wretched stories of human evil in Syria and Iraq, ongoing atrocities in Nigeria, Ebola in West Africa, Russian meddling turning more deadly in Ukraine, and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Malik may not be much read today but Christians pondering the relationship between politics, economics, culture, and the Church have much to gain from consulting his writings. Lebanese diplomat extraordinaire, philosopher by training, and sometime President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, he helped shape the 1948 U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. He was well placed to appreciate the challenges of the postwar international order, and the...


Priests and Prophets in Ferguson

By Harold Dean Trulear September 8, 2014 On August 25, 2014, Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri was laid to rest. The controversy was not. On a local level, the citizens of the St. Louis area have seen historic tensions in their community exposed. On the national level, policy discussions on criminal justice abound. From policing to profiling, second chances to sentencing reform, racism to reentry, national, state, and local officials and citizens debate the state of criminal justice in America with passions revealing adversarial positions that reflect a fractured nation. We do not know exactly what happened the night Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown. Conflicting reports of Brown having surrendered and Brown having charged the officer should be settled in the courts. But they also point to a sharp divide between law enforcement and community that we cannot ignore. People are taking...


Kairos in Ferguson

By Aaron Belz September 8, 2014 On August 9, Michael Brown was shot six times on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. He was a black teenager; his killer was a white police officer. The public response, which began the same day with chants like “kill the police” and has remained vitriolic for weeks, has put this event in the same category as the Rodney King beating. How in the world are we supposed to respond? What can one begin to say about such a thing? Fourteen years ago I began teaching college rhetoric using Writing Arguments (Longman, now in its 9th edition). Since then I’ve taught the same course at different institutions using Perspectives on Argument (also Longman), Everything’s an Argument (Bedford/St. Martin’s), Inquiry: Questioning, Reading, Writing (again, Longman) and other textbooks. Some stress personal...


The Virtue of Acting Slowly

By Bradford Littlejohn September 8, 2014 In my last piece for Capital Commentary, I ended by suggesting that when it comes to foreign policy, we need to re-learn the lesson that sometimes the most responsible thing to do is to do nothing. No sooner did I write that (chiefly with the example of our debacle in Libya in mind), than the ISIS crisis escalated, drawing in US forces, as did the Ukrainian crisis, with Russian troops entering the country. Such events make the idea of “doing nothing” seem intolerable and the pressure to act irresistible. At a juncture like this, then, our leaders need to be reminded of the virtue of acting slowly, a good conservative virtue if there ever was one. Of course, this is not something generally associated with the label “conservative.” With...


One Hundred Years Later: The Psalms and the First World War

By David Koyzis August 25, 2014  Everyone knows how it all started. It was the end of June in 1914. Tensions had been building for decades among the rival European powers. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was visiting Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, when he and his wife were assassinated by a Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip. Vienna’s annexation of that province six years earlier had nearly led to war then, but now the real thing was only one month away. When the dust had cleared and the war was over four years later, some sixteen million people had died, and the world was never the same again. Ancient empires fell, with kings and emperors toppled from their thrones and exiled. Entire populations were cruelly uprooted from their homes, simply because they happened to live...


The Public Good of Public Health

By Jess Hale August 25, 2014 At a time when domestic health policy in the United States contorts itself in near violent disagreements about the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, we would do well to remember the unheralded activities of public servants who labor in the realm of traditional public health and their invaluable contributions to the common good of our society. As important as access to public or private health insurance undoubtedly is to the health of millions of Americans, so is the ministry of public health to just about every single person. The contributions of public health promotion and protection to the well-being of Americans at large and of vulnerable populations in particular constitute a vastly unappreciated public good. The common good does not have to manifest itself in high-profile political combat. Public health initiatives range from securing clean...


The Diplomacy of Wisdom: Agency of Peaceful Change

By Charles Strohmer  August 25, 2014 This is the second installment in a two-part series. “Wisdom is better than weapons of war.” Ecclesiastes 9:18 In recent decades, the strong, religious-like faith that we have placed in the state to solve all of our social problems has given political ideologies an unprecedented authority to control how these problems are defined and solved. The same is true when it comes to ideological analyses of international problems. This ideological control over foreign policy thinking painfully limits what political imaginations consider wise or foolish analysis and policy, and greatly strains the foreign relations between states with conflicting ideological checklists. In this second of two articles on wisdom and foreign policy, I want to introduce some ideas about the non-ideological nature of the agency of wisdom by considering three norms of wisdom...


Gentrification and Urban Transformation: A Local Developer’s Perspective

By Mikael Pelz August 25, 2014 This is the final installment in a four-part series. In the first article of this series, I argued that gentrification should first be evaluated based on whether changes taking place in a neighborhood successfully bridge the new with the old.[i] Changes along these lines have the potential to foster diverse and participatory communities, particularly when supported by the intentional leadership of citizens, churches, and local developers. In subsequent articles, I highlighted the active role of citizens in transforming West Greenville, South Carolina and the mission of...


Midterm Elections: Turning Battles into Opportunities

By Amy E. Black August 18, 2014 War chests. Battleground states. Armies of volunteers. Political arsenals. Military metaphors have become such common election parlance that many of us toss around these terms with little thought for their bellicose roots. In many ways, such terms are apt descriptors. Political campaigns are rough-and-tumble affairs, and most contenders end up metaphorically bloodied in the process. Opposing campaigns act as if they are at war with each other, leaving many voters feeling caught in the crossfire. As the summer draws to a close, general election campaigns will shift into high gear. Political ads will flood the airwaves, robo-calls will jam phone lines, and mailboxes will overflow with menacing postcards. What are some practical ways to prepare for the November elections...


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger August 18, 2014 DVD For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles Acton Institute (Gorilla Pictures; 2014) Ordinarily, I use this column to review books that would be of interest to ordinary citizens working for public justice, and I recommend ones that are particularly useful for forming our vision of citizenship and inspiring us to be more active in the public square. This week, I am thrilled to highlight a new DVD curriculum that has been inspired by many books.   For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles is a seven-week film series about Christian cultural engagement. It is an upbeat and colorful overview of a robust Christian worldview, rooted in the theology of the goodness and order of creation and the scope and everyday consequences of grace and redemption. Filmed...


Other Cheek Diplomacy?

By William Edgar August 18, 2014 The ongoing conflicts between Israel and Hamas, between Russia and the Supreme Council of Crimea, and in so many other places, pose the age-old question: when to be patient, and when to fight? Advocates of patience would appear to have the Sermon on the Mount on their side. In his radical restating of the Old Testament commandments, Jesus seems to reject the “eye for an eye” doctrine of retaliation in favor of nonresistance, turning the other cheek, and giving away your goods (Matt. 5:38-42). Not stopping there, he tells his hearers to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors (vv. 43-44). The renowned atheist Bertrand Russell once said that Jesus’s teaching to turn the other cheek was lovely but unworkable. Don’t go and strike the Prime Minister (no doubt a sincere Christian) on the cheek; you would find out he believed Jesus’s idea to be only figurative. Similarly, he thought “judge not...


Wisdom: The Missing Agency of Foreign Policy

By Charles Strohmer August 18, 2014  This is the first installment in a two-part series. “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” - Albert Einstein  In The Mighty and the Almighty, Madeleine Albright writes that in university she was taught that religion had no part in shaping the world of foreign policy. Hans Morgenthau, George Kennan, and Dean Acheson, she writes, theorized in almost exclusively secular terms. Religion wasn’t rational. To talk about it invited trouble and diplomats were taught not to invite trouble. “This was the understanding that guided me while I was serving as President Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of state.” Because of the events of September 11, 2001, however, “I have had to adjust the lens...


Responsibility, Power, and Irresponsible Intervention

August 11, 2014 By Bradford Littlejohn The last few weeks have seen more than their fair share of political chaos worldwide: the escalation of the Ukrainian civil war and the shocking attack on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, the lightning occupation of northern Iraq by ISIS extremists, the Israeli assault on Gaza, and the collapse of the Libyan government as the nation spirals into sectarian violence. Each of these tragedies raise pointed questions of responsibility. In what sense were Ukrainian rebels responsible...


The North Carolina Poet Laureate Question (2)

By Aaron Belz August 11, 2014 This article is the second in a two-part series. My previous column ended with the questions, “So how should we select a poet laureate? On what terms ought we accord honor to not only poets but other sorts of artists?” With truisms like “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “I may not know art, but I know what I like,” we’re prone to view art the way many Americans also view religion: It’s a personal choice. If you find something you like, good for you, and no one should try to convince you...


The Local Church: Mosaic and the Renewal of Little Rock 72204

August 11, 2014 By Mikael Pelz This article is the third installment in a series on gentrification. In the first article of this series, I argued that gentrification should first be evaluated based on whether changes taking place in a neighborhood successfully bridge the new with the old.1 Moreover, gentrification along these lines also can foster diverse and...


Welcome to Jury Duty

August 11, 2014   By Hilary Sherratt Yancey A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice.The other week I got that notice in the mail, the reminder about jury duty: “Report by 8:30 am to the Lawrence District...


Polarization, Representation and Diversity

August 4, 2014 By Timothy Sherratt  It used to be said of the polarized Congress that it misrepresented the American people themselves, who were far less divided than their elected representatives. That was true in 2004 and remains true today. But according to a recent Pew survey, the public has moved in Congress’s direction. In ten years, the numbers of consistent liberals and conservatives have jumped by a combined ten percentage points while the percentage of those with mixed views has dropped by ten, from 49 to 39 percent. Unlike some measures of Congressional polarization, there is not yet “clear blue water” between Democrats and Republicans in the population, but 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat while 94% of Democrats are to the left of...


Intelligence: A Noble Profession?

August 4, 2014 By Steven E. Meyer  When Edward Snowden went public  last year, revealing that the National Security Agency (NSA) had access to virtually every phone call made by almost anyone in the world, including the leaders of some of America’s closest allies, the role of intelligence has again become the focus of intense debate. Earlier, the “wiki leaks” operation revealed reams of classified intelligence information, and most recently the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Station Chief in Berlin was ordered to leave Germany. This is a highly unusual move, especially among allies, and signals deep anger on the part of the German government about U.S. intelligence activities.  But this is not new. Controversy has been part of intelligence since it was dubbed the “world’s second oldest profession” eons ago. The Bible recounts at least two...


Responding to the Unaccompanied Minor Crisis

August 4, 2014 By Aaron Korthuis A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an opinion piece describing the violent situation facing children in Nueva Suyapa, a neighborhood located in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The author documents murders in the street, recruiting by drug gangs in schools, death threats, and virtual imprisonment in the home. The article moved me powerfully, almost to tears. Having lived in Nueva Suyapa for two years, I am persuaded that we must offer protections to the Central American children flowing over the U.S. border as they flee life-threatening situations. Other sources also suggest that the influx of minors arriving at U.S. borders stems from humanitarian need. A report from the United Nations revealed that 58% of these children cited violence as the preeminent...


What are the Responsibilities of Teachers Unions?

By Theodore Williams III and Mackenzie Harmon July 28, 2014 When considering the right roles and responsibilities of teachers unions, it is first necessary to understand the role unions hold in a differentiated society. Unions represent diverse groups such as teachers, policemen, firefighters, hospital workers, and many others who provide vital services. Examples of this representation include collective bargaining, health and safety measures, and political activity. Unions exist for and are primarily responsible to their members. Members must have the ability to participate in the union, or to not participate, as they see fit. Because unions are involved in matters of law and because they take political action, they have additional responsibilities. Unions whose members include state employees (including most teachers) have an even greater level of public responsibility...


Pragmatic Conservation

By Rusty Pritchard July 28, 2014 I was dipping tuna casserole onto my plate at a church potluck dinner for grad students, when the man behind me asked what I studied. Tropical deforestation, I said. “I don’t understand,” he replied. “I thought you were an economist. What does economics have to do with deforestation?” My wife beat me to the reply: “Why do you think people cut down trees? Just for the fun of it?” The cognitive leap required for many people to consider the economics of the environment continues to amaze me. Asked about environmental issues, most people think about polar bears and global warming, or wilderness preservation-- not about people and their livelihoods. But a new generation of conservation scientists are hearkening back to what is actually an older form...


The Eurasian Dream and MH17

By Robert J. Joustra July 28, 2014 As I write this today, half-mast flags fly in the homes of the Dutch for the victims of the fallen Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. The Russian-supported rebels in eastern Ukraine are deep into it now, notwithstanding the inconclusive finger pointing for who pulled the trigger, and they might take Putin with them. For Putin, there is no backing down, partly because of the myth of Russia’s rising, and partly because he’s built that myth on populist, anti-Western conservatism. He is trapped in an iron cage of his own making. Keith Gessen at Foreign Affairs tells a story of flying from Moscow to New York with a drunk man talking loudly of geopolitics beside him. Gessen recalls that the man “was thrilled that Russia had seized Crimea, if only because in doing so, it had extended a big middle finger to the West.” Oh, we’ll lose, he recounted, “but what a lot of...


The North Carolina Poet Laureate Question (1)

By Aaron Belz July 28, 2014 This article is the first in a two-part series.  On July 11, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory appointed Valerie Macon to the office of state poet laureate. As Macon was unknown to almost everyone in the state, the appointment came as a general surprise, and not the good kind. It was the kind that brings out the worst in otherwise respectable, benevolent folks. “Why her?” was one repeated response. “How did this happen?” was another. “We stand for excellence,” responded the NC Writers’ Network, and Valerie Macon “does not have a body of work comparable in size or recognition to those of our past...


Artists Unite: Gentrification and the Village of West Greenville

By Mikael Pelz July 28, 2014 This article is the second installment in a series on gentrification. In the first article in this series, I called for a more balanced perspective on gentrification. Citing the work of noted scholar Sharon Zukin, I argued that gentrification should be evaluated based on whether changes taking place in a neighborhood bridge the history, landmarks, and long-time residents with modern trends, new enterprises, and recently transplanted residents. Furthermore, I proposed that gentrification along these lines can create communities that are both diverse and participatory, but only if citizens, churches, community organizations, and developers are engaged in this project. This article, which tells the story of West Greenville, South Carolina, is the first of several that apply...


Principled Personhood

By Chelsea Langston July 21, 2014  Personhood.  It is a word that evokes strong feelings about when life begins, who decides what constitutes personhood, and what the legal ramifications around personhood are. Personhood also inevitably brings up words like “dignity” and “individuals,” but often distances itself in the public conscience from “organizations.” Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that closely held corporations (such as companies owned by families) embody another element of personhood that is often overlooked. The court recognized that these family-owned businesses are, at their foundation, groups of individuals who have come together around a common goal. Sometimes, as in the case of the Green family, a family business is run by individuals of a certain faith, and that faith shapes and influences foundational aspects of their business.  At a religious freedom forum in Minnesota last October, I...


Is There a Why? Thoughts on the Holocaust

By William Edgar July 21, 2014 Seventy years ago this summer, the Nazis began the mass deportation of some 440,000 Jews from newly occupied Hungary. They had begun to realize that the coming months would bring certain defeat, and so they became more and more desperate. On January 27, 1945, the Russian army liberated Auschwitz; what the allies saw there was harrowing. The Polish government appropriately decided very shortly thereafter to turn the complex into a museum. One of the most enlightened Holocaust survivors, Primo Levi, spent much of his life reflecting on his experience at Monowitz, the third site in Auschwitz (where the teenaged Elie Wiesel was also detained). He had escaped certain extermination because his talent as a chemist led the Germans to place him in this factory as a slave laborer to produce synthetic rubber for the war effort. He then escaped the infamous death march, a last-minute attempt to hide the evidence as the...


The Ethical Conflict Underlying the Disagreements Over the Hobby Lobby Ruling

By Jason E. Summers July 21, 2014 Although discussing politics on Facebook can be perilous, I’ve found more illumination than aggravation in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision—particularly with respect to understanding the ethical issues underlying our disagreements. At root, the issue is not a conflict between a religiously motivated prohibition (deontology) and a rational process that seeks the greatest good for the most people (utilitarianism), but rather a conflict between two competing deontologies that our common utilitarian moral language is too thin to bridge. One line of dissenting argument suggests that Hobby Lobby represents a class of employers driven by a religious prohibition to deprive a significant group of women of a manifest good—an immoral privileging of the views of a few over the rights of the many. Moreover—a variant continues—the end result of the decision is provision of contraceptives by another means, which...


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger July 21, 2014 Cultural Education and History Writing Calvin G. Seerveld (Dordt College Press; 2014) $23.00 Cultural Problems in Western Society Calvin G. Seerveld (Dordt College Press; 2014) $17.00 Those familiar with the history of the Center for Public Justice will remember that a sister organization with a similar name was also started in Canada in the 1970s. One of the legendary Ontario leaders, Gerald Vandezande, was closely connected to the scholar and teacher, Dr. Calvin Seerveld. Seerveld was born in the United States and although he moved to Toronto to teach at the Institute for Christian Studies, he remained an inspiring and encouraging voice for CPJ here. Seerveld is a renowned multilingual Christian scholar, with degrees in theology and philosophy, and one of the world’s leading experts on Dutch philosophers Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven....


Hobby Lobby's Implications for Women

By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley July 14, 2014 The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. has been perceived and portrayed as another frontal assault in “the war on women.” A complex case about religious freedom has been reduced to a battle between the rights of a right-wing evangelical corporation (hardly a sympathetic petitioner in the eyes of many Americans) and the reproductive rights of women. But as some sober-minded publications have noted, such a dramatic characterization of the arguments is unwarranted, although perhaps understandable in light of the intense emotion stirred by any issue related to contraception and abortion.  In reality, whether or not you believe that making most forms of contraception effectively free will help reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion, the...


Gentrification: Building Diverse Communities?

By Mikael Pelz July 14, 2014 This article is the first installment in a series on gentrification. The word “gentrification” evokes contradictory meanings and emotions. Gentrification can refer simply to a process of transition in which an outside group of residents such as young professionals, artists, or new homeowners move into a specific neighborhood and remake it. However, this same process is frequently associated with displacement of long-term residents from different backgrounds and with fewer economic means. Because of this latter connotation, some are opposed to all forms of gentrification. But they often overlook the benefits associated with these geographic transitions and miss the fact that change is at the heart of a vital urban center. Gentrification’s benefits and losses are best evaluated when we look at specific instances where it has taken place, and when we weigh various considerations with an eye toward creating...


Employers Aren’t Generic: Hobby Lobby and Institutional Religious Freedom

By Stanley Carlson-Thies July 14, 2014 The Supreme Court ruled recently in favor of two Christian-owned companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, that object to including some contraceptive drugs and devices in their employee health plans. Churches have been exempt from the 2010 contraceptives mandate that has generated so much controversy, and after widespread protest, religious nonprofits such as colleges and hospitals were offered an “accommodation” in which the insurer provides the organization with a health plan that excludes the objectionable contraceptives; those particular contraceptives are then paid for by the insurer. The Court’s ruling and the content of its concurring and dissenting opinions raise again the complicated question of the religious freedom of institutions—a much more complex matter than the already difficult issue of honoring the religious freedom of individuals in our diverse society. In her dissent...


Civilization(s) on the Brink in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

By Josh Larsen July 14, 2014 After human experiments enhanced their intelligence, apes have escaped and established a colony in the woods outside San Francisco. The humans, most of whom have been wiped out by a virus that was also a result of those experiments, have hunkered down in a fortified remnant of the city. Does the survival of one group depend on the demise of the other? Tragedy that it is, Dawn goes even further and traces the dismantling of both societies. And like the Shakespeare it heavily draws upon (the lead chimpanzee is named Caesar for good reason), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes recognizes that downfall comes from within. Deep within. If this movie’s predecessor Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a nod to how we’ve...


Capital Punishment Revisited

By Stephen V. Monsma July 7, 2014  Capital punishment is being reconsidered today. In 2013, Maryland became the sixth state in the past six years to abolish the death penalty. Last year, a majority of the thirty-nine executions were carried out in only two states—Texas and Florida. Public support for the death penalty has dropped from 78 percent in favor of it in 1996 to 55 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, those opposed to the death penalty increased from 18 percent to 37 percent. This reconsideration has been spurred on by the findings that since 1976, some 143 persons who had been condemned to death were later exonerated, often due to DNA testing. Renewed questioning of the death penalty increased in June when Oklahoma botched the execution of Clayton Lockett. The supposedly lethal combination of drugs failed to kill Lockett, who died later of a heart attack.  In the context of this trend, I, along with...


The Unbearable Lightness of the Responsibility to Protect

By Robert J. Joustra July 7, 2014 As debates go in Canada’s Senate, there is usually very little in urgent need of reporting. But recently the resignation of a famous Canadian, retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire of the Canadian Forces, was occasion for his last speech in that chamber. He used it to remind Canada, and the world, that his fame as Major-General of UNAMIR (the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda) was earned in a terrible service, and he pled for a revival of the responsibility to protect. "I wanted to bring to your attention a subject that I consider a reality. Some consider it simply a news item. It is another one amongst some of the sadder news items that go on,...


An Economics Lesson from Hobby Lobby

By Stephanie Summers July 7, 2014 Following last Monday’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, Bloomberg View contributor Megan McArdle addressed a dozen frequently asked questions about the ruling. Her answer to “What can stop a company from arguing that it is against the owner's sincere religious beliefs to pay workers a minimum wage?” focused on the limits of the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In the face of inane questions such as “What if my employer says it has a sincere religious belief in human sacrifice -- can he kill me?”, she ironically and simply began her answer with “Yes.” McArdle also addressed “Why does the Supreme Court think corporations are people?”  Her response painted a picture of a political community where government could otherwise consistently trump...


Hobby Lobby and the Messy Face of Public Justice

By Timothy Sherratt July 7, 2014 In his opinion last week in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., Justice Samuel Alito wrote: If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price—as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would. The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby, a “closely held” for-profit company, cannot be required to provide certain contraceptive services to employees that would be in contradiction to the owning families’ religious scruples. This is a welcome ruling. It is welcome because Hobby Lobby is not a church or a religious non-profit but a for-profit company whose owners seek to practice their religion consistently in every area of...


The Affordable Care Act Becomes “Normal” Policy

By Clarke E. Cochran June 30, 2014 Although taking far longer than typical, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) finally attained “normal” status. On May 16th, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a 436-page “rule” establishing parameters for 2015 ACA implementation. There was nary a peep from the commentariat. (Though CPJ did notice and ask me to comment!) Major implementation of ACA was formerly instant fodder for political battle. The absence of uproar over this rule suggests that the ACA is now part of the permanent policy landscape, a “normal” part of the American system of health insurance. Although calls for “Repeal!” will still echo leading up to November’s balloting, the law is deeply embedded. There will certainly be significant changes, but not repeal. The goal of the HHS rule is to wrap up loose ends from the messy 2014 rollout of the Individual and Small Group Insurance Marketplaces...


A Political Campaign Worth Savoring

By Stephanie Summers June 30, 2014   This article is the second installment in a series on political campaigns and public justice. “The obvious starting point should be to heed the teaching and example of Jesus who we confess to be the Christ. We should do what he taught his followers to do: serve your neighbors in love, do justice, seek to live at peace with everyone, do not lord it over others but act as servants (Luke 9:23-27, 46-48; 22:24-32).” – James W. Skillen in The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction Christ’s lordship extends to every area of life, including political campaigns. One implication of this theological reality is that political campaigns ought to do justice. The seeming impossibility of this feels a bit like being behind schedule on a road trip and craving a nourishing meal and a good stretch. But because we need to keep going, we settle for...


The Collapse of Iraq

By Steven E. Meyer June 30, 2014   Iraq is on the verge of collapse as a unified state, and the United States has no good options to reverse the situation. The forces of the Sunni-dominated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) ultimately may not be able to —or want to— conquer the entire country, but Iraq’s problems are so deep seated that it will be virtually impossible now to stitch the country back together. The context is instructive. The Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916 between France and Britain in the concluding days of World War I constructed Iraq and other countries in the Middle East from the remnants of the collapsing Ottoman Empire. These new countries were established to serve the imperial designs of France and Britain, not the interests of local inhabitants; there was no internal logic to Iraq.  Iraq was not built as a democracy and has had little tradition and historically few institutions of...


Adoption: Redemption or Exploitation?

By Becca McBride June 30, 2014   A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice. As a Christian political scientist studying how adoption can protect the rights of vulnerable children, I have been living between two conversations about the practice. When I talk to Christians about adoption, or interact with the Christian community of orphan advocates, the conversation is about how adoption is transformative and redemptive. Adoption is a reflection of our understanding of how we have been adopted into God’s family, and as such, it communicates the Gospel. Many Christians see adoption as one of the best ways to protect...


Hunger for Justice: The Impact of the Cyprus Tragedy

By David Koyzis June 23, 2014 The contrast between justice and injustice could not have been starker. In a matter of days, they had lost everything dear to them, refugees in their own land unable to return to their homes or to the villages where they were born and grew up. All they had worked for was gone, and they had to start over again in a new place. Tourist hotels were empty and would remain so for the next four decades, and perhaps much longer. Sandy beaches were now bereft of the sunbathers who had flocked to them from all parts of Europe. This was the sorry fate of my paternal relatives in Cyprus during that tragic summer of 1974, when they found themselves caught up in a civil conflict complicated by the machinations of the surrounding states. It began with a coup d’état against President Makarios instigated by the military régime in Athens in an effort to...


Harnessing the Potential of Religion and Reform in China

By Jean Wu and Sarah Brown June 23, 2014 Over the past twenty-five years, China has transformed itself into the second largest economy in the world, urbanized over half of its population, and made significant strides in providing for the education and welfare of its citizens. Despite this progress, the problems of corruption, uneven distribution of wealth, and imbalanced governance that were present in 1989 remain an issue today. The current leadership in Beijing has taken some bold moves in addressing these problems, most notably an anti-corruption drive that has removed several high-ranking officials from their positions as well as a party-wide “Mass Line" education campaign to improve how officials respond to citizens’ needs. Nevertheless, these are...


History Is Messy

By William Edgar June 23, 2014 Or so many historians tell us. In his fascinating book The Lost History of Christianity (Harper/Collins, 2009), Philip Jenkins explores one of the mysteries of church history-- why churches die. He describes how the church in Europe and the Middle East, once thriving, basically withered. Jenkins argues that persecution is one of the main factors in the decline of a Christian presence in a particular area, as is a weak government. But we cannot always know. And there are surprises. As the European church became virtually ineffective in the twentieth century, the Christian faith witnessed tremendous growth in places such as sub-Saharan Africa. Trends and patterns are not always easy to trace. One frequent fallacy in how we interpret history is “providentialism.” In Victorian Religious Revivals (Oxford University Press, 2012), David Bebbington warns against over-zealously identifying the finger of...


A View from Za’atari Refugee Camp

By Joan Knaus June 23, 2014 Editor’s Note: June 20th marked World Refugee Day, originally established in 2000 by resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. Every year, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and civic organizations around the world commemorate World Refugee Day as a way to draw the public’s attention to the millions of refugees and internally displaced people who have fled their homes due to war, conflict, or persecution.   Responding effectively to refugee crises demands the combined effort of governments, international agencies, non-profit organizations, religious entities, and individual citizens. The public justice issues at stake are complex and are impossible to fully address without these entities working together. As the number of refugees worldwide is now the largest it has been since World War II, resources and public response are stretched and falling...


Engaging the Domestic Church over Religious Persecution

By Kevin R. den Dulk June 16, 2014  In the past few years, think tanks and advocacy groups have sounded renewed alarms about the prospects for religious freedom across the globe. The Christian church’s experience in particular has been a key trigger for their concerns. The scourge of religious persecution has arguably affected Christians disproportionately, and the situation appears to be worsening.  While North Americans face their own challenges to religious freedom, their experience of serious persecution is largely vicarious. Nearly every denomination or large non-denominational church has an outreach abroad. These international efforts in traditional evangelistic missions, development work, and media ministry entail staff and other resources in the regions a church wishes to serve. This physical presence can expose people and infrastructure...


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger June 16, 2014 Christian Political Witness edited by George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee (IVP Academic; 2014) $26.00 For more than twenty years, Wheaton College has hosted a theology conference, the presentations from which are published by InterVarsity Press. Last year’s conference focused on political theology, and the resulting book, edited by George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee, is titled Christian Political Witness. This fine volume, with tremendous, substantive chapters, is important for anyone interested in the interface of faith and politics, and particularly how Christian theology can inform our thinking about a faithful and relevant Christian political witness. While I think this is an important book and a wonderful resource, I would note a weakness: there are no (Christian) political scientists included and no one writing as a scholar of statecraft....


Fathers and Global Maternal Health

By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley June 16, 2014  Recent progress in improving global health has been partly driven by the recognition that maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, and other health challenges are formidable barriers to economic development. In 2000, the United Nations (UN) established a series of Millennium Development Goals designed to focus international efforts on the ten most critical issues hindering development, including maternal mortality, a shortage of clean water, and a lack of education. Although most of these goals will not be fully met by the target date of 2015, laudable progress has been made in many countries, reinforcing the effectiveness of such a cooperative, international approach.  But as the world, and especially the West, evaluates various public health interventions, it is important to take a step back and consider whether our well-meaning attempts to help are doing justice to the range of roles and...


Twisted National Conversation: The Boko Haram Saga

By Stephen S. Enada June 16, 2014 In April, Nigeria woke up to Boko Haram’s shocking abduction of over 270 school girls in the quiet town of Chibok, in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria. The kidnapping has pricked global conscience and generated overwhelming protests with the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign. The United States spearheaded the first phase of international support towards freeing the girls, and the United Kingdom, China, and France quickly followed in volunteering their technical and intelligence support to Nigeria to rescue the abducted girls. Sadly, our girls are still missing, and the search continues. Boko Haram (which means “Western education is abomination”) came to attention in 2009 on the heels of several religious agitations, skirmishes, and killings dating to the1960s. It renewed the long-standing push for establishing an Islamic caliphate and Sharia law in Nigeria, an ideology promoted by its late leader...


Public Justice and the Security Gap

By Timothy Sherratt June 9, 2014 On June 2nd, a particularly horrifying case of rape in northern India made headlines in major American newspapers. Two young girls were raped and murdered, their bodies left hanging in a tree. The girls were only the latest victims, not of an epidemic, but of an ingrained practice from which authorities usually look away. When the rapes were discovered, the girls’ families chose to leave their bodies as they found them to try to ensure the visibility of the crimes and the possibility of justice. At this writing, two arrests have been made, with other alleged perpetrators thought to be still at large. The same day this story broke, another caught my eye. The Anglican archbishop of Egypt, the Right Reverend Mouneer Anis, issued a brief statement in support of the election of Field Marshal Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi as the...


2014 Kuyper Lecture Response

By James W. Skillen June 9, 2014 This article is based on remarks given by James Skillen in response to the 2014 Kuyper Lecture, delivered by Victor Boutros, co-author of The Locust Effect. Victor Boutros presents a keen and urgent message: We as citizens, as well as our governments, should no longer abstract the conditions and measurements of poverty from the criminal justice institutions that are crucial for the protection of human life. Where there is little or no justice, there can be no end to poverty. Along with many others, I applaud the work of Victor Boutros and Gary Haugen and the wide network they have developed through the International Justice Mission (IJM) in fighting countless instances and modes of violence that impoverish and kill poor people around the world.  Victor emphasizes that the underlying the problem of poverty is the problem of violence against the poor. What is needed, he says, is to...


Moving Beyond the Blame Game

By Amy E. Black June 9, 2014 As Winston Churchill famously remarked, “Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In his recent book, Why Government Fails So Often: And How it Can Do Better, Yale Law School’s Peter Schuck shines a light on some significant imperfections of American democracy. His detailed exploration of domestic policy concludes that most federal programs fail basic tests of cost-benefit analysis and too rarely reach their intended targets. Politically popular programs continue, even if they consistently fall far short of meeting their stated...


Music: Where Words Leave Off

By Aaron Belz June 9, 2014  Where words leave off, music begins.” –Heinrich Heine “Words, after speech, reach / into silence.” –T. S. Eliot  “Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.” –Alphonse de Lamartine These observations are either plagiarized or so true that they’ve been formulated at least three times in almost exactly the same way. Words have a certain power, of course, but music has arguably more. While words appeal primarily to one section of the human brain, the language center, scientists have found that “Listening to Music Lights Up the Whole Brain.” After words are spoken, silence ensues, ambient sound quietly makes its presence felt, and that’s where music begins. Eliot often uses an image of silence filled with distant sounds, as in...


Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft

By Robert J. Joustra June 2, 2014 This article is based on remarks given in response to the 2014 Kuyper Lecture “Public Justice – A Matter of Life and Death for the World’s Poor” delivered by Victor Boutros, coauthor of The Locust Effect (2014). I’m a runner. To look at me you’ll know that’s a bit generous, so let’s say I’m a jogger. I’ve been jogging now for a little over five years. Where I live in Hamilton is nestled right next to an escarpment. My route takes me up “the mountain” – which is a mountain in the same way that I’m “a runner” – and back down again. About a month ago, I was running in the late afternoon when I got flagged down by another runner. I was startled. As an introvert and an unattractive jogger, I like to keep to myself and to extend the same courtesy to others: namely, to firmly pretend they don’t exist. This runner stopped me, told me that he had seen me running...


Pubs and Coffeehouses: A Drinker’s Defense of Democracy

By Matthew Kaemingk June 2, 2014 “Our democracy had its origins in the local taverns of the revolutionary era.”  -     Ray Oldenburg Politicos on both the right and the left quarrel stridently over the true birthplace and soul of American democracy. The right typically lifts up either the family or the church. The left commonly points to movements for social justice and equality waged throughout American history. Both sides insist, with great vigor, that if American democracy is going to endure, these particular wellsprings of democratic life need to be remembered and revived. While I certainly agree with both sides on the considerable civic importance of families and civil rights rallies, churches and labor unions, I think both sides have tragically overlooked the value of a critical democratic institution—the neighborhood pub. I have long admired Ray...


A Telling Election

By Steven E. Meyer June 2, 2014  Last week, European voters went to the polls to elect all 751 members of the European Parliament. As expected, voters handed “mainstream” parties a resounding defeat by boosting the membership of left and right wing “fringe” parties. While far from having a majority, these parties may bring up their seat total from the twelve percent they had in the last Parliament to twenty-five percent now. The success of the fringe parties—many of whom oppose the European Union—has sent a shock through the entire system and raises their prospects in the elections for national parliaments over the next two years. Right wing parties did especially well in France (National Front), Denmark (People’s Party), the Netherlands (Party for Freedom) and Britain (where the United Kingdom Independence Party outpolled the established Conservative, Labour, and Liberal parties.) Within the next few months, the Parliament...


Godzilla, X-Men, and Rightly Remembering Tragedy

By Josh Larsen June 2, 2014 X-Men: Days of Future Past is a fairly forgettable entry in the increasingly crowded superhero canon, but there’s one element of the movie worth pondering: its multiple references to historical tragedies. Based on the Marvel comic books, the X-Men movies center on humans who have been born with a variety of superpowers, from the ability to read minds to the ability to heal wounds at a rapid rate. Dubbed mutants, they’re greeted with both fear and awe by the rest of society. As such, they’re inherently symbolic figures, easy stand-ins for any ostracized group – be it the European Jews of World War II or the African Americans of the Civil Rights Era. (The comics notably debuted in 1963.) X-Men, the first film adaptation, made this connection explicit, opening in a World War II concentration camp, where a boy prisoner with the ability to bend metal attracts the...


Mendacium Offisiosum

By William Edgar May 23, 2014 On April 30, 2014, the Don Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling was awarded to Edward J. Snowden and Laura Poitras at the National Press Club for their role in exposing a set of documents revealing widespread American government surveillance. The former intelligence officer who first sprang the leaks and the documentary journalist and film-maker who helped him obtain much of the information were cited for their work in exposing the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance of millions of people. While admitting the Snowden decision was controversial, selection committee member Danielle Brian added that this “does not diminish the fact that his exposure of NSA domestic surveillance has had an extraordinary impact on the public policy debate — we are already seeing movement in the Congress and the White House directly because of his truth-telling.” The purpose of the annual Ridenhour Prize is to...


A Curmudgeon’s Guide to The Curmudgeon’s Guide

By Robert J. Joustra May 23, 2014 Thank God for Charles Murray, an honest curmudgeon, who has broken the curmudgeon code of silence with urgent advice for today’s young and aspirational. A serious sociologist at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Murray has written bracing and original research about the state of American society. His latest, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead is essential reading for my (Millennial) generation.  The book is about the transition from college to adulthood and the unwritten rules and conventions that can vault you into success or sandbag you into obscurity. Why care what curmudgeons think? Because any person in a successful role of authority is one. They didn’t get there by accident, and neither will you. Admittedly, this short book reads at points like a laundry list of things that Murray finds obnoxious, perhaps because the average young person’s attention span doesn’t...


The Lessons and Challenges of Syria

By Steven E. Meyer May 23, 2014 The bloody conflagration in Syria is now in its third year with over 150,000 dead, more than two million refugees, an estimated nine million internally displaced people, and catastrophic destruction of the physical environment. The city of Homs, the rebel “capital,” is now in government hands, and the Assad regime seems to be winning the war. The international community remains at a loss as to what to do. The effort to negotiate an end to the conflict collapsed almost as soon as it started and Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, has resigned after two years of failed efforts at resolution. Syria is a perpetual topic for conferences, editorials, newscasts. In one recent roundtable discussion sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, a group of foreign policy experts discussed what to do about Syria. Former US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, normally a friend of military intervention,...


From the Streets to the Pews: A Story of Holistic Healing

By Emily Davisson May 23, 2014 A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice. If you asked Reverend Darrel Fiddermon to show you around Washington, DC, he would tell you that he knows the streets better at night. As a youth selling drugs, he regularly roamed the city at 3:30 a.m. Darrel was a poor young man, going to all measures just to earn some money, but eventually, the inevitable happened. He was arrested and sentenced to community service, but little did he know that those hours he spent cleaning the Central Union Mission would lead him into the most transformative time of his entire life. Thousands of people in Washington,...


A Sober Survey of the Middle East in 2014

By Paul S. Rowe May 16, 2014 I’ll admit to having some hope that change was coming to the Middle East back in 2011. The Arab Spring had set so much in motion: Egyptian President Mubarak was forced to step down, Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddhafi was defeated in the Libyan civil war, and even Syria seemed likely to see major shifts. In Turkey, the AKP government was finally wresting power away from the military that had interfered so many times over the past few decades. And violence began to decline in Iraq. Since then, there have been reversals on every front. Egypt’s first democratically elected president was ousted for his increasingly dictatorial behavior in 2013, only to have a new strongman come to power in a bid to return to an authoritarian presidency. Libya has not recovered its stability. The civil war that the Syrian government seemed likely to lose has shifted clearly in its favor. This hasn’t calmed the crisis in Lebanon over...


Reaching the Mentally Ill Millions

By Melissa Steffan May 16, 2014 A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice. More than sixty million people suffer from some kind of mental illness, from mild depression to debilitating neuroses that, left untreated, manifest in dangerous ways. Fortunately, modern treatments for many mental conditions are as effective as antibiotics or vaccines are for physical conditions. Yet nearly two-thirds of people don’t seek mental health care, even when they desperately need it. Our society has not acknowledged mental illness as a policy priority, leaving us with no comprehensive system of mental health services. Instead of recognizing mental...


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger May 16, 2014 The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames Kai Bird (Crown Publishers; 2014) $26.00 In an earlier “Politics and Prose” column, I recommended James Skillen’s new book The Good of Politics. It has gotten rave reviews, although this stiff critique from James K.A. Smith is notable. Don't miss Jonathan Chaplin’s reply to Smith. It is fascinating how one book can be perceived so differently. In this month’s review, I shift from the nature of Christian political theory to a very different book that chronicles the life of a spy. Pulitzer Prize winner Kai Bird’s...


Transforming the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Todd Deatherage May 16, 2014 Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-American, Pro-Peace. For five years, the Telos Group has been trying to live into these words and what it really means to dedicate ourselves to the common flourishing of Israelis and Palestinians.  For those who’ve long held to a traditional “pro-Israel” or a “pro-Palestine” position, our approach sounds either foolish or dangerous. We’ve been called both. And any who are skeptical or cynical about finding ways to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be forgiven; the pessimists indeed command the facts. This is a conflict that has defied solution for more than sixty-five years with too much war and violence, too much hatred, and too many missed opportunities.  And in that time, there’s a lot that has been broken that can never be restored. Lives have been lost that cannot be brought back. It would indeed be...


The Heart of the Sexual Assault Crisis

By Ryan O’Dowd May 9, 2014 Imagine this scenario: the parents discovered severe cuts and gashes covering their three young children’s bodies. The source was a broken window in their living room and its innumerable, transparent, and jagged shards that littered the children’s play area. The injuries sometimes occurred inadvertently, but just as often as a result of conflicts that naturally arise between mischievous and often bored children.  The parents instituted a threefold intervention plan providing immediate treatment, punishing perpetrators for cutting, and initiating a multilayered educational effort. There would be first-aid kits, classes on emergency medical aid, sessions focused on anticipating situations that lead to severe wounds, as well as discussion groups, videos, and peer-to-peer dialogue. They resolved, finally, to liberate children to report their injuries – and the injuries of others – without fear of reprisal or...


Why Art is Inherently Political

By Aaron Belz May 9, 2014 "In our age, the mere making of a work of art is itself a political act. So long as artists exist, making what they please and think they ought to make, even if it is not terribly good, even if it appeals to only a handful of people, they remind the Management of something managers need to be reminded of, namely, that the managed are people with faces, not anonymous numbers, that Homo Laborans is also Homo Ludens." —W.H. Auden, from "The Poet & The City" (1962) Humans tend toward falsehood. Alone or in community, we continually develop wrong ideas about why we’re where we are and how we therefore ought to live. Our values shift like tectonic plates, metanarrative goes askew, and suddenly what appeared to be a civilized society is allowing slavery or committing genocide. Or our personal moral commitments erode, undergo scores of tiny revisions, and we find ourselves indulging in...


Declaring Candidacy

By Stephanie Summers May 9, 2014  This article is the first installment in a series on political campaigns and public justice. At a time when many Christians, if asked, may identify only one of their political responsibilities (voting), let us consider another. God has called us as citizens to shape the political community according to a vision of Christ’s kingdom, which has not yet been revealed in its fullness. Not all of us will be called to serve as elected political officials, but we must all face the question of how the vision of Christ’s kingdom should be reflected in and guide political campaigns. Campaigns are a topic that generates intense revulsion among many Christians. It is indeed sad that so many political candidates and campaigns do not meet a baseline of speaking with civility, engaging in campaigns that are based on true statements, and upholding ethical practices. But while this revulsion...


Facing National Retirement with Grace

By Bradford Littlejohn May 9, 2014 You don’t have to look far these days for signs that Uncle Sam is starting to get old and a little slow. After coming off very flatfooted in the showdown over Syria last summer, American foreign policy has looked downright immobile as the crisis in Ukraine has unfolded over the last couple of months.   Critics on the right may blame an incompetent, indecisive, or even cowardly Obama for these missteps, but recent polls suggest that Obama’s approach to foreign intervention is actually largely in tune with the sensibilities of the American people. Even in the traditionally hawkish GOP, primary races are increasingly dominated by anti-interventionist candidates, with outspoken foreign policy dove Rand Paul emerging as a leading 2016 presidential hopeful, leading some pundits to begin talking about the “new...


Speaking Openly and Candidly on the Subject of Race

By Timothy Sherratt May 2, 2014  For Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the goal of affirmative action is cultural belonging. Writing in dissent in Schuette v BAMN, she declared, “Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’ ”  Where Brown v Board pulled a vital thread to begin the unraveling of racism, affirmative action was adopted in an attempt to speed up that unraveling, to make up in a few decades the losses incurred over two-and-a-half centuries. Chief Justice Roberts argues that progress can best be achieved by putting those lost centuries behind us. Hence his formula, “The way to stop discriminating by race is to stop discriminating by race.” Justice Sotomayor evaluates progress or the lack of it by appealing to a different measure. “Race matters to a young man's view of society when he spends his...


The Supreme Court and Race in America

By Stephen V. Monsma May 2, 2014 Last week saw three events that spoke powerfully to questions of justice and race in our nation. First, the Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, upheld the constitutionality of a 2006 initiative approved by Michigan voters that, among other things, prohibited public universities from any consideration of race in their admissions policies. The effect of the Court’s decision is to leave in the hands of a majority of state voters whether or not race can be one factor among others in public university admissions.  Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a long and passionate dissent in which she argued that it goes against our nation’s basic principles to leave the protection of the rights of minorities in the hands of the majority. “Our Constitution places limits on what a majority of the people may do,” she wrote.  Some commentators, in supporting the Court’s decision, urged that race should...


A Eulogy for the Quebec Charter of Values

By Robert J. Joustra May 2, 2014  Now begins the long funeral dirge for the Quebec Charter of Values, and we’re better for it. Of the eulogies orated for this unloved legislation, let one of them be for the profound limits of political power for making, and unmaking, the fundamental consensus at the basis of our social contract. When governments stray too far into telling us not just what to believe, but how and why to believe it, they’ve crossed a moral line.  We are in a delicate moment of Canadian pluralism; it is a moment of transition where the old “thick” Catholic-Protestant merger has almost dissolved, and the new “multicultural” consensus seems too weak and too thin to protect us against the pressures and the powers of resurging politics of identity, culture, and religion. It is an anxious age. The Quebec Charter of Values, which included a proposed ban on public employees displaying conspicuous religious symbols,...


On the Ground

Catherine E. Wilson May 2, 2014  In November of last year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the US Department of the Treasury issued regulatory guidance on “candidate-related political activities” of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations. Since the proposed regulations were made public, the IRS received more than 150,000 comments, mostly critical, of these intended directives. The bipartisan criticisms have centered upon the expansive definition of political activity, which would restrict participation by 501(c)(4)s in nonpartisan voter registration and general communication efforts about candidates running for office. Independent Sector (IS)...


The Continuing Saga

By Steven E. Meyer April 25, 2014 More than two months into the Ukrainian crisis, the West—mostly the United States—has not been able to “solve” the issue. From Washington’s perspective, it has only gotten worse. Not only is Crimea in Russian hands, but much of eastern and southern Ukraine is now bedeviled by insurrection. This crisis resists resolution for three interrelated reasons. First, the complex state of affairs defies the usual American propensity to identify international situations as a Sisyphean struggle between virtue and turpitude. Although the Russian military has been active in eastern Ukraine, just as it was in Crimea, Russian interference has been clouded by strong, indigenous pro-Russian sympathies that have been simmering for years. While the majority population in the east is Ukrainian, much of eastern and southern Ukraine had been part of the Russian Empire since the rule of Catherine the Great during the second...


Evaluating the Affordable Care Act (2)

By Clarke E. Cochran April 25, 2014 This is the second installment in a two-part series. Preliminary indications are that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) made substantial progress in reducing the number of Americans without health coverage. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that in early March (before the final enrollment surge), uninsured adults declined by 5.4 million, bringing down the rate from 17.5 to 15.2 percent. But what are the law’s prospects from 2014 into the next presidential administration in 2017? Three paths are possible: the current road, the hopeful road, and the repeal road. The current road is the most likely scenario, no matter the 2014 election outcome. From the Center for Public Justice’s good governance and public justice perspective, it’s a road of potholes and dead ends. ACA implementation features strident political stalemate, with Republicans and Democrats...


Engaging Our Veterans: A Simple Start to Bridging the Civil-Military Divide

By Erica Borggren April 25, 2014 Since leaving the Army and returning home to Illinois in 2009, I have discovered that revealing that I have served in uniform is usually a conversation stopper. Generally, a very awkward silence follows the inevitable response of "Thanks for your service."  My sense is that the silence flows from a mix of good intention -- a desire to not say the wrong thing -- and of a perceived lack of knowledge of how to engage.  I'm clearly not alone in this experience. In a Washington Post editorial last year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey commented on the growing sense of separation between the military and society. He noted that we "need to maintain a shared...


A Mobility Agenda

By Michael J. Gerson April 25, 2014 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. Economic debates are always complex, and the range of economic opinion is so wide that it yields support for nearly any policy prescription.  President Harry Truman once famously asked for a “one-handed economist” because all his economic advisors were prone to say “on the other hand.”  But there is a rough consensus when it comes to defining America’s economic challenge.  Job creation is slow and wages have been stagnant for some time.  But the stock market and housing markets have recovered and advanced.  This has produced two very different outlooks on the economy.  Wall Street is generally doing well and corporate profits are high.  But many working and middle class Americans, with good reason, think the economy remains in...


Defying Authority in Obedience to Authority: Milgram’s Experiment

By David T. Koyzis April 18, 2014 Half a century ago, a junior faculty member at Yale University undertook a notorious experiment familiar to anyone who has taken an introductory psychology course. Stanley Milgram set up the experiment to find out the extent to which people will obey authority. This was motivated, in large measure, by the horrors that had taken place scarcely two decades earlier in Nazi-occupied Europe, where large numbers of otherwise decent people were caught up in an effort to eliminate entire categories of humanity. In the experiment, two persons came into the laboratory. One of them, designated the “teacher,” believed he would be taking part in a study of learning and memory. The other person, designated the “learner,” was an actor privy to the real aim of the experiment. The learner was brought into a room, strapped into a chair, and attached to...


Evaluating the Affordable Care Act (1)

By Clarke E. Cochran April 18, 2014 This is the first installment in a two-part series.  The deadline for enrolling in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) just passed. The numbers are in, and the ACA is a _____________. Well, we really don’t know if it is a success or failure at this point. The deadline is merely a milestone – important on the path that began in 2010, but only a marker on a long road. In this article, I will consider the law in light of the core mission and commitments of the Center for Public Justice. Next week, I will describe likely paths for the law over the next three years. Three essential commitments frame the work of CPJ: good governance, religious freedom, and public justice. Good Governance and the Transformation of Public Life. CPJ’s mission states that “We aspire to a United...


Good Friday and Politics

By William Edgar April 18, 2014 From the beginning of Christendom and through the end of the Middle Ages, most theologians put considerable distance between the rule of Christ and human institutions. This was an unintentional result of the attempt to have Christ rule directly, but only through the church. In his great masterpiece The City of God (c.422), Saint Augustine (354-430) began a tradition which saw the heavenly city as the ultimate goal, echoed only poorly by life on this earth; the “city of man” is only a shadow of the full reign of Jesus Christ in the “city of God.” Much later, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) divided reality into the natural and the supernatural (nature vs. grace). Christ lives in the supernatural realm, and politics exists in the natural realm. Such approaches often led to a confusion of realms. Many of the so-called “Imperial Cities” were ruled by a bishop who was in effect a governing prince....


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger April 18, 2014 We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God David T. Koyzis (Pickwick Publications; 2014) $29.00   David Koyzis’s earlier book Political Visions & Illusions is one of the must-read books for those who want to understand the Center for Public Justice’s uniquely Christian view of civic life. More than being merely non-partisan, CPJ is trying to work out a distinctively Christian approach to politics. Koyzis gives us an astute, Biblically based critique of contemporary ideologies, those of the left and the right, pointing us to better understandings. Last month, I reviewed The Good of Politics by CPJ founder James Skillen. Skillen explores how the state is qualified by legal authority and how our common life as citizens should be informed by a proper...


Genome Editing, Designer Babies, and the Common Good

By Michelle Crotwell KirtleyApril 11, 2014 Although relatively absent from the news lately, the pace of progress in the field of biotechnology continues to accelerate. Researchers have now developed technology (called CRISPR, for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) that can specifically modify DNA in human cells, allowing researchers to “edit out” damaging mutations with precision at the level of a single DNA base pair. While still in its infancy, the technique could significantly improve the health and quality of life for many people who would otherwise suffer from debilitating or deadly diseases, including HIV/AIDS and cystic fibrosis.  As is the case with “traditional” gene therapy, researchers using CRISPR to fix genetic problems inside the cell must find a way to deliver the edited cells to the right location in the body or to deliver...


Poetry, Protest, and Propaganda

By Micah MattixApril 11, 2014 The poet John Ashbery once wrote that “All poetry is against war and in favor of life, or else it isn’t poetry, and it stops being poetry when it is forced into the mold of a particular program. Poetry is poetry. Protest is protest.”    The context here is important. In “Frank O’Hara’s Question” (1966) Ashbery had praised O’Hara for not tying his poetry to a political agenda. “It does not advocate sex and dope as a panacea for the ills of modern society,” Ashbery wrote, it does not speak out against the war in Viet Nam or in favor of civil rights…it does not attack the establishment. It merely ignores its right to exist, and is thus a source of an annoyance for partisans of every stripe. Whether or not O’Hara’s poetry annoyed, Ashbery’s comment did. As James Longenbach notes, Louis Simpson took exception in a Nation...


Precedent over Prudence: McCutcheon and the Scandal of Campaign Finance Jurisprudence

By Bradford LittlejohnApril 11, 2014 Last Wednesday, in a much-maligned decision in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court struck down the $117,000 aggregate limit on individuals’ campaign donations in a given election cycle. The landmark decision, which accelerated the recent deregulation of campaign finance heralded by the 2010 Citizens United decision, has drawn a firestorm of criticism from various points on the political spectrum, but especially from the left. The narrative could hardly fit the liberal script better: a wealthy Republican businessman and activist, chafing at how little he can finance Republican campaigns, teams up with the Republican National Committee to overturn established law and give the GOP’s wealthy donor base free rein. The five Republican appointees on the court uphold this coup, and the most “conservative,” Clarence Thomas, argues for the abolition of...


Building Up the Common Good

By Michael J. Gerson April, 14, 2014 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. Recently I returned from a short visit to the Central African Republic, a country that has descended from political chaos into mass murder.  Political leaders have fed a religious conflict that has taken on a life of its own, resulting in looting, killing and endless reprisal. More than 2,000 are dead.  Perhaps 20 percent of the population is displaced. Muslims, as the targets of brutal militias, are being attacked and lynched every day.  Religious leaders – Catholic, Protestant and Muslim – are desperately trying to work together to prevent the society from being permanently torn apart.   And all this is doubly frightening because it emerged in a country with a history of religious tolerance and even intermarriage between Christians and Muslims. ...


Simply Because It’s the Right Thing to Do

By Timothy Sherratt April 4, 2014 Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Foundation and Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, refer to immigration reform as a “moral imperative” in an editorial in last Monday’s Wall Street Journal.  They identify several principles that they believe could form the foundation of a conservative approach to immigration.  They argue that a principled Christian policy should rest on “the rule of law, security and safety, family unity, and human dignity." And they call for policies to keep families together, substantially expand H1-B visas for skilled persons, and provide safe and legal work opportunities for those who enter the United States legally. They reject favorable Republican poll numbers as justification for the G.O.P.’s foot dragging on immigration reform.  Neglect of serious policy issues in the...


Training Egyptian Surgeons for Service in Rural Settings

By Jayson Casper April 4, 2014  A version of this article was first published by www.lapidomedia.com and is used with kind permission.  A new collaboration – in an old mission hospital – will train Egyptian surgeons to serve in rural settings. Sixty percent of Egyptian doctors work abroad, but this unique collaboration aims to fight this trend. Incredibly perhaps, Egyptian Christian Dr. Hanna Sherif is relocating from an élite life in Toronto, Canada to the small village of Menouf in the Nile Delta for the next five years, in defiance of a US State Department warning of “risks of travel.” An acclaimed liver surgeon and academic, Sherif is returning to his country of birth after a forty-three year absence to run a new in-country surgical training program that could help make rural provision the envy of North Africa. The Harpur Memorial Hospital...


Common Core Standards and Public Justice

By Stephanie Summers April 4, 2014 Last week, Indiana governor Mike Pence signed a measure voiding the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for education. Indiana will likely replace the CCSS with a nearly identical set of standards. The development of the CCSS was spearheaded by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Designed to “ensure all students are ready for success after high school, the Common Core State Standards establish clear, consistent guidelines for what every student should know and be able to do in math and English language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade.” Proponents and detractors have lauded and decried this recent development, and as is the case with most changes in public policy, the change has prompted a number of what can only be described as baseless conspiracy theories about the CCSS....


Religion and Security in the Heart of Asia

By Cory Bender April 4, 2014 It is easy to forget that the states of post-Soviet Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—are only twenty-three years old. Before 1991, they existed only as administrative divisions of the Soviet Union, which gave them their current names and borders. The Soviets did their best to mold the peoples of Central Asia into “Soviet men,” hijacking Central Asian cultures and customs to communist ends. When communism collapsed, the five newly independent states of Central Asia were left with no guiding ideology and only a weak conception of nationhood. This is a dangerous situation. If the citizens of the Central Asian republics do not identify closely with their new countries, competing identities will draw them away. Central Asians are divided among national, clan, ethnic and religious identities; if national identity is weak, the other identities could create fault lines...


Christians Don’t Own the Copyright on Noah

By Josh Larsen March 28, 2014 A few years ago, my daughter was in a church musical production of the Noah story (she was the cutest alligator you’ve ever seen). The thing is, the ark they had on stage wasn’t exactly 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. In fact, quite a few elements were downright unbiblical. So it is the case with Noah, a big-budget Hollywood version from Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky - at least if you listen to the early naysayers. While some of the complaints have actually been about measurements, others have had more thematic concerns, accusing the movie of being a tale of...


More Light, Less Heat Needed on State Religious Freedom Bills

By Stanley Carlson-Thies March 28, 2014 The freedom to exercise one’s faith out in the world–beyond personal belief and worship–has become very contested in the United States, and the impulse to confine and curtail religious freedom when it gets in the way of other rights has been steadily growing. But it seems to have become supercharged recently as some groups and commentators and many in the media have used deliberations over religious freedom bills in various states to try to permanently rebrand religious freedom that goes beyond thought and worship to be discrimination. The actual goal of these bills seems to be preservation of the status quo in these states, where marriage has not been redefined and anti-discrimination laws do not reference sexual orientation. But that status quo might be upset any day by a judge who declares same-sex marriage to be constitutional. Because judges are not empowered to craft religious freedom...


The Power of Restraint in Ukraine

By Robert J. Joustra March 28, 2014 “Showing strength” is very much in vogue in the Crimean crisis. Does it make Putin look strong? Does the United States look weak? Is the European Union handcuffed by Russian gas? Eastern Europe, ironically, has a long history of inverting what we call strength, of pulling down empires and tyrants that guns and bombs could never crush, with courage, resolve, and patience. The world owes Ukraine a debt for showing that strength of late. Putin said Russia has no desire to intervene in Ukraine beyond Crimea, the justification for which he claimed was protecting Russian-speaking people in other parts of the country. But it’s far from clear that Russian speakers are in any kind of peril. The power move of the Ukrainians has been to totally unmask Putin’s gambit; he threw up a smoke screen, and the world quietly watched as the wind carried it away and showed it for what it was-- a naked attempt to rebuild a...


The Example of Pope Francis

By Michael J. Gerson March 28, 2014 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The very idea of a pope has been divisive within Christianity since the Reformation.  But the views of American Protestants – and many evangelicals – shifted significantly during the papacy of John Paul II, who offered such a bold and consistent defense of human dignity.  At the same time, conservative Protestants and many Catholics found themselves allies in public debates such as abortion – and now on religious liberty.  Some deep theological differences remain, but the cooperation and sympathy between Protestants and Catholics have never been stronger.  In this light, many of us non-Catholics have been rooting for the new pope.  His task of internal reform – following sexual and financial scandals – is massive.  But...


The Venezuelan Crisis Needs a Real Mediator … Not Sean Penn

By Ruth Melkonian-Hoover March 21, 2014 Most of us have followed the troubling news coming from Venezuela: the first year of Maduro’s presidency is ending with student protests and violent government overreaction, resulting in over a dozen deaths and hundreds wounded. Sean Penn, an (in)famous celebrity ally of the socialist government, has said little about the recent turn of events; he was, however, asked by Maduro to use his keen diplomatic skills to serve as a spokesperson to the United States. Sean Penn’s ex-wife Madonna, though often politically in line with Penn, broke with Penn in a recent highly re-tweeted message, noting, “Apparently Maduro is not familiar with the phrase ‘Human Rights’! Fascism is alive and thriving in Venezuela and Russia.  . . .” Since early February, university students in Venezuela, stirred up by certain factions of the opposition, have been staging protests and blocking streets. These protestors...


DACA, ENFORCE and Faithful Execution of the Law

By Stephanie Summers March 21, 2014 Beginning this week, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began receiving renewal applications from the first individuals who received two years of deferred action under the Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. To be DACA-eligible, applicants seeking renewal must demonstrate that they meet an extensive set of criteria and pay a $465 fee. Research conducted by the Brookings Institution on the one-year anniversary of DACA found that most applicants were between fifteen to eighteen years old and were born in Mexico. Sixty-nine percent of applicants were age ten or younger when their families brought them to the...


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger March 21, 2014 The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction James W. Skillen (Baker Academic; 2014) $22.99 It is with exceptional gladness that we announce the publication of the new book by James W. Skillen, the founder and former president of the Center for Public Justice. The Good of Politics is stunning in its scope and exceptional in its discerning insight, offering a fresh articulation of the foundational vision of CPJ. Skillen helps us ponder what we mean by public justice and how God’s good gift of the state should use legitimate authority to help order a pluralistic political community. He explores who is responsible for what and in what way political-legal authority is unique among other sorts of legitimate exercises of cultural power. As many know, Skillen possesses a remarkable ability to see the underlying presumptions and...


Ukraine: The Plot Thickens

By Steven E. Meyer March 21, 2014  On Sunday, March 16, an overwhelming majority of voters in Crimea passed a referendum to secede from Ukraine and join with Russia. On Tuesday, Crimean and Russian leaders signed a treaty to formally join Crimea with the Russian Federation. The crisis that has enveloped Ukraine for more than a month has provided an opportunity for Russia to press its interests in Ukraine, which dovetail with the interests of Russians living in Crimea who have chafed under Ukrainian rule.   The issue is a lot more complicated than the “good versus evil” scenario that defines American foreign policy in this and most other cases. Crimea was part of Russia until 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine. About two thirds of the population is Russian and many of them still resent Khrushchev’s action. The heavy Russian presence has assured Crimea a special place in Ukraine—it is the...


Legality, Morality, and Plausibility in the Crimean Crisis

By Bradford Littlejohn March 14, 2014  When Russian troops entered Crimea at the beginning of this month, Western media and diplomats quickly sought to outdo one another in their expressions of incredulity, outrage, and bellicosity, with Secretary of State John Kerry’s March 2nd NBC interview probably taking first prize in all three categories. But this firestorm of outrage has tried to make up in intensity for what it has lacked in clarity. Is Russia’s action being condemned on moral grounds, legal grounds, or both? Most of the rhetoric has centered upon Russia’s violation of “international law,” a somewhat curious emphasis given current international law’s noted shortcomings both as a rule of law and a standard of morality, and given the legal complexity of the present situation.  Although the rule of law always aspires to reflect the rule of justice, law and morality never achieve anything like...


Signature Achievements

By Aaron Belz March 14, 2014 One of my uncles, recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, lamented on the phone that his legacy would be eroded and eventually lost. His life work, all that toil, would wind up the way his mind ultimately would: less and less legible until finally blank. I tried to encourage him with the thought that God is on his throne, and that’s where we put our trust, but I knew I was one of Job’s counselors. Whether or not we have Parkinson’s, nothing prevents the onset of meaninglessness, and nothing feels worse to humans than the suspicion that we might, after all, be filed “miscellaneous.” The same suspicion haunts a friend of mine who is working on a Ph.D. in Art History at Duke. The first time I met her was at a sunny local bistro called Geer Street Garden; she was lost in an esoteric debate with the bartender about pop music while she sipped a glass of champagne. I later told her she struck me as quite...


The Skillen Lectures in El Salvador

By Lou Wagenveld March 14, 2014 In a recent letter, President and CEO John B. Hardman of the Carter Center writes of “… build[ing] a world where…the greatest fruits of peace - free and honest elections, … transparent governance…traditions like human rights, rule by law, and equal access to justice - can take root.” That vision offers a perspective on a series of lectures delivered by Jim Skillen, the Center for Public Justice’s former president, before a cross section of religious groups in El Salvador during the week immediately following the presidential elections in February. I had attended the elections as an international elections observer and then accompanied Skillen on his lecture tour. A run-off election on March 9 between Sanchez of the National Liberation party and Quijano of the Republican National Alliance is still being contested, although the Election Tribunal has called in favor of the former by the...


Anti-gay Laws are Disastrous Health Policy

By Michael J. Gerson March 14, 2014 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. At least since the reformation, Christian thinkers have devoted a lot of attention to the idea of vocation.  Martin Luther was among the first to apply this concept to work outside the institutional church. He argued that every legitimate occupation is a calling.  Those in ministry have an important role in society.  But laypeople in various jobs and professions have their own duties and authority.  And we often get into trouble when these roles are confused. The challenge is vividly demonstrated on issues of public health such as HIV/AIDS.  Religious institutions have an essential role in calling individuals to lives characterized by morality, integrity, restraint and commitment.  If churches, synagogues and mosques do not play this...


When Religious Liberty and Other Civil Rights Collide

By Timothy Sherratt March 7, 2014 When Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed the religious freedom bill SB 1062, a lot of sober minds nodded in approval and relief, including both US senators and a posse of business and religious leaders. A clumsy attempt to protect religious liberty had given businesses a blank check to discriminate against gays, discrediting the important First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty. Governor Brewer had acted to save Arizona from a rash of boycotts—including, it was suggested, next year’s Super Bowl—by rejecting unnecessarily broad legislation that caused more problems than it solved.  In politics, perception has a way of insisting that reality conform to it, especially if reality reflects a complex legal history. Suffice it to say that the bill did almost none of the things its critics accused it of doing. While a first reading of the bill could lead one to conclude that it was an...


Robocop Recycled: Tired Heroes, Exhausted Justice

By Robert J. Joustra March 7, 2014 Picture this: Detroit, despoiled and corrupted by failed manufacturing, is laid waste by bottom-line profiteering, its crime-ridden streets pleading for a hero of justice. Not hard to imagine. But it’s1987 with the Cold War still in swing, the Berlin Wall teetering but not toppling, and our now mighty technological societies coming into the flower of their youth. Here our imaginations meet a series of no-holds-barred sci-fi shoot-‘em-ups, none bloodier, or more bruising and brutal, than RoboCop.  That original RoboCop, an R-rated epic, was definitive in postmodern cinema. Jesse Wente, the head of film for TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, says: “On face value, RoboCop is just pure entertainment: guns and explosions. But it’s also a deeply disturbing portrait of why we find movies like that so entertaining.” Director Paul Verhoeven was famous for inverting the Hollywood...


The New Silk Roads and Beyond: Reshaping World Energy Routes (3)

By Alice-Catherine Carls March 7, 2014 This is the final installment of a three-part series on the reopening of the inland Silk Road. The first installment discussed the recent completion of two major east-west railroad routes (the Trans-Siberian route, or Eurasian Land Bridge, and TRACECA) and the emergence of north-south corridors. The second installment examined the emergence of regional organizations to manage the growth of Central Asia. This installment will look at the Silk Roads’ integration into the emerging global trade and energy routes. Integrated Global Energy and Trade Routes: Security or Insecurity Since the 1990s, the emergence of parallel inland rail and road routes, along with gas and oil pipelines along the...


International Elections Observation in El Salvador

By Lou Wagenveld March 7, 2014 This is the first installment in a two-part series.  For the first years of the twentieth century, El Salvador had weak but civilian governments. Owing in part to the ripple effects of the Bolshevik revolution during the 1920s, the military took over with a violent start in the 1930s and ruled for the next fifty years. Attempts to return to civilian rule were fraught with difficulty, and clashes between the country’s right and left factions led to a twelve-year civil war. The Peace Accords of 1992 finally made provision for elections that would include all sectors of society, including the newly forming coalition of leftist groups in a National Liberation Front (FLMN).  In many ways, the conflict in the mountains and streets was transferred to the ballot box and halls of government. El Salvador today is very polarized, which is not all that different from how it was in the past. On the right are the...


Ukraine: In the Balance Again

By Steven E. Meyer February 28, 2014 Last weekend, Ukraine pulled back from almost certain disintegration and possible civil war. The current crisis is far from over and could deepen further, impacting not only Ukraine itself, but the future of relations between a resurgent Russia and a defensive West, both of which are heavily involved there.  After weeks of violent demonstrations that spread from Kiev to other cities, the deposed president Viktor Yanukovych has fled; his government has collapsed and opposition politicians have stepped in to prepare for new elections in May. But Ukraine remains a fractured, dysfunctional state whose future is very much in doubt. The economy is in shambles, the government’s treasury is virtually empty, corruption is rampant, and security forces are in disarray. This is the second time in a decade that Ukraine has gone through such a wrenching upheaval.  In 2004, a tainted election triggered...


Edward Snowden and the Call for Just Intelligence

By Aaron Korthuis February 28, 2014 A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice. Edward Snowden has caused a lot of angst among the American people and his actions have sparked a debate that has become increasingly acute in our post-9/11 world with the unusual security problems facing the United States. However, this debate is not a new one for liberal democracy: balancing rights, especially those of privacy and security, has long stirred controversy. Developing a thoughtful response from an intentionally Christian perspective to the questions Snowden presents is very difficult. Our intellectual resources are limited, and the...


Ethiopian Migration: Opportunity or Loss?

By Becca McBride and Joanna Bascom February 28, 2014 We tend to think of migration in two ways. On the one hand, we think of it in terms of heroic individuals who exercise their agency by moving to a foreign land to increase their economic opportunities and to provide for their families. On the other hand, we perceive migrants as victims who are forced to move because of circumstances beyond their control such as war, persecution, and natural disasters, and we look for ways that they can reclaim their agency. While the dichotomy of the migrant as hero or victim can be useful in thinking about migration, our increasingly globalized context complicates this view and necessitates a more nuanced understanding. A recent news article about the migration of Ethiopian citizens to Gulf states to pursue jobs as domestic...


Seeing Syria

By Michael J. Gerson February 28, 2014 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. Recently I returned from Jordan, one of the countries on the front line of the Syrian crisis.  I visited the massive Zaatari refugee camp, once again swelling to about 100,000 residents.  I also went to a remote, desert border crossing between Syria and Jordan, about 100 km from Iraq, where I talked to refugees just as they were finishing a risky journey and beginning a difficult new life.   Most were from besieged areas within Syria – about 40 communities in Homs, Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus that the Syrian regime is surrounding, cutting off from humanitarian aid and attempting to shell and bomb into submission.  The refugees talked of homes destroyed by barrel bombs – oil barrels, filled with fuel and metal shards, dropped...


Missionaries, Democracy, and Political Culture

By David Koyzis February 21, 2014 Missionaries are out of fashion these days, especially in the more secular Western societies. The negative stereotypes often find their way into film. The 1991 drama At Play in the Fields of the Lord tells the story of naïve young American missionaries sent to evangelize an aboriginal community in the Amazon jungle of Brazil, with tragic consequences for everyone. As one of the characters in the film puts it, “The Lord made Indians the way they are. Who are you people to make them different?” Perhaps missionaries are cultural imperialists, imposing the culturally specific ways of the sending country on others to their detriment. Yet what if it turns out that, in bringing the life-giving message of salvation in Jesus Christ to unbelievers, missionaries were inadvertent...


Politics and Prose

By Bryon Borger February 21, 2014 Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues: Sustaining a Respectful Political Conversation edited by Harold Heie (foreword by Richard J. Mouw) with Amy Black, Paul Brink, David Gushee, Lisa Sharon Harper, Stephen Monsma, and Eric Teetsel  (Abilene Christian University Press; 2014) $17.99 In the mid-1970s, the organization now known as the Center for Public Justice created an advocacy documentary film called “What If They Gave an Election and Nobody Came?” A few of us who had run for student government at our large state university showed it there as an early argument for the relevance of principled pluralism and to suggest that religion played a role in public discourse. The film argued that apathy about and alienation from politics may be so prevalent precisely because people have little genuine choice in political options, and because the secular hegemony brackets out faith...


Evaluating Policy Proposals

By Stephanie Summers February 21, 2014 One of our many responsibilities as citizens is to understand proposed changes to government policies. With the numerous policy proposals that are beginning to attract attention in this even-numbered election year, I’m often asked how we evaluate proposed reforms to existing government policies. The short answer is that if the God-given responsibility of government and citizens in political community is to ensure public justice, then our task is to identify how policies promote governments’ upholding of structural and confessional pluralism. But how do we wrap our minds around these ideas when researching a ballot initiative or a proposed policy change?  Let me suggest two thought experiments to conduct when doing so. First, consider the roles you hold in life. For example, I am a wife and a sister, an executive in a corporation, a board member, a church member (and the list goes on). Each...


Is Fracking the Great American Success Story? (2)

By Rusty Pritchard February 21, 2014 This is the second installment in a two-part series. The first article in the series explored the phenomenal growth in shale gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing, more commonly called “fracking,” and the environmental impact of this growth. But while shale gas and oil constitute a boom industry, will there be a bust? It’s not yet clear whether fracking will generate decades of energy production in the United States or if it is simply facilitating a last hurrah for American fossil fuels, postponing the inevitable decline that we started on in the 1980s. What is clear is that individual wells peter out much more rapidly than conventional oil and gas wells do. According to one financial analyst, conventional wells may remain productive for decades, but shale wells decline by sixty percent in the...


Disabled and Forgotten

By Michael J. Gerson February 14, 2014 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  Attending a Special Olympics event in Africa – like the one for young children I attended in Lilongwe, Malawi – is very much like attending a similar event in America. There is a mix of abled and disabled children, designed to encourage an inclusive experience. The intellectually disabled children have grown close to the coaches, who both affirm and challenge them. Parents seem pleased with the social and physical progress their children have made, and the children themselves often find abilities that no one suspected. For the intellectually disabled, sports and play have tremendous value.  But outside this wonderful event here in Africa, the cloud of stigma lies heavy. Tribal elders and others often tell parents that their children are worthless...


The Devil’s in the Details (Literally)

By Stephen V. Monsma February 14, 2014 A controversy erupted in Oklahoma recently when the Oklahoma legislature erected a privately commissioned stone memorial inscribed with the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol. The Oklahoma ACLU and an organization called American Atheists filed lawsuits in federal court, claiming a violation of the First Amendment and the separation of church and state.   But what has stirred the most media attention is a formal application to the state’s Capitol Preservation Commission by the Satanic Temple of New York to place a seven-foot statue of Satan on the capitol grounds. The proposed statue depicts Satan as a goat-headed being with horns and a long beard, flanked by two children with adoring looks.  The head of the Satanic Temple has said that in placing the Ten Commandments on the Capitol grounds, Oklahoma has opened “the door to public places for us.” The...


The Virtues of Shutting Up

By Adam Joyce February 14, 2014  Washington, DC is a city of words. American democracy is loud, obese with speech, and bursting with word manufacturers: advocacy groups, public figures, think tanks, newspapers, magazines, blogs, radio stations, talk shows, debate shows, manifestos, political satire shows, endless iterations of the talking head, all congested with opinion. This is nothing new. The sky has been falling since 1776. America has always enjoyed garrulousness. George Orwell once said, “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”[1] This is not entirely true. One of the clearest statements in twentieth-century politics was “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Our national politics is not short on sincerity, but sincerity does not save our discourse. Amidst the babble of point, counterpoint, pseudo-point—the incessant Hegelian dialectic of the news cycle—there is something to be...


SOTU and the Failure of Politics

By Bradford Littlejohn February 14, 2014 In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama surprised many observers with his not-so-veiled threats to sidestep Congress and act unilaterally when possible: The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress. . . . Some [of my proposals] require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.  At several points throughout the speech, he announced his intention to use the extensive bureaucracy and discretionary power of the executive branch to take action where Congress had failed. Needless to say, such remarks provided an easy target for criticism from the...


Six More Weeks of Ideological Winter?

By Timothy Sherratt February 7, 2014 What would it take to reboot the political debate for 2014 to give more attention to policy issues in their own right and less notice to the ideological dynamics that engulf them? Some will answer that there’s nothing on the horizon to suggest such a rebooting. But in the last two weeks, some movement on this front has come from both the president and from Republican leaders. Widely expected to launch a major initiative on income inequality in his State of the Union address, President Obama resisted that temptation. The language of income inequality is the language of redistribution, most associated with big government, and that would have restarted an endless loop of accusation and rebuttal, our political version of Groundhog Day.  Instead, the president kept his proposals modest and discrete, with a focus on extending unemployment benefits, hiring the long-term unemployed, and raising...


Challenging Sex-Selective Abortion in the United States

By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley February 7, 2014 In 2012, the sensational events surrounding the defection of Chen Guancheng—a vocal opponent of China’s one-child policy—to the United States brought national attention to the tragedy of sex-selective abortion, particularly in countries such as China and India.   Sex-selective abortion is indeed appalling because it combines two evils that subvert human dignity: elective abortion and gender discrimination. But as we in the United States race to defend the dignity of girls and women abroad, we have done very little to prevent these same evils here at home.  Because of advances in genetic testing technology, parents in the United States no longer need to wait until eighteen to twenty weeks into pregnancy for an ultrasound to determine the gender of their...


The Religious Freedom Wars

By Robert J. Joustra February 7, 2014  If it’s God’s Century, like Philpott, Toft, and Shah say, we’d best get an idea of what he’s doing. Divination has a long and distinguished history, but don’t fret the pig entrails and tea leaves. Knox Thames, Director of Policy for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, has given a sober and clear-minded account of what to expect in religion and foreign affairs in 2014. But what’s surprising, and not a little baffling, is the renewed resistance religious freedom is getting not just abroad, but at home. The religious freedom wars have just begun. Thames names several trends for the year ahead. He predicts increasing pressure on Christians in the MENA region, especially...


The New Silk Road and Beyond: Reshaping the World Economic Geography

By Alice-Catherine Carls February 7, 2014 This is the second of three installments discussing the reopening of the inland Silk Road. The first installment discussed the recent completion of two major east-west railroad routes (the Trans-Siberian route, or Eurasian Land Bridge, and TRACECA) and the emergence of north-south corridors and numerous spurs and extensions. This installment examines the emergence of regional organizations to manage the growth of Central Asia. The third installment will look at the Silk Roads’ integration into the emerging global trade and energy routes.  Integration, Security, and Regional Development A growing number of international organizations have formed alongside the Silk Road to support regional stability and state economic development, both vital to...


Is Fracking a Great American Success Story? (1)

By Rusty Pritchard January 31, 2014 This article is the first installment in a two-part series. The decline of America’s fossil fuel industry is a thing of the past, thanks to the booming growth of shale-gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), a decades-old technique increasingly applied to marginal deposits of gas and oil. Shale gas production grew by 45 percent a year between 2005 and 2010, and it now accounts for about a quarter of US natural gas production (up from 4% in 2005). Domestic oil production, which had peaked in the 1980s and then steadily declined, increased as well. By the end of 2013, the United States was poised to overtake Russia and Saudi Arabia in oil and gas production, providing national income, thousands of energy jobs, and a bewildering array...


Health Care Redux

By Roy Clouser January 31, 2014 Amid all the controversies that have swirled around the Affordable Care Act, a more basic issue has become obscured. But while that issue has receded into the background, it still remains a driving motivation behind much of the opposition to the Act. That issue is this: does it fall within the proper scope of government to pass any act at all to make health care accessible to its citizens? We should not confuse this question with people’s opinions of the actual provisions of the Act: just about everyone thinks the Act needs improvement. But some opponents of the Act think government has absolutely no responsibility in health matters, while others think that state governments may have such a responsibility but the federal government does not. Let’s consider first the objection against any and all government involvement in health matters. The Declaration of Independence, one of the...


A Way Out of the Syrian Debacle

By Steven E. Meyer January 31, 2014 The first session of UN-sponsored talks in Geneva between representatives of the government of Syria and the main opposition groups has now ended. The talks are fragile; just getting two of the warring parties in the same room has been a long, difficult process. The Syrian civil war is now in its third year, well over 100,000 people have been killed, and both sides have engaged in incredible brutality. Despite the great need to end this war, the likelihood of success—at least right now—is very slim for two interrelated reasons.  First, the Geneva I communiqué’s stipulations, which lay out the terms of a future settlement, will be difficult to accomplish. The communiqué calls for a cease-fire, humanitarian measures, and a transition government to replace the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Each of these involves what are considered zero-sum surrenders by one side or the other. Relinquishing...


Congress and the State of the Union

By Michael J. Gerson January 31, 2014 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. Having worked, in one way or another, on six State of the Union addresses, I know the effort and energy they require.  For months, it is the main focus of the president’s speechwriters.  For weeks, it occupies the White House senior staff.  The press buildup is intense.  The evening of the speech is dramatic as the president takes the center stage of American politics, making his congressional opposition look small in comparison.  And yet there is little evidence that State of the Union addresses have a large or lasting influence on public opinion.  The speeches themselves, which are required to be a laundry list of policy, are seldom memorable.  And even a day after the speech, the political discussion moves on.  After all the...


The State of the Union: Hope with Guts in It

By William Edgar January 24, 2014  On January 28, 2014, President Barack Obama will deliver the State of the Union address, his sixth since entering office in 2009. According to tradition, the Speaker of the House officially invites the president to deliver the message before a joint session of Congress. Although the dispatch is somewhat pro-forma, this year, Speaker John Boehner stated, “In the coming year, Americans expect Washington to focus on their priorities and to look for common ground in addressing the challenges facing our country. In that spirit, we welcome an opportunity to hear your ideas, particularly for putting Americans back to work.” Certainly the president will have to address the jobless and the underemployed. In last year’s State of the Union address, he announced that, “After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created six million new jobs.” One of the many applause lines was,...


What is a Monument to Justice?

By James W. Skillen January 24, 2014 This article was originally published in 1989 for the Christian Legal Society. It has been republished as a collection of pieces in the Journal of Christian Legal Thought (2 J. Christian L. Thought, at 13 (Fall 2012)) This past January I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Memphis, Tennessee, on the weekend of the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. At one break in the conference proceedings, several of us set off to find the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King had been shot and killed in 1968.  Certainly my motives for going to the Lorraine were mixed. Simple curiosity would have been enough to drive me there. But I also wanted to catch a sense of that important moment in history. Most northern, white, evangelical Christians of my age were slow to appreciate the great civil rights...


The Thin Satire of The Wolf of Wall Street

By Josh Larsen January 24, 2014 In principle, I’m on the same page as The Wolf of Wall Street, director Martin Scorsese’s savagely black comedy about debauched, unscrupulous stock brokers. The movie, recently nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, lampoons the frat-boy amorality of finance culture and sniggers at the largely ineffectual governmental attempts to rein it in. You need not have camped out with the Occupy Wall Street crowd to be open to a biting satire about such subjects.  Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jordan Belfort, a blazingly ambitious young trader who parlays shady stock deals into his own Wall Street empire. Awash in questionably obtained cash, he and his merry band of (mostly male) cohorts blow it on drugs, prostitutes, and outrageous parties in which the drugs and prostitutes converge in one tragic, dehumanizing package. Scorsese,...


Sister Wives, Polygamy, and Cohabitation

By Julia K. Stronks January 24, 2014 Last December, a federal judge in Utah ruled that some state laws regulating living arrangements violate the Due Process and First Amendment clauses of the Constitution. This case caused conservatives to reiterate their ongoing concern that once same-sex marriage became legal, the barrier against polygamy would be the next to fall. While the Utah decision focused on how laws are enforced and not on polygamy, those concerned with how government supports marriage are right to note that the conversation is not over. No matter what our own tradition teaches about marriage, we have more thinking to do about the role of government, the granting of a marriage license, and legal prohibitions on behavior. In Brown v Buhman, the family highlighted in the reality show Sister Wives filed a complaint...


The Second Chance Act: What Smart Bipartisan Legislation Can Do

By Harold Dean Trulear January 17, 2014 In the late 1990s, a small group of political, religious, and community leaders saw an unforeseen consequence of the bipartisan efforts of government to get "tough on crime." Between the War on Drugs launched by the Republicans and harsh mandatory minimums supported by Democrats, jails and prisons filled rapidly without much thought that 95 per cent of prisoners return to society at some point. Evangelical leaders gathered on the eve of the new century to develop Operation Lifeline in anticipation of the swelling numbers of formerly incarcerated persons due to return after 2000. President-elect Bush met with religious leaders in Austin, Texas in December 2000 to unveil his plans for an Office of Faith-Based and Community Affairs, with prisoner reentry as the leading agenda item in its portfolio. African American church leaders created Operation 2006...


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger January 17, 2014  The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence  Gary A. Haugen with Victor Boutros (Oxford University Press; 2014) $27.95 One would be hard-pressed to suggest a more emotionally gripping, compelling, and persuasive book than this new one by CPJ friend and ally, Gary Haugen, loaded as it is with intimately told stories of injustice, rape, and unprosecuted crime. Haugen, founder of the International Justice Mission (IJM), reports from his work on the frontlines against human trafficking with relentless passion and hope. This may be his most important book yet. Haugen opens his book with riveting descriptions of his on-the-ground documentation of genocide in Rwanda when he worked for the United Nations Special Commission. His stunning insight -- the theme and purpose of this new work -- began as...


The Decline of US Power

By Steven E. Meyer January 17, 2014 Once again, Iraq and Afghanistan are front page news. Iraq is torn by a violent Sunni-Shiite split and al-Qaeda has taken control of two prominent cities. The country once again is near civil war.  Earlier this month, the US intelligence community produced a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) predicting that once US forces leave Afghanistan, the US-backed government almost certainly will collapse. (One agency, usually the CIA, writes an NIE and coordinates with most of the other fifteen intelligence agencies to publish the report as an intelligence “community” product.)  Coming on the heels of the NIE is the publication of a new book by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates which slams President Obama for not believing in his own Afghanistan policy.   On top of this, Afghan President Karzai’s refusal so far to sign a bilateral defense agreement with Washington has added fuel to the...


The Fight Against Poverty

It has been 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty, and the result is still hotly debated.  Conservatives tend to dismiss it as failure; liberals declare it a success. The reality, as usual, is more mixed and complex than a shorthand political judgment.   Some Great Society programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, are great achievements of compassion – but also in need of serious reform.  Johnson’s expansion of Social Security benefits took millions of seniors out of poverty – but this system is now under serious demographic strains.  The war on poverty was most successful in helping the elderly – their poverty rates sharply declined.  It was less effective in helping young mothers with children.  The expansion of Aid to Families with Dependent Children created a cascade of unintended consequences.  It took a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, to eventually sign welfare reform...


Now is Not the Time for a Major Initiative on Inequality

By Timothy Sherratt January 10, 2014 Ever since a speech President Obama gave at the Center for American Progress in December, journalists have predicted that he would seek to boost his party’s chances in November by wrapping several related items into a major initiative on income inequality, akin to President Johnson’s War on Poverty. If the president does so, the State of the Union address later this month will be the likely setting. But in his White House speech on extending unemployment benefits earlier this week, President Obama concentrated on the human face of unemployment, made only a passing reference to inequality, and he offered little criticism of his Republican opponents. I think the president would be wise to hold his present course. This first full week of the New Year, American media outlets are suddenly abuzz with the 2014 elections. From St. Louis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Denver to Washington, New York, and Boston, staff...


Shedding Christian Blood: The Perils of Naïve Solidarity

By Bradford Littlejohn January 10, 2014 With the spread of globalization has come a growing consciousness among Western Christians of the global extent of Christianity, and with it, a growing concern for the challenges faced by our co-religionists living in the developing world. The resulting sense of global Christian solidarity, especially with those suffering for their faith, has borne remarkable fruit. Organizations such as Voice of the Martyrs, the Barnabas Fund, and Christian Freedom International advocate for persecuted Christians and assist them in their plight. Churches in America and western Europe have added the persecuted to their prayer lists and used social media to invoke intercession for particularly urgent needs. Christians have even lobbied for foreign policies geared toward protecting Christians.  In his recent book Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective, theologian Peter J. Leithart...


Snow Poetry

By Aaron Belz January 10, 2014  When a friend recently asked for winter poem recommendations, Wallace Stevens’s “Snow Man” was the first that came to mind: “One must have a mind of winter / to regard the frost and the boughs / of the pine trees crusted with snow…”  The next was Robert Frost’s “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and the third was T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” which begins, “A cold coming we had of it, / Just the worst time of year . . . The ways deep and the weather sharp, / The very dead of winter.”  What is it about snow that moves us? Snow is a perennial, multipurpose literary symbol suggesting many things. One is forgetfulness; in The Waste Land Eliot writes, “Winter kept us warm, covering / Earth in forgetful snow, feeding / a little life with dried tubers.” Another is purity, as in Isaiah 1: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white...


John Kerry and Middle East Peace: Negotiating a Hard Bargain

By Paul S. Rowe January 10, 2014 I recently finished reading a biography of the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Up until the time that he signed a peace treaty with Egypt, Begin was an uncompromising revisionist. He had maximal ambitions that Israel would eventually include all the territory it now occupies – and the state of Jordan as well. He rose to power condemning the Labor governments of the 1970s for seeking compromises in return for peace. And yet, he was eventually persuaded to commit Israel to returning the entire Sinai to Egypt as a necessary concession to ensure a peace treaty. One point that stood out to me in reading his biography was the importance he placed on bargaining hard.  He argued that if one entered negotiations promising concessions from the beginning, the game was lost already. That assertion gives me some marginal feeling of hope for Secretary of State John Kerry as he continues on with his...


Society and Dependence

By Michael J. Gerson January 3, 2014 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  In recent weeks, I’ve had a vivid, personal reminder of how suddenly dependent on others we can become.  After a cancer diagnosis, I had surgery to remove a tumor.  The procedure was successful, but left me in the hospital for a few days and recovering for a few weeks.   Many have had a similar experience at some point in their lives.  One day, you are self-sufficient and self-reliant.  The next, you are dependent on machines and drugs and the care of doctors, nurses and your family.  It is not a pleasant experience to feel helpless, even if you know it is probably temporary.  You are grateful for all the help – but particularly grateful when you no longer need it.  For me it...


Elshtain’s Epiphany

By John D. CarlsonJanuary 3, 2014 James Joyce’s classic “The Dead” unfolds over the Feast of Epiphany. The story’s final passage is replete with contradictions, evoking splendor and melancholy, lightness and darkness; it captures the levity of spirit that is born of solemnity, as it brings the living into communion with the dead: It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and...


The New Silk Road and Beyond: Reshaping the World Economic Geography

By Alice-Catherine Carls January 3, 2014 On October 29, 2013, on the ninetieth anniversary of the Turkish Republic’s founding, a long-awaited and crucial segment of the Silk Road was officially opened. Just under one mile long, the Marmaray Tunnel is the deepest of its kind in the world at 62 meters under the Bosporus. Loaded with historical symbolism, yet a harbinger of the future, it places Turkey again at the center of the Silk Road.  The inland Silk Road, a 5500-mile trek from China to Istanbul, remained closed for six centuries (1349-1945). A late nineteenth century dream, its reopening was delayed by World War I and the rise of the Soviet Union, and the Cold War caused further roadblocks. Only after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 did its reopening become possible. It was the last great endeavor of the twentieth century, and today, twenty years later, it handles a significant part of...


2014, The Year of the Christian College

By Robert Joustra January 3, 2014 Staring down the barrel of 2014 my gut is that we’re living on the cusp of a renaissance of the Christian college, of its rediscovery not as merely ‘Christian’ education, but as public education. The tipping point on recycling elusive brands like ‘liberal arts’ is coinciding with a post-secular moment, one in which the ends of public service, of the common good, have started to redefine the means of liberal arts. The idea that human knowledge is plural, and useful human knowledge must therefore have a plural character, lacks the subversive ethos that it once had during the halcyon collegiate days of positivism. Postmodernism became post-secularism, and the coffee shop zeitgeist has feasted to bursting on a deconstructive hubris, a perpetual suspicion of singular, positive arts...


“Orange States” and “Tricolor States” in Post-Soviet Ukraine

By David Koyzis December 20, 2013  The last several national elections have revealed the United States to be nearly permanently divided into “red” and “blue” states, labels originating in the electoral maps posted by television networks as they cover presidential campaigns. But few Americans are aware that Ukraine is similarly, and more intractably, divided along political lines. In the United States, the red states tend to support the Republican Party while the blue states support the Democratic Party. But, as more than one observer has pointed out, every state is actually a slightly different shade of purple, with blue counties concentrated in the metropolitan areas and red outside these regions. In other words, red and blue appear to represent not so much separate cultures and ideological commitments, but rather a traditional rural-urban split, exacerbated by considerable partisan petulance. While antagonism between Republicans and...


Christianity’s “War on Christmas”

By Matthew Kaemingk December 20, 2013 I am beginning to suspect that American Christians are waging a secret, subtle, and altogether devastating war on Christmas. Left unchallenged, this Christian assault on the “reason for the season” threatens to leave the holiday with little or no public power at all. Each year, with the liturgical regularity of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, countless stories emerge on cable news of anxious and fretful Christians protesting the loss of their cultural dominance. And each year, with the same liturgical regularity, the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart (a Jewish kid from New Jersey) stands in mocking amazement at American Christianity’s inexplicable insecurity. From a position of overwhelming cultural power, American Christianity continues to protest its lack of total cultural hegemony. I might be completely wrong, but from what I can tell, American Christianity’s public anxiety and angst appears to...


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger December 20, 2013  Evangelical Peacemakers: Gospel Engagement in a War-Torn World edited by David P. Gushee (Wipf & Stock; 2013) $19.00.  On a crisp autumn morning in September 2012, a fascinating group of diplomats and citizen activists, missionaries and experts in interfaith dialogue, just war theorists and advocates of nonviolence, gathered for the Evangelicals for Peace Summit on Christian Moral Responsibility.  As booksellers, we were thrilled to see this diverse crowd and to be a part of the event.  The short version of the longer story behind this gathering is that Rick Love, a missionary in mostly Muslim countries who learned to deeply love and desire to understand Muslims, slowly developed a great passion for peacemaking.  He started Peace Catalyst International, a multidimensional organization that trains people to be Holy...


Seeking Asylum, Seeking Work

By Jeremy Taylor December 20, 2013  A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice. Imagine that you have just escaped your home country by foot, boat, train, or air because of an imminent danger or risk of persecution. If you are fortunate enough to survive such a trip to American borders, you will be greeted as an asylum-seeker, not a refugee. Although you might see yourself as a refugee, the United Nations classifies you as an asylum-seeker, since your claims have not yet been evaluated for verification. While this evaluation and verification proceeds, it is possible that...


Thinking Like a Third Party

By Timothy Sherratt December 13, 2013 Demonstrations by immigration reform advocates at the homes, offices, and favorite diners of Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor over the Thanksgiving holiday gave imaginative symbolism to the plight of families divided by or living in fear of deportation. Stalled immigration legislation is one more casualty of the deep divisions known collectively as polarized politics. Polarized politics has gorged on issues whose sensitivity for Christians obliged them to take sides, with a resulting politicization of Christianity. With nowhere else to go on abortion or religious liberty, for example, many made their way to the G.O.P. Hostility on those issues from the other side of the aisle created an apparent seamlessness to the Christian Right’s alignment with neo-conservatism. Understandable though that identification has been—and recall that we are speaking of overwhelming support for...


Can the Government Keep Me Healthy?

By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley December 13, 2013 Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a measure that would eliminate artificial trans fats from food marketed in the United States. Citing decades of medical research and the conclusions of several expert panels, the FDA stated that the agency has “tentatively determined that there is no longer a consensus among qualified scientific experts that PHOs [partially hydrogenated oils], the primary dietary source of industrially-produced trans fatty acids, are safe for human consumption, either directly or as ingredients in other food products” (78 FR 67169). Indeed, the weight of medical evidence indicates that...


Better People

By Aaron Belz December 13, 2013 Does reading poetry make us better people? Reading fiction does, or so The Guardian reported in October, tending to confirm a long-standing core assumption of the humanities. By creating empathy and providing models of human interaction, literary fiction helps its consumers care about each other’s lives and so, the reasoning goes, become better neighbors. If this is true, it has obvious implications for democracy. But what about poetry? Poetry might make its readers more eloquent, clever, interested; it socializes us into patterns established by our distant ancestors. Reading Frost we feel the organization of fields and homesteads in turn-of-the-century Vermont. Reading Dickinson we’re tuned to the clockwork of the mind and psyche. In Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty,” words like...


Justice in the Minimum Wage Debate

By Brad Littlejohn                                                                    December 13, 2013 In recent months, and particularly in recent weeks, a series of campaigns and strikes by fast-food workers have put the issue of the minimum wage squarely back onto the national radar. The minimum wage, first established by law in 1938, began at the equivalent of $4.25/hr. in 2013 dollars (CPI adjusted) and rose to nearly $11/hr. (2013 dollars) by 1968. Minimum wage hikes roughly kept pace with inflation through the 1970s, but then stagnated for nearly 30 years, resulting in a minimum wage today of $7.25/hr., or only $15,000 a year on a full-time salary. Recent campaigns by fast-food workers have called for the wage to more than double to a “living wage” of $15/hr., while more sober...


Religious Freedom vs. Civil Rights

Religious Freedom vs. Civil RightsBy Stanley Carlson-Thies The claim is being made more and more often: when a religious organization asserts its religious freedom right to exempt itself from a general government rule, civil rights critics say that the organization actually is seeking to oppress people who don’t share its convictions.  The ACLU says that is what is happening when Catholic hospitals won’t perform elective abortions. Sara Kohn argues that when Hobby Lobby does not want to cover certain contraceptives in its employee health plan because of religious conviction, it is actually trying to “contort government to impose the religious views of some onto many.” A Political...


The “Crack-Smoking Mayor of Toronto” and the Politics of Middles

By Robert J. JoustraDecember 6, 2013  Hardly could you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than the Toronto City Council these days. It’s theater, not fine theater, mind you, more Trailer Park Boys meets House of Cards, but it gets huge ratings. This is a real problem for the actual work of politics which has not only ground to a halt, but has derailed in a firebomb to rival the Hindenburg. Now most pundits are wondering if these pieces can even be put back together again. Shrapnel from the blast has literally reached around the world.  What a delicious scandal for those of us who can now tune into the nightly news to get our Springer fix: councilors bowled over, lewd shouting matches, NSFW gob smackers, all but WWF collapsible metal chair throwing, which I predict is still ahead.  The old counterintuitive maxim among political scientists is that too much politics in the news, too high of a...


Nelson Mandela and the World After Apartheid

By Gideon Strauss December 6, 2013 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918 - December 5, 2013) first came to national prominence in the 1950s as a leader of the African National Congress’s Defiance Campaign against laws oppressing black South Africans.  Following the March 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in which police officers killed sixty-nine protesters, Mandela renounced nonviolent resistance and with other members of the ANC formed its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). In 1962 Mandela was sentenced to prison for life because of his participation in this armed struggle. During his twenty-seven years in prison, Mandela became the most widely recognized symbol of the struggle against apartheid. In February 1990 Mandela was released from prison as part of a process of negotiations that eventually led to a relatively peaceful transition from apartheid to a non-racial constitutional...


The Twentieth Anniversary of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

By Kim Colby December 6, 2013 The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) remains a singular achievement in our country’s long history of religious freedom. When Congress enacted RFRA in 1993 by overwhelming bipartisan majorities, it rededicated the United States to religious liberty for all Americans.    RFRA’s bipartisan passage. President Clinton signed RFRA into law on November 16, 1993.  Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy together led the effort to pass RFRA in the Senate. The Senate passed RFRA by a vote of 97-3 on October 27, 1993, followed by a unanimous voice vote in the House on November 3.                  Why RFRA was necessary. RFRA was an urgent response to the Supreme Court’s decision in 1990 in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990). The Smith decision,...


Our Faulty Health Care Anchors

By Clarke E. Cochran November 22, 2013  American political and social life is driven partly by obvious ideological and partisan commitments – liberal, conservative, progressive, and libertarian; Democrats and Republicans and Independents. Underlying these, however, are deep cultural anchors, unacknowledged beliefs and commitments that possess a quasi-religious character.[i] I count at least five such anchors that profoundly affect the health care system and perpetuate its ills: Fear, especially fear of lost privileges. Those with good insurance and providers with comfortable incomes worry about health care reform, including Medicare reform, which might upset their prerogatives. Physicians fear loss of income and loss of independence if spending is reined in or if they must join Accountable Care Organizations or follow evidence-based guidelines. Average citizens fear “rationing” and “death...


Finding Common Ground in the Culture War

By Stephen V. Monsma November 22, 2013  The Senate recently passed and sent to the House of Representatives the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) legislation. Its basic goal is to protect LGBT persons against discrimination in employment by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the bases on which persons may not be discriminated against. This is, of course, a controversial issue and an example of what many refer to as an ongoing “culture war” in American society.  Many faith-based colleges and universities, social service agencies, and overseas relief and development organizations rooted in religious traditions believe that those involved in sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage are violating God’s will for human beings and thus those faith-based entities should not hire them. These faith-based organizations would no more hire someone engaged in sexual relations with someone of the same sex as they...


Non-State Efforts to Monitor Corruption in Intercountry Adoption

By Becca McBride and Brooke Bonnema November 22, 2013 This article is the final installment in a three-part series. The first two articles in this series identified government efforts to monitor corruption in intercountry adoption. I discussed the challenges of the international legal framework for intercountry adoption and identified the ways that states try to overcome these challenges. However, since governmental regulation should never substitute for community or individual responsibility, how can Christian organizations and Christian individuals claim responsibility for ethical adoptions and partner with the governmental layers of accountability?   As the gatekeepers facilitating the adoption process, adoption agencies and advocates are at the heart of monitoring and preventing corruption in intercountry adoption. These groups educate adoptive parents on the proper channels for adopting from other countries and help...


The Modern Witness of 12 Years a Slave

By Josh Larsen November 22, 2013 What is it we’re doing when we watch 12 Years a Slave, the critically acclaimed film based on the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup, a free African-American who was kidnapped and sold into slavery? Are we simply remembering? Are we mourning? Is a form of reparation taking place? Is watching and acknowledging a small way of enacting justice? Or is it the opposite – a way to feel good about feeling bad, to shake our heads in disapproval at the past without reckoning with the injustices of the present? 12 Years a Slave doesn’t really allow that last option. One of the things that distinguishes it from other dramatizations of historical atrocities – Schindler’s List being the most prominent example – is the way the movie refuses to let its audience be passive. Director Steve McQueen, who previously made...


A Papal Antidote for Our Doctrinaire Politics?

By Timothy Sherratt November 15, 2013 When House Republicans agreed to reopen the government last month, few regarded that agreement as anything but a temporary truce in the ideological warfare fought by the two parties over many years. The shutdown resembled a conflict in which one side violated an unstated agreement not to use certain kinds of weapons. True, the Republicans fared badly in public opinion polls during the shutdown, so G.O.P. leaders may avoid another shutdown in the near term.  As we enter the next election season, the governors’ races in New Jersey and Virginia failed to deliver a negative verdict on the strategies of the Tea Party and other conservatives in the Republican Party. Moderate G.O.P. Governor Christie’s win was widely expected against a weak opponent, while conservative Republican Attorney General Cuccinelli’s narrow loss in Virginia was as much a function of being outspent many times over by Terry...


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger November 15, 2013 Justice Matters: Personal Encounters in the Global South Nicholas P. Wolterstorff (Baker Academic; 2013) $21.99 Nicholas Wolterstorff is one of today’s most esteemed philosophers. Raised in a conservative Dutch Reformed community in Minnesota, Wolterstorff studied and eventually taught at Calvin College in Grand Rapids and later moved to a significant chair at Yale University. Those who know the early history of the Center for Public Justice will know his name, along with those of other colleagues and public intellectuals who came of age in the heyday of what was sometimes called the reformational movement.  Some of these public thinkers -- Richard Mouw, Alvin Plantinga, Mark Noll (along with Lewis Smedes, Bernard Zylstra, and Gerald Vandezande) -- are considered elder statesmen within Reformed evangelicalism today. CPJ would not be where it is without the intellectual...


State Efforts to Monitor Corruption in Intercountry Adoption

By Becca McBride November 15, 2013 This article is the second installment in a three-part series. The first article in this series identified the challenges in getting states to commit to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, the multilateral treaty governing the practice. Because the states with overwhelming numbers of vulnerable children tend to hesitate to commit to the treaty, what are the implications of this reality for ethical adoptions?  How can we control corruption if other states fail to commit to the treaty designed for that very purpose? This second article focuses on how adopting states have taken on responsibility for controlling corruption, even in the absence of binding international law on the practice. When the United States allows its citizens to adopt from states that have not committed to the Hague Convention, this presents several problems in controlling corruption. The first problem...


Dignifying Elder Care

By Melissa Steffan November 15, 2013 A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice. The majority of conversations I have as a young professional center on just that: being young and professional. In many discussions, it seems as if those two descriptors are immutable elements of my identity. They are not. One day I will be neither young nor a working professional—and at the risk of stating the obvious, the same is true for every other person. Yet I can’t remember the last time I engaged in a conversation about the elderly and the issues related to them. My apathy is symptomatic of an all-too-common concern: We tend...


For the Love of Cliché

By Aaron Belz November 8, 2013 Why do the rhetorics of business, politics, academia, and journalism develop their own dialects? We might assume forward-thinking leaders in each vertical would want to keep their respective vocabularies, how shall we say?—“impactful.”   Cliché and jargon perform a valuable service to the extent that they enable us to more easily traffic complex or nuanced concepts. “Word around the campfire” and “water cooler gossip” are fair ways of describing a particular type of office buzz. These phrases mean something to “the team.” But cliché is better known for being harmful, reflecting laziness and even boredom with its subject matter. “At the end of the day” such considerations do matter, because the way we speak reflects, fundamentally, who we are.   Lauren Collins’s “Mother Tongue”...


International Efforts to Regulate Adoption

By Becca McBride November 8, 2013 This article is the first installment in a three-part series. A recent Wall Street Journal article cautioned Christians about the need to monitor corruption in overseas adoptions. The unfortunate reality of corrupt practices in intercountry adoption raises the question of who is responsible for monitoring these adoptions and enforcing standards to protect children, birth parents, and adoptive parents. Intercountry adoptions require coordinating legal systems across borders where adoptions must be processed in the origin state of the child such that the child can legally be transferred to another family in another state. With such a process, we can imagine the multiple levels of responsibility held by international organizations and treaties and the policies and actions of the states sending and receiving children....


Prudence: The Forgotten Conservative Virtue

By Brad Littlejohn November 8, 2013   In my previous contributions for Capital Commentary on the drones and surveillance debates, respectively, I focused on the danger of allowing undue preoccupation with the virtue of prudence to result in neglecting the virtue of justice. When our authorities worry so much about taking pre-emptive steps to protect us—surely an exercise of prudence—that they no longer make adequate distinctions between the guilty and the innocent, then justice has been sacrificed.   The recent kerfuffle surrounding the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate furnished a sad example of the opposite phenomenon: a public stand for what we were told were principles of justice, with no thought given to considerations of prudence. Conservative leaders promised to fight tooth and nail to stop the injustices of Obamacare (and, for some, of a mounting federal debt), but with very little...


Why Truthfulness Matters

By Michael J. Gerson November 8, 2013 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  America is engaged in a long-running debate about the role of morality in politics. What difference does character make to leadership? Does it matter if a politician used drugs as a youth? Or breaks a pledge of marital fidelity? The arguments run back and forth.  But few will dispute the importance of truthfulness in politics – the most public of the virtues.  This issue is, once again, in the news.  In making his argument to pass the Affordable Care Act, President Obama assured voters that they could keep their current health insurance plans. The pledge was made repeatedly and without qualification, becoming a centerpiece of Obama’s rhetoric on health reform.  It was not a slip, but a strategy. Now millions of...


Justice Versus Justice

By David Koyzis November 1, 2013 In Plato’s Republic, Socrates’ conversation with his friends over the nature of justice takes a startling turn when Thrasymachus drops a bombshell. It is more profitable, he argues, for people to be unjust than just, if they can manage to get away with it without incurring a bad reputation. Of course, no society could function on this principle for very long, as individuals would seek to exempt themselves from the rule of law and to gain at others’ expense. Criminal activity is universally condemned as an obvious violation of justice. Here justice is evidently set against injustice of the worst kind. However, most political issues do not have such a simple dichotomy between justice and injustice. In the real world, conflict is likely to lie not between just and unjust, but between different visions of justice. Partisans everywhere often have difficulty understanding this. A good example of...


Why Religious Liberty is More than Coexisting

By Jeremy Taylor November 1, 2013 A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice. For all of the warts and exceptions, Americans enjoy a fair amount of liberty in matters of faith. Writing from Fredericksburg, Va., in 1777, Thomas Jefferson said, “All men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.” And, while his theology was opaque, Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom became the catalyst to the Bill of Rights and modern-day religious freedom initiatives. Although the practice and...


Step Into My Office

By James W. Skillen November 1, 2013 This article was originally published in 1988 for the Christian Legal Society. It has been republished as a collection of pieces in the Journal of Christian Legal Thought (2 J. Christian L. Thought, at 13 (Fall 2012)) Asking someone to step into your office might mean as little as inviting that person to “come in out of the cold,” or to join you “where you can have some privacy.” But it can also mean much more. You might be asking someone to “step into your shoes” in order to see a situation from your point of view. If you hold a “high” office of judge or governor or attorney general, you might be inviting someone to recognize the special responsibilities that your office holds—responsibilities that can only be fully appreciated from an inside view.  Although the word “office”...


The Tenth Man

By Robert J. Joustra November 1, 2013 Few things galvanize foreign policy decision making like a zombie apocalypse. The latest undead epic film World War Z singles out Israeli intelligence for special praise in its response. Indeed, as the world bends and breaks under the swell of the underworld denizens, Jerusalem stands proud atop the tide. Why is that? According to Max Brooks, whose original 2006 novel inspired the film, Israeli intelligence beat the one enemy stronger than zombie hordes: group think. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War (also known as the Arab-Israeli War), a war so spectacular in its exposure of intelligence failure that it revolutionized Israel’s approach to decision making. While Egypt and Syria led the Arab states against a largely unsuspecting Israel, it was not entirely ignorant of the threat. In fact, Israel’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (Aman) was almost completely...


Education Reform in Chicago Public Schools

By Theodore Williams III October 25, 2013 In 1995, the Illinois legislature, supported by Mayor Richard Daley, passed the Chicago School Reform Amendatory Act (CSRAA). In an effort to provide the mayor with full control over the Chicago Public Schools, this legislation eliminated public input in the selection of the school board members and gave the mayor the responsibility for the choice of its president. Armed with this power, Mayor Daley and the current mayor Rahm Emanuel have embarked upon an aggressive program of educational reform with significant efforts to change the culture of Chicago’s failing schools.    Chicago is a case study of the impact of urban poverty on public education. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has over 400,000 children, 87% of whom are classified as low-income. This district has long possessed some of the nation’s highest dropout...


The Iranian Nuclear Conundrum

By Steven E. Meyer October 25, 2013 The first round of nuclear talks in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 (United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, and Germany) is now complete; the second round will begin on November 7. The talks are being conducted in secret and both sides have announced that they are satisfied with the first-round discussions. A senior U.S official said the talks were “intense, detailed, straightforward, and candid” and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif described the first round as a “very important step” and that Iran was “looking to the future with some hope.”    However, the fact that the talks were being conducted in secret, reputedly to protect their confidentiality and to encourage honesty, has led to considerable criticism and opposition in Iran and the United States. One of the most significant obstacles to any deal to restrict Iran’s nuclear development is the “rejectionists” in both...


Androgyny or Antigone: Jean Bethke Elshtain’s Feminism

By M. Christian Green October 25, 2013 On August 11, 2013, Jean Bethke Elshtain passed away. Elshtain was a leading public intellectual at the University of Chicago, where she held a rather unusual joint appointment in both the divinity school and the political science department. One of Elshtain’s greatest legacies was her intellectual commitment to bringing God into the discussion of politics. Elshtain participated in various events with the Center for Public Justice over the years and references to her work and ideas have appeared frequently in CPJ’s publications. This is the third installment in a series of reflections on Elshtain’s work and legacy. When I went to study with Jean Bethke Elshtain, just a year after she joined the faculty of the University of Chicago Divinity School, there was a pronounced subterranean hum, especially among her female graduate students, about her work on women, family, and feminism. Was she or...


Apocalypse Not Now

By Michael J. Gerson October 25, 2013 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  One of the most notable features of modern political discourse is the increase in urgent, even apocalyptic, political appeals. We all get fundraising letters or hear political activists asserting that unless some action is taken or resisted, America will find itself on the brink of disaster.  This type of discourse is a temptation on every side of the political spectrum, but it has become particularly pronounced on the Tea Party right. Leaders of that movement argue that implementing Obamacare will fundamentally alter the character of the country, transforming America into a nation of dependents. The old self-governing republic will cease to exist, and we have only a few years before the damage is irreversible. I have been in the middle of...


No Ultimate Political Solutions

By Timothy Sherratt October 18, 2013 “The land of the free...because of the brave.” Even the uncertain calligraphy on the homemade sign along the roadside lent that lapidary truth a certain dignity. On a bright fall day of breathtaking colors, the highway from Grand Junction, CO going south passes through one All-America City award winner after another, from the farming towns of Delta and Montrose to the old mining town of Ouray, and over the passes to Silverton and Durango. The neat red, white, and blue signs describing the awards, as well as the homemade ones displayed outside homes and businesses, advertise a determined commitment to family, home, and civic responsibility-- a clear-eyed embrace of the links between liberty and sacrifice. But all is not well in this corner of the Rocky Mountains. “We the People…are p….’d off,” declared another patriot. The sentiment is widely shared, however expressed. And though it may...


Christians in the Middle East: More than Leaseholders?

By Paul Rowe October 18, 2013 This article originally appeared on September 30 in the Cardus Daily. The violence that has befallen Christians in Egypt is a crisis that threatens the most important bastion of the faith in the region. It falls on the heels of crises that have forced massive emigration of Christians from Iraq and the Palestinian territories over the past two decades. Indeed, there is much to be concerned about when we hear authors and journalists predicting “the extinction of Christianity in the Middle East”, as quoted by Ed West in The Spectator last month. But will Christian response repeat errors of the twentieth century, or aim instead for a more productive movement? West calls out the international media for ignoring the plight of Christians in the Middle East, while...


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger October 18, 2013Some Of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America  Tanner Colby (Penguin) $16.00We are living in a golden age of creative nonfiction with many excellent books that combine memoir, cultural history, and social analysis. Tanner Colby’s recently released study of the history of “the strange story of integration in America” is a wonderful example of this type of work. Colby, an energetic and clever storyteller, conveys an exciting story full of pathos, humor, and huge import. What really happened in the post-Jim Crow era as the nation moved from the crass racism of separate drinking fountains and schools through the era of “forced busing” to the present when there have been huge strides in civil liberties for racial minorities but where self-segregation and racial anxieties continue to plague?  Have political and social efforts to...


Supreme Court Watch: Prayer and Pluralism Revisited

By Julia K. Stronks October 18, 2013 The US Supreme Court opened its 2013-14 term on Monday October 7th. While conversations about Syria, the government shutdown, and the debt ceiling dominate the news cycle, it is important to think about how the upcoming year’s legal decisions could impact the lives of ordinary Americans. Although recent deliberations around same-sex marriage, immigration, and the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act focused the public’s attention on the Court in ways that we haven’t seen in quite a while, the cases facing the Supreme Court this year do not have the same high profile, hot button excitement. However, these upcoming decisions, although perhaps less exciting, have the potential for long-term impact in wide-ranging areas. The Court is reconsidering past precedent for abortion access and the ability of...


Imagining Peace, Practicing Hope

By Erik Borggren October 11, 2013 As a nation, we practice remembering well. We promise "we will never forget," and after twelve years since the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, we have not forgotten. However these twelve years have not only been marked by deliberate remembering, but also scarred by war. With the war in Afghanistan coming to a close as US troops withdraw by the end of 2014, one has to wonder what healing, reconciliation, and peace look like—not only for the people of Afghanistan, but also for those of us here in the United States. What does just peace look like for a people who will never, indeed who cannot, forget?  I respond to this question as a pastor. While we in the church belong to a larger “we” as citizens of this country, we, as a community of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, ultimately belong to the slain Lamb and resurrected Messiah who sits on the throne sovereign over history. Therefore,...


Pluralism and Challenges in Employment

By Julia K. Stronks October 11, 2013 A story broke recently that challenges those of us interested in the employment rights of faith-based institutions. A longtime theology professor at Azusa Pacific University in California told administrators that she was transgender and would be undergoing gender reassignment surgery.  Heather Ann Clements is now known as H. Adam Ackley. It isn’t clear what Azusa Pacific will do. Initial reports indicated that Ackley was asked to leave, but he is still teaching. Moreover, faculty members at Azusa Pacific are saying that the administration is handling this matter with tremendous grace and sensitivity, which is a wonderful thing. Ackley has consulted an attorney, and it remains to be seen if he will be allowed to finish the last two years of a five-year contract. One of the important questions will be whether the state of being transgender violates any university policy or the employment contract signed...


Sebelius vs. Stewart: A Clash of Rhetorics

By Aaron Belz October 11, 2013 On Monday night’s Daily Show, Jon Stewart presented Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius with what he called “a challenge”:  “I’m going to try to download every movie ever made, and you’re going to try to sign up for Obamacare, and we’ll see which happens first.” Sebelius’s pained look and instinct to reply in kind disappeared into a genial “okay.” This Daily Show episode highlights the contrast between political and comic rhetoric—and the separate but complementary role of each. Sebelius genuinely tries to explain how Obamacare is intended to work. Stewart, more focused on its reality, alternates between earnest questioning and comic relief. Of Obamacare’s faltering start he asks, “Is this working? Is this not working?” “Well the great news is, we have...


The Value of Realism in Politics

By Michael J. Gerson October 11, 2013 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  In the complex, continuing debates over funding the government and increasing the debt limit, one consistent demand of the Tea Party movement has been the repeal or defunding of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. And activists have accused Republicans who oppose this approach of being compromised, going so far as to run political ads against some of them.  It was never a realistic strategy. President Obama would certainly have vetoed any repeal of his defining legislative accomplishment. A veto override would require 67 votes in the Senate – a body that currently has a Democratic majority. The repeal of Obamacare was hopeless from the start.  So why have these calls persisted?  Some legislators and groups have clearly...


Lumen Fidei and the Politics of Trust

By Robert J. Joustra October 4, 2013 Epistemology is a big word, and I try to avoid using it in conversation mostly because I don’t want to be “that guy.” But the word recurred, it returned and repeated, through my recent reading of the encyclical of Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, on my Toronto Union-bound train. Craig Bartholomew defines epistemology as how you go about knowing something such that you trust the results of the knowing process. Lumen Fidei, the light of faith, is pregnant with Christian epistemology, with rejoinders that “unless you believe, you will not understand” and “self-knowledge is only possible when we share in a greater memory.” Trust, and the faith which it reveals, is the first virtue of knowledge. But it’s also the first virtue of politics. Trust, wrote Francis Fukuyama famously, is the...


Beyond “The Right to Privacy”: A New Look at the Surveillance Debate (2)

By Brad Littlejohn October 4, 2013 This is the second article in a two-part series. In the previous installment, I highlighted some of the problems with the language of the “right to privacy” in the debate over government surveillance. Indeed, the language of “rights” tends to reinforce the individualism of the language of “privacy,” focusing attention on the abstract claims of the would-be victim, rather than the concrete responsibilities of the would-be aggressor. What if we spoke rather of a duty to respect one another’s privacy?  While this may seem logically equivalent to a right to privacy, it helps foreground the interpersonal element, hints at the need for circumstantially-dependent application, and places the initiative on the...


Renewal in the Shadow of Great Power Politics

By Becca McBride October 4, 2013 Something is broken in the United Nations system. I realize that I am not the first to notice this, nor can I offer the last word on the subject. However, events in the past two weeks have highlighted the underlying tension in the UN Security Council, a tension that we need to recognize in order to contribute to the debate about how to formulate and support effective foreign policy within the realities of a broken system.  In September, the world’s leaders gathered to debate, discuss, and build consensus around solutions to international problems at the UN General Assembly meeting. The backdrop to this picture of multilateral engagement was the standstill in the UN Security Council on how to hold Syria accountable. President Obama’s insistence that any Security Council resolution must promise severe consequences if Syria fails to follow through on its obligation to identify and surrender its chemical...


Jean Bethke Elshtain, Václav Havel, and the Ethics of Responsibility

By Lubomir Martin Ondrasek October 4, 2013  On August 11, 2013, Jean Bethke Elshtain passed away. Elshtain was a leading public intellectual at the University of Chicago, where she held a rather unusual joint appointment in both the divinity school and the political science department. One of Elshtain’s greatest legacies was her intellectual commitment to bringing God into the discussion of politics. Elshtain participated in various events with the Center for Public Justice over the years and references to her work and ideas have appeared frequently in CPJ’s publications. This is the second installment in a Capital Commentary series on Elshtain’s work and legacy. Jean Bethke Elshtain had a soft spot for East-Central Europe and particularly for two of its remarkable leaders who each contributed in different ways to the demise of communist totalitarianism in Europe: Pope John Paul II and Václav...


Our System is Designed for Compromise

By Michael J. Gerson September 27, 2013 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  Washington has entered another series of high stakes budget showdowns over spending and the debt limit.  Democrats are debating Republicans, but Republicans are also debating among themselves.  Republican leaders are pushing for budget restraint using the constitutional leverage that comes with controlling the House of Representatives. Over the last few years, this strategy has often been messy and difficult, but it has also yielded significant results. Congress has cut spending by about $2.6 trillion over ten years and raised taxes by about $700 billion. America’s short-term debt position has gotten better – though our massive long-term debt problem, mainly caused by unsustainable health entitlements, remains largely unaddressed. ...


Education – Our Responsibility as Citizens

By Stephanie Summers September 27, 2013 In a September 20 article, Frederick M. Hess, Director of Education-Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute writes about the bipartisan coalition pursuing education reform.  Hess contends that the missing half of education reform is comprised of needed resources from non-governmental organizations that can equip a cadre of leaders to implement the policy changes being made within the existing school system. Hess writes, Rewriting [education] policy constitutes only half of a reform agenda. It is equally vital to produce leaders willing and able to leverage new opportunities and to support them as they do so. In a vibrant private sector, this process unfolds organically and invisibly. In a publicly governed system, it needs to be helped along. Indeed, doing so can represent a crucial private,...


Seeing the Imago Dei in Fruitvale Station

By Josh Larsen September 27, 2013 The foundation of any Christian pursuit of justice is the understanding that we are, despite our flaws, created in the image of God. Any confrontation of wrongdoing that has been committed against a fellow human being starts here. Fruitvale Station - a dramatization of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed in 2009 by transit police in Oakland, CA - functions as just this sort of building block. Rather than offering an angry harangue on racial profiling or a clinical procedural on the details of the case (both of which would be legitimate artistic responses), first-time writer-director Ryan Coogler offers something quieter, simpler, and more elemental. By letting us live with Grant (Michael B. Jordan) for twenty four, mostly uneventful, hours, experiencing his kindness, his anger, his missteps, and his nobility, the movie captures...


Beyond “The Right to Privacy”: A New Look at the Surveillance Debate (1)

By Brad Littlejohn September 27, 2013 This article is the first installment in a two-part series. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden set off a firestorm early this summer by leaking documents exposing the nature and extent of US government surveillance programs. He claimed that what he wanted above all was to provoke a debate about what sort of surveillance our society thought was appropriate. Whatever else you think about him, he certainly succeeded in that. Although the news media and public policy pundits have found other topics to spotlight over the last three months, Snowden’s steady release of new revelations has kept the debate simmering without any clear resolution.  Given the terms of the debate, it seems doomed to sterility: a tradeoff between the “right to privacy” and the “responsibility to protect.”  We are stuck within a zero-sum game, an endless tug-of-war between private and public, between...


It’s Your Turn to be Vladimir Putin

By Timothy Sherratt September 20, 2013 How ironic it is that Russian President Vladimir Putin, via the influence he exercises on the Syrian regime, should have saved President Obama from the no-win consequences of his “red line” pledge on chemical weapons made last year. When his bluff was called by last month’s atrocity that left over thirteen hundred Syrian civilians dead, the president seemed first to imply that a military strike was imminent before he pivoted and called on Congress to give him broad authority to act. The change of heart sent mixed messages and a “no” vote was widely predicted. With the vote delayed and diplomacy on the brink of an important achievement, the President can still rattle the saber but to a more constructive end: Syria must abide by the accord reached in Geneva by Secretary Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, or military strikes may take place.    The accord creates space to...


Are We Exceptional?

By Steven E. Meyer September 20, 2013 Last week, President Obama described US policy as “exceptional” in arguing his case for military action against Syria. The next day, Russian President Putin had an editorial in the New York Times that took issue not only with Obama’s argument, but more broadly with American exceptionalism. Although arguments about American exceptionalism are not new, the Obama-Putin dispute has once again raised the issue of America’s understanding of its role in the world. But what exactly does American exceptionalism mean and what should it mean for Christians?  First, the United States does not have a monopoly on the concept. At various times through history, many other countries at the height of their power—Britain, Russia, France and Spain--considered themselves exceptional. The first recorded allusion to American exceptionalism was in a 1630 sermon delivered by the Puritan minister Jonathan Winthrop, who...


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger September 20, 2013 A year ago, Os Guinness wrote A Free People’s Suicide, examining the clause within the US Bill of Rights that assures US citizens freedom of and freedom from religion. He evaluated the nuances and implications of such freedoms and proposed guidelines for more profound conversations on these themes. He insisted that a culture of responsibility for the common good is needed to make all this work, and such values emerge most robustly from a culture that is religiously open. Through an illuminating reading of history and the ideas behind the US Constitution, Guinness argued passionately and eloquently that religious freedoms can create religious habits among people, sustaining a democratic society. I was glad to commend his book here for CPJ friends. This year, Guinness has graced us with another...


Evil and the Politics of Hope

By Marc LiVecche September 20, 2013 On August 11, 2013, Jean Bethke Elshtain passed away. Elshtain was a leading public intellectual at the University of Chicago, where she held a rather unusual joint appointment in both the divinity school and the political science department. One of Elshtain’s greatest legacies was her intellectual commitment to bringing God into the discussion of politics. Elshtain participated in various events with the Center for Public Justice over the years and references to her work and ideas have appeared frequently in CPJ’s publications. Over the coming weeks, Capital Commentary will be running a series of reflections on Elshtain’s work and legacy. This is the first installment in the series. Last week, our nation observed the twelfth anniversary of the events of September 11th, 2011. In the immediate wake of “the terrible anniversary,” as one commentator described it, it...


Christian Service is Not a Parachurch Activity

By James W. Skillen September 13, 2013 This article was originally published in 1986 for the Christian Legal Society. It has been republished as a collection of pieces in the Journal of Christian Legal Thought (2 J. Christian L. Thought, at 13 (Fall 2012)). The prefix para means alongside of, or beside. It characterizes something that may be auxiliary or supplemental to something else. A paramedic is someone who assists a medical professional. A parasite is something that lives off something else. In the New Testament, the believers in Christ are variously referred to as the people of God, the bride of Christ, the house or temple of God, the Church and the body of Christ. In this sense, the Church is the body of believers in an all-encompassing sense. Everything they are and do belongs to Christ. Their lives are being totally renewed and...


The Poetry of 9/11

September 13, 2013 By Aaron Belz On the morning of September 11, 2001, I disembarked a city bus at Saint Louis University. It was a cool day under a brilliant blue sky; I remember well the hiss of the bus door as I exited and walked toward Pius XII Memorial Library. When I arrived at the reference desk, in search of a map to serve as a visual aid for the 19th-century poetry class I was teaching, the librarian looked shocked. She didn’t respond to my request but turned around her desktop computer monitor so I could see the news headline. It was after one tower had been struck but before the second. “How can you ask for a map at a time like this?!” she asked, then handed me off to a student worker, who walked me to the map room. I didn’t divine the import of that morning’s events while they were happening. I didn’t dismiss my classes, nor did I watch the news at all, even after I’d heard the initial reports. I didn’t want to hunger...


Justly Fighting Job Discrimination

By Stanley Carlson-Thies September 13, 2013 The Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) raises big issues about how to justly reconcile differing convictions about sexual conduct and the sometimes conflicting interests of employees and employers. ENDA proposes to forbid job discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity (transgender status). This bill has broad consequences for religious freedom and religious organizations. ENDA bills have been proposed regularly in Congress since the mid-1990s. But while a number of states and big (and small) cities have adopted this worker protection, the federal bills have never gotten far. Most recently, the House adopted an ENDA bill in 2007, but the Senate did not act. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) recently voted favorably on the current bill (S. 815), and Senate leaders promise floor action this fall. However, it seems unlikely that the current...


Chemical Weapons and Our Moral Response

By Michael J. Gerson September 13, 2013 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  President Obama’s recent speech to the nation on Syria focused on a serious challenge: the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. He pointed, in particular, to the August 21st attack that killed well over 1,000 people, including many children. But the regime probably used chemical weapons in smaller amounts more than a dozen times before that, without much attention or consequence.  The president’s description of the suffering caused by those weapons was moving. And he is correct that they occupy a uniquely horrifying place in the history of warfare. They are essentially and purposely indiscriminate. They produce not only casualties, but also mass terror, driving mass refugee flows. And they have been banned from use...


The Perils of Taking Sides

By David KoyzisSeptember 6, 2013 In Malcolm Magee’s fascinating book on Woodrow Wilson’s “faith-based foreign policy,” What the World Should Be, the author notes that, in the two major conflicts during Wilson’s  administration, the president took sides largely out of a desire to divide the world into obvious “good guys” and “bad guys.” In the Mexican civil war, Wilson intervened on behalf of the faction to which he ascribed the most righteousness, although the murky realities of that country’s politics should have elicited a more cautious response. Similarly, during the First World War, Wilson’s admiration for British political institutions and his instinctive distrust of “German theology” predisposed him to commit the United States to the cause of London and Paris against Berlin and Vienna. A century later, we face similar...


Fresh Air for the Environmental Conversation

By Rusty PritchardSeptember 6, 2013 Climate change is real, but it isn’t the only environmental issue. Although global warming will be a concern for generations to come, the current shouting match about whether, when, and how to deal with it will gradually subside, to be replaced by the grim work of adaptation and mitigation.  For now, though, the challenges the climate debate presents to the body politic are serious. Just a few years ago, climate was thought to be the locomotive issue that could pull all the other environmental issues in its train. If the nation could just pass an enlightened climate policy, environmentalists figured they would get many of the other things they’d been wanting as side-effects (“co-benefits” was the label used). Clean air, energy efficiency, reforestation, and urban sprawl reduction...


When Power Goes to Your Head

By Robert J. Joustra September 6, 2013 Over at the Acton Institute, they’re fond of saying that power corrupts, and the bank of evidence is pretty hefty. Even Andy Crouch has turned his prodigious faculties to the problem of power and the Gospel in his book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. Just how do we parse this Jesus, who spent so much time sticking it to the man, when we Christians become the man? There are a lot of different ways to think about power, of course, and hardly a social or cultural situation exists in which some kinds of power do not operate, often beyond our acuity. Christians (even the kind that take Jesus seriously) know that power is a gift, meant for service, for bended knees and washing feet, and – in the words of Andy Crouch – for answering the question: who is flourishing because of my power? But power is also an experience, a...


From Nagasaki to Damascus: Just War and American Consistency

By Daniel R. Allen September 6, 2013 As the world weighs a response to chemical weapons attacks in Syria, it is helpful to reflect on the larger issue of the United States’ nuclear arsenal. Just over sixty-eight years ago, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Syria’s recent WMD usage compels us to consider to what extent humanity is capable of preventing the next use of nuclear weapons. I encountered this issue head-on when I traveled recently to Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the anniversaries of the atomic bombings, alongside a group of faculty from Christian universities throughout North America. Two renowned activists committed to abolishing nuclear weapons led our group, one of whom had the unenviable task of trying to craft a policy position for the...


Beyond Purely Economic Solutions to Poverty

By the Editorial Team, Shared Justice August 30, 2013 A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice. The Great Recession is behind us, but the worst may be yet to come. According to the Associated Press, nearly 80 percent of Americans are struggling to stay afloat even though the economy has begun to recover from the recession that began in 2008. William Julius Wilson, a Harvard University professor whose expertise includes joblessness and urban poverty, told the AP that...


Politics and Prose

August 30, 2013 By Byron Borger Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) Jordan J. Ballor (Wipf & Stock) $26.00.  In this column, I sometimes highlight books that help us deepen our citizenship and be thoughtful about contemporary political involvement. Other times, I explain the strengths of books that help ordinary Christians nurture the Christian mind so that we can think Biblically about responsible civic life. Sometimes those books are more basic, suitable for small groups to read together, and occasionally they are more academic and complex, important for scholars and those called to mature political reflection.  And then there are books like this one, a new and splendidly tricky book to categorize. Ballor, currently pursuing a PhD in historical theology at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, is very well read and a dedicated student of political and economic...


Poverty Alleviation, Social Innovation, and the Nonprofit Sector

By Catherine E. Wilson August 30, 2013 On August 17, I attended my first baseball game of the 2013 season – the Phillies versus the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. While the Phillies were not fortunate enough to capture a win that night, Phillies players and Citizens Bank captured the hearts of the region’s residents as that evening’s game was dedicated to the Phans Feeding Families program, an initiative providing hunger relief in the Delaware Valley. Phillies fans were encouraged to donate non-perishable food at the stadium’s entrances, purchase a commemorative pin, and attend a pregame party to help fight hunger and malnutrition in the region. A socially innovative partnership forged among the Phillies, Citizens Bank, and the Halladay Family Foundation, Phans Feeding Families donated its proceeds that evening (as it has done in the past) to the nonprofit Philabundance, the largest food bank in Greater Philadelphia....


Responding to Syria’s War

By Michael J. Gerson August 30, 2013 This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  Last week I returned from Jordan, a nation strained to the breaking point because its neighbor, Syria, has descended into violence and chaos. About 600,000 refugees have come across the border into a county of only seven million people. One refugee camp, which was an empty stretch of sand a year ago, now has about 120,000 residents, making it the fourth largest city in Jordan. Over several days, I talked with Syrian refugees, both in the camps and those living in towns and cities in Jordan. They told terrible stories of suffering. While there are abuses on all sides of the complex Syrian conflict, the Assad regime has engaged in mass violence against civilians, using artillery, aerial bombing, SCUD missiles, and chemical weapons on...


American Political Values and the Egyptian Dilemma

August 23, 2013 By Timothy Sherratt  Earlier this week, Senator John McCain argued for cutting off military aid to Egypt in response to the bloody suppression of protests by the Egyptian military: “For us to sit by and watch this happen is a violation of everything that we stood for.” And he went on, “We’re not sticking to our values.” Maybe I need a primer in diplomacy or moral reasoning, or both, but Senator McCain’s black-and-white world looks gray to me. Egypt appears on the brink of civil war, or at least a period of prolonged conflict. Supporters of ousted President Mohammad Morsi insist they will continue protests that have seen nearly a thousand fatalities in the last week. Those supporters include ordinary citizens and heavily armed fighters capable of launching deadly rocket-propelled grenade attacks on...


Ginsberg’s “America” Revisited

August 23, 2013 By Aaron Belz Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem “America”  relies on a form of personification known as apostrophe, an address to an inanimate object as though it were a person. The object of the poem is America as a nation, as its citizens, and as a historical and political idea. It’s as boisterous as any Ginsberg poem, leaping, line to line, from declamation to confession to accusation to seemingly private resolution. It jumps from earnest to comical and back again. “I’m addressing you,” the poet reminds himself in line 38, then follows with “Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine? / I’m obsessed by Time Magazine. / I read it every week.” Four lines later: “It occurs to me that I am America. / I am talking to myself again.” Then, much later: “America how can I write a holy litany in your silly...


The Problem of Elections and Australia’s Two-Party Parliamentary System

August 23, 2013 By Bruce Wearne Australian voters go to the polls on September 7th for parliamentary elections. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has held the Treasury Benches since Prime Minister Rudd led it to victory in December 2007. By 2010, the Rudd government was in trouble, in spite of helping Australia weather the global financial crisis. Anticipating an election in 2010, the party’s power brokers removed Rudd to make way for Julia Gillard, who became Australia’s first female Prime Minister. However, by late June of this year, a clear majority of Labor’s federal parliamentarians believed that Gillard was in fact an electoral liability. Rudd won a leadership ballot among his parliamentary colleagues and has been back in the top job for the past few months. Now pundits have given Labor a greater chance although most polls indicate a Liberal-National coalition victory. I suspect that Rudd’s reinstatement came about...


Seeking Justice in the International Arena: A Christian Vocation?

August 23, 2013 By Steven E. Meyer Promoting justice, both domestically and internationally, has always been of paramount importance for the Center for Public Justice and Christians in general.  By justice, we have in mind right (i.e. moral) action; rectitude. However, establishing concrete action that is just has always been a difficult proposition; one person’s justice easily can be another person’s injustice.  Philosopher Simone Weil once said that “there is one, and only one, thing in modern society more hideous than crime, namely repressive justice.”   There are as many understandings of justice in the United States as there are currents of political, social, and religious thought. Even Christians, who share a common commitment to basic faith principles, have no consensus about what justice means. In the domestic realm, some people see justice in providing public money for private education; others do not. ...


A Public Square Parable from Beyond the Hills

August 16, 2013 By Josh Larsen Capital Commentary is taking a two-week editorial break. As some of you may be enjoying some time off with family or friends, consider picking up a book or watching a movie recommended and reviewed in these Editor’s Picks from previous Politics and Prose and Politics and Film columns. Same-sex marriage. Contraception and health-care coverage. Historical Adam. As these divisive issues continue to back some Christian churches and institutions into a corner, it’s become increasingly crucial to find an answer to this question: how can such places stay true to their religious convictions while also maintaining a vital presence in the public square? As we consider this dilemma, an applicable parable can be found in the excellent Romanian film Beyond the Hills. The movie won a top prize at last year’s Cannes International Film Festival and played at select...


Disney, Gender Equality and the Bold Move made by Brave

August 16, 2013 By Josh Larsen Capital Commentary is taking a two-week editorial break. As some of you may be enjoying some time off with family or friends, consider picking up a book or watching a movie recommended and reviewed in these Editor’s Picks from previous Politics and Prose and Politics and Film columns. We usually think of the struggle for gender equality as taking place in courtrooms, boardrooms or in Congress. Last year, in fact, the Paycheck Fairness Act—meant to address data suggesting that women earn about 77 cents compared to every dollar earned by men—failed to pass the Senate. Sometimes,...


Politics and Prose

August 16, 2013 By Byron Borger  Capital Commentary is taking a two-week editorial break. As some of you may be enjoying some time off with family or friends, consider picking up a book or watching a movie recommended and reviewed in these Editor’s Picks from previous Politics and Prose and Politics and Film columns. The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define Us as a Nation by Stephen Prothero (HarperOne; 2012)   The title of Prothero’s amazingly interesting and thorough work, recently out in paperback, is at once helpful and troubling. Biblically balanced readers will be on guard against insinuations of civil religion and may even recoil at a book that uses the metaphor of sacred Scripture for a compilation of significant texts that have developed within the public conversation of US history.  Does it confuse matters to...


Politics & Prose

August 16, 2013 By Byron Borger Capital Commentary is taking a two-week editorial break. As some of you may be enjoying some time off with family or friends, consider picking up a book or watching a movie recommended and reviewed in these Editor’s Picks from previous Politics and Prose and Politics and Film columns. Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement by Ronald J. Sider (Brazos, 2012)    Nearly two decades ago there was much discussion about the "scandal of the evangelical mind.”  As the press releases, book title and punch lines put it, evangelicals were good at a lot, but thinking deeply and distinctively wasn't a strong suit. Still, even in Mark Noll's initial book, he admitted there were glorious exceptions, and the faith-based scholarship of Center for Public Justice—in the historic line of Abraham Kuyper in Holland and...


Waiting for Superman—and Self-Sacrifice—in Public Education

August 9, 2013 By Josh Larsen Capital Commentary is taking a two-week editorial break. As some of you may be enjoying some time off with family or friends, consider picking up a book or watching a movie recommended and reviewed in these Editor’s Picks from previous Politics and Prose and Politics and Film columns. The teachers’ strike involving Chicago’s public school system came in the shadow of the acclaimed documentary Waiting for Superman. Released in 2010, Superman follows a handful of families who have been failed by their neighborhood schools and are hoping to land a coveted spot in one of the better-performing charter schools in their respective districts.  Recalling...


Challenging Interpretations of Zero Dark Thirty

August 9, 2013 By Josh Larsen Capital Commentary is taking a two-week editorial break. As some of you may be enjoying some time off with family or friends, consider picking up a book or watching a movie recommended and reviewed in these Editor’s Picks from previous Politics and Prose and Politics and Film columns. Zero Dark Thirty, a dramatization of the hunt for and killing of Osama bin Laden, went up for five Academy Awards, but the movie has hardly been universally adored. While most critics swooned, political pundits in particular have taken the picture to task over its handling of the topic of torture. The debate began in last December when The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald – before having seen the film – denounced it for fabricating history and glorifying torture as an...


Politics & Prose

August 9, 2013 By Byron Borger Capital Commentary is taking a two-week editorial break. As some of you may be enjoying some time off with family or friends, consider picking up a book or watching a movie recommended and reviewed in these Editor’s Picks from previous Politics and Prose and Politics and Film columns. Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E.J. Dionne, Jr. (Bloomsbury)  The Center for Public Justice steadfastly maintains that we are neither left nor right; to even say we are centrist yields too much to the very metaphor of a continuum with two opposite ends.  To deconstruct this image is vexing since most Americans have such a continuum inextricably burned into their political imagination.  Nonetheless, we need help seeing and understanding the competing political traditions in...


Politics & Prose

August 9, 2013 By Byron Borger  Capital Commentary is taking a two-week editorial break. As some of you may be enjoying some time off with family or friends, consider picking up a book or watching a movie recommended and reviewed in these Editor’s Picks from previous Politics and Prose and Politics and Film columns. Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat by James Bratt (Eerdmans; 2013) On Kuyper: A Collection of Readings on the Life, Work & Legacy of Abraham Kuyper Edited by Steve Bishop & John Kok (Dordt College Press; 2013) The Center for Public Justice is broad-based citizen movement drawing on a variety of political theorists, theologians, and public intellectuals.  In this column, I am delighted to review an assortment of books that help us think more fruitfully about politics and...


The Big Picture

August 8, 2013 By William Edgar A quick glance at some of the headlines in the news leaves one rather breathless: - The Muslim Brotherhood faces opposition from fellow Muslims- Car bombs kill dozens in Iraq- Interactive art show comes to Central Park- Pope Francis says he won’t judge gay priests- Bob Dylan is on tour with “Americanarama”- Saks sells to Hudson Bay, owner of Lord & Taylor- Progress is made in understanding eczema- Rio de Janeiro prepares for the World Cup- Legislation is pending to rein-in N.S.A. surveillance And the list goes on. How can we begin to interact with all of these issues, made all the more vivid and urgent by constant media coverage, bringing them hourly on to our screens and apps? The Center for Public Justice has been addressing these “headline” topics since its inception, but with a deliberate difference. Avoiding piecemeal responses based...


The Porn Wall and Christian Politics in the Digital World

August 2, 2013 By Robert J. Joustra David Cameron’s ambitious plan to block the naughty bits from the British internet inked up headlines again with one of our most pervasive anxieties: can we still control the machines and systems of our own making? Look no further than drone strikes, the surveillance society, or Facebook psychoses; this angst is real and manifest. The specter of Weber’s iron cage haunts social and political debate.  None of this is nearly so novel as the technocrats suggest, and Derek Schuurman’s important new book, Shaping a Digital World, gets that right on the nose. The politics of apocalyptic frenzy that have accompanied technology’s rise polarize between humankind’s divinity, our godlike technocratic ascension, and our depravity, becoming death and destroyer of worlds. Somewhere between cyber-utopia and cyber-dystopia, says Schuurman, lies technology as a human artifact and as craft. This...


The Hobby Lobby Case and Principled Pluralism

August 2, 2013 By Chelsea Langston This article discusses the Hobby Lobby case, mentioned last week in Timothy Sherratt’s piece on principled pluralism. A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice. "Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?” This quote came from a ruling that both shook up and shed light on the ongoing birth control mandate debate. On Thursday,...


New Israeli-Palestinian Talks: Playing at the Edges?

August 2, 2013 By Steven E. Meyer The Obama administration has announced the beginning of new peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Secretary of State Kerry pushed Israel hard to restart the talks and convinced Prime Minister Netanyahu to release more than one hundred long-term Palestinian prisoners to satisfy a Palestinian pre-condition to resurrect the negotiations. The Israeli cabinet approved Netanyahu’s decision, but several members of the cabinet and a large number of Israeli citizens strongly opposed the release. Netanyahu and the US government have pointed out how difficult it is to release prisoners who killed Israeli citizens and have been condemned as terrorists. But as difficult as this was, a prisoner release is peripheral to the main questions that have bedeviled peace efforts for sixty- five years. The real stumbling block to a permanent peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority revolves...


Small Steps Towards Principled Pluralism

Small Steps Towards Principled Pluralism July 26, 2013 By Timothy Sherratt   Over the last few weeks, two very different processes have nudged the US polity in the direction of principled pluralism. These are the Senate’s decision to retreat from the “nuclear option” to weaken the filibuster and the Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling that for-profit businesses may be exempt from the provisions of the HHS contraception mandate on conscientious grounds. Principled pluralism entails that a society provides legal space for a range of worldviews—the basic beliefs with which people operate in the world. The simplest of these orders of pluralism guarantees people freedom to worship and freedom from being required to support religious commitments to which they do not subscribe. In the American constitution, this form is enshrined in the First Amendment and in Article Six, which rejects religious tests for office...


Race and the Image of God

Race and the Image of God  July 26, 2013 By Harold Dean Trulear   Fruitful discussion concerning the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman case suffers from the ongoing failure to distinguish between racism and racial prejudice. They are not the same.   Racial prejudice refers to an individual belief in the inferiority and defective humanity of persons based on race. Racial prejudice lives in the mind of an individual, reflects personal views about people of a particular race, and leads to individual actions reflecting those biased views. Racism refers to the systemic, culturally embedded norms concerning race, values, standards, and beliefs that reflect a prevailing cultural ethos and institutional reality. An individual may internally live those norms and exhibit prejudice, but those norms predate such individual adaptation and point to an era when one group or race had the...


In Defense of Disaster Movies

In Defense of Disaster Movies July 29, 2013 By Josh Larsen   Every summer brings complaints that Hollywood leans too heavily on 9/11 imagery in its action blockbusters, and such criticism has been louder than usual this year.   Citing the wanton destruction of cities that features prominently in Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel and World War Z, Kyle Buchanan of Vulture wrote, “It’s lazy, it’s cheap, it’s deadening and it needs to stop.” And he hadn’t even seen the giant monsters vs. robots extravaganza Pacific Rim yet.   Critics like Buchanan – and there have been others - have a point. There is a difference between evoking an...


An Egyptian Revolution? Yes… but Shwaya Shwaya

An Egyptian Revolution? Yes… but Shwaya Shwaya July 29, 2013 By Paul S. Rowe   I’m not fluent in Arabic, but I speak enough to get by. When Arabic speakers ask if I speak Arabic, I typically respond “shwaya shwaya” (a little bit). The same term could mean “little by little,” as in “little by little, I’m learning Arabic.” I think Egyptians wanted just such a revolution back in 2011-- one that ushered in change, but little by little. What they got was something different. Just over a year ago, there was great cause for optimism as the first free elections for president of Egypt took place. A year later, the first democratically elected president of Egypt was overthrown by the military. There is a sense that the country is descending into a chaotic gloom.  What happened? Many Egyptians might cynically fault democracy itself for the crisis. But it is easy to...


Immigration Policies at Odds with Family Values

July 19, 2013 By Jen Smyers As the US Senate recently passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, policymakers of varying perspectives agree that the current US immigration system is broken and in need of repair. Our country’s immigration policies force families to wait decades to be reunited, while simultaneously separating families through raids, detention, and deportation. In the first principle of its Guideline on Family, the Center for Public Justice holds that "Government should recognize and protect the family as an essential expression of its responsibility to uphold a just society." The US government's immigration policies must be reformed in order to respect and protect the institution of the family. Current immigration law narrowly restricts options for family reunification. Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) or "greencard holders" can only sponsor their spouse and children. US...


Politics and Prose

July 19, 2013 By Byron Borger Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship- Essays in Honor of Ronald J. Sider edited by Paul Alexander & Al Tizon (Regnum) $39.99 SALE PRICE $25.00 A week ago, representatives of the Center for Public Justice attended a gathering to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) and to mark the changing of their executive leadership, as founder Ron Sider steps down. The gathering included the launch of a new book written to honor Sider, a collection of excellent essays called Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship, compiled by Sider's successors Paul Alexander and Al Tizon. The book is a great treat for those who appreciate Sider and his work and is beneficial to those wanting an anthology of some of the best...


A Hole in “The Heart of the Matter”

July 19, 2013 By Cherie Harder This article was originally published on July 16, 2013 by the Trinity Forum. Last week, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) released a compelling report affirming the necessity and centrality of the humanities and liberal arts in developing citizens and perpetuating democratic self-government. Entitled "The Heart of the Matter," the report was drafted in response to a bipartisan request from Members of Congress, and incorporated input from a large commission of luminaries, including university presidents, scholars, business executives, artists, journalists, and even poets such as our own Trinity Forum Senior Fellow Dana Gioia. The report articulates goals of educating Americans in the knowledge, skills and understanding necessary for citizenship, fostering a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong, and equipping the...


A Real Discussion on Race

A Real Discussion on Race July 19, 2013 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  The trial and verdict in the Trayvon Martin case have provoked a vigorous and bitter national argument. We know that an innocent young man lost his life.  We know that a jury examined the evidence and did not believe a murder was committed. We still don’t know all the details of that terrible night.  Some argue this was a case of racial profiling; others argue that it was criminal profiling, in which race played only a limited role.  There is little question, in my view, that George Zimmerman’s aggressive tactics helped provoke an unnecessary confrontation.  The tragic outcome, however, does not fit neatly into anyone’s political or ideological narrative. ...


Bridging the Political Gap: Haidt’s Righteous Mind

July 12, 2013 By David T. Koyzis It is axiomatic that contemporary Americans are divided into two political camps: liberals and conservatives, or leftists and rightists. In recent decades, these tendencies have become more polarized, with each side claiming near redemptive status for itself and demonizing the other as an obvious danger to the republic and its ideals. Each is increasingly eschewing compromise, threatening to paralyze the political process in the midst of continuing economic and other crises. Enter New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, whose book, The Righteous Mind, shows promise in helping to bridge this yawning chasm, persuasively explaining “why good people are divided by politics and religion,” as the subtitle puts it. Haidt pulls off this seemingly impossible feat by studying the responses to hypothetical moral dilemmas by ordinary people,...


President Obama’s Perspective on Government, Market, and Climate

July 12, 2013 By Perry Recker On the day that President Obama delivered his speech on climate change, I happened to be walking the halls of Congress, along with several hundred volunteer members of the Citizen Climate Lobby. We were there to pitch the idea of a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. As I read the transcript of the speech later, it brought to mind several observations on the roles and relationships of government, market, and environment, particularly as they relate to the principles and guidelines of the Center for Public Justice. First, the dominant theme of the president's speech was the ability of the US civil national community, including businesses, to exercise our ingenuity to reduce carbon pollution through innovation, new technologies, science, and R&D. In doing so, we can address the primary cause and...


Tweetable Rhetoric

July 12, 2013 By Aaron Belz It’s called an elevator pitch, a sound bite; it’s what you’re saying in a nutshell. For public speakers and marketing professionals, the ultra-short form is necessary to communicate complex messages succinctly and memorably—to make them “sticky.” Now, according to Yahoo!News reporters Chris Wilson and Olivier Knox, Twitter is making this short form even shorter, notably for American politicians. Keeping complete sentences to fewer than 140 characters increases the likelihood of viral propagation via the world’s most popular text-sharing platform. The folks at Yahoo! have created an online widget that rates any given text’s “tweetability,” or the percentage of its sentences that weigh in under 120-characters (leaving 20 characters for attribution). Although the...


Agricultural Subsidies and Public Justice

July 12, 2013 By Eric Hilker The recent failure of the 2013 farm bill to pass the House is an oddity in US political history.  Farms bills typically pass with bipartisan support-- the 2008 bill passed with enough support to overcome a veto from President Bush. Farm bills are broadly made up of two parts: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the food security program commonly known as “food stamps”) and various agricultural subsidies for US farmers.  The farm bill presents us with a range of public justice issues, and agricultural subsidies in particular have profound effects on domestic farmers and the developing world.  On the whole, the proposed farm bill makes a few steps in the right direction in justice issues surrounding agriculture subsidies, but more progress is needed.  While the arguments for and against subsidies are often stated in obvious terms, the reality is complex and requires thoughtful consideration of...


Same-Sex Marriage and the Continuing Conversation (2)

July 5, 2013 By Julia K. Stronks This is the second article in a two-part series. On June 26th, the Supreme Court handed down two highly anticipated same-sex marriage rulings.  While the decisions were fascinating, they did not really offer much guidance on how to think through disagreements related to marriage law. In Hollingsworth v Perry, the Court was asked to rule on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.  In 2008, the California Supreme Court had said that limiting marriage to heterosexual couples was a violation of the equal protection clause of the state constitution.  After that ruling, California voters passed Prop 8 amending the California constitution so that the only marriage recognized by the state would be that between one man and one woman. In response, two same-sex couples brought a lawsuit in federal court saying that Prop 8 violated both the due process and...


Declaring Independence?

July 5, 2013 By Stephanie Summers In recent weeks, the world has been treated to another media frenzy following the leak and “leaker” of classified information. This time, former CIA and major defense contract employee Edward Snowden divulged details of a classified NSA surveillance program called PRISM. Amid cries of “hero” or “traitor,” charges of espionage and refusals by foreign governments to meet US requests for extradition, this most recent leak of classified information, as well as the largest leak of classified information in US history allegedly perpetrated by Bradley Manning, have generated much speculation about the seemingly growing problem of leaks perpetrated by young adults. New York Times columnist David Brooks recently described Snowden’s “lens” as one that “makes you more likely to share...


Agricultural Subsidies and Public Justice

Agricultural Subsidies and Public Justice By Eric Hilker  The recent failure of the 2013 farm bill to pass the House is an oddity in US political history.  Farms bills typically pass with bipartisan support -- the 2008 bill passed with enough support to overcome a veto from President Bush. Farm bills are broadly made up of two parts: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the food security program commonly known as “food stamps”) and various agricultural subsidies for US farmers.  The farm bill presents us with a range of public justice issues, and agricultural subsidies in particular have profound effects on domestic farmers and the developing world.  On the whole, the proposed farm bill makes a few steps in the right direction in justice issues surrounding agriculture subsidies, but more progress is needed.  While the arguments for and against subsidies are often stated in obvious terms, the reality is...


Federalism and Pluralism

This piece is a transcript of a radio address composed for the Center for Public Justice and broadcast on KDCR. The end of the Supreme Court session provided a confusing mix of signals on the issue of same-sex marriage.  In his decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Anthony Kennedy strongly affirmed the right of states to determine marriage laws – a right so strong that their decisions are binding on the federal government.  Kennedy accompanied this decision with a moral lecture, asserting that the only source of opposition to same-sex marriage is bias and a desire to harm.  Kennedy essentially told the states: While the choice is up to you, there is only one valid choice – to approve same-sex marriage.  Supporters of federalism on the marriage issue avoided the worst outcome – an ambitious, Roe v. Wade-like decision that would have imposed laws permitting same-sex marriage on the 37 states that...


Explosions in Egypt

After two weeks of massive anti-government demonstrations throughout Egypt, the military has removed President Mohamed Morsi from office a year after he was elected by a solid majority of the Egyptian people. The opposition has argued that Morsi has been an abject failure. The ensuing debate as to whether this was a military coup is essentially irrelevant. A duly elected president has been removed from office by the military, who quickly replaced him with the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, pending new elections.  According to General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s highest-ranking military officer, the military wants to distance itself from the political process and wants to be seen as the protector of democracy, in a stable, non-violent environment –as is true in Turkey. Like Turkey, the military in Egypt today, unlike the case as recently as the 1980s, does not want to control the government.  While the military still plays a vital role in...


Special Elections and the Paradox of Voter Fatigue

June 28, 1013 By Timothy Sherratt “Political chaos seen as cause of voter fatigue,” headlined Frank Phillips’ article in the Boston Globe ahead of Tuesday’s special Senate election to fill John Kerry’s seat. With two special Senate elections in short succession, plus a wide-open mayoral race to succeed the towering figure of Thomas Menino and a governor’s race just around the corner, citizens may now resume their basic democratic responsibilities after a string of lengthy incumbencies.  How can this be a time for fatigue? Mr. Phillips’ sentiments strike at the core principles of citizen sovereignty. Instead of celebrating the more meaningful choices voters may now get to exercise, he equates voter power with “chaos” and likens the stasis of entrenched incumbency to a desirable “order.” If this were only a case of yearning for some golden age of Democratic dominance, one might simply let the voters...


Explosions in Turkey

June 28, 2013 By Steven E. Meyer For the past four weeks, many Turkish cities have experienced a series of often violent demonstrations that have been eerily similar to upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia. The proximate cause has been plans by the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdo?an to reconstruct an Ottoman-era barracks in Gezi Park in Istanbul. But the deeper issue is fed by the same spirit and sense of outrage that has marked the poorly named “Arab Spring.”  The characteristics of the socio-political wave of violence and change that has swept through much of the Middle East since December 2010 have varied significantly from country to country, but there is one common thread across the region. In each case, the discontent and violence has been aimed at a leadership denounced as anti-democratic, heavy-handed, and even dictatorial. Despite Turkey’s impressive economic growth and increasing strength as a regional power, many...


Affirmative Action, Voting Rights, and Balancing Power (1)

June 28, 2013 By Julia K. Stronks This is the first article in a two-part series. This has been a big week for Supreme Court watchers.  Former students and I have texted and tweeted with abandon as each decision has been released. Our first response is almost always about policy. People convinced that racism remains a critical struggle are frustrated with the Court. They had hoped affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act would remain untouched. Others are frustrated because neither affirmative action nor the Voting Rights Act were held unconstitutional.  But, if we believe that the structure of government is a tool to achieve public justice, we have another issue to consider. Does the Court’s approach to jurisprudence advance or detract from a just public order?  To answer this, we have to consider the history and the purpose of judicial balancing tests. When the framers wrote the...


New “Faith in Giving” Coalition

June 28, 2013 By Stanley Carlson-Thies An earlier version of this article was published in the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance eNewsletter for Faith-Based Organizations on June 18, 2013. Faith-based service organizations, like other nonprofits, depend on private donations to help fund their services. As such, they rely on tax incentives, like the federal deduction for charitable contributions, to encourage sustained giving. However, because they are religious organizations, they may have distinct interests in the fight that has broken out in Washington, DC and in state and local politics concerning tax breaks for donations and tax breaks for nonprofits themselves. That's the premise of a new coalition just forming, tentatively called the "faith in giving" coalition, headed up by Rhett...


The Farm Bill and Agricultural Policy

June 21, 2013 By Ronald J. Vos A few weeks ago, the US Senate passed a new five-year farm bill.  It also passed a similar version of the farm bill last year. Since the US House of Representatives did not pass a new farm bill last year, the existing farm bill was extended for one year. The Senate version of the farm bill differs from the expected House version of the same, so a conference committee will need to deal with the differences between the versions. If the members reach a compromise, the bill will then be resubmitted for passage by both houses.  The president has indicated that he is uncertain if he will sign the farm bill as it stands now. At this point, frustration about inaction seems to be the driving force in moving the farm bill forward. The farm bill has already been delayed months from what was originally anticipated. One important difference between this year’s farm bill and last year’s is that the Speaker of the...


Sexual Assault, the Military, and Public Justice

June 21, 2013 By Julia K. Stronks This past year, sexual violence in the United States military has been the focus of Congressional hearings, investigative journalists, and filmmakers. While everyone agrees that military sexual assaults (MSAs) must end, there is disagreement about whose job it is to hold our military accountable. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), commanders have significant control over their units in deciding when and how discipline should be meted out. In sexual assault cases, commanders often decide what to do with a complaint; senior commanders even have the ability to quash court martial convictions. However, the US Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate the land and naval forces, so Congress has the right to change any or all of the UCMJ procedures. Sexual assault by the military has always existed. War rape is recorded as far back as Homer and the Bible. However, three things...


Legislative Compromise: Virtue or Failure?

June 21, 2013 By Michael J. Gerson As the immigration debate has moved forward in the Senate and begins in earnest in the House, there have been many disagreements on matters of substance.  Members of Congress have debated border security, employer verification and the details of a path to earned citizenship.  The language of amendments, and of the bill itself, are the result of compromise – which means they don’t please most people completely.  The gap between parties and ideologies in America is wide.  The areas of policy overlap are relatively small.  This means that middle ground proposals will always have built in critics.  The media loves to cover ideological arguments.  And the partisan media, on left and right, has an interest in feeding controversy.  But even prior to such ideological disagreements, people concerned about politics need to answer a question: Is legislative compromise a...


Politics and Prose

June 21, 2013 By Byron Borger It has been several decades since the founders of the Center for Public Justice raised the call for a uniquely Christian perspective on public justice. Many of the guiding principles came from the hundred-year-old heritage of the Christian political movement in Holland, inspired by Abraham Kuyper and Groen van Prinsterer. While James Skillen and other CPJ founders were not the only evangelicals calling for a worldview that informed our citizenship in those years, there were not many mainstream evangelicals in the 1970s who were interested in such concerns.   CPJ friend Dr. Ronald Sider was an early and consistent voice. He founded Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) forty years ago this year, and his many books have inspired multitudes to care more about the poor, about creation care, about the rights of the unborn, and about Biblical principles for social and political reform. (See the invitation...


Sustaining Medicare: Controversies and Alternatives

June 14, 2013 By Clarke E. Cochran Medicare is among the most successful public entitlement programs in American history. Medicare is in deep trouble. The very success of Medicare is a source of its predicament. Because of Medicare, America’s elderly and disabled now live longer and healthier lives. Yet the pathologies of the United States health care system, combined with the baby boom generation reaching age 65, ensure that federal expenditures for the program are unsustainable. In normal political times, these problems would be difficult, but not intractable. The vicious ideological trench warfare of the last decade, however, makes it very thorny to craft policies to extend Medicare’s successes, while keeping it fiscally solvent. In general, Democrats and progressives wish to preserve Medicare’s current structure, making modest changes to improve quality and to ensure financial sustainability. Republicans and conservatives...


Wise US Foreign Policy Begins at Home

June 14, 2013 By Charles Strohmer It’s no secret that the United States faces critical policy choices at home and abroad and that a disabled political process in Washington lacks the skill to find wise ways ahead in either area. In addition, a widespread lack of understanding exists among the American public about the place of domestic life in foreign policy.  Perhaps this is because of a perceived dualism between the two areas (excepting rare moments of truth for the nation sent from afar). Or perhaps it is because foreign policy decision making is not particularly democratic; it is superintended by the President, Congressional activism, and a relatively small community of elite analysts and advisors, none of whom submit their policies to a direct popular vote. Only afterward, do we the people get to decide. Lack of public understanding about the importance of the domestic to the foreign, and vice-versa, diminishes the ability of...


Taking the Long View

June 14, 2013 By Brant Himes Reading James Bratt’s new biography, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat (Eerdmans, 2013), reminds me that political progress seldom comes easily.  Democracy is about debating the great issues, from education reform, labor laws, and suffrage in Kuyper’s day to immigration reform, gun control, and the budget in our own, and then capitalizing on the ebb and flow of opportunity to find a consensus.  This can be an excruciating process.  Yet Kuyper’s life and work demonstrate that participating in democracy is less about exercising raw political power in order to squash the opposition and more about acting from a consistent and thoroughly grounded world and life view. Party platforms change; ultimate loyalties should not.  Kuyper provides an apt starting place for such a Christian world view: a commitment to the Lordship and sovereignty of Jesus Christ over all areas of...


The Elephant Whisperers

June 14, 2013 By Robert Joustra Imagine a rider on an elephant. That, says Jonathan Haidt, is what our conscious, cerebral process is like compared to our unconscious, gut instincts. Our conscious reasoning can guide, but it usually retrospectively justifies and prods where the elephant was going anyway. Haidt’s new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, makes some basic points about moral, political, and religious decision making that pundits and policy makers can hardly afford to miss. That first basic point is probably his most fundamental, and it has a long history. The idea that habits eventually produce virtue and create instincts which guide us more directly than does conscious reflection is likely older than Aristotle.  In The Politics of Piety, Saba Mahmood uses Aristotle to explain women wearing the veil in the Islamic pietistic movement in Egypt. The veil, she...


Economic Growth: Always Good?

June 7, 2013 By George N. Monsma, Jr. Economic Growth: Unleashing the Potential of Human Flourishing by Edd S. Noell, Stephen L. S. Smith, and Bruce G. Webb (AEI Press; April 2013) The authors of this short book, all professors of economics at Christian colleges, state that “the core proposition of this book is that growth is a moral issue because of its impact on the flourishing—or shriveling—of human society.” With an interest “in how growth relates to Christian moral norms in particular,” they state that sustained growth is good because “At its best, sustained growth raises the poor out of poverty, improves the lives of the rich, and helps nations avoid intergenerational conflict and the deprivations of...


The American Eagle

June 7, 2013 By Aaron Belz  The eagle has served from time immemorial as a symbol of power, speed, and dignity. Biblical authors, ancient Greeks and Romans, tribes, families, nations, and institutions down through the centuries have rallied around eagle imagery. The eagle has inflamed poets’ imaginations too, memorably Alfred Lord Tennyson’s, whose 1851 poem “The Eagle” begins, “He clasps the crag with crooked hands,” and concludes with a memorable display of quiet strength: “He watches from his mountain walls, / And like a thunderbolt he falls.” The American eagle, designed by Charles Thomson in 1782, has played a more specific role in our history. Bearing in its right talon an olive branch and in its left thirteen arrows, it signifies the dualism of peace and war—grace and justice. A banner in its beak says, “E Pluribus Unum.” (Out of many, one.) With a shield on its...


Who Should Decide How to Allocate Science Funding? (3)

June 7, 2013 By Jason E. Summers This article is the third installment in a three-part series. Recent draft legislation put forward by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) requires that the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) formally affirm that all funded research satisfies a set of congressionally mandated criteria designed to ensure that federally funded science “directly benefit the American people.” In the first and second installments of this series, I argued that this legislation centralizes control, undermining a robust devolutionary system of funding allocation by peer review. It proposes an ill-conceived change to the process that will restrict federal funding from fulfilling the...


The Case for US Intervention in Syria

June 7, 2013 By Michael Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  Events in Syria are in a grim, downward spiral. What began as a movement of largely peaceful protests has devolved into a bitter civil war. The brutal dictator of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, has crossed line after moral line: arresting and murdering opponents; firing at crowds; using artillery, aerial bombing, and Scud missiles against civilian targets; and employing chemical weapons, so far on a small scale.  Assad’s strategy is familiar from other conflicts such as Darfur. Those areas of Syria he cannot fully control he attempts to terrorize and depopulate. As a result, more than 80,000 people are dead, and millions of refugees are on the move, threatening the stability of neighboring countries. In Jordan, more than 10 percent...


The Limits of Self-Government

May 31, 2013 By Timothy Sherratt The appalling destruction and loss of life wrought by the F-5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma has brought fresh perspective on existing safety precautions. The size and violence of the tornado called into question the effectiveness of Moore’s “Shelter in Place” policy. In an article in last week’s New York Times, John Schwartz cites “Cost and Plains Culture” to account for the lack of safe rooms in the city’s housing stock.  This simple juxtaposition implies that the independent spirit of “Tornado Alley” is somehow its own worst enemy in the matter of safety and that if the citizens had been more receptive to government regulation, they would have taken extra precautions and more lives would have been saved. There is more to the story, however. A complex web of...


When Citizens Disagree

May 31, 2013 By James Skillen This article was originally published in 1994 for the Christian Legal Society. It has been republished as a collection of pieces in the Journal of Christian Legal Thought (2 J. Christian L. Thought, at 13 (Fall 2012)) One truth is simple enough to understand: If citizens in the same country find themselves fundamentally at odds over very basic matters such as slavery, abortion, or the legitimacy of government itself, then it is quite possible that political order may collapse into civil war or into some lesser display of chaos. Radical disagreement at the foundations cannot be papered over by handshakes and smiles.  The question about American society in this age of increasing relativism and multiculturalism is whether the disagreements are fundamental or only superficial. I think the disagreements are of both kinds, and Christians ought to work diligently to distinguish them. We...


Who Should Decide How to Allocate Science Funding?

May 31, 2013 By Jason E. Summers This article is the second installment in a three-part series. In the first installment of this series, I argued that legislative controls on the allocation of the $7 billion National Science Foundation (NSF) budget (such as those passed in Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) amendment to the 2013 NSF appropriation bill and those proposed by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) in a draft copy of the High Quality Research Act) support a populist appeal that federally funded science “directly benefit the American people,” thus undermining a robust devolutionary system of funding allocation. In the following two installments, I will outline a principled case against the type of oversight proposed in the High Quality...


Making the Right Argument in the Gosnell Murder Case

May 31, 2013 By Elisa Shearer A version of this article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice.  On May 13, 2013, Dr. Kermit Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder for the death of three babies born alive at his abortion clinic in Philadelphia. The next day, Gosnell waived his right to appeal in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.  This sentence marked the end not only of a corrupt medical practice, but also of a sustained media frenzy. The Gosnell case may be over, but its coverage (and argued lack thereof) caused a wave of commentary on media coverage and the wider issue...


Who Should Decide How to Allocate Science Funding?

May 24, 2013 By Jason E. Summers This article is the first installment in a three-part series. While the scientific community has expressed significant concern over the impact of the sequester on US research, focus has most recently shifted to the question of congressional oversight of science funding and the degree to which Congress should exercise control over how federal agencies allocate this funding. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) took actions in March that limited the impact of the sequester on the nearly $7 billion National Science Foundation (NSF) budget, but with a caveat, introduced by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) in an amendment to the appropriation bill. The caveat requires that the NSF not award any of the roughly $10 million allocated for political-science research unless the director of NSF details, on an award-by-award basis, how such research will “promot[e] national security or the economic interests of the...


Star Trek’s Elusive Utopia

May 24, 2013 By Josh Larsen There really shouldn’t be this much strife in the Star Trek universe. From the early episodes, created by Gene Roddenberry in the 1960s, to Star Trek Into Darkness, the newest film in the franchise, the series has sold a world in which advanced technology, human intellect, and a reliance on reason have resulted in unprecedented cooperation – an interstellar United Federation of Planets, no less. But why does conflict still exist, be it in the form of savage Klingons or evil clones? Considering all the advances the series celebrates, it’s ironic that the problems of Star Trek often mirror our own. This is especially true with Star Trek Into Darkness, the second entry from director J.J. Abrams, the...


Dialogue

May 24, 2013 By Catherine E. Wilson This commentary is an adapted version of a lecture delivered at Villanova University’s Catholic Social Teaching and Issues of Justice Curriculum Development Seminar on May 15, 2013.  On April 17, 2013, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744).  A bipartisan bill set into motion by the “Gang of Eight,” S. 744 is one measure in a long line of legislative attempts over the years to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) in the United States.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the main objectives of the 844-page bill are to (1) strengthen border security, (2) mandate employer verification procedures, (3) reduce the visa backlog, (4) develop a “W” (guest worker) visa, (5) advance immigrant...


An Anniversary to Celebrate: PEPFAR and its Far Reaching Implications

May 24, 2013 By Michael J. Gerson On May 23, 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, making this the tenth anniversary of an extraordinary moment in American history.  When that law was being debated, there were about 50,000 people in all of sub-Saharan Africa on AIDS treatment.  According the most recent figures, that number is now 7 million – thanks to PEPFAR, the Global Fund and efforts of countries themselves. It is easy to pass over a statistic this large.  But these are millions of human lives – men, women and children with faces and names – who would have had early deaths without a massive global effort led by the United States.  I attended many White House meetings where PEPFAR was discussed and watched President Bush make his decision.  And over the years I’ve met many people in Africa whose lives were saved as...


Viktor Orbán and Hungary’s Constitution

May 17, 2013 By David Koyzis Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is no stranger to controversy. Still in his 20s when the communist régime was phased out in his native Hungary, he organized the Alliance of Young Democrats, known in its abbreviated form as Fidesz, now the ruling party in that country. Originally libertarian, Fidesz changed its orientation in the mid-1990s in a conservative direction, leading to its eventual expulsion from the Liberal International (the world federation of liberal and progressive political parties). Fidesz now allies itself with the European People’s Party in the larger European context, and currently enjoys a two-thirds majority in Parliament along with its coalition partner, the Christian Democratic People’s Party. This parliamentary supermajority has invited much of the criticism leveled at Orbán’s government....


Tough Political Choices in Syria: Recognizing the Stakes of Inaction

May 17, 2013 By Paul S. Rowe  The Syrian civil war is now going into its third year. It did not have to come to this. Relatively peaceful demonstrations that arose during the Arab Spring of 2011 were met with brutality, and the Syrian government’s apocalyptic response dashed the hopes of many that change might come without war. Amid speculation about the use of chemical weapons and Israel’s intervention, there is a growing feeling that Western states are unable and unwilling to intervene.  Bashar al-Assad’s government holds on with support from Iran and Russia.  His willingness to escalate the use of violence demonstrates a steely determination to continue the fight no matter what, all the while contributing to the radicalization of the opposition.  What started as the dramatic demonstration of people power in homage to the protests in Tunis, Cairo, and Sana’a has turned into a nasty and brutish struggle...


Politics and Prose

May 17, 2013 By Byron Borger  The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define Us as a Nation  Stephen Prothero (HarperOne; 2012)   The title of Prothero’s amazingly interesting and thorough work, recently out in paperback, is at once helpful and troubling. Biblically balanced readers will be on guard against insinuations of civil religion and may even recoil at a book that uses the metaphor of sacred Scripture for a compilation of significant texts that have developed within the public conversation of US history.  Does it confuse matters to suggest that a secular canon of authoritative civil texts is a “Bible” and does that metaphor carry too much weight here? Perhaps. But this book is not intended as a tribute to the religious right or a “Christian America” thesis.   Prothero’s use of the categories of Genesis, Law, Proverbs, Psalms,...


Responding to Threats to Religious Freedom

May 17, 2013 By Leah Seppanen Anderson Religious organizations, like individuals, need religious freedom. This is the compelling thesis of Stanley Carlson-Thies’ recent Kuyper Lecture. He argues that a widespread belief has taken hold in America that views religion as merely a private act of worship. This belief threatens to inhibit the intrinsically religious act of education or service to the poor by limiting the ability of religious organizations to maintain their distinctive religious identities as they serve the public. These challenges are real and Carlson-Thies identifies an overarching trend that connects a diverse set of conflicts between government and religious organizations.  The big picture is important, but policy details also matter, especially for how the debate is framed within and beyond the Christian community.  As Christians and religious...


“A Kind of Solution”: Cavafy’s Barbarians

May 10, 2013 By Aaron Belz  In the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy’s vision, art speaks to politics as the uncivilized to the civilized— a wild enemy approaching the gate. “What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?” begins his 1904 poem “???????????? ???? ?????????” (“Waiting for the Barbarians”). “The barbarians are due here today,” replies the indented second line, invoking a question-and-answer structure that continues throughout the poem. “Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?” begins the third stanza, and the fourth repeats the original answer, adding, “What’s the point of senators making laws now? / Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.” It’s a power play, described by unidentified voices, that escalates step by step, becoming more specific. Why are the politicians wearing “embroidered …...


The Elusive Quest for Balance in Political Legislation

May 10, 2013 By Harold Heie The biggest obstacle to politicians actually governing rather than posturing is their erroneous belief that their particular side has a monopoly on how to solve a public policy problem, and the views of the opposition have little or no value. This either/or rather than both/and thinking typically leads to politicians proposing inadequate, one-dimensional solutions to multidimensional problems, when what is needed is a proper balance that addresses the various dimensions of the issue. Examples abound of political legislation that has failed because of a refusal to seek this proper balance. The stalemate in attempts to solve the federal budget deficit problem results from one-dimensional thinking on both sides of the aisle, where the options presented are either to cut revenues or to increase revenues. However, no real solution is possible unless we pursue both strategies, creating a workable balance between...


Reconciliatory Activism

May 10, 2013 By Aaron Tolkamp In his most recent book, Just and Unjust Peace, political theorist Daniel Philpott attempts to answer the question, “What is justice after large-scale injustice?” Philpott responds by describing a concept of justice called political reconciliation that has at its heart the restoration of right relationship between perpetrator and victim. He notes that this concept is found most commonly in the scriptures of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Philpott argues that this concept of justice is fit for politics and offers the greatest chance of attaining a just peace through its promotion of human flourishing. So, does the Bible support political advocacy and should Christians be involved in it? If so, in what capacity or by what means? These important questions come up particularly...


Christian Principles for Immigration Reform

May 10, 2013 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  Recently the U.S. Senate began serious consideration of what is perhaps the most important legislation of President Obama’s second term – a comprehensive immigration reform bill.  The bipartisan bill runs hundreds of pages, and hundreds of amendments have already been proposed. Precisely because it is a comprehensive approach, there is bound to be something in the bill that makes everyone uncomfortable. Conservatives, so far, have focused mainly on border security.  They are pushing for early triggers, requiring effective control of the border before other provisions of the bill – particularly the granting of legal status to undocumented workers – kick in.  This is a valid concern. The current level of illegal border crossings is actually quite low...


At the Corner of Need and Calling

May 3, 2013 By Timothy Sherratt The academic year is ending. In the first year seminar course I teach, the spring semester picked up where the fall had left off, moving from character and the good life to consideration of community and justice. Students embarked on service projects in the City of Lynn, near in miles but far in cultural and economic distance. The political backdrop to the semester saw the President inaugurated for a second term, sandwiched between the averted fiscal cliff and the looming sequester. Hopeful signs accompanied a renewed debate on firearms, occasioned by the atrocity at Sandy Hook, and on immigration, occasioned by predictions of electoral extinction for the G.O.P. The semester ends on notes of tragedy and terror. Bombings at the Boston marathon. A political rather than a popular failure to take commonsense steps to restrict gun violence, even as some in Congress excoriate federal agencies for failing to...


Hanging up Our Harps: The Fading of War(-protest) Music in America

May 3, 2013 By Ryan O’Dowd Aaron Belz recently provided a survey of war-protest music from Vietnam to the “Cold War paranoia” that followed, sampling lyrics from Dylan, Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, John and Yoko, Springsteen, REM, and Sting.  He left us wondering why we no longer have the big albums and celebrity musicians that once united young generations. Indeed, prior to the 1960s, music and national meta-narratives went hand-in-hand, gathering people around their common pro-war causes.  But as Belz and historians of music note, our haphazard involvement in Vietnam joined a sprouting cultural revolution to provoke widespread dissent among Americans and a corresponding sympathy for the people of Vietnam.  The music industry in America had matured at just the right time to spread the new anti-war narrative. Significantly, however, the...


The Aftermath of the Post-Chávez Elections: Implications for US-Venezuelan Relations

May 3, 2013 By Ruth Melkonian-Hoover When Chávez’s heir apparent, Nicolás Maduro, won the Venezuelan election on April 14th by a narrow margin (less than 2%), the United States was not one of the first countries to congratulate him. With the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles calling for an audit the day after the election, the White House immediately echoed that call. While such a stance is understandable given the closeness of the race, one did not hear such sentiments coming from other key nations and regional neighbors like Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia or Argentina, all of which have since recognized Maduro’s victory.  It is not surprising that the opposition would question the results, given a much closer margin than many expected; Capriles lost to Chávez in October by 11% and pre-election media coverage in Venezuela in April indicated a similar outcome in Capriles’ race against Maduro. To date, Capriles is pressing for...


Empowering Women in Post-Revolution Egypt

May 3, 2013 By Raafat Latif The winds of change are blowing in the Middle East. While many watch for the political and economic results of the Arab Spring, others hope for radical social transformation. In Egypt, injustice toward women takes its form in alarming statistics of school dropout rates, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, and early marriage. Yet individual cases of physical and emotional abuse do not tell the whole story. The key issue is the distorted self-image that society imprints on a girl’s mind and heart from the time she is a child. Women in Egypt today see themselves as second-class humans, of lesser value than men, weaker in intellect and capabilities. A woman’s role is limited to meeting the needs of men. Into this painful reality came the 25th of January Revolution with its demand for freedom and human dignity.  Since then, one of the most urgent issues left untended is that of women’s status...


Playing Kim’s Game?

April 26, 2013 By Steven Meyer Now that the dust has settled on the most recent episode of North Korean nuclear “saber rattling,” perhaps we can stand back a bit to assess briefly the many moving parts that comprise this issue.  It is important, I think, to understand that this was one episode in the North Korean regime’s ongoing jockeying for political position. Just like his father and grandfather, Kim Jong Un needs to address internal issues and external relations with the outside world. First, an actual nuclear strike was never the point; it was about political posturing, gamesmanship, and credibility.  Although Kim Jong Un is only twenty eight years old, he had been groomed by his father for nearly a decade to take over the reins of power.  But his right to “inherit” power in Pyongyang does not mean that his grip on that power is unassailable. He has to show the North Korean population and especially the powerful...


Blind Eyes no More, and other Bad News for Russia

By Robert Joustra April 26, 2013 All eyes turned to Chechnya this past week, with an as yet-apocryphal attachment of the Boston bombings to persistent post-Soviet warfare in the Caucasus. However, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Chechen identity, time spent in the Caucasus, and deep connection to their Islamic faith is not proof positive of their collusion in global, Islamic radicalism. But proof or not, Americans are waking up to a Chechen reality, long ignored by the international community as a matter of Russian “internal security,” that is one of the most brutal, destructive, and overlooked humanitarian disasters of the modern world. The 1990s were the setting for two major Chechen wars, what one journalist describes as one of the two most savage wars he has witnessed, the other being Rwanda. The Chechen conflict’s roots stretch back to both imperial Russian and...


Charity Tax Deduction: Important for Many Charities, Vital for Others

April 26, 2013 By Stanley Carlson-Thies An earlier version of this article was published in the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance eNewsletter for Faith-Based Organizations on March 1, 2013.  Thanks to the federal government's continuing huge debt crisis and the deep polarization about solutions (mainly more revenues vs. mainly less spending), Washington policymakers keep casting covetous eyes at the federal tax deduction for taxpayers who give to charitable organizations and who itemize their deductions. No matter that the protracted recession has meant more and more people showing up at charities for shelter, food, and other services even while the recession has made it harder to raise the donations needed to pay for those services. The House Committee on Ways and Means recently held...


The George W. Bush Museum and Library Dedication

April 26, 2013 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  In Dallas this week, five American presidents gathered to help dedicate the George W. Bush Museum and Library.  For anyone who loves the American story, it was an amazing sight.  There was so much history concentrated in one place.  One president, as a young flyer, was shot down in World War II.  One tried to restore a nation’s trust after Watergate. One led America through an era of prosperity and good feeling.  One was summoned to respond to the 9/11 attacks.  One is the first African-American president in our history.  By any measure, this is a diverse group.  But the ceremony was more than a historical curiosity.  It displayed some important things about democracy.  Over the years, these leaders were...


Pope Francis, the Culture of Life, and the Care of Creation

April 19, 2013 By Rusty Pritchard There are many unexpected things about the ascension of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy: his election (unpredicted), his chosen name of Francis (the First), his country of origin (not European), and his religious order (Jesuit). He has confounded additional expectations by shunning the trappings of power and privilege in favor of modesty and simplicity, as he has throughout his career. The mainstream press has made much of Francis’s pronouncements on the environment.  In his inaugural address and in nearly every speech since, Pope Francis has mentioned it as one of the priorities of his papacy. That doesn’t mean that Francis is a left-wing theologian. Though critical of globalization, he is...


"In…the World”

April 19, 2013 By James W. Skillen This article was originally published in 1985 for the Christian Legal Society. It has been republished as a collection of pieces in the Journal of Christian Legal Thought (2 J. Christian L. Thought, at 13 (Fall 2012)). Frequently someone will ask me if I think the country would be better off if more Christians entered public office. My response is seldom an unequivocal yes. Why my hesitation? How would you respond to the following question? “Wouldn’t we all be better off if more Christians were teachers, farmers, and journalists?” Or reshape the question slightly by putting it this way: “If a group composed entirely of Christians got together to organize a school, wouldn’t they be creating a Christian school?” Most of us would respond rather quickly, I suppose, by saying that it all depends on...


Politics and Prose

April 19, 2013 By Byron Borger Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat - James Bratt (Eerdmans; 2013) On Kuyper: A Collection of Readings on the Life, Work & Legacy of Abraham Kuyper - Edited by Steve Bishop & John Kok (Dordt College Press; 2013) The Center for Public Justice is broad-based citizen movement drawing on a variety of political theorists, theologians, and public intellectuals.  In this column, I am delighted to review an assortment of books that help us think more fruitfully about politics and justice in the public square.  We read widely, think deeply, and act as we can, hoping to forge a perspective other than standard-fare liberal or conservative options. However, CPJ and its leaders stand within a particular political tradition, shaped by the socially engaged neo-Calvinism that generated spiritual...


Social Justice and the Body of Christ

April 19, 2013 By Cristina Martinez This article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, a new online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice.    Dealing with poverty, and more importantly the poor or those in need, often sharply divides people from differing political parties. While conservatives receive criticism for their lack of compassion and realization of the importance of welfare systems, liberals are often caricatured as enablers and people who squander money on the lazy. While both pictures are slightly dramatized, the underlying sentiment remains—debates about helping the needy cause strife. Looking at what the Bible says about poverty alleviation provides us with three basic, yet...


An Outbreak of Bipartisanship on Gun Control and Immigration Reform

April 12, 2013 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  Just when it seemed that bipartisanship was dead in politics and progress on major issues impossible, Washington is seeing a minor outbreak of hope. Two bipartisan groups of Senators have hashed out compromises on gun control and rewriting our immigration laws.  Both debates are moving forward in Congress. There are a number of reasons for this progress.  First, the Senate is working in the way the Senate was designed to work. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the authors of the expanded background check bill, both have a history of strong support for gun rights. But neither is up for reelection in this cycle, insulating them from the immediate pressure of some of their...


Is Religious Freedom Under Threat?

April 12, 2013 By Stephen V. Monsma We Americans are justifiably proud of our tradition of religious freedom for all. We take pride in the simple, elegant—even if not fully clear—words of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Supreme Court has repeatedly insisted that religious liberty is unassailable.  Nevertheless, there are voices today insisting that religious liberty in the United States is under threat, that we a losing one of our most precious freedoms. Do we need to be concerned over the real or potential loss of religious liberty?  I believe we do.  For example, San Diego State University recently withdrew official on-campus recognition from two Christian student organizations and stripped them of the privileges that all other on-campus student organizations possess. The University decided that they might not...


War Protest Music: What Is It Good For?

April 12, 2013 By Aaron Belz America’s involvement in Vietnam inspired protest songs that range in style from Bob Dylan’s plaintive “Masters of War” (1963) to Joan Baez’s “Saigon Bride” (1967) to John and Yoko’s “Give Peace a Chance” (1969) to Edwin Starr’s R&B chart-topper “War” (1970). At Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix ripped a cynical National Anthem on his Stratocaster—warped, off-key, and full of virtuosity. The Birds, Simon and Garfunkel, the Grateful Dead and others joined the fray. But the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 did not mark the end America’s involvement in war protest music. In the 1980s there was a renewal of interest in the subject, including Paul Hardcastle’s “19” (1985), memorable for its flatly-stated sound bite sampled over synthesizer: “In World War Two, the average age of the combat soldier was 26. / In Vietnam he was 19. / In-in-in-in-in-in-in Vietnam he was 19.” Frankie Goes to...


One Giant Leap for School Choice

April 12, 2013 By Dave Larsen School choice advocates who hang out in the neighborhood of voucher support felt the earth move recently. The epicenter is in America’s heartland. The focus of what the Center for Public Justice believes about education, as stated in one of its Guidelines for Government and Citizenship is on parental responsibility and the proper role of government. Parents carry the primary responsibility for educating their children. Government ought to provide just and equitable access to quality education for each and every child. At present, as the guideline observes, government “fails to do justice when it does not fund equally all of the schooling option it certifies.” Parents who choose to educate their children in non-government schools do not have access to public funding. From the Center’s viewpoint, a voucher system such as those found in most...


An Easter Tale of Two Global Churches, Fractured yet Hopeful

April 5, 2013 By Timothy Sherratt The central message of Easter is the hope engendered by Jesus’ resurrection.  As it happens, two global churches have recently embarked on new paths with new leaders, both of whose early actions call on and engender this hope. In assuming his new role, Pope Francis has declined many of the trappings of papal splendor. During Holy Week he engaged in the usual Maundy Thursday service of foot washing. But those whose feet he washed were not priests, as is customary, but teenage inmates, male and female, at a youth prison in Rome, which is decidedly unusual. This simple liturgy accentuates the centrality of service in the proclamation of the Good News. Done in such a setting it takes the Church into the places of the world’s hurt. The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, used his Easter sermon to caution against misplaced trust in human organizations, whose fallibility would predictably...


Engaging Politicians about Immigration Reform

April 5, 2013 By Harold Heie Those of us who have been advocating for immigration reform have been encouraged by the Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform that is being discussed by the Senate. But what is the best way to make our political representatives aware of our support of this proposal? I submit for your consideration some strategies that we have tried in northwest Iowa. We first got the attention of Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa, the leading Republican on the Judiciary Committee that is debating this proposal, when a good number of the 800 plus Iowa residents who had signed a petition “To Fix Our Broken Immigration System” (still available for signature at www.ouriowaneighbors.org) flooded his Sioux City office with phone calls encouraging the Senator...


Fixing Social Security for All of Us

April 5, 2013 By Todd P. Steen  On balance, Social Security is probably the most effective government program ever, and it may also be the most popular. Over the last 60 years, people have come to expect that Social Security will be there for them when they retire, when they become disabled, or when a spouse or parent dies. For many retirees, Social Security provides the lion’s share of their income, and the program has helped to significantly reduce the poverty rate among seniors. Since 1973 its benefits have kept up with inflation through yearly cost of living adjustments. Two of the key characteristics of the program have been its certainty and its universality.  The vast majority of the population pays into the system, and the vast majority also receives benefits from Social Security at some point during their lifetimes. This has been true for the rich and poor alike for over 50 years. However, with the graying of the baby boom...


Women in Combat: A Christian Perspective?

April 5, 2013 By Julia K. Stronks In January of this year, then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta cancelled the military ban on women in combat. Response to this move has been varied, and for Christians it has revived a gender debate. Are all men created differently from all women such that they complement each other, or has God created men and women in such a wide variety of ways that gender assumptions should be abandoned in public policy? From one perspective the administration’s new approach is not controversial because it simply formalizes what has been happening for decades. Historically, women could not be assigned to fight on the ground.  This meant that they were barred from most infantry, armor and artillery units. But, for almost a century American women have served the military overseas in organizations like the Army Nurse Corps and the Women’s Army...


The Meaning of the Resurrection

March 29, 2013 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. Recent polling by the Pew Research Center reveals that nearly 20 percent of Americans report having “seen or been in the presence of a ghost.” This is a remarkably common belief across cultures and throughout human history. We know, for example, that Jesus’ disciples believed in ghosts, because, following the Resurrection, they thought they had seen one.  The book of Luke tells us that when Jesus suddenly appeared to his followers, “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.”  Jesus took great pains to reassure them that this was not the case.  “Look at my hands and feet,” he said.  “It is I myself!  Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”  This was an important...


In Pursuit of Holistic Justice and Human Dignity in India

March 29, 2013 By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley In December, the world was shocked by reports of a brutal gang rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi. The young girl eventually died from her injuries, prompting massive protests, outrage and demands for justice among the Indian public. In response to the public outcry, the Indian government amended its penal code, enacting stiffer penalties for rape convictions, removing barriers to prosecuting public officials for sexual assault, and criminalizing stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment for the first time. The six men, one of whom is a juvenile, were eventually arrested and charged with rape and murder. Authorities have promised a speedy trial for the other accused perpetrators.  Governments have a...


A Public Square Parable from Beyond the Hills

March 29, 2013 By Josh Larsen Same-sex marriage. Contraception and health-care coverage. Historical Adam. As these divisive issues continue to back some Christian churches and institutions into a corner, it’s become increasingly crucial to find an answer to this question: how can such places stay true to their religious convictions while also maintaining a vital presence in the public square? As we consider this dilemma, an applicable parable can be found in the excellent new Romanian film Beyond the Hills. The movie won a top prize at last year’s Cannes International Film Festival and is now playing at select American theaters (it’s also streaming online in some markets). Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu, one of Romania’s premier filmmakers, the picture largely takes place in an isolated monastery connected to the Romanian Orthodox Church. Though the...


Of Dreams and Renaissance: China’s New Government

March 29, 2013 By James Chen “We cannot hold the slightest complacency, there can be no slacking-off, [we] must redouble our efforts and, [with] our indomitable will, continue to push forward the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of the great renaissance of the Chinese nation.” With these words, Xi Jinping, who had assumed leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) last November, proclaimed his vision for the nation as he assumed the presidency of the People’s Republic of China. This inauguration was the culmination of the March meeting of China’s legislative body, the National People’s Congress (NPC). Although the president is officially the head of state, the position is in practice a figurehead because the state apparatus is subservient to the party. For this reason, the NPC is largely regarded as a rubber stamp whose...


Social Welfare and the Pluriformity of Authority

By David T. Koyzis In 1944 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a second economic bill of rights, arguing that the guarantee of political rights in the U.S. Constitution had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” Among the rights he believed ought to be guaranteed were the “right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;” the “right of every family to a decent home; the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;” and the “right to a good education.” Although nothing came of Roosevelt's proposal in the U.S., similar rights were enshrined four years later in articles 22 through 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which his widow Eleanor played a significant role in developing. The key...


The Mandate for Justice

March 22, 2013 By James W. Skillen This article was originally published in 1987 for the Christian Legal Society. It has been republished as a collection of pieces in the Journal of Christian Legal Thought (2 J. Christian L. Thought, at 13 (Fall 2012)). Is talking about a biblical mandate for Christians to do justice anything more than idealistic rhetoric? After all, isn’t the reality of politics and of a law practice little more than the struggle to keep the worst from happening, an effort to mediate and accommodate differences so that the parties each get a little of what they want? We might want justice, but justice will only come with the return of Christ. Is there any reason for working toward justice now?  Contrary to the arguments of idealists and realists, I strongly believe that God’s mandate to do justice, and not simply to wish...


Youth Violence, Civil Society and the Power of Relationships

March 22, 2013 By Harold Dean Trulear Don't Shoot!  So screams the title of criminologist David Kennedy's excursus through his years of working with communities, gangs and law enforcement in a persistent quest to end inner city violence. Throughout Kennedy's detailed rehearsal of efforts in Boston, High Point, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Baltimore and other venues, he points not merely to a strategy for reducing violence, but also the context of the violence itself. Here, the discussion turns to an ethos of misunderstanding and mistrust. Kennedy claims that the three core stakeholders in inner cities—residents, gangs and police/law enforcement—misunderstand each other. Each group wants something better for the community but sees the other groups in adversarial terms. Yes, even those youth and young adults who "bring the noise.” At the core of...


Tempered Praise for New Director of White House Faith-Based Office

March 22, 2013 By Stanley Carlson-Thies An earlier version of this article was published in the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance eNewsletter for Faith-Based Organizations on March 13, 2013.  President Obama hits a triple. Melissa Rogers, a noted consensus-building church-state expert, has been appointed the new director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, succeeding Joshua DuBois, who resigned in February. She was the chair of President Obama's first Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, where she also directed its taskforce on "Reform of the Office," which recommended that the president largely maintain the principles of the faith-based initiative as those were developed during the Clinton and Bush...


Conservative Soul-Searching: The Time is Now

March 15, 2013 By Paul Brink Conservatism has always been an unusual political force in America, even more so than it is elsewhere. A disparate movement to begin with, what has typically united conservatives across their other divides has been their common opponent. For decades, Communism provided the foil; more recently, Saddam Hussein kept the family together. But in Washington’s current political reality, the liberal state itself has emerged as the new target, with the Democratic Party as the state’s chief apologist. Not so surprisingly, in such a world genuine dialogue across the party divide has becomes enormously difficult, the possibility for bipartisan cooperation has faded nearly away, and non-governance has become the new normal. This is bad for the republic.  Frankly, it’s also bad for the Republican Party. For the sake of the country, and for the sake of their Party, conservatives need to enter a new round of ideological...


Politics & Prose

March 15, 2013 By Byron Borger Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, Nina Shea (Thomas Nelson; 2013)  Forty years ago, when I first heard of Amnesty International, I was nauseated to learn of gruesome torture doled out by governments of the left and right. Human rights abuses seem to be no respecter of ideology. But Amnesty’s call to citizen action on behalf of others who had no voice was a clear, specific option for involvement and served as a viable on-ramp which many used to learn about political activism.   Twenty years ago, I got involved in a decade-long campaign to help a group of Chinese asylum seekers fleeing the forced abortions and draconian one-child policy of communist China and found myself learning more than I wanted to know about global religious repression and international human rights violations. The byzantine process of changing...


Sequestration and a Failure of Leadership

March 15, 2013 By Aaron Korthius This article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, a new online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice.    The similarities between Honduran and U.S. politics are not often a cause for reflection in my life. The issues at stake and the types of relationships and power that shape policy seem to hold little in common. But last month, as U.S. policymakers failed to create a deal to address impending budget cuts—cuts that are now official—I realized from afar in Honduras that the politics of my home country share many of the same characteristics that cripple and exacerbate the problems...


The Significance of the New Pope

March 15, 2013 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The selection of a new pope, Francis I, has focused the world on the struggles and splendor of one its greatest institutions. It is not necessary to be a Catholic to appreciate the history and importance of a church with roots in the ancient history and adherents across the planet. The health of the Catholic Church is inseparable from the health of global Christianity.   The serious problems of the Catholic Church over the last few decades have demonstrated something that is true about every organization. When leaders set out to defend their institution at any cost, they often end up undermining their institution in short order. This is the lesson of so many political scandals—downplaying or covering up a problem always makes the problem grow worse. The...


A New Season in Ideologically Driven Politics?

March 8, 2013 By Timothy Sherratt Can Christian perspective make a constructive contribution to improving the political climate? Barely two months into the new administration, the partisan atmosphere is as uncompromising as ever. In seeming disarray following the 2012 elections, Republicans have regained a measure of unity around the fiscal crisis. By claiming to have made a major concession on taxes—the expiration of Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans—they hold the administration responsible for allowing the Sequester to occur. Now the conservative media accuses the administration of exaggerating the impact of the Sequester, which it frames as nothing more than a five percent belt-tightening that ought to be within the competence of any departmental manager. Certainly the administration appears to have had its bluff called, although the first few days can hardly provide an adequate measure of the accumulating effect...


Christians Investing in Public Education

March 8, 2013 By Stephanie Summers In many communities around our nation, the public education system is in crisis, reflecting broader social problems. Justice demands that every member of a community invest in the quality of public education. But in many Christian circles, educational quality has often been a difficult topic. The Center for Public Justice has long upheld two principles for educational policymaking.  The first maintains that government has a responsibility to fund equitably all the types of education which it certifies, which includes religiously organized schools. The second maintains that parents are primarily responsible for the education of their children. As such, the Center actively promotes the authority of parents to choose to educate their child in a religiously organized school.  At the same time, we recognize that this does not let those parents “off the hook” for doing their part, as a member of...


Disaster Relief, Climate Change and Fiscal Stewardship

March 8, 2013 By Ben Lowe This article originally appeared in Relevant Magazine’s online column “Reject Apathy.” Superstorm Sandy was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, though it was only ever a Category 2 storm at its strongest and had weakened to a Category 1 storm by landfall. Nevertheless, due to its immense size, incredible amount of moisture and record-breaking storm surge, it is estimated to be the second costliest storm in the history of the United States after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The 62-36 vote to pass a Hurricane Sandy aid package in the Senate capped off a dramatic saga that saw Republicans in both chambers struggle to...


Staying in the Political Game

March 8, 2013 By Vincent Bacote In recent years, many younger Christians (and some not so young) have arrived at place of frustration regarding political participation.  For some this is because they are disappointed with the political practice of evangelical Christians who hold public office, while for others it is a resignation borne of a suspicion that if you are not a multimillionaire with a PAC then a word like ‘influence’ is only a fantasy.  Still others want to change the game because they want Christian politics to be identified with causes other than the culture war emblems of abortion and gay marriage and because they dislike an “us against them” posture. It would be disingenuous to argue that there are no legitimate reasons for the resignation, frustration and cynicism many young Christians feel, but there are important reasons for Christians to stay in the game rather than head to the bench.  First there...


The Reality of Our Debt Crisis: By the Numbers

March 1, 2013 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. It is becoming common in some parts of the political left to dismiss the problem of debt. Next year’s budget deficit, after all, will be slightly down. And with just a bit more deficit reduction—perhaps $1.5 trillion—public debt as a share of the economy would stabilize.  This has led economists such as Paul Krugman to call the deficit “a problem that is already, to a large degree, solved.” Prominent bloggers dismiss the “deficit scolds” as hysterical moralists. And President Obama has edged toward similar arguments, claiming that we are already near our target on debt reduction, and that changes in entitlement programs only need to be...


Drone Strikes, ‘Imminence’ and the Need for Judgment, Part II

March 1, 2013 By Brad Littlejohn  In the first part of this series, I argued that the recently leaked memo on U.S. drone warfare policy represents an extension of the U.S. foreign policy of “active self-defense,” but in such a way that it would appear to unjustly license punishing people before they have acted. Acts of judgment, after all, are necessarily retrospective.  For a more helpful way forward, let’s look more carefully at the concept of judgment. Theologian Oliver O’Donovan defines judgment as “an act of moral discrimination that pronounces upon a preceding act or existing state of affairs to establish a new public context.”  This...


“Who Stole the Soul?” The Political Poetry of Public Enemy

March 1, 2013 By Aaron Belz Three Kings (Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999) opens with American soldiers sniping an Iraqi, mid-surrender, but the establishing montage includes a medley of Rare Earth’s “I Just Want to Celebrate,” Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” and Public Enemy’s “Can’t do Nuttin’ For Ya Man.” Soldiers jump around, dance and drink, their partying all but swallowing up the ruthlessness of the previous scene. The contrast is a brilliant flash of satire in a movie that ultimately loses momentum in its effort to reveal the Gulf War as folly. Plot takes over, becomes cumbersome, and poetic filmmaking is lost. A reporter begins interviewing a soldier: “They say you exorcised the ghost of Vietnam with a clear, moral imperative.” He replies confidently, “We liberated Kuwait,” while his fellow soldiers cheer. They start singing Lee Greenwood’s schmaltzy ode to America, the popularity of which swells...


The Complexity and Urgency of the Problem of Gun Violence

March 1, 2013 By Ted Williams III Hadiya Pendelton is buried nine blocks to the west of my home on the southside of Chicago. I drive past her gravesite almost every single day. Approximately nine blocks to the north of my home is the monument to murdered teenagers erected by CNN hero Diane Latiker and her organization Kids off the Block. Recently, CNN broadcast live from this monument in light of the president’s recent visit to Chicago to discuss the issue of gun violence in the nation.  I have close friends, family members, and students whose lives have been unalterably shattered by this epidemic. The conversation about gun violence is personal. My community represents ground zero of this issue nationally, and I am increasingly frustrated by the partisan and myopic rhetoric I hear surrounding solutions to this problem by our national leaders.  Precipitated by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, President Obama and...


Filling the Gap in Health Coverage Among the Poor

February 22, 2013 By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley One of the major moral drivers of the push for health care reform in the U.S. was the unconscionable number of uninsured Americans—close to 50 million, many from low-income working families—who lacked access to quality health care. Although the details of health policy are enormously complex, the justice of providing basic, necessary health care to poor Americans is fairly simple. But is the president’s landmark health care reform legislation accomplishing this goal? Medicaid is the primary program that provides health insurance to needy Americans. A federal/state government partnership, Medicaid and its corollary program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), primarily serve poor children, pregnant women, the disabled and some parents. Poor adults without children have generally not been covered by Medicaid in most states. Income thresholds for eligibility vary by state and among...


Drone Strikes, ‘Imminence’ and the Need for Judgment, Part I

February 22, 2013 By Brad Littlejohn The recent firestorm of controversy over the leaked Department of Justice (DOJ) memo on the use of drones to target U.S. citizens has focused perhaps too narrowly on that last phrase, “U.S. citizens.”  While the Constitutional concerns of due process deserve important consideration, these concerns merely add an additional set of procedural complications to a broader ethical concern, one that applies irrespective of the nationality of the target.    The central ethical concern raised by the memo has to do with the concept of “imminence.” The memo states: “the condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate...


Deciphering the Administration’s New Proposed Rules on the Contraceptive Mandate

February 22, 2013 By Stanley Carlson-Thies An earlier version of this article was originally published in the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance eNewsletter for Faith-Based Organizations on February 5, 2013.  On Feb. 1, the federal government released another iteration of its attempt to respond to the religious freedom and conscience concerns raised by the health reform law's requirement that health plans must include a wide range of free preventive women's health services, including contraceptives, sterilization and emergency contraceptives that many consider to be...


The Troubled State of the Union

February 22, 2013 By Amy E. Black When President Obama appeared before a joint session of Congress last week to deliver his 4th State of the Union address, he had the attention of the nation’s lawmakers, domestic and international journalists, and an estimated television audience of 33.5 million. The speech offered the perfect opportunity for the president to reach across bitter partisan divides and encourage unity.  The president could have used the limelight to remind the American people of their shared values, promote bipartisan cooperation and chart a new path forward in these troubled times. Instead, Obama followed the path that has become all too common in Washington: promising more than he can deliver and setting up his political opponents to take the blame. Obama prefaced his call for grand new initiatives with this assurance: “Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully...


Agreeing on Economic Opportunity?

February 15, 2013 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. During his recent State of the Union address, President Obama addressed a government in the middle of a fiscal crisis. Unless Congress and the president take action, across-the-board cuts—called a sequester—will take effect in March. This approach to deficit reduction sounds fair, but it really isn’t. In a sequester, cuts fall equally on wasteful bureaucracies and vital spending—things like food inspections, medical research and the provision of AIDS drugs.  By one estimate, 165,000 fewer people would receive AIDS treatment if the sequester is fully implemented. The human cost would be felt in many areas.   The scriptures say that the rain falls on the just and the unjust, but this is not a good budgeting...


The Impact of the Sequester on our National Defense

February 15, 2013 By Steven E. Meyer If Congress and the White House cannot agree on a deficit-cutting strategy by March 1, an across-the-board $85 billion cut in federal spending will kick in. To date, the Obama administration and Congress are far apart on a deal, and most departments of the federal government are preparing for major spending cuts. Unlike in the past, where cuts were largely accounting gimmicks, this time the cuts would be real and deep and would have a profound impact on federal programs and the U.S. economy.   The so called “sequestration” would require an immediate cut of $43 billion in total 2013 defense spending and would lead to a loss of approximately $500 billion in defense spending over the next decade. This would come on top of a reduction of` $487 billion in projected Pentagon spending during the coming decade that was announced by the Obama administration last year and is unrelated to sequestration. The...


Politics & Prose

    February 15, 2013 By Byron Borger  Refuse to Do Nothing: Finding Your Power to Abolish Modern-Day Slavery   Shayne Moore & Kimberly McOwen Yim (IVP/Crescendoi) 2013  The Center for Public Justice has for decades encouraged citizens to think about political theory from a historic Christian perspective. We have insisted that faithful citizens think deeply about the most common, and often unhelpful, assumptions that shape policy. Yet, we are an association of citizens, not just a think-tank, and while we do continue to spend time thinking and writing, we commend a faith that yields action; we dare not just talk or think about justice. There are times when we need to work on projects for justice that transcend typical political lobbying or citizenship engagement with elected officials. There are causes for which...


From NIH to Nada? The Fiscal Cliff and Federal Research Funding

...


Religious Liberty, Majority Rule and the Contraception Mandate

February 8, 2013 By Timothy Sherratt Facing legal challenges to its contraception mandate, the federal government has offered another concession. Immunity from the mandate is not confined to churches but now embraces religiously affiliated institutions like universities, hospitals and social service agencies. However, business owners with religious objections to contraception in general or to particular methods of contraception are not exempt and face very steep fines for failing to provide insurance coverage to their employees. President Obama holds a distinctive view of religion’s relationship to the democratic polity. In his view, democratic norms require the religiously motivated to translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values in order to gain legitimacy in the public square. The religious liberty he professes to support he often refers to as freedom to worship. On this reading, religion is only a private...


Encouraging New Immigration Proposals

February 8, 2013 By Julia Stronks This article originally appeared on thinkChristian.net . How do the recent bipartisan immigration proposals coming out of Washington, D.C., line up with a biblical approach to immigration reform? There is good reason for Christians to be cautiously hopeful. On Jan. 28, a group of eight Republican and Democrat senators unveiled their bipartisan agreement to shape the next steps of immigration reform. They called for a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented residents of the United States. Under the proposal, citizenship is contingent on a series of regulations related to...


Disability and the American Way

February 8, 2013 By Holland Stewart On July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the most comprehensive civil rights bill in decades: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Hailed by Congress as a bipartisan triumph and celebrated by disability activists across the country, the ADA initiated a sweeping reform of governmental policy, seeking to extend protection for persons with disabilities to all areas (private and public) of American society. Its ambitions were simple and noble: to “provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination” and “assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency” for persons with disabilities. In the more than 20 years since its enactment, the ADA has reshaped the lives of persons with disabilities, providing a blueprint for their...


A Fitful and Timely Compromise?

February 8, 2013 By Perry Recker On a Saturday morning last December, I joined a handful of other concerned citizens in writing a short note to President Obama, urging him to make climate related energy policies a top priority in his next term. I was gratified to hear of his intentions to seek a “path towards sustainable energy sources” in his Second Inaugural Address. While I hold no illusions that my letter by itself had any impact, it was empowering to know that I was not acting alone, and perhaps together our voices were heard. This was also confirmation for me of the value of civic and political engagement that goes beyond the voting booth and focuses on engaging political leaders in a respectful yet assertive...


Christians for Compromise

February 1, 2013 By Clay Cooke Why do we revere individuals such as William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King? As some may recall, Wilberforce helped abolish slavery in the British Empire by way of his tireless efforts as a politician; Bonhoeffer opposed Nazi practices to the point that he participated in an assassination plot against Adolf Hilter—a plot that ultimately cost him his life; and Martin Luther King, motivated by the pursuit of justice and equality, helped lead the Civil Rights Movement until his assassination in 1968. The common thread among these individuals, and the virtue that we hold in high esteem, is this: they were all unwilling to compromise the deepest principles of their Christian faith in order to pursue public justice. In the United States today, however, we do not live in an era defined by overt human rights violations such as genocide, slave importation and ownership, or the segregation...


Russia Blew Up the Adoption Bridge. Now What?

February 1, 2013 By Jedd Medefind On one side wait tens of thousands of Russian orphans. I’ve met many of them—big eyes and wounded hearts, with names like Sergei, Sasha and Svetlana.   On the other stand myriad U.S. families, willing to welcome these children as their own.  I’ve met many of the families, too—imperfect, of course, yet with ample affection and bedroom space for at least one more young life.  Inter-country adoption, the slender bridge between the two groups, was blown early this year by the Russian government.  As part of a diplomatic tit-for-tat, Russian politicians banned adoption of Russian orphans to the U.S.  Indignation is justified, but won’t provide children what they most need. Rather, Americans who care about these orphans have good reason to embrace two seemingly opposite...


Serving Others: A New Lens for Political Engagement

February 1, 2013 By Daynan Crull I’m drawn to politics by the chance to seek justice at the intersection of different livelihoods. It can be messy, but what is good about the process deserves more attention, and what is broken requires more redemption. However, I have made an observation that while talking with Christians about politics, two attitudes often emerge. One is a cry of persecution—a knee-jerk defensive reaction. The other is an unwillingness to engage civically at all. There are consequences to these attitudes: They prevent Christians from serving civically, and this resulting lack of engagement in turn yields an inaccurate, even self-righteous, view of politics. Furthermore, it leaves a vacuum in the public sphere where there should be a rich gospel view of shalom. New York City is a laboratory of intersecting lives, as super-storm Sandy made clear.  The storm ripped through homes, but it also...


“As to the Ring”: Solon’s Democracy

February 1, 2013 By Aaron Belz Ancient Greek philosopher Solon (638-558 BC) was one of democracy’s pioneers. His fruitful and troubled times demanded it. The first metal coins were being minted; foreign trade was thriving and needed to be regulated. Abuses of power by wealthier classes necessitated a system of rules, some way to enforce fairness among people of unequal socioeconomic status.  Solon opposed unethical lending practices, wrote “Tables of Law” that were displayed on a public swiveling mechanism and came up with what I assume to be the first professional wage scale. The notion of “working class” was conceived in his day. He even created a panel of former Athenian governors to resolve differences between citizens. No wonder his sculpture is included with Moses’ and Confucius’ in the U.S. Supreme Court building’s east façade. He was also, in good Greek form, a poet, writing about everything from love to the...


Roe Plus Forty: Where Now?

January 25, 2012 David T. Koyzis  This week marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe vs. Wade, which effectively invalidated the 50 states’ abortion laws, asserting for the first time a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. Although the court undoubtedly saw itself settling a contentious issue for a divided polity, we know now that Roe did nothing of the sort. Instead, it only increased the divisive nature of the issue, further polarizing a population into pro-choice and pro-life factions, each of which has taken apparently irreconcilable positions. Earlier this month TIME Magazine carried a cover story whose author argues that, since the Roe ruling, the pro-choice side has been gradually losing the battle for abortion rights. Why? Physicians are less willing to...


North/West African Conflicts and Interfaith Interventionism

January 25, 2013 By R. Drew Smith  There are various renditions of an adage that goes something like this: “When the West sneezes, Africa catches a cold.”  This alludes to the fact that global system crises of any sort have an especially deleterious effect upon more precariously positioned members.  Globally expanding terrorism and the war on terror have overtaken many parts of Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, fomenting or exacerbating breakdowns in democratic forms of community building and conflict resolution.  Although the recent  blooms  of a democratic spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya stirred hopes of a wider democratic spillover into parts of Saharan-Sahel Africa, what has spilled over instead (especially as a result of  the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya) has been a torrent of violence perpetrated largely by former Gaddafi mercenaries.  Hardest hit has been Mali,...


Challenging Interpretations of Zero Dark Thirty

January 25, 2013 By Josh Larsen Zero Dark Thirty, a dramatization of the hunt for and killing of Osama bin Laden, is up for five Academy Awards, but the movie has hardly been universally adored. While most critics swooned, political pundits in particular have taken the picture to task over its handling of the topic of torture. The debate began in early December when The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald – before having seen the film – denounced it for fabricating history and glorifying torture as an effective military tool. Those sentiments have been echoed in op-ed pieces since. According to this line of thinking, even suggesting that torture is effective as an information-gathering method is in essence an endorsement of the practice. And by allowing torture to be depicted without explicit comment, the argument goes, Zero Dark...


Capitalism, Ideology and the Abortion Debate (after 40 years)

January 25, 2013 By Ryan McIlhenny My wife Becky and I have been involved in the anti-abortion movement for many years now.  During this time, we’ve looked at abortion from a variety of angles.  While there are a handful of reasons for choosing abortion, many of the clients we interacted with came from low-income neighborhoods.  Several were single mothers; many held down more than one job.  Keeping a good-paying job becomes increasingly difficult when a child enters—perhaps, for some, “threatens”—the mix.  Becky and I contemplated the socioeconomic conditions that make it difficult for women not to have an abortion. This week marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and today, thousands of pro-life advocates are marching on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  Proponents and opponents of legalized abortion have largely failed to address one particular force that...


Politics & Prose

January 18, 2013 By Byron Borger The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster) $26.00  It has been more than two decades since this remarkable writer garnered the Pulitzer Prize for the first in his magisterial three-volume work, “America in the King Years.”  In this brand new (relatively) slim hardback, the eloquent reporter’s books are available in a considerable abridgment.  It is sad, but true: some may not want to work through his hefty tomes of meticulous detail: Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire or At Canaan’s Edge.  The large story of that trilogy spans the years 1954 through 1968, totaling almost 3,000 pages. These wisely chosen excerpts make available to a much wider audience the electricity, profundity and keen insight of these important books.  Before each of the 17...


Understanding Upcoming Supreme Court Decisions, Part II

January 18, 2013 By Julia K. Stronks This is the second of a two-part series highlighting important issues before the Supreme Court. With a docket that covers affirmative action, same sex marriage and voting rights, it seems likely that this spring our attention to the Supreme Court will be domestically focused. However, there are two cases with international implications that are also significant. They concern procedural issues that determine whether litigants even get to bring their complaint to a court. Both of these cases deal with “standing” or “jurisdiction,” which on the face of things might seem boring.  Standing exists when a plaintiff can show harm from the action of a defendant. Jurisdiction is the court’s legal permission to hear a case, usually granted by statute.  If standing...


Religious Freedom in the Next Phase of Health Care Reform

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) generated serious religious liberty concerns, most contentiously (and perhaps most unexpectedly) over contraception. Because so many health care providers are faith-based, the ACA’s implementation regulations should respect their religious freedom and relative sovereignty. That Catholic entities would be concerned about contraception and sterilization is not surprising. Yet, in addition and most unexpectedly, for-profit businesses also challenged the ACA on religious liberty grounds.   The June 2012 Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the ACA left important questions open. Various organizations and individuals filed approximately 40 law suits challenging the law’s contraceptive mandate (HHS mandate). The HHS mandate threatens violation of significant commitments of the Center for Public Justice, since it requires religious institutions, such as Catholic colleges and health care systems,...


A Healing Inaugural Address

This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  As President Obama prepares for his second inaugural address, the atmosphere in Washington is challenging. The recent presidential election was often small and bitter.  Our nation and our political system are highly polarized. And this ongoing problem has only been compounded by recent fiscal debates. Usually the period from a presidential election to an inauguration is a time to step back and take a break from conflict, a period of detoxification. Because of the fiscal cliff showdown, we did not even see a temporary lull in partisanship. Our politics is more toxic than ever. A second term is hard enough under any circumstance. Sixteen presidents have been granted a second chance at governing by the American people. But the newness of their administration has worn off.  The country tends to be...


African-American Turnout and the Fate of the Voting Rights Act

January 11, 2013 By Timothy Sherratt If the 2008 election of the country’s first African-American president offered a hopeful benchmark in the dismal history of race relations, his re-election confirms that the President has now passed an even weightier democratic test. But as 2013 begins, the Supreme Court has announced arguments in cases that may, ironically, mark the passing of the era in which race commanded legislative and judicial attention. We may come to view the Obama years as the years when America turned away from the instruments created to combat racial discrimination. But will this mark victory or defeat? Among the cases set for argument is Shelby County v Holder. Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act required some 16 jurisdictions, most of them southern states, to “pre-clear” with federal authorities any changes to their election practices. Nearly 50 years on, Shelby County, Alabama, has cried foul. Its principal...


A “Common Good” Prescription for our Political Malaise

January 11, 2013 By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest among evangelicals around the concept of the “common good.”  A reaction against the extreme individualism we have inherited from American history and culture, the emphasis on the common good reminds Christians that we are part of a community of image-bearing creatures who are dependent on and responsible for one another in ways that include but transcend individual salvation.  Woven into a vision of the common good is an understanding that God’s kingdom is both now and not yet—and that in the “now” we have the great privilege of participating in his cosmic plans for redemption and renewal not only of individual souls, but of communities, cultures—indeed the entire earth, and yes, even politics. The Center for Public...


Understanding Upcoming Supreme Court Decisions

January 11, 2013 By Julia K. Stronks This is the first of a two-part series highlighting important issues before the Supreme Court. This spring the United States Supreme Court will hand down a number of important decisions.  In anticipation of the media firestorm that will accompany two domestic civil rights decisions, and the likelihood that two important international decisions will be ignored, I’d like to offer an overview of the issues that Christians should be attentive to in the coming months.  Domestic Policy One of the first things to consider is whether the Court has a role to play in a biblical understanding of government.  The American political system uses three techniques to dilute power.  We use representatives rather than having a system of direct democracy because representatives can filter through the passions of the people to decide what is best for the whole.  We...


What to Watch for in the Next Phase of Health Care Reform

January 4, 2012 By Clarke Cochran This is the first of a two-part series on health care reform by Clarke Cochran. Support for health care reform stems from two fundamental principles: institutional religious pluralism and public justice. For the first principle, the fact that so many health care providers are faith-based demands that health care regulations respect their religious freedom and relative sovereignty. The second principle demands that government assure effective universal access to needed medical care. Judged by these two principles, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA or “Obamacare”) represents an imperfect realization of reform aspirations. Yet, desire for the perfect must not overshadow the very real good done by the ACA. Below is a summary of the public justice related provisions that will be implemented in 2013. In the next article, I will summarize the status of the religious liberty...


Educating the Good Citizen

January 4, 2013 By Kevin R. den Dulk Every few years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a division of the U.S. Department of Education, surveys the civic knowledge and dispositions of children in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades.  The most recent results, as described in the NAEP’s “Nation’s Report Card” of 2011, are not heartening.  Take the snapshot at grade 12, just before students reach legal adulthood and have the opportunity to cast their first vote.  Only a quarter of high school seniors reach NAEP’s level of “proficiency” in civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions (and NAEP’s definition of “proficient,” I might add, does not present a high bar).  Just over a third fail to reach even the most “basic” level of civic competency.  The same...


Edward Taylor: “My Stock is stunted”

January 4, 2013 By Aaron Belz How many recessions has our country endured? According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the U.S. has experienced dozens of significant, months-to-years-long “business cycle contractions,” the largest in the past century being the Great Depression (and its aftershock in 1937-38), the Recession of 1945 (post-WWII) and what is now being called the Great Recession (2007-2009). This last one, we all know, resulted from subprime mortgage lending practices and the housing bubble they helped to create. Just days ago, we were about to careen off a “fiscal cliff” à la Thelma & Louise. Although the inevitable was to some extent avoided, perhaps our feelings still resonate with Louise’s: “We're not in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from here.”  But if our story is to have a less romantic ending, we must heed plot...


Can We Do Anything About the Sandy Hook Horrors?

January 4, 2013 By Steven E. Meyer Two weeks ago Aaron Belz published an eloquent commentary about the tragedy in Newtown.  He argued that the sickness that cascaded onto that small Connecticut town rests in all of us.  Everything Belz said is true—as Pogo said, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”  But, we must do more than simply bemoan our sinful natures. We must extend Belz’s argument and consider seriously and urgently what we can—must—do Certainly we must demand better therapeutic services for the mentally ill, especially for those who are a threat to themselves and others. But, according to mental health authorities, the instance of serious mental illness is no greater statistically in the United States than in other advanced societies, where the episodes of gun violence are much lower. Realistically, as long as man is sinful, we will...


In Search of Political Courage

January 4, 2013 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. Both President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress have emerged exhausted from the fiscal cliff debate. The deal they struck avoided the worse outcome—broad tax increases and broad spending cuts at a time of fragile economic growth. But the agreement did almost nothing to address America’s longer-term challenges. Seldom has so much effort been spent with so little lasting result.   The agreement avoids about two-thirds of the “tax cliff”—the automatic increases that were slated for the New Year. It delays the “spending cliff”—created by automatic spending cuts—for just two months. And it does almost nothing to address America’s long-term debt challenge, caused by the unsustainable growth of public spending relative to GDP.  ...


Obama’s Journey from Oslo

December 21, 2012 By John D. Carlson  It was three years ago this month that President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. His acceptance speech conveyed his moral vision of international affairs and provided a guide for the foreign policy successes of his first term. However, the challenges that confront his second term reveal where refined direction is needed.   Obama’s foreign policy has drawn from three different moral languages—just war, American exceptionalism, and Christian realism—all articulated in Oslo. Their frequent compatibility helped shape Obama’s achievements, but to extend this foreign policy record he must reconcile them where they now conflict. Let’s consider them in turn. First, he invoked “just war” language at least 18 times in his lecture. War must be waged for a just cause, as a last resort and using proportional means. “Total wars,” by contrast, blur essential distinctions between...


Incremental Immigration Reform: Give the Undocumented a Voice

December 21, 2012 By Julia K. Stronks I am a political science professor at a Christian university, and I have seen the demographics of my classes change over the 20 years that I have been teaching.  I care deeply about injustice, but one thing I have learned from students’ experiences is that I cannot speak on behalf of those who suffer unless I know them.  And, when I know them I will understand issues of injustice differently. This past semester I taught a Gender, Politics and Law class in which we focused in part on “voice.”  For whom may I speak when I talk about law?  Who will speak for me?  The class was filled with students who were in some way connected to undocumented residents in the United States.  These students have changed my perspective on immigration law and this impacts my view of the recently introduced Senate bill called...


Christian Civic Education

December 21, 2012 By Arlan Koppendrayer One might assume that an election, certainly a presidential election, would be an exciting time for a high school civics teacher.  Well, somewhat. Elections—and especially presidential campaigns—offer nearly endless discussion opportunities with my students. “Mr. K. what do you think of the marriage amendment (Minnesota)?” or “What do you think of ObamaCare?”   More interesting to me are the questions they don’t ask. “How does a bill become a law?” or “Why do we have a Senate and a House?”  Questions about the mechanisms or structure of government are rare.  Although some do ask about the Electoral College, and one quipped, “What’s the minimum ACT score I need to be admitted?” Student interests stand in contrast to a typical high school civics textbook. There we see much about the structure and mechanism of government. Which branch should do...


Thoughts on the Newtown Massacre

December 21, 2012 By Aaron Belz Twenty haunts us now. The words between the ages of six and seven haunt us. The place-name Newtown, unknown to most Americans before last Friday, has become a lightning rod for grief we didn’t even know we had. This week, for hundreds of thousands of parents and teachers, weeping has become a factor of simply turning on CNN or opening a newspaper. As investigation continues, details emerge and reports pour out, our biggest question is Why? It’s been revealed that Lanza was a loner, an introvert—that his parents’ divorce left him emotionally scarred, that had had spent years carrying a briefcase to school, that he lived with his mother who’d made it known that she wanted to have him institutionalized. It’s said that he played Call of Duty in his basement, that he’d memorized historical military weapons by name, date and country of...


Cliff Notes from the Edge

December 14, 2012 By Timothy Sherratt If an agreement is reached to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff by the end of the lame duck session of Congress, we will have gained fresh insight into our polarized polity. We will have learned that in pursuit of apparently divergent interests, polarization has its limits. From the perspective of civility, care, trust and faithful representation of society’s needs and interests, this will deliver cold comfort. But it is important to know that the self-interest that propels democratic politics also propels politics towards resolution when both sides want resolution badly enough. I am quite sure that we have a civility crisis. Trust, courtesy and care are in short supply. Particularly distressing is the evidence that the little courtesies have vanished, including the collegiality across parties that characterized the United States Senate not long ago. More than one senator has retired in the past...


Reflections on Justice from Hurricane Sandy

December 14, 2012 By Joanna Stephens It has been a little over a month since Hurricane Sandy swept up the Atlantic leaving large-scale damage in its wake. Looking back on its aftermath and subsequent relief efforts, can we yet say that justice has been served? With flood insurance and FEMA claims still pending, the subpoena of Con Edison and other regional utilities for investigation, and hundreds of people in the Rockaways, Staten Island and parts of New Jersey still displaced, the full restoration of life seems a long way off for many. But while it is still in progress, we as Christians can survey the range of work that was done and learn valuable lessons about the full breadth of justice in God's kingdom.  First, justice is not solely reactive after something wrong has taken place, but involves preemptive action. The immense efforts of governors, mayors and other civic officials to ready their areas for the storm should be commended...


Politics & Prose

December 14, 2012 By Byron Borger Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year   By David Von Drehle (Henry Holt)   With the success of the tremendous Spielberg movie, Lincoln, based on the prestigiously awarded Team of Rivals, there is now a renewed interest in our sixteenth president. Of the newest books none will be more discussed than this stunning new work by Von Drehle, a social historian of the first order, who came to the literary world’s attention with his widely reviewed Triangle, a riveting telling of the famous 1911 Triangle factory fire in New York’s manufacturing district.  Rise to Greatness, a detailed look at 1892, will, I predict, be awarded with accolades from professional historians as well as popular readers. Van Drehle writes history with...


Stewardship and the Fiscal Cliff

December 14, 2012 By John Anderson The looming fiscal cliff is a set of tax increases and federal spending reductions due to take place on Jan. 1, 2013, the combination of which is forecast by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to put the U.S. economy back into recession in 2013. Avoiding a sharp economic downturn in the short run is important to ensure employment opportunities and income security for as many Americans as possible. But, the long-term fiscal outlook is unsustainable and requires serious policy action.     Two biblical principles should guide our thinking on policy responses. First, we should be mindful of our obligation to be good stewards of the resources with which God has entrusted us (c.f. Genesis 1:26-30). That involves both providing an economy in which growth can flourish to improve wellbeing for our population and assuring that the tax system is as efficient as possible, not wasting resources. Second, we...


The Environmental “Cliff”

December 7, 2012 By Steven E. Meyer  As important as the so-called “fiscal cliff” is, it pales into insignificance compared to the looming environmental “cliff.”  Under new World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, the organization has launched a major effort to address climate change.  The bank is a leading development lender, and Kim—the first scientist to lead the organization—has said that the development challenge, especially in the poorest parts of the world, cannot be solved without tackling climate change.   The report Turn Down the Heat, which was compiled for the bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, explores the impact of a four degree Celsius (7.2 degree Fahrenheit) increase in temperature by the end of the century. Most scientists...


Sad Christmas Songs Say So Much

December 7, 2012 By Aaron Belz People tend to mistake folk singer Joni Mitchell’s “River” (1970) for a Christmas song. You’ll hear it in hotel lobbies, department stores and coffee shops this season. It begins with the tune of “Jingle Bells,” then changes a bit as Mitchell sings,  It's coming on ChristmasThey're cutting down treesThey're putting up reindeerAnd singing songs of joy and peace But the fifth and following lines move in a different direction: “Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.” The rest of the song is about giving up, wanting to run away from the pain of lost love. One of the most memorable songs on Mitchell’s album Blue, it’s terribly sad.  The same is true for Nina Simone’s “Little Girl Blue” (1958) which begins with a piano playing “Good King Wenceslas.” Its lyrics (by Richard Rodgers) plummet immediately into...


Peering into the Bird’s Nest of Public Service Unions

December 7, 2012 By Brian Dijkema The Chicago teacher’s strike is over, but contention between governments and public service unions is far from over. In fact, given that industrial nations in Europe and North America are swimming in red ink and looking for savings at almost every level, it’s plausible that strife between public sector unions and governments will become the new normal.   Labor strife in the public sector tends to be more divisive than strife in the private sector. The fault line often falls between those who think public sector unions are publicly unaccountable organizations which hamstring elected officials, and those who consider them the protectors of government programs, and thus protectors of the public good. But are these characterizations...


A More Inclusive Republican Vision

December 7, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. Republican ideological self-reflection began in earnest this week, with two notable speeches from young, rising GOP leaders. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Congressmen Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) both spoke at the annual dinner of the Jack Kemp Foundation. Each could be facing the other in the next Republican presidential primary. On the evidence of their remarks, the party would be better off for their presence in the field.   Rubio gave a policy-oriented speech about the economic struggles faced by average Americans. His topics ranged from health care to energy policy to reducing the burden of federal regulations. He was strongest on education—proposing curricula reform, better teacher training and education scholarships for low-income...


Winner Take All or Splitting the Difference: Lessons from Switzerland

November 30, 2012 By David T. Koyzis Another protracted presidential election cycle has come and gone, with Americans on one side of the political aisle celebrating victory, and those on the other licking their wounds in dismay. Two months ago in this space I asked whether the United States is becoming the next France, whose politics was long characterized by sharp division between partisans and opponents of the 1789 Revolution. The end of the recent election campaign will not diminish and may only exacerbate these tendencies. What would the U.S. look like if it had no president? What if we were spared the quadrennial hoopla that has Americans investing so much of their energies in putting one person into a single political office at such huge expense? It might look something like Switzerland. Switzerland is one of the oldest countries in...


Faith and Corporate Social Responsibility

November 30, 2012 By Michael MacLeod  What role does the Christian church have in holding accountability those who have economic power in society? How do we encourage sustainable development and more responsible behavior on the part of the entities that are the economic engines of the global economy? The present era offers unprecedented opportunity – indeed, a requirement – for people of faith to mobilize and have an impact on the direction of our economic future. Historically, we know that Christianity is deeply ingrained with the emergence of the capitalist economic system, with Protestantism playing a particularly important role (as Max Weber and R.H. Tawney noted in their classic arguments). Yet Christians have also voiced profound criticism of the negative effects of capitalism, including the behavior of corporations, on society and spirituality. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, warned against industries that pollute the...


The Fragile Path toward Peace

November 30, 2012 By Amy E. Black An earlier version of this article was published as part of the Alternative Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and cosponsored by the Center for Public Justice. We invite readers to visit the site for more perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to join the conversation. The recent hostilities in Israel and Gaza are a tragic reminder of the fragility of international relations. The U.N.-brokered cease fire has already proven fragile. As we follow the unfolding events in this troubled region, consider some of the ways domestic politics complicate the prospects of peace. Discussion of this complicated issue should begin with...


Why Nunn-Lugar Matters

November 30, 2012 By Tyler Wigg-Stevenson Russia announced in early October that it did not plan to renew the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, better known as Nunn-Lugar, when it expires early next year. This move startled many U.S. security experts and has raised questions about the future of a program that has been a cornerstone of U.S.-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War, when then-Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), pioneered an initiative to direct U.S. funding toward the securing and dismantlement of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet states. That initial investment of $400 million, which the Washington Post recently called “one of the most farsighted foreign policy initiatives of its generation” has grown over...


Hope in the Face of the Fiscal Cliff

November 23, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. With the election over and decided, the winners have no time for a honeymoon. They immediately face a fiscal crisis collectively known as the fiscal cliff. Unless the president and Congress come to an agreement, taxes will broadly rise while defense spending, foreign aid and a social spending will be broadly cut. This would significantly slow an already weak economy.  And there are some disturbing warning signs in Washington. Elements on both the left and the right see advantages in going over the fiscal cliff—to  make ideological points about spending or taxes or to score political points against their opponents.  But in the spirit of the season, let’s err on the side of hope. Even if recent experience encourages...


Why Stagnation?

November 23, 2012 By Steven E. Meyer About $6 billion was spent on the recent political campaigns, and Americans were subjected to literally thousands of hours of often bitter commercials that frequently were filled with partial truths or even outright lies. And, now that the dust has settled, very little has changed. President Obama remains in the White House; Democrats still control the Senate and Republicans the House. Governor Romney and President Obama both made equally gracious speeches at the end of the election.  Both men pleaded for bipartisan cooperation to address the many serious problems we face.  But haven’t we heard all of this before? It has become a vicious cycle—a bitter, nasty campaign and pleas for cooperation and compromise after the election. But once the reality of political intercourse sets in, there is little room for cooperation or compromise; and all of this then leads to the next nasty election.  In...


Could the Syrian Civil War Spread?

By Paul S. Rowe  November 23, 2012 The Arab Spring brought momentous political change to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen in 2011.  But in Syria, the revolution has been postponed.  There, widespread demonstrations turned into an uprising in mid-2011.  The violent and repressive tactics of the Asad regime aimed at pre-empting its own downfall have led Syria into a civil war that has now raged for the past 16 months.  The brutal tactics employed by the Syrian government have led to the deaths of over 37,000 people and created a massive flow of refugees to neighboring Turkey.  Government forces have engaged in wholesale use of destructive heavy weaponry, most notably in the cities of Homs and Aleppo.  Artillery and weapons fire have destroyed the old city souk of Aleppo and countless heritage buildings, while house-to-house fighting has made it impossible for most people to carry on with normal life....


Politics & Prose

November 23, 2012 By Byron Borger Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent    E.J. Dionne, Jr. (Bloomsbury)  The Center for Public Justice steadfastly maintains that we are neither left nor right; to even say we are centrist yields too much to the very metaphor of a continuum with two opposite ends.  To deconstruct this image is vexing since most Americans have such a continuum inextricably burned into their political imagination.  Nonetheless, we need help seeing and understanding the competing political traditions in America, who do see themselves as opposite ends of a spectrum, and there is hardly a better pundit these days to help us—albeit with his own deeply held, overt, biases and assumptions—than Brookings Institution scholar and Washington Post columnist, E. J. Dionne, Jr.  I commend...


Christian Politics as Critical Loyalty?

November 17, 2012 By Timothy Sherratt Over lunch a month ago, an African colleague asked me why evangelical Christians in the United States had allowed themselves to be so firmly entrenched in Republican politics. Shouldn’t evangelicals make their political positions known and demand that the political parties take those positions seriously if they want to earn evangelical support? This week, evangelical entrenchment faced new questions, not from evangelicals but from other Republicans. Red State editor Erick Erickson reviews a host of calls to throw social conservatives out of the party before defending their presence as a still vital constituency. But the once unthinkable has now been uttered. Much of this grumbling may be discounted as the usual finger pointing that follows an election defeat. But recent evidence from the Pew Forum and the Institute for Religion and Democracy lends it a paradoxical gravity. In 2012,...


The Xenophobia of Argo

November 19, 2012 By Josh Larsen It’s lonely not liking Argo. A word-of-mouth success at the box office and approved by 95 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes, this dramatization of an actual C.I.A. mission to extricate six Americans trapped in Iran during the 1979-81 hostage crisis seems well on its way to Oscar glory. All of which makes the particularly American xenophobia that drives the picture even more alarming. Director Ben Affleck also stars as C.I.A. agent Tony Mendez, an “exfiltration” expert who devises an unconventional plan for getting the six Americans who are hiding in the Canadian ambassador's home out of Iran: He sets up a legitimate Hollywood production company, flies into the country posing as the Canadian producer of a cheesy sci-fi flick that wants to film in Iran and then attempts to fly out with...


Bringing Order. Establishing Justice. Treating Water.

November 17, 2012 By Katie Tarara Watching coverage of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction prompted reflections on the people whose job it will be to restore water service, to  repair roads and sidewalks and to work with people who suffered great loss to make things close to right again.  These events shine a bright light on many vocations I have generally thought very little about. But this fall I have been part of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s Civic Leadership Academy in Pittsburgh,  which brings together community members from different neighborhoods in the city to learn about how city government functions.  I heard the head of Environmental Services beam about his team of refuse collectors; I have walked through the water treatment facility that processes water from the Allegheny...


Suicide and Narrow Social Agendas

November 9, 2012 By Jack Hanke This article was originally published on sharedjustice.org, a new online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do politics.  Over the past few decades, questions of abortion and homosexuality have increasingly dominated the public debate on “social issues” and “moral values.” Occasionally, other issues manage to receive equal attention—the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate, for instance, created quite a fracas last year—but inevitably the two most controversial subjects in social policy will reassert themselves. It’s beginning to look as if non-economic or security issues...


Whitman: “I am with you, and know how it is.”

November 9, 2012 By Aaron Belz Conservatives disappointed—maybe even surprised—by the outcome of the recent presidential election need look no farther than the spirit of the American people to understand why Barack Obama was reelected. Look at our symbolic historical figures. Benjamin Franklin was the eighth child of a candlemaker, grew up working for pennies in a print shop. Davy Crockett was an outlier, bear hunter, explorer. Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin and homely appearance have risen to mythic status. Walt Whitman was a vagrant whose body odor appalled fellow opera-goers. Robert Frost never had much money, survived by selling poems and lecturing. President Franklin Roosevelt, although from a prominent, wealthy family, stared down polio, chatted with Americans from a wheelchair. A Poetry Foundation biography of recent U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine said he was “raised in industrial Detroit… in the midst of the Great...


Why There Are No Women Voters and No Women’s Issues

November 9, 2012 By Lauren Barthold and Brian Glenney An earlier version of this article was published in Faculty Central, a publication of Gordon College, Wenham, MA. Binders or not, there are no women voters. Period. There is, we mean, no unique demographic of women, whose vote Governor Mitt Romney supposedly lost and whose vote President Obama reportedly won. Nor is there a “gender gap” problem for Republicans. In the second presidential debate, when Romney described his process for hiring qualified women for his cabinet, he did not confuse and...


Questions on Christians and Politics

November 9, 2012 By Stephanie Summers Over the past few days, friends, colleagues, and commentators have crunched data in an effort to interpret the results of the recent election.  Cries for the president or the Congress to now turn or return their attention to the myriad of  issues that were left in a state of suspended animation prior to the final few weeks of the campaign have been voluminous.  We are no longer the nation so recently described by robo-calls, photographs on direct-mail pieces, and Super-PAC advertisements, but we are America, a nation facing many complex problems that need comprehensive solutions. I’ve spent a fair bit of these past few days in many conversations where I’ve been asked the question, “So now what?  What should we who follow Jesus do?”    It is of no small encouragement to me that the number of men, women, and institutions asking questions that are more than...


Post-Election Cooperation: The Opportunity of a Fresh Start

November 9, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. A presidential campaign conducted with considerable bitterness at least ended with some grace. In his concession speech, Mitt Romney called on Republicans and Democrats to put people before politics. In his victory speech, President Obama argued that our nation is not as divided as our politics suggests and called on Americans to come together.  That sprit will be needed in the days ahead. The president had a convincing win, based on the strong turnout of his coalition. But Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives. Americans, as they have often done before, selected a divided government. And that means nothing of consequence can happen without cooperation between the parties.  Such cooperation will be...


How Should We Vote?

November 2, 2012 By Paul Brink First of all, we should vote.  I join others in saying that to vote is actually part of our Christian calling. Given the responsibility of the state to pursue justice, the chief goal of democracy is not to give citizens the right to determine the state’s purpose, as secular justifications for democracy might suggest.  Rather, when citizens vote, they share with their fellow citizens the duty to discern and pursue together justice and the common good. This is a responsibility we may not ignore. It’s a remarkable privilege—and a daunting one. Second, we should vote biblically. We should work to consider how biblical givens can be brought to bear on some of the most controversial issues we face in American society.  This is really hard work, particularly when people we respect come to conclusions with which we disagree, but who are...


Religious Freedom in the 2012 Presidential Election

November 2, 2012 By Stanley Carlson-Thies  Below is an excerpt from a longer analysis of religious freedom issues in the 2012 presidential campaign, released as part of the Center for Public Justice 2012 Election Guide.  People “bear ultimate responsibility to their Creator” and no human authority, including government, may rightly try to replace God nor constrain how people relate to the Creator,” according to the Religious Freedom Guideline. Because many believers “exercise” their religion (to use the Constitution’s term) in part via creating schools, charities and health clinics, religious freedom is due to faith-based organizations and not only to houses of worship and individual believers.  President Obama and the Democratic Party strongly affirm the...


Evaluating Abortion in the 2012 Presidential Election

November 2, 2012 By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley Below is an excerpt from a longer analysis of human life issues in the 2012 presidential campaign, released as part of the Center for Public Justice 2012 Election Guide.  The Center for Public Justice Guideline on Human Life is clear: “As a life-ending act, abortion should never be legalized as a freedom right of those responsible for a pregnancy.” But the Guideline goes further, calling the Christian to consider how to best promote the inherent dignity of both mother and child in circumstances where abortion may be considered.  Importantly, the Center’s position is grounded in considerations about the God-ordained role of marriage and family in...


Politics & Prose

November 2, 2012 By Byron Borger Public Jesus: Exposing the Nature of God in Your Community  Tim Suttle (The House Studio)  In the season following the 2012 elections citizens may tire of political discourse. Perhaps a more general approach would be useful, inviting congregational classes or study groups to think about the public nature of faith, if not precisely about politics. This recent DVD study and accompanying book is creatively produced, making the case that biblical religion is not merely personal and is never private. God is alive and well in the world and the church is mandated to proclaim the full gospel of the Kingdom; there are always public implications of Christian discipleship as we are called to serve the common good. With strains of the likes of Stanley Hauerwas, this six session interactive curriculum covers foundational matters: what it means to be human in the world,...


How Big Is Too Big?

October 26, 2012 By Stephen Monsma A crucial issue in this year’s presidential election is the size and scope of government. Governor Mitt Romney’s website argues: “The mission to restore America to health begins with reducing the size of the federal government . . .  Romney will cut federal spending and regulation, . . . reducing the size and reach of the federal government . . .”  I am deeply troubled by this.  This position is closer to libertarianism than it is to traditional conservatism. Traditional conservatives recognize the limitations and frailties of human nature and wisdom. Thus, they see a proper role for government in restraining the darker forces in human nature. They fear both an overly weak and an overly intrusive government. And they believe societal and political change should come slowly and...


The 2012 Presidential Election & National Security Policy

October 26, 2012 By Steven E. Meyer  Below is an excerpt from a longer analysis of the national security and foreign policy positions of the 2012 presidential candidates, released as part of the Center for Public Justice 2012 Election Guide.  How do Christians determine whom they will support for president?  Ideally, the decision should be based on the totality of the candidates’ record and their positions on foreign and security issues should be an integral and important part of that decision. Of course, the decision by Christians’ needs to be guided by their understanding of what the Scripture requires. The problem is that Christians interpret the meaning of Scripture differently and, in some cases, such a politics, there are vast differences.  Frequently in Christian blogs and articles we are told that Christians must be guided by “justice,” but too often we are not provided with an understanding...


Education Policy & the 2012 Presidential Election

October 26, 2012 By Ted Williams III  This essay was released as part of the Center for Public Justice 2012 Election Guide.  In this election, as in most recent presidential elections, education has failed to receive the level of sustained attention it deserves. While Medicare, foreign policy and the economy have attracted great interest, the distinctions between the two major candidates on the issue of education are noteworthy and warrant significant discussion.  In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama complained about No Child Left Behind, specifically the lack of funding that was provided to the states to fulfill the law’s regulations. Yet much of NCLB has been left untouched by Obama’s administration, although they have allowed 34 states to opt out of various provisions. In fact, Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have continued the focus on standardized testing, the hallmark of the legislation....


Republican Arguments for Social Mobility and the Common Good

October 26, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson  This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The final stages of a presidential election are usually not a feast of reason. It is usually a time for us-against-them stump speeches and negative ads, and we are currently hearing plenty of both.  But there was a recent, unexpected exception. On Oct. 22, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan delivered a serious speech on political philosophy at Cleveland State University in Ohio. The arguments he made should have come earlier in the political season, but they are still welcome.  Ryan correctly diagnosed a serious social crisis that I have often raised before: the chronic weakness of social mobility in America. “There is something wrong in our country,” he said, “when 40 percent of children born to parents in the...


Religion, Abortion and the Role of Government

October 19, 2012 By Timothy Sherratt Looking across the table last week at the two Roman Catholic aspirants for the office of vice-president, moderator Martha Raddatz asked the candidates to explain the religious grounds for their positions on abortion. Vice President Joe Biden confessed himself bound by the Church’s teaching that life begins at conception. But he was quick to insist that he could not impose this teaching on others of equally sincere moral conviction who reach different conclusions.   Congressman Paul Ryan acknowledged the Church’s teaching along with the testimony of science and reason as the source of his convictions on the subject. For these reasons, he declared that he opposes abortion, but would provide exceptions for rape, incest and threats to the life of the mother. Missing from this exchange was any reference to the Church’s teaching on the responsibilities borne by government concerning...


Honoring God on Election Day and Beyond

October 19, 2012 By Amy E. Black This article originally appeared as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and cosponsored by the Center for Public Justice.  For additional perspectives or to join the conversation, go to www.respectfulconversation.net. I can still recall my excitement as I drove to the polling place to vote for the very first time. My heart sank, however, when I entered the voting booth and saw the extensive ballot. I recognized a few names, so those votes were easy. But I was befuddled by the long list of names and elected offices I did not know. In the end, I left many of the boxes blank and exited the voting booth feeling like a failure. The United States has more elected officials than any other nation (about half a...


Environmental Policy in the 2012 Presidential Election

October 19, 2012 By Lowell (Rusty) Pritchard  Christians acknowledge that the ramifications of human fallibility redound to the rest of the created order. They also acknowledge the continuing force of the stewardship mandate given in the first chapters of Genesis. To what extent do the current presidential candidates exhibit the public justice priorities of biblical Christianity?  The Republican stance on clean air and water has recently been that they are laudable goals, but they come at a great cost to the economy. The Obama administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created policies that reduce mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants and that seek to reduce soot and smog precursors that travel across state lines. Governor Mitt Romney has pledged to "take a weed whacker" to federal regulations and consistently singles out the EPA as a threat to the economy, promising to reverse a half-dozen...


Evangelical-Islamist Encounters, Part III: Democracy in Tunisia

October 19, 2012 By Chris Seiple This is the third in a series of articles examining the political challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia, when a 26 year-old man, Mohamed Bouazizi, burned himself to death in December 2010 to protest the 23 year-old dictatorship there. Today Tunisia is ruled by a three-party coalition, which includes the National and Socialist parties, but is led by the Islamist Ennahdha party.  Ennahdha’s spiritual leader—Sheikh Rashid Ghannouchi, an “Islamist Mandela” who had returned in early 2011 from 20 years of exile in the United Kingdom—was one of the first Islamist thinkers to write that Islam and democracy are compatible. Tunisia has a vocal Salafi minority, and the country is now...


No Excuse for Incivility

October 12, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The vice presidential debate raised many important questions about social equity, foreign policy management and the value of human life. Both Vice President Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan had moments when they explained their views passionately and well.  But for those who don’t follow politics and policy very closely, tuning into the debate was probably an unpleasant experience. Biden displayed an aggressive, bullying style that often made a genuine discussion impossible. He greeted Ryan’s points with mocking laughter, and, by one count, interrupted his opponent more than 80 times. Ryan maintained his composure, but sometimes seemed at a loss on how to respond.  Those who watched the debate saw two prepared and knowledgeable men. They saw essential...


Principles for Health Care Policy: A Guide for Voters

October 12, 2012 By Leah Anderson Over the next few weeks, Capital Commentary will publish a series of articles that evaluate the 2012 presidential candidates against the principles of the Center.  A more in depth analysis of the health care platforms of both candidates can be found in the 2012 election guide on www.cpjustice.org. The Affordable Care Act is one of President Barack Obama’s signature policy achievements. It has also been the target of unrelenting criticism from Republicans, including Governor Mitt Romney. If this were not enough to bring it center stage for the 2012 election, the escalating costs of healthcare make it a critical issue for government, businesses and family budgets.  President Obama’s campaign platform on healthcare focuses on defending the law, promoting its benefits and identifying a few areas for future change. Governor...


Lincoln’s Knox

October 12, 2012 By Aaron Belz  According to a May 26, 1927 article in The Milwaukee Journal, Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poem—one, in fact, he committed to memory—was “Mortality” by the obscure Scottish poet William Knox (1789-1825). “I would give all I am worth, and go into debt,” wrote Lincoln to a friend in Illinois, “to be able to write so fine a piece as I think that is. Neither do I know who is the author. I met it in a straggling form in a newspaper last summer” (April 18, 1846; see The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 1, pages 378-9). The article observes that Lincoln “clung to it throughout his life as an expression of the humility that was his. It is not a poem of hope—rather of despair.” John J. Miller’s recent Wall Street Journal article, “With Death on His Mind,” provides history...


Evangelical-Islamist Encounters, Part II: Dialogue with Islamists and Salafis

October 12, 2012 By Chris Seiple This is the second in a series of articles examining the political challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa. In Part I, I argued that American foreign policy in the MENA region must allow for constructive dialogue with both Islamists and Salafis as they seek to participate in their own emerging democracies.  In the West we tend to group Islamists and Salafis together. Certainly, both groups are present throughout MENA, and both seek an “Islamist” state—which is open to a broad range of interpretations, from the potentially good (see Tunisia, to be explored in greater detail in Part III) to the bad (see Benghazi attack). Yet, while all Salafists are Islamists, not all Islamists are Salafist. The first distinction is theological: Salafis are focused on how to live the...


Election Guide 2012: Immigration Reform

By Ruth Melkonian-Hoover and Jessica Allen Over the next few weeks, Capital Commentary will publish a series of articles that evaluate the 2012 presidential candidates against the principles of the Center.  A more in depth analysis of the issues can be found in the 2012 election guide on www.cpjustice.org.  In order to compare the presidential candidates’ positions on immigration reform, we will utilize the evangelical immigration table principles, as they represent a consensus view among diverse political and theological perspectives.  The first principle is that of “respect for the God-given dignity of every person.” Neither candidate explicitly addresses this issue. Both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney emphasize the respect to be afforded some immigrants and the prioritization of legal...


French-style Polarization in the U.S.?

October 2012 By David T. Koyzis Is America becoming the next France? Is our political system becoming as polarized as that of the French Third and Fourth Republics?  According to the late British political scientist, Sir Bernard Crick, politics is the art of conciliating diversity peacefully in a given unit of rule. Some political systems have done this better than others. The U.S. is among the more successful in enabling people of varying interests and viewpoints to get along within a common constitutional framework commanding near universal loyalty. Until recently the political parties themselves played a role similar to that of the system as a whole. Yes, Democrats and Republicans were opponents, but each party was a broad-based coalition of...


Politics & Prose

October 5, 2012 By Byron Borger Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement  Ronald J. Sider (Brazos, 2012)    Nearly two decades ago there was much discussion about the "scandal of the evangelical mind.”  As the press releases, book title and punch lines put it, evangelicals were good at a lot, but thinking deeply and distinctively wasn't a strong suit. Still, even in Mark Noll's initial book, he admitted there were glorious exceptions, and the faith-based scholarship of Center for Public Justice—in the historic line of Abraham Kuyper in Holland and Christian Democrats in Europe---was cited as just such an exception. Several years later, borrowing the phrase and the concept, Ron Sider published The Scandal of Evangelical Politics. Again, the story was that the energetic political activism of conservative Protestants was often ill-informed, an odd synthesis of competing political...


Evangelical-Islamist Encounters on the Frontlines of Change, Part I: Democracy Matures from Within

October 5, 2012 By Chris Seiple This is the first in a series of articles examining the political challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa.  In the past year, I have made four trips to the Middle East/North Africa (MENA): one to Morocco, one to Israel-Palestine and two to Tunisia, where I spent some time in dialogue with Islamists and Salafis. On the second trip to Tunisia, I witnessed an intense conversation with 19 Salafis from five MENA countries which took place during the attacks on our embassy in Cairo and the murder of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi,...


Campaign Outreach to Religious Voters

September 28, 2012 By Kimberly H. Conger We’re at an unusual place in the presidential election campaign.  Less than two months from Election Day, there seem to be very few undecided voters remaining.  The overwhelming amount of presidential advertising is geared toward convincing ever more miniscule portions of the voting population.  Both campaigns are pouring volunteers and money into swing states to make sure supporters show up at the polls.  Here in Colorado, presidential political advertising is the constant background noise right now.  The Romney campaign is spending millions of dollars on ad buys and personal mobilization in Colorado Springs.  The choice by the Republicans to concentrate on the reddest portion of a red part of the state may seem a bit strange.  Their goal is to boost turnout, particularly among evangelicals in this conservative area.  This reality gives us some insight into the role of...


Accommodating Faith-Based Organizations in HIV/AIDS Services

September 28, 2012 By Stanley Carlson-Thies An earlier version of this article was originally published in the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance eNewsletter for Faith-Based Organizations on September 27, 2012.  Amidst the furor over the so-called “contraception mandate,” the Obama administration's positive action to accommodate conscientious, religious objections to its HIV/AIDS policy was not much noted at the time, so, although very belatedly, here is the story.  The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program, started by President George W. Bush (with the flashy endorsement of Bono, the lead singer of U2), invests tens of billions of dollars in the battle against HIV/AIDS, particularly in Africa. The program extensively and...


Addressing the Opportunity Gap

September 28, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson  This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. A few weeks ago, I talked about a social crisis, based on growing divisions of class, that threatens the American ideal. A number of problems among working class families—less parental time with children, less community and religious involvement, less academic achievement and social trust—are predicting a social mobility crash for millions of Americans. There are a number of causes. One is clearly the collapse of working class families.  Another is the disappearance of well paid, lower skilled jobs in many communities over the last few decades.  Another is the decay of working class neighborhoods, which used to have stronger networks of models and mentors outside the home.   Whatever the mix of causes, the result is...


The Case for the Crime Victims’ Rights Amendment

September 28, 2012 By Mark Jansen Earlier this year, Representatives Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.) proposed a federal constitutional amendment to protect crime victims’ rights.  It would create a national minimum standard that protects victims’ rights to fairness, respect, and dignity, including: the right to reasonable notice of public proceedings related to the offense, the right not to be excluded from such proceedings, to be heard at such proceedings and to be free from unreasonable delay, the right to reasonable notice of release or escape of the accused, the right to restitution and standing to assert these rights, without denying the constitutional rights of the accused.  Although federal statutes and state constitutions and statutes...


Wrapping Opportunity in the Flag

September 21, 2012 By Timothy Sherratt The conventions are behind us; the campaigns are under way. A relatively trouble-free Democratic campaign contrasts with the series of self-inflicted wounds endured by the Republicans, the latest especially damaging. Romney’s characterization of half the population as government dependents who could never be moved by the Republican message seems to have damaged his credibility, not only as a candidate, but also, and more seriously, as a future president. Ironically in a 24/7 news cycle awash with information, both conventions made it a top priority to re-introduce the candidates to the American people. Mrs. Romney and the First Lady sought to reassert the human qualities of their respective spouses.   But did these efforts convince us? A muffled soundtrack from a hidden camera at a Republican fundraiser, seized on across the dial as providing access to the “real” Romney, testifies to...


Waiting for Superman—and Self-Sacrifice—in Public Education

September 21, 2012 By Josh Larsen The recent teachers’ strike involving Chicago’s public school system came in the shadow of the acclaimed documentary Waiting for Superman. Released in 2010, Superman follows a handful of families who have been failed by their neighborhood schools and are hoping to land a coveted spot in one of the better-performing charter schools in their respective districts.  Recalling the film during the events of the last few weeks, I was struck by its emphasis on a central aspect of effective education: the requirement of self-sacrifice. In the national conversation about education reform—and during a labor dispute in particular—this principle is often too easily cast aside, exactly when it should be...


The Chicago Teachers’ Strike: A Just Conflict?

September 21, 2012 By Brian Dijkema I’ll bet you a deep dish pizza that you have an opinion on the Chicago teachers’ strike. It’s like asking if the White Sox or the Cubs represent Chicago best. It’s hard to take a neutral stance on strikes, largely because they involve that which matters so much: work, wages and communities. But is there a way to put a normative framework on these events which might help us understand whether we should lend one side or another our support, and if so, why? Strikes and lockouts are actions taken by a given party (unions or employers, whether private or public) to enforce their will on the other party through the use of power to achieve a desired end. That power is exerted either through the withholding of labor (a strike, initiated by the union) or through the withholding of work (a lockout, initiated by the employer). Does that sound familiar? If you’re thinking this sounds...


Hope in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

September 21, 2012 By Stephen V. Monsma   An earlier version of this article was published as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and cosponsored by the Center for Public Justice.  Earlier this week, video footage was released in which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney dismissed possibilities for peace in the Middle East, stating that the Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish." Few would argue against the proposition that the Israeli-Palestinians conflict is one of the most difficult-to-resolve...


The Question is Government, Not Personalities

September 14, 2012 By James W. Skillen  This article was originally published in the spring 1992 edition of the Public Justice Report.  By now we've all heard enough about the packaging of candidates. Whatever the package design, the candidates—as well as the media—insist on making the current campaign look like nothing more than a popularity contest between contestants who have contrasting attitudes, opinions and approaches.  The media then interpret voter disinterest, disgust and even antagonism as expressions of dissatisfaction with the leading contestants.  Almost all of this, however, misses America's deepest electoral problem. Voter concern, ultimately, is not about picking the most likable or winnable contestant. The chief concern is to obtain sound government for this country. Citizens are...


Individuality or Community: A False Choice

September 14, 2012 By Harold Heie  One-dimensional political commitments on both sides of the aisle have made “middle-ground politics impossible.” That is a concern expressed by E. J. Dionne, Jr., in his splendid book Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (2012).  Dionne traces the root of our current political gridlock to a faulty reading of American history. He asserts that the “true American trajectory is defined by balance,” which includes “an understanding of the indispensability of both the individual and the community.” Dionne maintains that “our quest, from the very beginning of the republic, [has been] to achieve individual liberty rooted in a thriving sense of community and mutual obligation.”  In our contemporary situation, Dionne asserts that the tension between these two dimensions is “reflected in the...


Justice for the Cyborg: The Policy Implications of Robotic Prosthetics

September 14, 2012 By Jason E. Summers Much of Christian ethical thinking about medical technology has focused on whether particular technologies (such as genetic testing) are appropriate and whether restrictions should be placed on development of particular technologies (such as those intended for enhancement of human capabilities). While these are legitimate areas of focus, the recently inaugurated RoboLaw Project should suggest to Christians the importance of also addressing the public-legal implications of current and future medical technologies. The RoboLaw Project seeks to clarify issues that arise in the definition of disability given advances in robotics and biotechnology (such as robotic exoskeletons or...


Rights, Regulation and Human Dignity

September 14, 2012 By Paul Brink This article was originally published as a part of the Gordon College Faith + Ideas conversation, and an earlier version appeared as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and cosponsored by the Center for Public Justice.  For additional perspectives or to join the conversation, go to www.respectfulconversation.net. In July, Colorado movie fans thought they were getting a jump on the new Batman film. Instead, they faced a gunman who calmly took aim and began firing. In the barrage, 50 people were wounded; 12 were killed. Less than three weeks later, Sikh families attending a worship service were attacked by a gunman who suddenly opened fire, killing six worshipers. And two weeks ago, as commuters went to work near the...


The Failure of Partisan Approaches to Economic Opportunity

September 7, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson  This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. At both political conventions, we have heard a national discussion on the meaning of opportunity. Unfortunately, it has not been conducted at a very high level. Republicans endlessly repeated President Obama’s gaffe that if you started a small business, “You didn’t build that.” Democrats responded by defending government, in one prominent case calling it “the only thing we all have in common.” Listening to this debate, you’d think that the only social options are rugged individualism or bureaucratic centralization. But the genius of American society has always been a more complex and interesting mix. First, individual enterprise and responsibility are foundational in a capitalist economy. The system only works if there are rewards...


First Principles and the Election

September 7, 2012 By William Edgar  The Center for Public Justice may frustrate some who become acquainted with it because they are looking not so much for deep principles but for specific guidance on voting. Of course it is important to find out a particular office-holder’s platform. What is missing from this kind of approach, however, is the connection between basic principles and those particular decisions. In the interest of brevity, I will name three basic beliefs held by the Center and suggest what they might imply for the upcoming elections. (1) The order of creation. Following John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper and John Murray, I believe that God created the world and placed mankind in it as his vice-regent, to rule and oversee the world as good stewards. There is a particular order in this creation that unfolds in history and differentiates as the world develops. As Kuyper elaborated in his principle of sphere sovereignty,...


The Deep Divide

September 7, 2012 By Aaron Belz Because I am a poet, most of my friends on Facebook are poets. I’ve given readings with them, attended conferences, shared hotel rooms, corresponded, collaborated, argued—agreed. I’ve read and reviewed their books, and they mine. I know a few poets who aren’t on Facebook, but not many. Recently I was friended by my old, real-life friend Philip Levine, the multiple award winning former U.S. Poet Laureate. Facebook now knows no age or rank.  Last week’s GOP National Convention in Tampa summoned unimaginable rage among my poet friends. I didn’t watch the convention. I read it through their eyes, via my Facebook feed. Many of them struck the common-man-versus-big-business theme:  No help for 9/11 workers, cutting veteran benefits, no liability for oil spills? What happened to accountability? Oh yeah, that's for the little people. (Stephanie Elliott)  I honestly don't understand...


Should We Jump Off the Fiscal Cliff?

September 7, 2012 By Todd P. Steen Perhaps the most pressing economic policy problem that now faces our country is the unprecedented and simultaneous combination of tax increases and government spending decreases that are scheduled to take place on January 1, 2013. This “fiscal cliff,” however, is just the most current manifestation of long-term generational justice issues that are central to government financing and spending decisions.  Unless current law is changed by Congress, the Bush tax cuts (which were renewed in 2010 for two more years) will expire at the end of this calendar year, causing marginal tax rates to increase on the entire population. The temporary two percent reduction in Social Security payroll taxes will also expire, and a number of new taxes will take effect.  In addition, there are also a number of across-the-board spending decreases scheduled to...


Elections for Sale

August 31, 2012 By Roy Clouser  In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission that since corporations are persons, limiting what they may contribute to an election campaign would be an infringement on their right of free speech. Even aside from confusing spending limits with free speech, this decision is a tragedy based upon a lie. Moreover, it is a lie that should be especially important for Christians to take note of. Here's why:  Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin all held that the principles of justice and morality were "natural" in the sense of having been built into creation by God. They also held that God created human nature so that all humans have a sense of those principles, a sense of right and wrong. Since a right is a benefit or immunity that cannot be denied without injustice, knowing the principles of justice and morality is the basis upon which we are able to...


Politics & Prose

August 31, 2012 By Byron Borger  This is a continuation of a series of articles introducing new books that are significant to the principled practice of public justice.  Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-five Years Among the Poorest Children in America Jonathan Kozol (Crown)  The Center for Public Justice has long worked to shape policies which address poverty, striving to develop positions shaped both by biblical understandings of justice and wisdom as well as the actual impact of policies. Prudent policy doesn’t arrive ready-made from Bible study or the abstract air of the think-tank.  Biblical text and thoughtful ideas must be informed by the stories of real people. Jonathan Kozol can help us with this. He is a treasure of American journalism and has written steadfastly about poor children and the neighborhoods, programs and...


The Politics of Will Ferrell

August 31, 2012 By Josh Larsen Some of the most incisive political commentary of this election year has come from an unlikely source: film comedian Will Ferrell.  Known more for onscreen idiocy than civic acuity, Ferrell has nonetheless offered two comedies in 2012 that have resonance for those with an eye on contemporary politics. While Casa de mi Padre, which came out on DVD last month, has sly implications for the immigration debate, The Campaign, currently playing in theaters, is a biting send-up of the lack of civility in the contemporary American electoral process. I dare say you can come away from both crude, R-rated farces enlightened.  An affectionate spoof of Mexican telenovelas and Spaghetti Westerns, Casa de mi...


Rising above the Rights-based Abortion Debate

August 31, 2012 By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley  For much of this year’s presidential campaign, social issues have taken a back seat to debates over economic policy, job creation and the future of safety net programs such as Medicare.   But in recent weeks, the controversy raised by Senatorial candidate and Congressman Todd Akin’s  (R-MO) remarks on rape and abortion, coinciding with the Republican party’s decision to again include opposition to abortion in its party platform for its national convention, moved abortion center stage again, for at least a little while. Indeed, the way events have unfolded have given Democrats the opportunity to reinforce their message—articulated earlier this year in the wake of widespread GOP opposition to the “contraceptive mandate”—that the Republican party is waging a “war on women.”   But politics aside, for Christians these events raise an important...


Good News for Voters? The Paul Ryan Effect

August 24, 2012 By Timothy Sherratt Writing in The New Yorker recently, Ryan Lizza declared the choice of Congressman Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate “good news for voters. “ It was good news because Paul Ryan advocates for presidential campaigns that offer, in his own words, “a full-throated defense for an alternative agenda that fixes the country’s problems.” I won’t quarrel with Lizza’s verdict, but I would like to amend it. No one would contradict the evidence of sharp differences between the libertarian wing of the Republican Party and the Democrats’ progressive wing. Indeed, each wing has come to define its respective bird. Much of the caustic rhetoric from the campaigns and from the Super PACs (political action committees) seems designed to confirm the irreconcilability of right and left, red and...


Reflections on the Institution of Marriage

August 24, 2012 by Amy E. Black  This article was originally published as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project. We share Amy Black’s “hope that our discussion on this emotionally-charged issue will model a truly alternative political conversation with a spirit of mutual respect and desire for understanding,” and are publishing her piece alongside a companion piece by Paul Brink which draws on similar principles to arrive at a distinct conclusion.  It is hard to advocate for traditional marriage today because many immediately equate opposition to same-sex marriage with hatred or fear. I support marriage as a union between a man and a woman—not out of dislike of gays and lesbians but out of conviction that traditional marriage is a universal social institution...


Same-Sex Marriage and the Political Task

August 24, 2012 By Paul Brink  This article was originally published as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project. A companion piece in this same issue by Amy Black which draws on similar principles to arrive at a distinct conclusion.  Our first step toward considering the question of gay and lesbian relationships as a matter of public policy is to remind ourselves of the proper differentiation of society. Modern American life contains a multitude of different areas and responsibilities: schools, churches, states, dorms, families, businesses, clubs and more.   This is something we can recognize intuitively. Christians are very familiar with the instruction to love your neighbor as yourself, and the Sermon on the Mount contains some very dramatic...


Moving Juvenile Justice Towards Restorative Justice

August 24, 2012 By Rachel Livingston  On June 25, 2012 the Supreme Court decided that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment.” While this is a victory in the area of juvenile justice, the faith community needs to now direct their attention towards the area of restorative justice.  States have different criteria for trying youth as adults, including the age of the offender, the severity of the crime, a prior criminal record, or whether or not it is believed that the behavior can be changed by a specific age.  Nearly 1,200 children are tried as adults every year with no change in sight.   This is problematic for our communities because...


Does Civility Work?

August 17, 2012 By Harold Heie In commenting on the reasons for the latest deluge of vitriolic advertisement released by both the Obama and Romney campaigns, a political pundit gave a simple explanation: “Civility doesn’t work.”  But there is a prior question that must be addressed before one can discuss what “works” or not: What is one trying to accomplish?  If the primary goal of politicians is to get elected or re-elected, then there is ample evidence that negative advertising works.  But imagine the possibility of politicians committed to the goal of governing, proposing and passing legislation that promotes the common good. For this goal it is clear that incivility doesn’t work, and civil political discourse is required. Politicians on both sides of the aisle must listen to the each other’s points of view, and talk respectfully about their agreements and disagreements as they seek to forge...


Navigating the Election Season with Humility, Grace, and Reason

August 17, 2012 By Amy E. Black  The Olympic flames have been extinguished, the summer is drawing to an end, Mitt Romney has chosen his running mate, and party leaders are preparing for their national conventions. The election season is about to begin in full force, and all signs point to a contentious and angry battle ahead.  As followers of Christ, we can make a difference in this year’s campaign by modeling humility instead of arrogance, extending grace to others even when we disagree, and using reason to test campaign messages.  Politics is a powerful arena for Christian witness. The election season offers a renewed chance to counteract negative stereotypes of Christians. Our words, actions and demeanor when discussing politics are an important part of our public witness. We can point others to Christ by engaging in politics with respect and inviting constructive conversation instead of blanket...


Holding Tight: Biblical Principles for Economics

August 17, 2012 By Eric Hilker  Candidates’ policies for curing the country’s economic ills loom at the center of this year’s presidential election.  Dr. Peter Feaver, professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, encouraged the audience at this year’s Christians in Political Science Conference to “hold our principles tightly and our policy lightly.”  In light of this I would like to consider some economic principles from scripture, specifically in regards to conceptions of private property.   American political culture has inherited a legacy of private property rights theory from philosopher John Locke.  Locke held that the property owner’s labor makes him sovereign and fully entitled to his property.  Christians may consider the Lockean view of property rights pragmatically useful, but we must recognize that all earthly possessions are gifts from a loving Father who...


Challenging the Escalation of Negative Politics

August 17, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. For those of us concerned about the tone of politics, the news gets worse and worse.  It is true that all presidential campaigns, at some point, go negative. And that is not always illegitimate. A presidential contest is not only about aspiration. It is a choice between contrasting stands and viewpoints. And vividly drawing those contrasts is an essential part of political life. The disagreements in American politics – on economics, foreign policy and medical ethics – are not small.  And the arguments on those issues will not be calm or mild.  The problem comes when facts are distorted, false impressions are left and attacks become cruel and personal.  Even when this helps the attacking candidate—and sometimes, unfortunately, it does—it...


Politics: The Prudential Balance of Individual Rights and the Common Good

August 10, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.  In the aftermath of a tragedy such as the Aurora shooting, it is a natural human tendency to attempt an explanation.  We want the world to be explainable in order to make it more controllable.  So people respond according to their predispositions.   Aurora, we were told, resulted from violent entertainment, or lax gun control laws or failures in the mental health system.  There may be truth in all these arguments.  But a mass murder is a rare and singular act, defying an easy attribution of cause and effect.  There was much wisdom in President Obama’s reaction:  “Such violence, such evil is senseless,” he said.  “It’s beyond reason.”  Tragedy in our own lives often points to the limits of reason.  The rain falls on the just...


A Non-messianic Presidency

August 10, 2012 By David T. Koyzis Do Americans expect too much of the president of the United States, and do presidential candidates themselves unwisely encourage such unrealistic expectations in voters? Back in 1787, when the American founders fashioned their constitutional document for a new federal republic, they began with a discussion of legislative power in Article I, moving on to executive power only in Article II. Why? Because the Congress of the United States was intended to be the preeminent body representing the interests of the people and of the several states, each of which was still jealous of its own autonomy in the new system. When Article I, section 8 sets forth the enumerated powers of the federal government (the remainder being reserved for the states by the Tenth Amendment), the...


Scripture from the State

August 10, 2012 By Matthew Arildsen  The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the individual mandate specifically and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act generally met with standard responses from both parties. Republicans focused on the Supreme Court’s insistence that the law is permissible under the taxing powers granted by the Constitution; they juxtaposed that interpretation against the Obama Administration’s previous insistence that the law was “not a tax.” Democrats hailed the ruling as a victory for freedom and quickly wrote articles reining in new, liberal enthusiasts for Chief Justice John Roberts.  In a Gallup poll measuring from September to July, approval of the Supreme Court by Republicans dropped 21 points, while approval from Democrats rose 22 points. But really, so what? How should Christians...


Poetry As Flak

August 10, 2012 By Aaron Belz If political rhetoric is a pristine bomber, engineered for the precision and efficiency to deliver its payload, poetry can function as flak: defensive artillery fired from the positions on the ground, designed to incapacitate or destroy its nearly invisible overhead target. All art, because of its freedom from bureaucratic constraint, can function in this capacity, as can journalism, sermonizing and stand-up comedy. Art and its kind serve an important social function: to call attention to error, lampoon folly, etc. The Oxford American Dictionary gives two definitions for flak—“anti-aircraft fire” and “strong criticism,” citing the word’s origin in the 1930s German Fliegerabwehrkanone, which is really three words, “aircraft defense gun,” compressed into one. So flak is a German acronym that has become standard in English. This is interesting in itself, as I’d...


Politics & Prose

August 3, 2012 By Byron Borger  A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness (IVP)  Friends of the Center for Public Justice should recognize the name Os Guinness, as he is one of the most esteemed thinkers and eloquent writers working today, famous for his book The Call.    Now, Guinness has given us a new book that some consider his most urgent work, a magnum opus from a “resident alien” extolling the genius of the American experiment and the ideas of the founders and framers.  The China-born, Oxford-educated, Irish-blooded evangelical leader has been lecturing for decades about the American project. Through his prodigious global speaking schedule (among Christian thought leaders and others in the corporate, university and political spheres), Guinness has honed his arguments and advanced...


Taking Aim at Gun Control

Taking Aim at Gun Control August 3, 2012 By Roy Clouser  An earlier version of this article was published in Capital Commentary in 1999. The author updated the argument and the context in light of the renewed attention to the issue of gun control in the wake of the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado.  Government has a legitimate role in human life, but a role that is limited. The simplest description of that limit is to say that governmental authority is restricted to public justice and safety. Thus, we see it as legitimate that governments not only enforce civil and criminal codes, but also inspect bridges, airplanes, food and medicines. It’s also why state and local governments patrol highways.  If this view is correct, it seems clear that government also has an obligation to play a role in regulating firearms for the...


Let’s Talk Politics

August 3, 2012 By Clay Cooke Recent Capital Commentary articles by Michael J. Gerson and Amy E. Black have underscored the salient issue of political polarization in America. They have suggested that the United States is an increasingly divided nation defined in large part by the ideological battle over “big government”—whether, that is, government is viewed primarily as the savior or cause of society’s ills.  It seems fair to say that this polarization is the most pressing political challenge we face on a day-to-day basis. We encounter it by way of the media, constantly absorbing stories about a divided American public, a heated presidential election or a partisan Congress.  We are further inundated with culture wars...


Religious Freedom for Muslims

August 3, 2012 By Chelsea Langston  During Disney’s golden resurgence of the 1990s, I spoke the language of Ariel, Jasmine and Mulan. It never occurred to me that I should think that Aladdin was set in a land of terrorists, of people who were fundamentally evil or different from me. Aladdin came out in the midst of Operation Desert Storm, yet this didn’t deter millions of families from embracing the romantic notions of Arabia. I don’t know if Americans as a society will ever embrace the je ne sais quoi, the alluring mystery, the unanswered question that once encompassed the expanse of land between Europe and Asia. For many Americans, that unanswered question became resoundingly answered in stone by a select few extremists on 9/11. More than a decade later, American Muslims and Americans of Middle-Eastern descent often still face resistance. In Murfreesboro, Tenn., a group of Muslims have faced intense...


WikiLeaks and the Internet: Ushering in an Era of Corporate Censorship

July 27, 2012 By Melissa Steffan  Since 2010, one name has been on our lips in every discussion of government secrecy and freedom of information: WikiLeaks. The online whistle-blowing organization challenged the journalistic establishment in 2010 when it published the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs and the State Department cables. Facilitated by leaks from Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, these classified, government documents regarding U.S. military operations in the Middle East comprised the largest document leak in history.  Yet, in the two years since the first War Logs were released, there have been no explosive consequences in U.S. diplomatic affairs or in military operations overseas. Even more shockingly, there has been no legal action by the government against either WikiLeaks or the New York Times. However, the actions the government did pursue imply a grave future for the freedom of information. Because the...


Magic Mike, the Dark Knight and the Repercussions of Economic Distress

July 27, 2012 By Josh Larsen  And I thought we went to Hollywood movies for escapism.  Two of this summer’s big films—the surprising box-office hit Magic Mike, about upwardly mobile male strippers, and the final installment in the latest Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises—tap into the economic dread and desperation that still lingers a few years past America’s economic crash. Don’t get me wrong, both pictures are fun—Magic Mike is full of rousing musical numbers, while Batman gets a cool new plane—but what I also appreciated is the way each shines a cinematic spotlight on the repercussions of economic injustice.  Directed by Steven Soderbergh and based on the actual experiences of star Channing Tatum, Magic...


God, Caesar and the Presidential Elections

  God, Caesar and the Presidential Elections July 27, 2012 By Tim Sherratt The presidential campaign is under way, with lots of money being raised and spent even in these pre-convention weeks. All the same, Americans are distracted by the joys of summer. The sound and the fury can wait until after the conventions. So there’s time to read and reflect—in my case, on N.T. Wright’s How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (2012). Wright’s book offers a timely reorientation of our political reflections and our citizen responsibilities this election season. Wright argues that modern Evangelicals have forgotten the gospels as the climax of Israel’s story, have forgotten Jesus as Israel’s god, have missed the gospels’ announcement of the launch of God’s renewed people and, above all, have overlooked the gospels as the story of God’s kingdom clashing with Caesar’s. Two villains...


Politics & Prose

July 27, 2012 By Byron Borger A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness (IVP)  Friends of the Center for Public Justice should recognize the name Os Guinness, as he is one of the most esteemed thinkers and eloquent writers working today, famous for his book The Call.   Now, Guinness has given us a new book that some consider his most urgent work, a magnum opus from a “resident alien” extolling the genius of the American experiment and the ideas of the founders and framers. The China-born, Oxford-educated, Irish-blooded evangelical leader has been lecturing for decades about the American project. Through his prodigious global speaking schedule (among Christian thought leaders and others in the corporate, university and political spheres), Guinness has honed his arguments and advanced his thesis: Those of us living with the...


The Decline of the American Family: An Economic Catastrophe

July 27, 2012 By Ted Williams III “The family is the cornerstone of our society. More than any other force it shapes the attitude, the hopes, the ambitions and the values of the child. And when the family collapses it is the children that are usually damaged. When it happens on a massive scale the community itself is crippled. So, unless we work to strengthen the family, to create conditions under which most parents will stay together, all the rest-schools, playgrounds, and public assistance, and private concern-will never be enough.” --President Lyndon Johnson Neither American political party has taken seriously the destruction of this bedrock institution. According to political pundits and the mainstream media, the greatest threats to the American way of life are rising gas prices, suicide bombers and a housing market that is recovering from a mortgage crisis. Yet, the family, as Lyndon Johnson realized, is the...


Unprecedented Hope in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

July 20, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. With more than 25,000 delegates from around the world arriving in Washington for the International AIDS Conference, it is a good time to assess how far we’ve come on one of the great humanitarian challenges of our time—and where we might be headed. Less than a decade ago, most of sub-Saharan Africa was living in the shadow of death.  Large portions of the population were infected with HIV with little or no hope of treatment. These were not only the very poor, but teachers, doctors, nurses, civil servants and others who make organized society possible. In the capital of Zambia, for example, there were traffic jams during much of the day due to constant funeral processions. In 2003—when President George W. Bush announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR—there...


Juvenile Sentencing & Community Values

July 20, 2012 By Harold Dean Trulear The recent Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama, which concerns the imposition of life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders, offers an important opportunity for people of faith to revisit our civic responsibilities with respect to children and youth. The decision strikes down state laws requiring life-without-parole sentences, ruling that these laws violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment." Such laws, currently on the books in just over half of all states, prevent judicial discretion—the consideration of such mitigating circumstances as age, personal development and situations of prior abuse—in the sentencing of juveniles for crimes for which these states mandate life-without-parole sentences. No state has ever passed a law...


Arizona’s System to Verify Residency Status

July 20, 2012 By Julia Stronks and Aaron Korthius To what extent should states be allowed to require verification of legal residency? The federal government has the authority under the Constitution to develop immigration law, but the Supreme Court, in its recent decision, has decided that states may pass some of their own laws as long as they do not contradict federal policy. This means that we are only beginning to see the variety of laws that states will enact to complement federal law. Arizona is the first of many states to pass stringent laws related to undocumented residents. In May 2011, the Supreme Court endorsed Arizona’s requirement that employers use a federal database known as E-Verify to confirm the residency status of people they want to employ. The result is that the undocumented are unable to procure employment in the State of Arizona.   A more controversial aspect of Arizona’s law relates to the work of law...


A Journalist’s Confession: Justice, Honduras and the Surprise of Both

July 20, 2102 By Jo Kadlecek Tegucigalpa—Honduras seemed to me an odd choice for an academic seminar in the summer. After all, the United Nations reported last October that Honduras had the highest per capita homicide rate in the world. The Peace Corps recently pulled its volunteers here after reviewing security and safety issues. Over 20 journalists and 36 lawyers have been murdered in the past three years, and corruption around land, labor and education issues has created a not-so-subtle climate of danger for those working for justice here. Maybe that was the point. Often held in urban offices surrounded by barbed-wire fences and security guards, the seminar—entitled, “Justice: Theory Meets Practice” and hosted June 18-29 by the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) and its local partner, Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ)—was, I discovered when I arrived, a literal look at the costly...


Healing the Poisonous Trend of Polarization

July 13, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The 2012 presidential election is about to begin in earnest, and it promises to be highly negative on all sides. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will depict President Barack Obama as a failed leader. Obama will dismiss Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat. Super-PACs will feed the conflict with harsh advertisements, run round the clock. These deep divisions are reflected in Congress as well. In the most recent full session of the House and Senate, every conservative Democrat had a more liberal voting record than the most liberal Republican, and vice versa. In other words, the voting patterns of the two parties did not overlap at all.      We have a highly polarized political system. This is not unprecedented, but it is getting worse. And the most disturbing aspect is...


Roberts Rules

July 13, 2012 By Timothy Sherratt A longer version of this article originally appeared in Faith + Ideas =, an online publication of Gordon College. Chief Justice John Roberts took center stage at the Supreme Court last month to uphold the Affordable Care Act, our country’s new health care law. With two tie-breaking votes, he sided with his colleagues who are usually perceived as “liberal” to declare the law constitutional, but also with his colleagues usually perceived as “conservative” to reject the government’s principal argument in support of the law. Let me explain. When the Obama Administration defended the Affordable Care Act in court last March, the government argued that the Constitution’s “Commerce Clause”...


The Morality of the Free Enterprise System

July 13, 2012 By Brian Fikkert “Free enterprise is… a moral imperative,” states American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks in The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise. In light of rapidly increasing government expenditures and debt, Brooks argues that—at best—the U.S. is heading toward European-style, social democracy, an outcome he considers immoral. Brooks founds his case on his belief that what brings people true happiness is “earned success,”—i.e. “the ability to create value in your life or in the lives of others…to define and pursue your happiness as you see fit.” In other words, people do not just want to have money; they want to earn money.  Hence, Brooks believes that free enterprise is morally superior because it rewards hard work and ingenuity, while democratic socialism reduces happiness by giving people material things...


Expansion of the U.S./Mexico Border Fence

July 13, 2012 By Julia Stronks and Aaron Korthius This is the third in a series of four articles exploring specific aspects of immigration reform. The border fence between the United States and Mexico was a hot topic of debate when Republican candidates were vying for the 2012 presidential candidate position. Rep. Michelle Bachman (R – Minn.) wanted a double fence, and Herman Cain favored an electric fence. Mitt Romney also wants the fence, which currently covers 650 miles of the 2,000-mile border, to be completed, while Texas governor Rick Perry argued that at between 18 and 20 million dollars per mile, completing the fence is not cost-effective. Meanwhile, polling...


Principle & Practice

July 6, 2012 By Catherine E. Wilson Two kinds of markers reliably adorn the geographic landscape: historic markers, which point out important places, dates and events, and mile markers, which signal the distance needed to travel in order to arrive at one’s destination.    President Barack Obama’s decision on June 15, 2012, to suspend temporarily the deportation of young, undocumented individuals and the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 25, 2012, regarding the constitutionality of SB 1070, an Arizona immigration enforcement initiative, are prominent examples of both historic and mile markers in the U.S. immigration landscape.  These high-profile June decisions are historic markers, driving home the centrality of federal decision-making in the U.S. immigration narrative. Yet, they also resemble mile markers, signifying the amount of work still needed to arrive at the destination of...


It’s All Good

July 6, 2012 By Aaron Belz The formula for political rhetoric is nonpartisan. Compare President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech to President George W. Bush’s second inaugural address, spoken from the same platform four years earlier. Both began by acknowledging that the United States was facing economic and political danger, trumpeted our nation’s most cherished virtues and concluded with the same basic message: “We’ll climb out of this mess the way we always have: with courage, hard work, and cooperation.” Political diction is universal, too. Obama, after citing “the winter of our hardship,” concluded, “Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon [etc.]”   Marketing professionals know that...


Immigration & Public Justice, Part II: Undocumented Residents Brought to the United States as Children

July 6, 2012 By Julia Stronks and Aaron Korthius This is the second in a series of four articles exploring specific aspects of immigration reform. There are almost one million undocumented people living in the United States who were brought to the country by their parents before they were 16 years old. Many speak English as their native language and have never known another home; many have graduated from high school and want to go to college or serve in the military. We often think of these students as Mexican, but a significant number are also from Asia, Africa and South America. On June 15, President Barack Obama announced that, using “prosecutorial discretion,” his administration will no longer deport qualified undocumented residents who were brought to the U.S. as minors, allowing them...


“Christian Democracy”—An Oxymoron?

July 6, 2012 By James W. Skillen This article originally appeared in the Root & Branch, a publication of the Center for Public Justice, in 1999. Can the word “Christian” ever convey a positive connotation when used in conjunction with politics and government, or does it necessarily carry the negative baggage of past imperialisms? Is a phrase such as “Christian democracy,” for example, an oxymoron … or can it stand on its own with integrity? Americans champion democracy, and many American Christians believe this is a Christian nation. … Yet the more we gain historical distance from the era of slavery, anti-Catholicism and male-dominated White-Anglo-Saxon Protestantism (WASP), the more it appears that “Christian America” is a holdover from “Christian Europe.” Today, we repeatedly hear … warnings about the threat of the Religious...


In Support of Thicker Walls, Wider Doorways on Immigration

June 29, 2012 By Timothy Sherratt Now that the number of people crossing the southern border of the United States has declined sharply, the opportunity to pass comprehensive immigration reform has never been better. Much as President Bill Clinton steered welfare reform through a divided Congress in the booming economy of the mid-1990s, so could President Barack Obama or Governor Mitt Romney take advantage of similarly favorable conditions after the November election. Getting from opportunity to policy involves marrying the seemingly irreconcilable—thicker walls and wider doorways. Let me explain. Like health care, immigration has become a pawn in the ideological game. To date, comprehensive policy has proven elusive. Conservatives have made hostility to paths to legal residency for the undocumented an article of faith; similarly, progressives have seemed unable to reconcile themselves to a robust legal regimen for discouraging illegal...


Should We Care about a Candidate’s Religion?

June 29, 2012 By Kevin R. den Dulk My extended family routinely violates the social norm against talking about religion and politics around the dinner table. But we’re generally an affable bunch, and it’s rare that someone leaves the table with more than a minor singe. So it was intriguing when the temperature of a recent discussion quickly rose to uncomfortable levels. The spark occurred when several family members insisted that Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith ought to weigh against him in the presidential contest. Their basic argument: If we affirm that religion impacts politics, then conscientious voters should assess the religion of our politicians – and Romney’s religion is too unconventional to merit a “plus” mark in a voter’s calculus.  As a political scientist, neither the argument nor the passion behind it should have surprised me. While Article Six of the U.S. Constitution forbids government from applying “religious...


Immigration Policy & Public Justice, Part I: An Introduction

June 29, 2012 By Julia Stronks and Aaron Korthius                   This is the first in a series of four articles exploring specific aspects of immigration reform. In a highly anticipated decision, the Supreme Court overturned most of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, ruling that Arizona violated the federal Constitution when it passed its own immigration policy in areas pre-empted by federal policy.  In Arizona v. U.S., the Supreme Court said that because the federal government had passed immigration legislation that was intended to supersede state law, Arizona could not make it a state crime for undocumented immigrants to apply for a job or to fail to carry papers. For the time being, the Court has allowed the Arizona provision requiring law enforcement to determine the residency status of those arrested to stand. ...


Politics & Prose

June 29, 2012 By Byron Borger Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and ReasonAmy Black (Moody)  The Center for Public Justice has several goals. Besides serious reflection and legislative advocacy, the Center helps advance the cause of Christian folks taking their citizenship seriously and more faithfully. For this, we need clear, useful resources that make the case that part of gospel-centered discipleship includes politics. Such vision-casting needs be interesting and accessible. This new book by a respected evangelical scholar and friend of the Center, Amy Black, is a perfect example of just this sort of resource. It is insightful about the Biblical call to enact justice in the public square as well as foundational ideas about political philosophy. Black also explains in interesting ways how bills become laws, how parties work and a bit about basic democratic...


The Fundamental Debate Between Liberalism & Pluralism

June 22, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. Many of America’s most intense public debates seem purely political, the pitting of one party or interest group against another.  But when you clear away the underbrush of partisanship, sometimes a principled debate remains. And this is certainly true of the controversy over the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.  It is an issue that concerns, not just the outcome of a single election, but the nature of modern liberalism. What is the priority of a free society: the protection of pluralism or the promotion of liberal values?  On one side of this debate are pluralists, who believe that a national community is composed of many different communities, each with broad authority to determine their own beliefs and practices. Some of those communities will reflect...


A Recipe for Gridlock?

June 22, 2012 By Amy E. Black For the past 25 years, the Pew Research Center has been conducting surveys that measure continuity and change in the political culture. Over the years, their surveys have revealed enduring differences based on race, education, income, religiosity and gender. Pew released the latest installment of the project, the 2012 American Values Survey, earlier this month. Although the report noted many interesting trends, the largest gap in the 2012 study—and the only one to have widened significantly—is rising party polarization, the divide between Republicans and Democrats. Partisans have sharp differences in opinions, and those differences are growing wider. Republicans are much more likely to say they are conservatives, and Democrats are more likely to identify as liberals. In some ways, these results are common sense; the Republican Party is the...


Disney, Gender Equality and the Bold Move made by Brave

June 22, 2012 By Josh Larsen We usually think of the struggle for gender equality as taking place in courtrooms, boardrooms or in Congress. Earlier this month, in fact, the Paycheck Fairness Act—meant to address data suggesting that women earn about 77 cents compared to every dollar earned by men—failed to pass the Senate. Sometimes, however, gender equality is sought in less venerable spaces. Take, for instance, the movie theater. The struggle has especially been borne by Disney princesses. Going all the way back to Snow White, continuing through Cinderella, Ariel, Belle (my personal favorite) and Mulan, these figures have been the subject of cultural...


Why Should Christians Care About Public Education?

June 22, 2012 By Ted Williams III Education reform has become one of America’s greatest priorities. A recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and 25th for mathematics. Even more troubling: Out of 34 OECD countries, only eight have a lower high school graduation rate than the U.S. Yet only three of these nations spend more than we do educating our students. Currently, the United States spends just over $10,000 per pupil compared to $2,307 in 1980 and $842 in 1970. We pour...


The True Genius of the U.S. Constitution

June 15, 2012 By David T. Koyzis This year marks the 225th anniversary of the United States Constitution, by far the oldest functioning constitutional document still in effect. It has weathered the vicissitudes of history, including a devastating Civil War that threatened to fragment the nation and its people permanently. By contrast, the German Basic Law dates only from 1949, and the Constitution of the French Fifth Republic from 1958. What is the key to the U.S. Constitution’s remarkable longevity? One well-known narrative has it that the Founding Fathers were skilled constitutional architects, fashioning a political system whose internal institutions are so perfectly balanced that no one of these could gain the upper hand and suppress the others. The Fathers read Baron Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, in which the author argued that liberty is most likely to thrive under a constitution providing that power check power....


Science in Political Discourse

June 15, 2012 By Jason E. Summers Fifty years ago physicist and novelist C.P. Snow lamented a growing cultural divide marked by mutual distrust and animosity between intellectuals engaged in the sciences and those engaged in the humanities, observing that many leading academics in the humanities lacked even rudimentary scientific literacy. We now live in the era of scientific dominance Snow predicted, and though scientific language has permeated society, a similar gulf in understanding persists between producers and consumers of science. As concepts from science spread throughout culture and as the new possibilities science affords often press the boundaries of cultural norms, discussions in the public square are increasingly undergirded by scientific claims to truth. But scientific claims are often opaque to lay audiences or are poorly represented in the context of public dialogue. Just...


North Korea: Clear Evil, No Clear Solutions

June 15, 2012 By Judd Birdsall The recent publication of Escape from Camp 14, the best-selling true story of a man who was born and raised inside a notorious prison camp, has increased international attention on the world’s most egregious violator of human rights: North Korea. Attention, however, does not necessarily beget answers. Solutions to the North Korean human rights problem remain as elusive as the country’s 28-year-old dictator. What is clear is the abject evil of the North Korean system. Nothing is morally ambiguous about a regime that widely uses torture, infanticide, forced labor, arbitrary detention and public execution to crush all dissent. Fusing the worst elements of Japanese imperialism and Soviet communism, North Korea exerts pervasive control over its pitiable population and enforces a mandatory cult of personality exalting...


Two Half Answers to Poverty

June 15, 2012 By Stephen V. Monsma This article originally appeared as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and cosponsored by the Center for Public Justice.  Last fall the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of Americans living in poverty had increased to 46 million, up some 2.5 million persons in one year.  Forty-six million is not a mere number; it represents great human suffering and destroyed dreams.  This is no small matter.  All men and women are God’s image bearers and are intended by him to live productive, contributing lives free of debilitating circumstances.  The Bible contains thousands of references to the poor and our responsibility to offer them our help.  In Matthew 25, for example, Christ teaches that we will be judged by our response to those who are naked, hungry and...


An Economy Built on Affection

June 8, 2012 By Emily Belz Likely the only time you’ll see anyone wearing a plaid shirt with a flapping hole in the elbow arrive for an evening at Washington’s Kennedy Center is if Wendell Berry is speaking. In late April, the Kentucky poet-scholar-farmer drew a crowd of thousands; threadbare attendees mingled with policy makers, lobbyists and think-tankers. In the chamber that usually hosts the National Symphony Orchestra, Berry wove stories of his family together with themes of his life’s work—commitment to place, affection for the earth, an economy based on relationship and a suspicion of unfettered capitalism. Berry titled his lecture, “It All Turns on Affection,” a line drawn from E.M. Forster’s Howards End. He described the climatic confrontation between Forster’s heroine Margaret and her businessman husband, where she resisted his “hardness of mind and heart that is ‘realistic’ only because it is...


From Principle to Policy: Navigating the Moral Terrain of Immigration Reform

By Paul Brink June 8, 2012 This article originally appeared as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and co-sponsored by the Center for Public Justice.  For additional perspectives or to join the conversation, go to www.respectfulconversation.net. If there is one debate in American politics where an “alternative political conversation” is most needed, it is the debate over immigration reform.  Perhaps because we are a nation of immigrants, perhaps because the debate connects with so many other sensitive policy issues or perhaps because of deeply felt but poorly articulated fears concerning those who are different, the rhetoric that opponents level at each other—and at immigrants themselves—has been the opposite of what anyone would...


Humility as the Antidote to Intolerance: A Response to the 2012 Kuyper Lecture by Miroslav Volf

June 8, 2012 By Emily Boop In one of my undergraduate classes, we were asked to identify and rank the attitudes or behaviors that our culture considers to be vices. My group at once unanimously decided that intolerance was the gravest of sins in our culture today; intolerance is, paradoxically, simply not tolerated. For the 2012 Kuyper Lecture, presented at the annual Christians in Political Science Conference, Miroslav Volf attempted to address this very issue. He noted that religious exclusivists, people who believe their faith is the true faith, are often believed to be incapable of participating in a pluralist political order because they are intolerant of others’ viewpoints. However, Volf contends that religious exclusivists can embrace a pluralist political project and that they can embrace it not merely as a pragmatic concession,...


Reforming Public Pensions for the Common Good

June 8, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The recent recall election in Wisconsin attracted attention, campaign money and partisan bitterness from across the country.  Having taken a series of controversial measures to limit the influence of public sector unions, Governor Scott Walker was challenged—then reconfirmed in office by a comfortable margin. This has led to some triumphalism on the political right and some recriminations on the political left. But while these events were unfolding, there was a quieter revolution taking place on the west coast, in the cities of San Diego and San Jose. Many California cities face a common problem.  The cost of pensions and health benefits for public employees has been rising dramatically, while local economies and tax revenues have grown at a much slower rate.  And the...


Power and Justice To Change the World?

June 1, 2012 By Timothy Sherratt This week, the Center for Public Justice is cosponsoring the Christians in Political Science conference at Gordon College—Power and Justice: Perspectives on Political Order. This promises to be a stimulating and eclectic gathering of scholars tackling a wide array of political matters through an equally broad range of approaches and techniques.  But I draw attention to the conference for the way it may punctuate a season of reflection—even doubt—about Christianity and politics. Few scholarly works see the light of day outside the ivy-covered walls of the Academy. Those few that do emerge take a number of paths into the daylight. James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World (2010) is one of the few. It may not have flooded church cultures, but it is percolating through Christian intellectual gatherings, drip by drip, as one scholar after another...


Politics & Prose

June 1, 2012 By Byron Borger This is a continuation of a series of articles introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice. Crossed Lives--Crossed Purposes: Why Thomas Jefferson Failed and William Wilberforce Persisted in Leading an End to Slavery  Ray Blunt (Resource Publications)   This extraordinary new book is a fabulous read for anyone interested in history, biography or the questions of political science that informed the 18th century.  Blunt is a master storyteller, especially exploring the spiritual and intellectual convictions that shaped the two principle characters, Thomas Jefferson and William Wilberforce.  What caused them, Blunt asks, to start out so similarly (with public pledges to fight the evils of the slave trade) and end up so very differently?  Wilberforce, as Blunt shows, wonderfully kept up the good fight,...


American Exceptionalism—In God’s Eyes

June 1, 2012 By Neil Jasperse A version of this article originally appeared in the April 2012 edition of the Banner. In 2009, a journalist asked President Barack Obama if he subscribed to American exceptionalism, and Republican presidential candidates have criticized his answer ever since. You learn to take the endless sniping with a grain of salt. But this time my ears perked up. American exceptionalism.  I had never heard that term before. What does it mean? Where did it come from? Should Christians believe in it? American exceptionalism is the belief that our nation is extraordinary and has a special role in history.  The origins of exceptionalism are in part in part religious, stemming from the formative influence of the Pilgrims. In the New World, they were free to flourish as...


“I didn’t know that!” – How Health Care Reform is Beginning to Control Costs

June 1, 2012 By Clarke E. Cochran It is no secret that the American medical system is the most costly in the world; more significantly, medical care and health insurance are increasingly unaffordable for individuals and families, for employers, and for state and federal governments. Note the recent report that the average couple retiring in 2012 will need to spend $240,000 on medical care during their retirement years. How many couples have that kind of money squirreled away? The cost of health insurance for an average working family is now about $20,000 per year (employer and employee portion combined) and is headed toward $30,000 in 10 years. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) contains multiple provisions to control costs. Despite my initial skepticism about their likely effectiveness, I am now modestly hopeful that...


Religious Freedom and the Social Usefulness of Chinese Christianity

May 25, 2012 Kevin R. den Dulk I had the remarkable experience last year of meeting a wide range of Protestant clergy and other religious leaders in Shanghai and Beijing.  Despite years of persistent challenges to their faith, my hosts maintained deep Christian conviction and exuded sincere piety.  It was humbling to talk and worship with these brothers and sisters, and I left with a hopeful view of Chinese Christianity. Yet, other aspects of my experience were disheartening. Most of the leaders I met worked under the auspices of the “Three Self Patriotic Movement” (TSPM), which attempts to organize and manage Chinese Protestantism under a legal framework imposed by the state.  (Four other major religious traditions – Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Buddhism – have their own state-sanctioned “patriotic” associations.)  The irony is that the “three self” label, which stands for “self-governance,...


Prison Ministry in the Post-Colson Era

May 25, 2012 By Harold Dean Trulear The recent passing of Chuck Colson brings opportunity to reflect on the important legacy of his ministry and the ways in which Prison Fellowship participated in a resurgence of interest in prison ministry.  Christian faith significantly influenced early forms of incarceration in this country, from the philosophy of repentance institutionalized in the penitentiary movement to the role of chaplains as singular service providers for inmates prior to the era of "corrections" and "rehabilitation."  Unfortunately, in recent decades prisons have been more punitive and controlling than redemptive. Chuck Colson, for many (but not all) Americans, humanized the inmate.  He created an organization that pressed for a recovery of transformation, rehabilitation and real "corrections," initially through evangelism and later through initiatives that pressed for reform in prison conditions, sentencing issues...


A Christian Perspective on Free Enterprise

May 25, 2012 By Josh Good This week Arthur Brooks made the New York Times bestseller list with his new book The Road to Freedom, which argues that America today faces a fundamental choice:  Will we continue our current public spending binge, where 42 cents of every dollar the federal government spends is borrowed, or will we change course and instead unleash a new wave of free enterprise?  The book makes a strong case for the latter, defending capitalism on pragmatic grounds but even more fundamentally as the system best-suited to overall human happiness and societal well-being. Brooks is an economist firmly committed to the social sciences, and yet this book makes a fundamentally moral case: A free economy best promotes the dignity of individual workmanship by allowing human beings to discover unique God-given calling and...


Human Dignity and the Progress of the Pro-Life Movement

May 25, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. One of the most divisive public debates of the last few decades has concerned abortion. But recent polling confirms an interesting trend.  A Gallup survey finds 50 percent of Americans now identify themselves as “pro-life.”  Just 41 percent regard themselves as “pro-choice,” an all-time low in Gallup polling.  In addition, the number of abortions in America is at its lowest level since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.  Americans remain deeply conflicted on this issue, even sometimes in their own minds.  Many would permit some abortions and forbid others.  But the overall direction in public sentiment has been favorable to the pro-life cause.  I’d suggest a number of reasons.  The first is technological.  Increasingly vivid sonograms have...


Human Rights and Public Diplomacy: What is Our Role in the World?

May 18, 2012 By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley Last month, human rights again made headline news through the dramatic events surrounding the escape of Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, a vocal opponent of China’s “one-child policy” of forced abortion and sterilization.  The particular way in which these events unraveled—the involvement of the U.S. Embassy and Chen’s potential emigration to the United States—raise an important policy question: To what degree should the United States use its influence to promote human rights around the world and in China, in particular, and at what cost diplomatically? Human rights abuses have long plagued our relationship with China, making the already complicated issues of currency devaluation, trade imbalance and nuclear non-proliferation in North Korea and Iran even more intractable.  In the foreign policy community, this debate is often described as an argument between the realists and the...


The Older Orphans

May 18, 2012 By Cristina Martinez “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:27 (NLT) I spent this past year at Princeton University writing my senior thesis about the children who age out of the foster care system. At 18 or 21, depending on the state, those in foster care are no longer eligible for assistance through the child welfare system. I travelled around the state of New Jersey interviewing aging-out foster youth, social workers, agency directors and policymakers, trying to understand the complexities of the foster care system and the process of aging out. Through my many interviews, I realized that although these young adults are my age and live within an hour’s drive of where I attend school, we live vastly different lives. As a young adult leaving college, I feel the anxiety and...


How This Is Not a Film is a Call for Justice

May 18, 2012 By Josh Larsen This Is Not a Film—which was reportedly smuggled out of Iran in a cake because it was, indeed, a film—is a piece of political art with the added benefit of being artistic. A sly exercise in freedom of speech, the movie also captures the creative impulse that lies in each of us, whether we live under an oppressive regime or not. For the last two decades, Iran has been a hotbed of world-class filmmaking. The country’s directors have been mainstays at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, while their films have played regularly in art-house theaters across the United States and routinely appeared on respected critics’ annual top-ten lists. Such a global spotlight has been awkward for the Iranian government, which prefers its movies to be positive and benign (neither of which plays well at Cannes). And so whenever officials put their foot down—censoring a script; restricting a director—the whole...


Pity the School: Vanderbilt and the Cultivation of the Indifferent Pluralist

May 18, 2012 By Bryan T. McGraw Many have no doubt already heard about how Vanderbilt University, one of our nation’s finest private universities and my alma mater, has decided that most of its official student organizations are now required to abide what is called an “all-comers” policy in regard to participation and leadership. Any student organization seeking the university’s formal recognition—which gives an organization access to some funds, the right to advertise and so on—must allow anyone to participate in their meetings and seek leadership positions, even if those individuals believe things that are directly at odds with the organization’s express purposes.  Religious groups have been especially concerned about this, since it seems clear that the university’s policy change is directed at them and especially at a number of Christian groups’ insistence that their student leadership affirm the core of what the group...


Religion in Public Life--and in Election Campaigns

May 11, 2012 By Stephen Monsma This article originally appeared as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and cosponsored by the Center for Public Justice.  For additional perspectives on religious freedom or to join the conversation, go to www.respectfulconversation.net. Given the large role of religion in most Americans’ lives, when combined with their commitment to religious freedom and the separation of church and state, it is not surprising that conflicts between the two have at times arisen.  But this need not be so.  Most of the perceived tensions arise from one of two sources.  The first occurs when public office holders or candidates for public office relate their religious faith to the policy positions they favor.  Then they invariably are charged with violating church-state separation...


Church and State...and City and Neighborhood

May 11, 2012 By Joanna Stephens Earlier this year, New York City Christians of diverse stripes banded together to voice their opposition to a citywide ban on churches meeting in public schools. On one hand, the controversy appeared to be yet another instance in which religious freedom and the establishment clause have taken prominent seats in the national dialogue this election season. Yet, beyond lofty rhetoric and partisan arguments, the issue struck a definitive local chord as it involved tangible school buildings, the people and organizations who inhabited them and, for approximately 60 neighborhood churches, the prospect of imminent displacement. Nothing gets more local than eviction. Though many were not directly affected by the ban, Christians across the city prayed, contacted their elected officials, attended public hearings, formed websites, and organized protest marches across the Brooklyn Bridge. A temporary stay on the ban has...


Faith Communities and Dedicated Citizens Play a Key Role in Animal Protection

May 11, 2012 By Christine Gutleben Grounded in the biblical call to care for God’s creatures, communities of faith have long played a vital role in the history of advocating protection for animals.  As citizens engage in local and state policy to prevent inhumane treatment, the critical support of faith leaders and their communities has opened the way for a more humane society. A brief scan of history reveals a long-standing tradition of advocacy for animal welfare within the Christian community. For example, the first-ever piece of animal welfare legislation, the “Bill for the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle,” was passed in England in 1824 after faith leaders campaigned for the measure. Two years later, Rev. Arthur Broome and the evangelical parliamentarian William Wilberforce established the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which worked to protect horses and animals in markets and slaughterhouses and to...


The Future of the Marriage Debate

May 11, 2012 By Michael Gerson President Obama’s new position on gay marriage – along with North Carolina’s constitutional ban on the practice – has focused new attention on a difficult debate. The traditional definition of marriage has many defenders.  But the attitudes of the millennial generation, the media and the entertainment industry have shifted swiftly and dramatically.  Even significant portions of Americans who morally disapprove of homosexuality now support gay marriage out of a broader commitment to pluralism and tolerance.  As this national debate moves forward, it is worth keeping a few things in mind. First, though the debate is national, marriage is not primarily a federal issue.  Whatever the president’s view, it is the actions of states that are decisive.  Given recent trends, America will have different approaches to marriage in different regions.  This is a...


Civil Society After The Fall

May 4, 2012 By Timothy Sherratt Several decades ago, sociologist Robert Nisbet warned that individualism and statism had dominated American politics at the expense of those relationships, both natural and constructed, in which people really live their lives—families, religious bodies, charitable organizations, and local communities. In a week that has seen a rash of articles predicting that this fall’s elections will reinforce both individualism and statism, Nisbet’s warning is worth considering. By two measures – the parties’ ideological compositions and favored strategies – polarization is predicted to be more complete than ever after November. Moderate Republicans and Blue-Dog Democrats will become all but extinct. Polarization will further normalize the...


Politics & Prose

May 4, 2012 By Byron Borger This is a continuation of a series of articles introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Michelle Alexander (The New Press) $19.95  With a foreword by Cornel West calling it “the secular bible for a new social movement of the 21st century” (echoing a line of Martin Luther King), this book has been called historic, explosive, magisterial, compelling, extraordinary, “an instant classic.” Alexander argues a large, indicting thesis: The staggering inequities in the “War on Drugs,” waged disproportionately upon urban blacks, are rooted in an impulse for racial control. Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State, a former staff member of the American Civil Liberty Union’s Racial Justice Project and a former law clerk to Supreme Court...


Auden the Marksman

May 4, 2012 By Aaron Belz W. H. Auden (1907-1973) might be best known for his love poem “Funeral Blues” (Four Weddings and a Funeral, etc.), but at heart he was a poet of diplomacy. He spent the first half of his life in England, moved to the U.S. in 1939 and spent the rest in New York. But it’s hard to say that Auden called any one place home because he traveled so often and for such great lengths of time—to teach, vacation and in some cases to conduct field investigations. His natural curiosity led him to scenes of social and political conflict. When he was only 21 he spent nine months in Berlin, in the wake of the “Bloody May” Communist uprisings. In 1937 he spent weeks on the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, and, the following year, six months in China witnessing the Second Sino-Japanese War. The result of this latter venture was a book, co-authored with Christopher Isherwood, titled Journey to a War....


It’s Not Only Religious Freedom: Why Christians Should Acknowledge the “Contraception Side” of the HHS Birth Control Mandate

May 4, 2012 By Leah Seppanen Anderson Over the past few months, religious leaders have framed the conflict surrounding the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) birth-control mandate as a religious freedom problem, not a contraception problem.  It is true that the sticky issue is how to work out the conflict between the freedom of conscience of religious organizations and the state’s public health agenda.  And it is understandable that Christian leaders focus on religious liberty when responding to the government’s rule and when speaking to the media, who otherwise might not report or understand this perspective. But it is problematic when Christians, reflecting on this among themselves, dismiss the presenting issue of contraception and...


In Memoriam: Charles W. Colson, A Life Well-Lived (1931-2012)

April 27, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The passing of a great Christian leader first brings sadness and then reflection.  It causes us to examine what real influence means. Charles W. Colson was a towering figure in American evangelicalism. His life followed the arc of a great story: from White House official, to disgraced prisoner, to founder of a prison ministry, to four decades of principled, honorable Christian leadership.  This was a life obviously being used by God for great purposes.  I saw Chuck’s character close up.  Chuck gave me my first job, as a research assistant working at Prison Fellowship.  He also gave me a lifelong example of leadership.  Following Chuck’s conversion, God took hold of a set of extraordinary skills. Christian belief did not make Chuck mild or...


A Bad Romance and A Hopeful Possibility: The Significance of the Vote

April 28, 2012 By Hilary Sherratt “Vo vo votes ah ah aah Whoa aa, won’t ta aah Stop ha, ooo la la Til we have suffrage!” – “Bad Romance Til We Have Women’s Suffrage” (Soomo Publishing) In a seminar on the history of marriage and the family in the modern West, my good friend shared this video. The song and dance, which parodies Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” chronicles the history of the women’s suffrage movement as part of a larger attempt to engage history students through popular media and culture. As I watched, I found myself wondering about a different lesson “Bad Romance Til We Have Women’s Suffrage” could teach students:...


Conservation, Development, and American Assistance

April 27, 2012 By Rusty Pritchard In honor of Earth Day, we are celebrating efforts by Christians to participate in the redemption of God’s creation. Working hard to keep my balance, I followed a barefoot 60-year-old Haitian farmer up a mountain gully that sloped at angles exceeding 45 degrees. She moved like a ballerina, floating up over the series of low, rock walls that served as dams to impede floodwaters racing down into the valley. I moved like a slightly tipsy, overly cautious elephant, struggling to find footing as I hauled myself upward. What we passed along the way were beautiful works of landscape art, like something from an Andy Goldsworthy project. Every 15 to 30 feet were dry-stone walls of intricate construction, fitted together like jigsaw pieces from the irregular stones littering the valley, reaching across the gully as if they emerged from the valley walls themselves. But these dams were not designed to be...


Pluralism in Structure, Pluralism in Bones

April 27, 2012 By Matthew Kaemingk Shut down those filthy mosques, goddamn it, where they preach anti-Semitism and want to kill our kind. Throw those … fundamentalists out of the country! Or better still, sew the butchers up in bags and drop them into the sea! That’s the way to remember Theo! -          A Dutch editorial memorializing Theo van Gogh (who was murdered by a Muslim fundamentalist). The Center for Public Justice has long advocated two political principles known as structural and religious pluralism. According to the principle of structural pluralism, states are obligated to respect the pluriform structures and institutions of civil society. This means that the state should, in all its affairs, seek to honor the independence of a society’s schools, universities, families, labor unions, associations, media, religious institutions, and so on. Society should...


Is Tolerance a Virtue?

April 20, 2012 By David T. Koyzis Is tolerance a virtue? This question cannot be addressed without an adequate understanding of the meaning of the word “tolerance,” on which there is some confusion at present. Merriam-Webster defines tolerance as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own.” To tolerate means to recognize and allow that others hold convictions or follow certain practices with which one disagrees. Tolerance is closely connected with those basic personal liberties guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution. We may hotly disagree with those arguing for loosening or tightening environmental regulations, but we nevertheless permit our opponents to express such viewpoints for the sake not only of enabling us to live together in a pluralistic society, but also of helping our political office-holders properly to weigh policy alternatives before acting on them....


“Justice” in America: Two Shootings

April 20, 2012 By Steven E. Meyer On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. That much is not in doubt.  But what happened after that must call into question the course of justice.  The only person who knows what happened is George Zimmerman and he has, of course, retold events to make him appear innocent of criminal charges.   Nonetheless, there was an almost immediate rush to judgment and presumption of guilt, not only by Martin’s grieving family but by a broad swath of the American public.  Those who were convinced of Zimmerman’s guilt organized large, nationwide demonstrations and threatened economic boycotts of Sanford if Zimmerman was not arrested. Charges of racial profiling were loud and clear. The Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton played prominent roles in demanding Zimmerman’s arrest, and the media gave this case pride of place on a daily basis. As a result,...


Google's Unjust Privacy Policy

April 20, 2012 By Jason E. Summers Google's new privacy policy, enacted March 1, set off another wave of public discussion in the already on-going debate over web-service providers' ability to gather information about users and the providers' corresponding obligation to ensure the privacy of those users. Under the new policy, Google combines personal information gathered across services including YouTube, Gmail and the Google search engine into a single aggregate profile. Information gathered from past searches may be combined with information contained in e-mails, contact lists, and video-viewing histories. Provided that users are logged in while Google services are being used, their aggregate profile will incorporate data from all those accounts with which they are associated. I have...


Prosecutorial Discretion on Illegal Immigration: Prudent or Punting?

April 20, 2012 By Ruth Melkonian-Hoover In the past year, the Obama administration has chosen to focus its immigration enforcement resources on the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants with criminal histories, while at the same time exercising discretion and often showing leniency toward lower-risk undocumented immigrants (e.g., those who’ve been in the US for a long time, who’ve served in the US military, minors and the elderly, etc). Previous administrations have exercised similar discretion; what’s novel is that, whereas prior administrations focused solely on prospective cases, namely whom to detain, this administration also requires the revisiting of cases already under review. A number of Christian organizations have responded positively, among them the National Association of Evangelicals, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. They commend...


Eat Local: Tackling the Injustice of Food Insecurity

April 13, 2012 By Jonathan Hughes When we see pictures of starving children, we often assume they are from developing nations.  Rarely does it occur to us that these same conditions may exist just across the railroad tracks or in the next town. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life: 1) The ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, 2) Assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies). However, for millions in the U.S., food security is compromised by current federal policies. Federal agricultural subsidies are awarded to large businesses, which usually operate under a farming model that promotes consolidation and centralized corporate...


Three Public Squares

April 13, 2012 By Stephen V. Monsma As this year’s seemingly never-ending presidential race has unfolded, three different visions of the place of religion in the public square are competing for favor.  One vision is that of a religious public square.  In this vision, religion—and usually the particular religion held by the advocates of this vision—occupies a welcomed and favored position in public life.  The religious right and some of the more religiously oriented Republican presidential candidates, such as Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry, took this position.  They favor prayers (presumably Christian) in the public schools, oppose gay rights on the basis that the Bible rejects a gay lifestyle, and favor religious symbols such as crosses on government-owned land and the Ten Commandments in government buildings. The problem is that under this vision government is no longer neutral on matters of religion.  At...


Clearly Clouded: The Persian Predicament

April 13, 2012 By Chris Seiple The U.S. is apparently moving toward more decisive action regarding Iran’s nuclear capacity. This weekend, the U.S. will join with Russia, China, France, Germany, and the U.K. in Istanbul to consider Iran’s unspecified “new initiatives” regarding their nuclear program. Secretary of State Clinton said last weekend that the “window of opportunity” will not “remain open forever.” Given the failure of past negotiations, it is necessary to consider how best to proceed should these weekend meetings not succeed. No one wants the Iranian regime to acquire a nuclear weapon. The regime exports and supports terrorism throughout the world, and its leadership has repeatedly and publicly stated that it seeks the destruction of Israel. Viewing this issue, however, is like a visit to the eye doctor; only a combination of various lenses provide the necessary perspective to balance shortsightedness and...


Render to Caesar

April 13, 2012 By Luis E. Lugo In honor of tax day, we are republishing the following edited excerpts, originally published  in the Public Justice Report in 1995, from Dr. Luis Lugo's paper, "Caesar's Coin and the Politics of the Kingdom," published as Caesar's Coin Revisited: Christians and the Limits of Government, Edited by Michael Cromartie, Eerdmans/Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1996. We know from the context in which Jesus said "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mark 12:17, RSV) that he used a visual aid. Jesus held up a royal denarius and drew attention to the image and inscription on the coin. […] It is also clear that those who posed the question about whether Jews should pay taxes to Caesar were trying to trap Jesus. If he...


Unelected Democracy

April 6, 2012 By Timothy Sherratt On his last day at C-SPAN, founder Brian Lamb lamented the absence of cameras in the Supreme Court. Interviewed by Politico, he observed that the public would benefit from cameras, “for the education alone.” After last week’s Supreme Court hearings on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, it is hard to disagree. The Supreme Court is an institution whose paradoxical character is well known to every first-year political science undergraduate. Unelected and powerful, it is simultaneously guardian and oligarch, protecting the Constitution and the will of the distant framers against the will of lawfully and recently elected officials and the citizens they represent. Few commentators can preserve a sense of neutrality in their evaluations of the Court’s performance. Liberal and conservative alike assail judicial...


A Busy Week in the Nuclear Business

April 6, 2012 By Tyler Wigg-Stevenson Last month was a busy one for nuclear affairs on the abidingly unstable Korean peninsula, giving observers of international affairs and global security several reasons to stop and take notice. Let’s recap: Late last month, President Obama attended the second Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Seoul, South Korea. The Seoul NSS came two years after the inaugural summit, held in Washington, which brought 50 countries together with the ambitious agenda of securing nuclear bomb material worldwide from terrorist acquisition. The 2010 meeting yielded a number of outcomes intended to build a global culture of nuclear security and featured national commitments to protect or eliminate bomb material. This year, 58 heads of state and other global leaders gathered in Seoul to evaluate their progress and stake out new ground in the control of nuclear...


“More Than It Says”: Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) and the Political Poem

April 6, 2012 By Hannah VanderHart “There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill,” writes Adrienne Rich, who passed away last week at age 82, in her poem What Kind of Times Are These. What appears first as a natural landscape soon shifts to a metaphorical, moral landscape where “the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows / near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted / who disappeared into those shadows.” The place the narrator describes is a place of former “revolution” and action, now abandoned, its visitors gone. But, although the poem describes a place of the past, the narrator will not give it up. “I won't tell you where the place is,” declares the poem, “the dark mesh of the woods / meeting the unmarked strip of light— / ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise: / I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.” While the narrator will not “tell”...


The Birth Control Mandate and Second-Class Religious Institutions

April 6, 2012 By Stanley Carlson-Thies The Obama Administration made a good start on protecting religious freedom in last summer’s health insurance regulations but immediately took a wrong turn, proposing a damaging conception of what authentic religious institutions are.  It’s that flawed definition—not opposition to contraception or women’s health services—that fuels the continuing multi-faith opposition to the contraceptives mandate.  Alas, while the administration has proposed various remedies, it has not chosen to fix the flawed definition, which was written into federal law in February despite widespread protest. Government funding is not the issue—the dispute is about regulations that apply to almost all employee health plans—whether or not the employer receives federal funds. The immediate flashpoint is the objection of many religious organizations to the requirement to cover birth control and abortion-inducing...


Does Our System Demand Too Much of the President?

March 30, 2012 By James W. Skillen This article was excerpted from an essay published by the Center for Public Justice as part of its Election Series ’08. Why do we make such a big deal of the American presidential election every four years? Obviously, the president is the highest executive official of the land. But it is more than that. In our unusual federal system, citizens of the whole country get to vote for only one official: the president of the United States. All other elected, national leaders—the Congress—are chosen by only a few Americans, either the few that reside in each of the 435 congressional districts for the House of Representatives or the few that live in each state, where state-wide elections for the Senate take place. …This leads us to expect too much of the president—who has to be all things to all...


Politics and Prose

March 30, 2012 by Byron Borger This is a continuation of a series of articles introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice. Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget Ronald J. Sider (IVP) $15.00 More than a year ago, the Center for Public Justice joined with Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) to create a major public affairs project entitled A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis, offering a thoughtful and balanced approach, framed by the way government, citizens and institutions share responsibility in ensuring that several generations will be faithful to one another in grappling with our ongoing debt crisis.  ESA President Ron Sider used the Call...


To Do Justice and Love Mercy: Why the Common Good Depends on Sphere Sovereignty and Virtue

March 30, 2012 by Clay Cooke The Old Testament book of Micah pointedly captures the political task set before us: “And what does the Lord require of you?  To do justice and love mercy.”  The 19th-20th century Dutch theologian and politician, Abraham Kuyper, elaborates on Micah’s remarks in his doctrine of sphere sovereignty. This doctrine asserts that creation’s “spheres”—for example art, education, business, politics—are internally ordered to operate “after their own kind.”  Kuyper contends, for instance, that the sphere of politics is organized for the purpose of justice.  So as Christians, whether we are considering policies related to tax rates, immigration or education reform, our ambition is to seek and establish justice.  Liberalism and democracy, which are foundational principles of the American political system, strive to promote justice as well. Yet, these philosophies inevitably...


Budget Politics & Debt Reality

March 30, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The debate in Washington has turned once again to the federal budget, with the House of Representatives passing Congressman Paul Ryan’s 2013 budget plan this week, a measure not likely to pass in the Senate.  Democrats, who control the Senate, are highly critical of the House Republican blueprint, arguing that it undermines the protections of Medicare and would require dramatic cuts in essential public services.  But congressional Democrats have been too internally divided to pass their own budget proposal for nearly three years. The budget debate is often difficult to follow—and  not only because it involves a lot of numbers and projections.  The process is highly political.  The initial offer—like the one we’ve just seen from House Republicans—is a negotiating...


Paul Ryan’s FY2013 Budget & Intergenerational Justice

By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley This week, Chairman of the House Budget Committee Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his FY2013 budget entitled “A Blueprint for Renewal,” a proposal for sweeping tax and entitlement reform. Ryan argues Americans have a moral obligation to address our ballooning national debt before we face a Greek-style debt crisis and austerity measures that really would “end Medicare as we know it.” As he said in a speech unveiling his proposal, “What would you think if your Congressman ignored a completely predictable crisis just because it wasn’t good politics and he was afraid of negative attack ads?”  Political courage such as this is a rare commodity and should be applauded.  Ryan’s reforms are bold and commensurate with the scale of our fiscal crisis. Some should be...


Loving Our Immigrant Neighbor

March 23, 2012 By Amy E. Black This article originally appeared as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and cosponsored by the Center for Public Justice.  For additional perspectives on immigration reform or to join the conversation, go to www.respectfulconversation.net. Few topics are more controversial than the issue of immigration, currently at the center of a rhetorically polarizing debate. Nonetheless, most people agree that the current immigration system desperately needs repair. As Christians, we should evaluate proposals for immigration reform by asking to what extent different options are compatible with certain core principles, and we should thoughtfully consider how to reach out to our immigrant neighbors right now. In May 2010, a theologically and ideologically diverse group of evangelical...


The Interrupters: A Story of Restorative Justice

March 23, 2012 By Josh Larsen What does justice look like at the movies? Usually it’s characterized by righteous anger and carries the sting of violence. Think Gladiator, Taken, Dirty Harry. Justice is a commodity on the big screen, something that has been stolen from the hero and must be taken back by brute force. Yet, a rare, Gospel-tinged retort to this brand of justice can be found in The Interrupters, an acclaimed, 2011 documentary that came out on video last month. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and produced by Alex Kotlowitz (author of There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America), the film seeks justice through compassion and community. Its subjects are a handful of "violence interrupters," whose job it is to intervene in disputes in crime-ridden Chicago...


What Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Can Teach About School Choice

March 23, 2012 By Napp Nazworth In ABC's “Food Revolution,” celebrity chef Jamie Oliver brought awareness to the problems associated with malnutrition in America's school lunches. The biggest obstacles Oliver encountered, though, came from government regulations rather than parents, faculty or students. The show illustrated that students can best be served by empowering parents and local schools to meet their educational needs. The first meal Oliver prepared was roast chicken, brown rice, salad and yogurt with fresh fruit. However, this menu did not meet government standards; it did not include bread. The school lunch, on the other hand, was government approved because pizza crust counted as bread.  In another episode, Oliver served veggie pasta, chicken, bread and fruit. Yet, he was told that the meal did not meet federal guidelines because it did not...


Religious Liberty and a Rhetoric of Reconciliation

March 17, 2012 There is nothing quite like a good controversy to unite people of common interest…especially if that means uniting against a perceived threat. Or at least, such was my expectation when I attended Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs conference on religious freedom on March 1, during which the Center unveiled a newly published book (edited by Timothy Shah), Religious Freedom: Why Now? Defending an Embattled Human Right. Attending an event like this was a dream for an undergraduate philosophy and politics student like me—and not only because I got to mingle with renowned scholars like Dr. Robert George of Princeton University, one of the preeminent conservative thinkers of our day in politics, philosophy and law. The topic of the conference, religious...


Israel, Iran and the U.S.

March 16, 2012 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the U.S. last week to address the convention of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).  For AIPAC and the Israeli government, the conference came at the perfect time.  Israeli leaders are skilled in making their case to a pliant Congress, a generally sympathetic American public and a nervous, reactionary Administration.  This time, the “case” is Iran.  Republican candidates in particular—except for Ron Paul—have been beating the war drums, and President Barack Obama, although more cautious, has assured the Israelis that the military option remains on the table. But let’s all take a deep breath and step back a minute.   First, are the Iranians actually engaged in a nuclear weapons program?  Haven’t the deadly mistakes of the Bush administration in Iraq taught us anything?  The intelligence confirming an Iranian weapons...


An Uneasy Relationship: Constitutional Rights and National Stability

March 16, 2012 While the relationship between the interests of the nation and of the citizen has always been a bit uneasy in American history, it was not until 1917 that the U.S. government was largely successful in suspending the guaranteed rights of citizens.  As part of its effort to create a herculean propaganda machine to convince the general public of its “duty” to support the Great War in Europe, the government restricted the freedoms laid out in the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments—arguably the three most precious.  In the same year, Congress passed the Espionage Act (18 U.S.C. §792), targeting those opposed to America’s war effort.  A year later, the legislature passed the Sedition Act, which made it illegal to “utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or...


Kony2012: A Call to Compassion

March 16, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson The Internet success of the Kony2012 video, produced by Invisible Children, has drawn both attention and scrutiny.  Those not familiar with Joseph Kony should learn his name and story.  He is the brutal leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which is part militia and part cult.  Kony cultivates the idea that he is a supernatural being.  His followers obey and fear him. And Kony has made a career of causing fear. As a rebel leader in northern Uganda, Kony committed atrocities, captured tens of thousands of children for use as soldiers and sex slaves and displaced more than a million people into camps.  He has now been chased into the vast, ungoverned border region between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.    When I recently visited eastern Congo, I met some of Kony’s victims—two young girls who...


Primary Virtues, Campaign Vices

By Timothy Sherratt Has the long primary campaign done justice to the range of perspectives and issues facing the American electorate? Will the general election be one-dimensional, or will it succeed in airing a wide range of issues? If society is pluralistic, election campaigns should air a wide range of issues. Citizens are to be subject to the rule of law, so justice favors campaigns in which the candidates take and explain positions that will affect people’s lives.  But in practice, campaigns manifest centripetal as well as centrifugal forces, and the former usually overcome the latter. Political scientists call the centripetal forces “framing.” Candidates seek a narrative on which to run, stories they can present to their individual advantages. In place of the wide array of issues, campaigns substitute the recovery, or Syria, or religious liberty, or immigration as a frame. The campaigns do not have it all their own way, of...


Koran-burning & Sacrilege: Religion Matters in Diplomacy

March 9, 2012 By Ted Williams III In her book, The Mighty and the Almighty, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reflects on her childhood as the daughter of a diplomat and her decades of foreign service, focusing on an issue lost on most in American diplomacy: Religion matters in international relations. Secretary Albright confesses that in both her formal and informal secular education in diplomacy, she knew little about faith and felt woefully underprepared to mediate conflicts that were laced with spiritual and cultural complexities. Mediating religiously fueled conflicts solely with the tools of secular political negotiation left her at a significant disadvantage. She now vociferously advocates that American diplomats receive extensive training in religion, since the model for secularly based conflict resolution is failing to produce the desired results. Her assessment is crucial. The recent desecration of...


Developing Rule of Law in China

March 9, 2012 By Kevin R. den Dulk Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao opened the 2012 annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) with a speech that hit many expected notes about price stability, growth rates and money supply.  But he may have sounded a little dissonant when he cited the property rights of individuals as a legislative priority in the coming year.  Why did he bring up that topic in this largest of communist conclaves?  In recent historical context, it’s not surprising.  For the past three decades, China has been adapting to the complex imperatives of globalization and market-based economics.  During that process, the Chinese Communist Party has been under intense pressure, both at home and internationally, to toughen protections for intellectual and other types of property.  Although Wen’s comments were specifically focused on land rights among domestic farmers, one could argue that he...


Terrifying Sentences

March 9, 2012 By Aaron Belz “It’s a heady thought—if a bit preposterous—that a few lines of verse might undermine a government,” began a New York Times blog post on January 20, 2012. It came as a response to news that Chinese poet Zhu Yufu had been charged for “inciting subversion of state power,” partly, at least, due to his having published a poem called “It’s Time.” Here’s a translation of the poem published in the Washington Post on February 4: It’s time, people of China! It’s time. The Square belongs to everyone. With your own two feet It’s time to...


Politics & Prose

March 2, 2012By Byron Borger This is a continuation of a series of articles by Byron Borger, introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice. Pluralism and Freedom: Faith-Based Organizations in a Democratic Society Stephen V. Monsma (Rowman & Littlefield) $59.95 The Center for Public Justice has long offered a unique commitment to “structural pluralism in our education as well as in concrete policy proposals we helped create, such as the historic Charitable Choice legislation. Structural pluralism draws on both Christian Democratic insights popularized by Abraham Kuyper’s early 20th-century Christian political movement in Europe and, more recently, from notions of “subsidiarity” rooted in Catholic social teaching. Structural pluralism leads directly to a high regard for the appropriateness of government funding for faith-based organizations that...


Moral Principles & Moral Courage

March 2, 2012 By Paul Brink This article originally appeared as part of the Alternative Political Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and cosponsored by the Center for Public Justice.  For additional perspectives on the budget debate or to join the conversation, go to www.respectfulconversation.net. In following the national budget debate, I have been struck by the ways that the arguments are framed morally. Today, it has become commonplace to declare that the budget is a “moral” document, that as a statement of the nation’s economic priorities, it makes decisions that are moral by their very nature, both in themselves and in their consequences.   This declaration is, of course, absolutely true. In fact, it is so true that the reminder is almost unhelpful, and, in fact, debate participants make moral claims all the time concerning...


Same-sex Marriage & Religious Freedom

In February, a three-judge federal appeals court panel struck down Proposition 8, the initiative endorsed by California voters in 2008.  Had Proposition 8 been upheld, the California state constitution would have been amended to include the definition of marriage as an institution exclusively between one man and one woman.  Under Proposition 8, same-sex couples in California, although not allowed to marry, would still have been eligible to receive basically equivalent state rights and benefits under domestic partnerships as heterosexual married couples.  Proposition 8 passed by 52 percent to 48 percent, with over 7 million Californians in favor of the legislation.  But in a 2-to-1 decision, the appeals court upheld the 2010 ruling which found that Proposition 8 violated the constitutional rights of homosexual people in California, specifically, the rights of two same-sex couples who had sued under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S....


The Misguided Ethics of Personhood

March 2, 2012 By Michael J. Gerson A recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics has caused a storm of controversy.  In it, two ethicists contend that a newborn baby deserves no more respect or protection than a fetus does, since both are not “actual persons” but only “potential persons.”  So the authors argue in favor of what they call “after-birth abortion,” which they believe “should be permissible in all cases where abortion is, including causes where the newborn is not disabled.” Their conclusion is blunt: “Both a fetus and a newborn,” the article says, “certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.” This forthright argument for infanticide is horrifying but also clarifying.  There are obvious...


Two Cheers for the Welfare State

By David T. Koyzis The welfare state consists of a network of public, financial benefits originally established to even out the boom and bust extremes of the business cycle. In the United States, the welfare state got its start with President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and continued with President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. Although the welfare state's existence is not especially controversial outside of libertarian circles, a number of related issues merit reflection. First, does the state possess the normative competence to provide a diverse array of services beyond its core functions of making and executing the law, as well as judging under the law? Second, does the state bears a legitimate responsibility for resolving social issues such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness and disease. I would cautiously affirm that government's divine mandate to do public justice calls it to assume some, but certainly not the...


In Praise of Diversity

By Stephen V. Monsma “Diversity” is taking its place alongside Mom, apple pie and Chevrolet as an all-American icon that no one questions.  One does not have to search long on university websites to find references to their commitment to diversity in their student bodies and faculties.  The website of UCLA states: “We believe that diversity is critical to maintaining excellence in all of our endeavors.”  San Diego State University has an entire tab labeled, “Diversity Starts Here.”  In the business world, there are consulting firms dedicated to helping firms increase the diversity of their work forces.  What often goes unrecognized, though, is that diversity and freedom of belief and action are inescapably linked.  If we as a society are to encourage diversity and the resulting societal pluralism, we must allow ethnic, racial, regional, religious, and other groups in society the freedom to be who they wish to...


Don’t Let Your Inner 11-year-old Vote for You

By  Gideon Strauss "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American." When Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said those words, my inner 11-year-old stood up and cheered. At the age of 11, my imagination was shaped by a steady diet of science fiction. Robert Heinlein’s juvenile and adult novels excited me about the prospects of the colonization of the solar system. And so when Mr. Gingrich promised a base on the moon, my inner 11-year-old had no doubt about which potential American president was most exciting. The enthusiasms of our inner 11-year-olds are not, however, the best criteria in terms of which to decide whom to support in a political campaign. Speaking to students at the Coalition for Christian Outreach’s “Jubilee 2012” conference last weekend,...


Calvin, Calvinism, and Politics

By James W. Skillen This essay was excerpted from the April 2009 edition of Root & Branch, a publication of the Center for Public Justice. This year marks the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth, and evidence of the great Protestant Reformer’s influence is all around us 500 years later. The long-standing argument that modern capitalism and constitutional government owe a great debt to Calvin has not lost its force. Calvin’s attempt to regain a biblical view of every sphere of life in God’s creation … is of great importance in this regard. Schools and universities founded by those whom he influenced proliferated wherever Calvinism took root…Hearing the word of God through careful study of the Bible was his ambition for every Christian, and he sought help from...


A Look at Immigration through the Eyes of Biblical Justice

By Tyler Johnson Immigration is a polarizing issue in the United States. Along with so many other issues of our day, in the immigration debate, civility and resolution get lost in a sea of overstatement and fear. More than any other command in the Bible, God tells us not to fear. God commands us not to fear because he has ordered his world around love. Fear precludes love, and love is the antidote for fear (1 John 4:18). A biblical perspective on anything always requires eyes of love. Advancing justice is an obvious implication of a life of love. The prophet Micah laid out a clear command to all of humanity to "do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8), which is merely another way of describing the call to love God with all you have and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). The concentrated core of God's intentions for humanity is that we love our neighbors as ourselves.  God's call to do justice...


Seeking Harmony in China

By James W. Skillen Editor: In light of the Chinese Vice President’s visit to the United States this week, we are republishing this essay, part of a series on the subject of Religion and Society, excerpted from the April 2007 edition of Root & Branch, a publication of the Center for Public Justice.  Most religious practices are tightly controlled in China. Like many cultural and educational organizations, churches must meet strict registration guidelines. Many groups that cannot accept the strictures operate secretly, underground, for as long as they can. Yet what about China as a whole—as a modern nation and state? …Look with me for a moment at the moves now being made by China's leaders to revive admiration for, if not veneration of, Confucius...


Those were the Days…or were they?

By Vincent Bacote Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper was labeled a neocalvinist because he not only looked at the tradition behind him, but also at the present and toward the future. I have learned to appreciate this part of Kuyper’s legacy when thinking about how we, as Christians, should participate in the political world.  We all come from somewhere; no one materialized ex nihilo without some connection to history. Our individual and cultural histories beckon us to look back at the successes and failures of leaders, communities and nations. One common form of political rhetoric is to hearken back to a notable person who accomplished great things or to a “golden era” when it seemed like the nation was in proper resonance with its greatest ideals and aspirations.  The past is certainly important, but what is proper continuity with the past while giving proper attention to the present and wise preparation for the future?  The phrase,...


Clarifying the Basics of Religious Freedom

By Michael J. Gerson Under pressure, the Obama Administration has modified its ruling requiring religious charities, hospitals and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.  Now the insurance companies themselves will be mandated to provide coverage.  The Administration has moved in the right direction, but not very far.  The direct mandate was withdrawn.  But an indirect mandate remains.  Religious institutions are still forced to purchase insurance coverage from companies that are required by federal law to violate the conscience of those religious institutions.  The Administration has attempted a political accommodation.  But some very deep issues of religious liberty and constitutional law remain, which will be sorted out in the courts and in Congress.  This controversy has had some useful side effects.  It has caused...


Founding Virtues, Social Disintegration and the 2012 Elections

By Timothy Sherratt Losing Ground (1984). Coming Apart (2012). Whoever said economics was the dismal science? In the first of these works, sociologist Charles Murray documented the devastating effects of Great Society social welfare programs on the working poor and the African-American family. In his latest work, he tells a disturbing tale of segregation by income and intellect. A new American elite, coalescing since the 1980s in SuperZips, Ivy League colleges and the tax code’s stratosphere, have separated from their fellow Americans to a degree not experienced even in the heady days of the nineteenth century’s robber barons. Whereas the highest earners of the past always had much in common with their less wealthy neighbors, from not very different habits of consumption, to similar work experiences, and an IQ range their private universities shared with public ones, now they have little in common with those who are,...


Measuring Justice in the Contraceptive Mandate

By Joanna Stephens In carving out a religious exemption to a new federal rule requiring employers to provide coverage for contraceptives in their health insurance plans, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) included a protection in the right direction, but stopped short of extending it far enough. HHS announced last month that while churches wouldn't be bound by the rule, the exemption would not cover religiously affiliated hospitals, schools and other faith-based, non-profit organizations—let alone faith-based for-profits. Instead, organizations with religious objections will have twelve months to incorporate the coverage, with no added cost-sharing to their female employees. In defense of the decision, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius argued that the new policy achieves an appropriate balance between religious freedom and health care reform, stressing that "the administration remains fully committed to its partnerships with...


Another Kind of Rhetoric

By Hannah VanderHart A murmur recently went round Twitter’s writers’ community: Newt Gingrich and the name “poet” had somehow been linked in a CNN opinion piece. The author, Walter Mosely, called Gingrich a “working poet,” defining the “job” of the working poet as “to pack as much powerfully charged meaning into every sentence as he can.” Mosely elaborates: It is the job of the lawyer, poet and politician to stir the emotions of their audience. But where literary poets speak of love and loss, the lawyer vindicates and the politician aims to take the reins of power. According to Mosely, the lawyer, the poet and the politician are all rhetoricians—individuals skilled in the emotion-stirring art of persuasive speech. So far, so good. Mosely then decides to divide the lawyer, poet and politician’s rhetoric into three simple...


A Sacrifice of Innocents: There is no Just Case for Syrian Intervention – Yet

By Rob Joustra An earlier version of this article was originally published on January 27 at ThinkChristian.net. The Syrian army killed dozens of people during the sixth day of its crackdown in the city of Homs, reported activists on Thursday. The United Nations estimates that at least 5,400 people have been massacred by the Assad-regime in the last 10 months. Backstopping this criminal tyranny is Damascus’ rejection of the Arab peace plan and, more significantly, China and Russia’s veto at the U.N. Security Council to protect Syria. And still, though it seems a callous and brutish thing to say, there is no just case for intervention in Syria – yet. Hope lies in the unification and...


Grass-roots lobbying as Responsible Citizen Engagement

By Perry Recker According to the Center for Public Justice Guidelines for Government and Citizenship, responsible citizenship includes not only paying taxes, law-abiding behavior, and voting, but also the exercise of influence “by means of the media and other independent organizations, such as …lobbying organizations, and advocacy groups” to help shape our civil society along paths of greater justice. But living out the implications of such responsible engagement is no easy matter. For one thing the universe of discourse provided by today’s media accentuates ideological polarization and militates against a more normative tone of civil discourse.  But, as Summers, Mouw,...


Political Speech and Action: The Religion and Society Debate

By James W. Skillen Editor: The following essay was excerpted from the May 2008 edition of Root & Branch.   At its last national conference in Washington, D.C., the Federalist Society included a panel, in which I participated, on religious speech in the political/legal arena. One of the standard arguments the panelists debated is that citizens, presidential candidates, and public officials alike should contend with one another on the basis of a common public reason and not on the basis of their distinctive religious convictions. There are at least two difficulties with that standard argument. The first difficulty arises from the way the distinction is made between what is religious and what is common or public. The second difficulty lies in the argument’s narrow focus on individual freedom versus government’s universal...


Preserving Religious Freedom: An Interview with Stephen Monsma

By Michelle Crotwell Kirtley Capital Commentary recently interviewed Center for Public Justice fellow Stephen V. Monsma about his new book Pluralism and Freedom: Faith-Based Organizations in a Democratic Society (2012).  Stephen V. Monsma is a Senior Research Fellow at the Henry Institute at Calvin College and Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Pepperdine University. What audience were you writing for? I was primarily writing for academics and students interested in the religious freedom rights of faith-based organizations, for persons active in faith-based organizations, and for persons in advocacy groups that either support or oppose protecting the religious freedom rights of faith-based organizations.  But the question of the religious freedom rights of faith-based organizations is not merely a theoretical, academic question…It is a here-and-now issue that faith-based colleges...


Violations of Religious Freedom

By Michael J. Gerson This month the Obama administration made a decision on health care with far-reaching consequences.  It affirmed a regulation requiring Catholic universities, hospitals and charities to purchase health coverage including contraception for their employees.  This, of course, would be a violation of Catholic conscience, and Catholic institutions—such as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the University of Notre Dame—have strenuously objected.  At first glance, this would seem to be a controversy about contraception.  Like many Protestants, I believe that contraception can be used responsibly, to space pregnancies and limit family size.  But the Administration is doing more than promoting family planning.  The decision also covers the provision of FDA approved drugs—such as Ella and Plan B, the so-called “morning after pills,” which can end a pregnancy after conception...


God Talk on the Campaign Trail: Evaluating Religious Appeals

By Amy E. Black Analysis of survey data consistently shows strong relationships between religious identity, observance, and voting. In the last three presidential elections, for example, frequency of attendance at religious services has been one of the best predictors of a person’s vote. Those who often attend services in a church, synagogue, or mosque tend to vote Republican; those who seldom or never attend religious services tend to choose the Democrat. Given these trends, it should be no surprise that religious rhetoric plays an important role in political campaigns. Candidates know what voters expect, just as they know what kind of messages capture voter attention. As people of faith, how should we respond when candidates reach out to religious voters? How should we interpret overtly religious rhetoric? Perhaps the first place to start is by separating broad appeals to civil religion from more direct references to particular religious traditions...


Brinkmanship with the Desperate: Now is not the time to attack Iran

By Robert Joustra                              Monday’s announcement by the European Union to embargo Iranian oil further hamstrings an already crippled Iranian economy. Iran is a country, argues Fareed Zakaria, growing in desperation. E.U. oil imports represent 600,000 barrels per day, or 26.3% of Iranian exports (WSJ). The game of brinkmanship in the Strait of Hormuz, between forty thousand U.S. troops stationed in the Gulf, accompanied by strike aircraft, two aircraft carrier strike groups, two Aegis ballistic missile defense ships, and multiple Patriot anti-missile systems is a badly fated...


Politics and Prose

By Byron Borger This is a continuation of a series of articles introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice. The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government  Eric Liu and Nich Hanauer (Sasquatch Books) $12.95  This is a nearly pocket-sized hardback, with beautiful, colorized, woodcut art, but it is about big ideas, insisting that the nearly bankrupt nature of the tired contemporary discourse needs not a simplistic “split the difference and meet in the middle” compromise but a robust, new set of ideas. The authors are historically progressives, but draw on conservative roots, Jeffersonian ideas, and an array of contemporary thinkers, from Michael Sandel to Francis Fukuyama in producing the sort of heady, idealistic work that Center for Public Justice activists would enjoy discussing.  It starts, as the title...


Bringing Justice and Compassion to Central Africa

By Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. A few days ago, I returned from the city of Dungu in eastern Congo.  This area has been subject to attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) since around 2008, when Joseph Kony moved his forces to the vast jungle region between Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.  The LRA is no longer a political movement; it is more of a crime spree, conducting more than 300 attacks last year, mainly to steal supplies.  On this trip, I talked to girls that had been kidnapped into sexual slavery by LRA soldiers and used as porters on long marches.  The LRA has a long history of using child soldiers and murdering civilians.  Kony is a messianic madman.  His supporters believe they are created from his blood.  They call him a supernatural being, and he commands their absolute...


Foreign Policy on the Edge

Now that the United States “officially” has ended its armed military engagement in Iraq and we have begun to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan, the American foreign policy cognoscenti has begun to debate the future of  how this country will engage the rest of the world in the future.  But for the most part, it is a phony debate.  We see arguments for “smart power,” re-born “realism,” a “new liberalism,” more use of “soft power” and even continuing military “dominance.” Each of these positions is based on a surreal dream world that continues to see the U.S. as the “indispensable nation,” the “arsenal of democracy,” the benevolent “hegemon.” It is past time to discard such hackneyed shibboleths.  The structure and function of the world has moved beyond these worn-out 20th century norms.  We need new theories, new policies, new practices and new partnerships that reflect the world as it is and the real state...


A Big Victory for Religious Freedom—But How Wide?

The US Supreme Court last week unanimously announced a stunning victory for religious freedom, upholding the right of religious organizations to choose their own leaders.  The decision vindicated the religious freedom of religious organizations against a claim of discrimination —distinct from the usual focus on the religious rights of individuals.  All of this is noteworthy and praiseworthy.  But the case was about a “ministerial” employee.  What does the decision mean for parachurch organizations and their staff? The case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, centered on the validity of the “ministerial exception,” a judge-created concept that prevents a religious institution from being second-guessed—charged with discriminatory action—if it fires, refuses to hire, or doesn’t promote a “ministerial” employee.  In this case, the...


Alternative Political Conversation

Aspiring to be a follower of Jesus, I am called to love others. As a deep expression of this love, I can provide a welcoming space for someone who disagrees with me to express that disagreement, and I can engage that person in respectful conversation about our differences. This kind of love is largely absent from our current political discourse. Those on both sides of the political aisle too often resort to name-calling and demonization of their opponents, and whatever conversation they may have is often nasty and shrill, giving little evidence of a desire to adequately understand and respect the other’s position. In fact, it is getting increasingly difficult go get members of either party to even talk to one another. Our tendency is to want to talk only to those who already agree with us. We often demonstrate a strong reluctance to give a fair hearing—or any hearing at all—to opposing points of view. We like to hear an “echo of...


Interpreting War’s Atrocities

Last week, Americans were forced to face—again—the moral frailty of our own troops when the internet video of U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan made headline news.  Condemnation of the four Marines was swift. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the video “utterly despicable,” and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured the world that the “vast, vast majority” of U.S. military personnel were above such shameful behavior. This incident was the latest in a series of similarly shameful incidents that have occurred over the last ten years since we have been engaged in large-scale military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan—including the notorious photos taken at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Each times these reports surface, we are shocked, outraged—and a little unsettled because deep down we want to believe that our soldiers could never commit these kinds of inhumane atrocities.  Our cultural...


The Ethical Pitfalls of Egg Donation

Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) offer hope to many infertile couples who would have remained childless in the recent past.  Couples facing infertility are walking a painful, emotional journey.  But unfortunately, ART has developed more as an industry than a medical procedure, leading some to call it the “commerce of conception.”  The procedure that allows a woman to carry a baby using her own or another woman’s eggs obtained directly from their ovaries is called in vitro fertilization. If a woman is unable to use her own eggs in the procedure of in vitro fertilization, she can use donor eggs instead. Young, fertile women, generally between the ages of 18-30, are recruited to donate their eggs through ads appearing in...


Reducing Carbon Emissions through Tax and Rebate

Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) has recently proposed a “Tax and Rebate” approach for controlling carbon emissions in the U.S.  The Save Our Climate Act of 2011 (H.R. 3242) would place a steadily-rising tax on carbon-based fuels, returning most of the revenue to consumers on a per-capita basis, with a portion being used for deficit reduction beginning in the second year. Unlike “Cap and Trade” and other similar proposals, H.R. 3242 taxes carbon-emitting materials at their point of acquisition, without respect to their intended use, thereby leveling the playing field for all carbon-based products, from gasoline to plastics.  The tax would start at $10 per ton and increase by $10 per ton each year. Projections by Charles Komanoff  (used by both the...


Contemporary Poetry: A Renewed Medium for Social Consciousness?

The renewed social consciousness I’ve been describing takes many forms. Among recent books, take State of the Union: 50 Political Poems (Wave), where Joe Wenderoth in “Sitting in Traffic” finds a crystallized image of struggle: “These days I often see those yellow-ribbon bumper stickers. / Support our Troops, / or God Bless America, / they intoned, once, / but now they’re all faded / and it’s hard to make out the words.” Michael Palmer writes angrily of “Crooks and fools in power what’s new,” and Matthew Rohrer summons a torching death wish for Dick Cheney. Whatever one’s politics, as someone who wants to see contemporary poetry be robust, I find Rohrer’s rant refreshing, drawing as it does on the tradition of vituperation or invective. Relating to the artist...


May New Delegate Rules Shape the Soul of the G.O.P.?

In the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s victory in the New Hampshire Primary let me call attention to an under-analyzed feature of the Republican primaries in 2012. The Republican National Committee (RNC) amended its rules for this year’s primaries to require states holding primaries before April 1st to allocate delegates proportionally. Winner-take-all rules make the early coronation of a nominee much more likely. Proportional allocation encourages candidates to work harder in more states to secure enough committed delegates to win the nomination at the party convention. Why the change, and what is its significance? One suggestion in the Huffington Post links the RNC’s decision to the lengthy Democratic primary struggle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, which lasted almost to the convention itself. This protracted struggle held the...


Smart Power or Wise Power?

This essay is part of a two-part conversation on approaches to U.S. foreign policy.  Time magazine’s recent cover story on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and “smart power” joins a growing consensus, at home and abroad, that U.S. foreign policy has softened considerably in recent years, and, therefore, the world really ought to once again accept American leadership. There has indeed been some softening. Washington now enlists the cooperation of other nations much more intentionally than it did in the years following 9/11. But is this shift directed toward increased cooperation for the international common good? Or is it a just kinder, gentler way for America to have its own way in the world? The phrase “smart power” was coined by noted foreign policy theorist Joseph Nye, former dean of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and co-founder,...


American Exceptionalism and Religious Freedom

The phrase “American exceptionalism” now occupies an unprecedented position in the American public conversation. As Jerome Karabel notes in a recent Huffington Post blog, LexisNexis data on media coverage over the past three decades shows only occasional mentions of “American exceptionalism,” but in 2011 mentions spiked upward to nearly 3,000. The reason is politics. It started in April 2009 while President Obama was on his first European tour and was...


Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Conscience

This article is excerpted from an essay originally published by the Center for Public Justice in the Public Justice Report in December 1996. This was the last of a series of articles articulating the fundamental principles of the Center for Public Justice. The Center for Public Justice affirms: "No citizen should be compelled by government power to subscribe to this or any other political creed. Governments ought to honor the conscientious objections of its citizens against a government-imposed obligation, provided such objections do not conflict with the government's responsibility to uphold public justice." In one respect, this affirmation represents nothing more...


Rick Santorum’s Anti-Individualistic Brand of Conservatism

This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The decision of the Iowa caucuses was politically mixed.  Three candidates emerged with serious support, revealing an ideologically divided Republican Party.  But one clear result was the swift political rise of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.  Santorum’s appeal in Iowa was similar to Mike Huckabee’s message four years ago.  Both combine uncompromising social conservatism with economic populism.  Santorum talked, not only about life issues and the traditional family, but also about economic stagnation among blue-collar workers and the need for greater economic mobility in America.  It was a potent, popular message, particularly among religious conservatives in Iowa.  Santorum has limitations as a candidate.  His rhetoric on...


Poll Taxes in a Post-racial Era: Voter Identification Laws

by Larycia Hawkins   When black members of Congress became elected in relatively descriptive numbers, scholars declared that we had entered the post-civil rights era.  They argued that the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 meant black legislators could divert their focus away from the vagaries of the American Apartheid and focus upon politics as usual (even if much of those politics continued to be framed by racial commitments and categories and even though black politicians’ very place in office was solidified by racial constituents). When Barack Obama became President, many pundits and scholars alike sounded the death knell for racism, affirmative action, diversity and multicultural initiatives, black politics, driving while black, etc.  The Cosby Show had materialized in our midst.  Yet despite his campaign strategy of racial transcendence,...


Asking About a Candidate’s Religion

by Bryan T. McGraw Once upon a time in the very land around us, a strange myth had taken hold of our nation’s political scribes.  It said that religion was a relic of the past, something that modern people had or soon would put behind them – or, at the very least, not treat very seriously.  So, lo, when religion “returned” to politics in the form of a Majority, or at least a sizeable Coalition, they were greatly vexed and waxed exceedingly loquacious regarding the dangers they saw peering from behind every vestment, pew, and ten-point voting guide.  A few voices attempted to point out that religion had never disappeared from politics or that its newfound influence was not a danger to the land, but myths are hard to break.  So it should be no surprise that we as a country remain deeply divided over religion’s proper role in democratic politics and that such division shows up most sharply in relation to candidates’ own...


The Contraception Mandate Violates Religious Freedom

by Chelsea Langston Earlier this year the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an interim federal rule requiring all health insurance packages to include “preventative health services,” i.e., birth control and sterilization, with no extra cost-sharing, to their female patients.  After soliciting comments from the public, HHS will issue a final version of this regulation sometime in the coming weeks or months.  The proposed rule provides an exemption for churches, but not for many religiously connected non-profit organizations, such as educational institutions, hospitals, social services groups, and other charities. Many faith-affiliated groups are concerned that this exemption is too narrow.  The proposed exemption language only protects an institution if it:  “(1) has inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who...


Bipartisan Medicare Reform and Advent Hope

by Michelle Crotwell Kirtley Christmas goodwill seems noticeably absent from Washington as 2011 draws to a close.  As of the writing of this article, the House and the Senate cannot agree on extending unemployment benefits and lowering payroll tax rates.  And the negative overtones of presidential campaign politics are on full display in Iowa in advance of the January caucuses. But in the midst of the political rancor, a rare ray of bipartisan hope has appeared.  Earlier this month, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a new Medicare reform proposal. As is often the case when Members of Congress choose policy over politics, partisan attacks have been fierce.  Liberal columnist Paul Krugman titled his scathing criticism of the proposal “Ron Wyden,...


Christ and Culture

by Cristina Martinez During my sophomore year I sat in a “Christian Ethics and Modern Society” lecture at Princeton University eager to learn what Christian scholars, both liberal and conservative, thought about the controversial topics of abortion, homosexual marriage, just war, and religion’s place in the public sphere. When we read Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, I had trouble deciding what the proper relationship should be between Christ and our world today. Niebuhr lays out several theories that pose Christ and culture as either friends or enemies. The chapter I found most convincing was entitled “Christ the Transformer of Culture.” The whole semester I wrestled with what it meant to be in the world but not of it. What place should Christians play in society, especially in the realm of public policy and politics? The more I studied issues of human rights, child welfare, and the structural racism embedded in our...


The Troubling Decline of Evangelical Social Engagement

by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. One of the most disappointing developments of the current presidential season has been a decline in the quality of evangelical social engagement.  Candidates such as Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry have made very public statements about their faith.  They have also confirmed some of the most disturbing stereotypes of the religious right.  Bachmann has argued strenuously to deny the children of undocumented workers public benefits – including elementary school education and medical treatment.  She has spread false, dangerous rumors about vaccination in the name of “family values.”  Rick Perry’s recent commercial titled “Strong” treats school prayer as a defining national issue and asserts that President Obama is engaged in a “war on religion.”  You’ll find plenty of...


Government and the Responsible Society

by James W. Skillen This article is excerpted from an essay originally published by the Center for Public Justice in the Public Justice Report in June 1996. This was the sixth in a series of articles articulating the fundamental principles of the Center for Public Justice. On the day I began to write this article the newspapers announced a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down a University of Texas law school admissions policy that incorporated a form of affirmative action. […] This decision comes at a time when Americans are struggling to build a new consensus about what constitutes legitimate unity and diversity in the United States. What may government and the courts do to try to achieve greater social and economic equality? What is government's proper responsibility in relation to universities,...


Contemporary Poetry: What It’s Typically Good At, and How That’s Changing

by Brett Foster I wrote previously about how American poets too easily isolate themselves from social engagement, how they tend to fan out toward extremes—toward expressly activist poetics, or toward ignoring public discourse. There are understandable reasons for this, I argued, and concluded by saying that these tendencies may be changing. I will soon offer some examples, but first, what is the perceived norm? Most American poets remain content with dramatizations of the lyric self, or with minimalist observations of local or natural worlds. That’s our work, and we’re convinced that it’s good. As Americans, we often show great interest in stuff. That attention enables strong imagist poems, or provides lyric narratives with desirable tangibility. It also invites a concentrating look that sometimes excludes the broader...


The Promise of Partnership: How Collaboration Could Change the Foster Care System

by Dominique Penn Furukawa Our nation’s foster care system is in crisis. Thousands of children “age out” of foster care each year without ever having known the love and support of a forever family. Birthdays are forgotten. School performance drops. Social workers are overwhelmed and lose hope of the possibility that the children in their care will ever know anything more than the shuffle of the system as they bounce from home to home. However, as the foster care crisis continues, there is a growing movement of churches seeking to answer God’s call to care for the orphan (James 1:27). Due to efforts such as Focus on the Family’s “Wait No More” campaign and the Christian Alliance for Orphans’ “Orphan Sunday”, followers of Christ have begun to explore adoption as a tangible expression of their desire for justice, concern for the vulnerable,...


Liberalism, Democracy, and Sphere Sovereignty

by Clay Cooke If Americans were to agree on one thing in present-day politics, it would likely be that the United States is a highly polarized nation.  What they often do not realize, however, is that the founding principles of the American political system frequently contribute to this polarization.  These founding principles are undergirded by two seemingly contradictory political philosophies -- liberalism and democracy (which is why the United States is known as a liberal democracy).  Liberalism finds supreme value in the sovereignty and ever-increasing liberty of the individual, whereas democracy finds ultimate worth in the sovereignty and ever-increasing equality of the “people.” These two schools of thought engender an immediate tension that can be seen in most political controversies today -- in President Obama’s recent jobs bill, the federal budget crisis, and the health care debate.  In the debate over health care,...


Politics and Prose

by Byron Borger This is a continuation of a series of articles by Byron Borger, introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice. Branding Obamessiah: The Rise of an American Idol by Mark Edward Taylor (Edenridge) One of the first offerings of a small publishing house started by Calvin College professor Quentin Schultze, Taylor’s book is an entertaining  study of how the Obama publicity team used sacred language and religious-like storytelling to brand him as a new kind of candidate.  The author has covered Windy City politics for years; the writing is crisp, and the research thorough.  Of course, branding candidates’ images is nothing new, and Taylor understands, it seems, that this is intrinsic to public life—indeed all candidates work in light of religious convictions of one sort or another, a narrative of “sacred vision." Yet,...


Political Power and Divine Weakness: An Advent Reflection

by Timothy Sherratt At breakfast with colleagues the other day, talk turned to the pain of the world and to the great Christian paradox, punctuated in this Advent season by images of the Christ child: that power is made perfect in weakness. From Bethlehem to Calvary, the Gospel narrative confronts us with this paradox. How are we supposed to embrace the truth proclaimed by the Scripture and to allow its insights to shed light on the political order and our current controversies? On the face of it, weakness appears decidedly unhelpful, not least in government. Injustices of quite horrendous kinds abound, and we cannot simply accede to pseudo-pacifist inferences that could be drawn from viewing helplessness as integral to God’s power at work in the world. But if Calvary is the archetype of power made perfect in weakness, if it owns the true meaning of power so to speak, then we must pursue its implications. Let me suggest three...


Political Commitments and Doing Justice

By Paul Otto Most Republicans and Democrats know that they associate with their parties because they are conservative or liberal, respectively.  A close scrutiny of each party actually demonstrates that neither the party nor the conservative and liberal ideologies feeding them are monolithic entities--a diversity of opinions can be found among members of both parties.  Yet compromise between members of the two parties and constructive dialogue between their followers often seems impossible to accomplish.  Why is this?  I posit that, despite the nuances within each group, broad generalizations about the underlying commitments of each party are possible.  In fact, those broad commitments operate as fundamental beliefs. Understanding them clarifies the conflict and distrust between the two major political groups and points to the difficulties in pursuing justice in the current political environment. At the root of each political...


The Future of Kuyperian Answers

by William Edgar It’s enough to give you vertigo. The world’s population just passed seven billion. The United States has just clocked in at a 15.03 trillion dollar public debt. Europe, beginning with the Greek sovereign debt crisis, is aflame with worry.  Globalization means few nations are spared.  What happens in Italy rocks Wall Street and the Nikkei.  Nowhere to hide.  Vertigo! The Center for Public Justice has believed since the beginning that the biblical-theological principles enumerated in the vision of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) provide a solid design for the basic philosophy of calling and public policy. Are these principles still viable in answering today’s issues? After all, Kuyper was a product of the nineteenth century with its colonial outlook and its romantic optimism. Three great teachings from Abraham Kuyper still command great respect, principles that would work well in the face of our vertigo....


Justice and the Privilege of Grace

by Jeremy Chen Manna Christian Fellowship hosts an annual public lecture series dedicated to affirming Princeton University’s mission of building a vibrant community of scholarship and learning for the common good of society and to promoting critical reflection through the lens of a worldview centered on the biblical gospel. The 2011-12 lecture series explores the theme Perspectives on Justice from a Gospel Worldview, featuring three speakers associated with the Center for Public Justice.  Dr. Gideon Strauss, a senior fellow with the Center for Public Justice, delivered the first lecture, “Weeping and Working for Justice: The intersection of robust spirituality and responsible citizenship for American Christians,” on September 27, 2011. In a recent incident at a local bar in Princeton, NJ, an undergraduate student from the university taunted protestors passing through the town as a part of the “Occupy the...


Whatever Happened to the Stem Cell Debate?

by Michelle Crotwell Kirtley Last month, biotechnology company Geron announced the suspension of their highly publicized human clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells.  The news didn’t make much of a splash, although this was the first FDA-approved clinical trial testing the potential of embryonic stem cells.  Yet much of the 2004 campaign, and much of the political debate in the years before and after, was dominated by a fierce cultural battle over embryonic stem cell research.  In 2009, President Obama, who had promised to base administrative decisions on “science rather than ideology,” expanded federal funding to almost all available embryonic stem cell lines, which remains current law. Like many “hot-button” political issues, the issue of embryonic stem cell research has been pushed aside as new issues take center stage.  But should current law become settled policy?  The trajectory of...


The Injustice of Alabama's Immigration Law

November 18, 2011by Jenny Yang Over the past several years, there has been a stalemate in Congress over immigration reform.  As a result, state legislatures—frustrated with the broken immigration system—have taken the matter into their own hands.  In the first half of 2011 alone, the legislatures of all 50 states and Puerto Rico considered 1,592 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees while enacting 257 laws and resolutions. The most draconian law passed was the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act (earlier HB 56) signed into law on June 9, 2011. HB 56 touches on every aspect of an immigrant’s life in the United State, stipulating conditions in which immigrants can rent housing, earn a living, enter into contracts and interact with law enforcement officials, as well as conditions in which immigrant children can attend schools. Most...


Political Theory Behind the Wheel

November 16, 2011by Paul Brink It’s the middle of the night.  The highway on which we’re driving is deserted.  In fact, as we slow for the red light, we realize we haven’t seen another car in at least thirty miles.  At the intersection all is quiet.  Everyone is home tonight—including, apparently, the police.  Indeed, we could run the light with absolutely no consequences: no accident, no ticket, no feeling foolish about sitting at a lonely intersection in the dark.  What should we do? First, we consider the situation more closely.  For one thing, there’s no red light camera: if we run the light, there are genuinely zero legal consequences.  Additionally, we conclude that our observations are in fact correct: the intersection is indeed deserted, and there are truly no police cars around.  We can safely run the red light and do so with impunity.  Finally, we also set aside the...


Contemporary Poetry: Social Conscience? Not So Much

November 18, 2011by Brett Foster A few months ago I came across a poem by Billy Collins in Harper’s. “Too bad you weren’t here six months ago,” it begins, a local’s comment to the speaker, who is visiting Nebraska. The speaker tells us that he “put on a look of mild disappointment” and then connects the comment to similar, earlier ones he’d heard in Georgia and Vermont. Collins provides a contextual clue in its final stanza: the phenomenon occurs this time every year “when I am apparently off” in another state, stuck in a motel lobbywith the local paper and a Styrofoam cup of coffee,busily missing God knows what. For all we know, the speaker may be an anti-virus software salesman or a scout for a college athletics program, but for those who know Collins (and he’s one of our best known poets), it’s easy to read the poem as autobiographical, likely emerging from Collins’ frequent travels to...


An Attack on Faith-Based Service Providers

November 17, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. There is a growing controversy in Washington about the Obama administration’s treatment of faith-based, anti-poverty groups.  The debate has swirled around Catholic organizations in particular, since they do not make referrals for abortion or contraceptive services.  In October, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) discontinued a contract with a program run by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops which has been helping the victims of human trafficking for several years—providing medical screening, employment counseling, childcare and legal services. No one argues this effort is ineffective.  In fact, an independent review panel at HHS found it to be more effective than its secular counterparts.  But, under legal pressure from the ACLU, the political...


Justice, Deficits, and Taxes

November 11, 2011by David P. Gushee Whether or not our government leaders can ever actually accomplish what I am about to propose, I offer two simple principles that might constitute the outline of a coherent Christian perspective on the fiscal problems we now face as a nation. First, the American people must learn to pay on time and in full for the services we wish to purchase from our government. I am moving briskly away from an expansive, compassion-based vision of what government can perhaps accomplish for God’s reign toward a more modest Lockean and contractarian vision. This move has many sources: a sharper sense of the contrast in responsibilities between the state and other sectors, greater realism about the limits of what government can accomplish in “fixing the world,” awareness that in the real world every expansion of government spending creates a permanent, expensive constituency of government servants and...


Politics and Prose

November 11, 2011by Byron Borger This is a continuation of a series of articles by Byron Borger, introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice. Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help by Robert Lupton (HarperOne; 2011) $22.95  Lupton has long been a thoughtful and passionate urban activist advocating for structural changes in our inner cities.  As Phil Yancey has written, “When Bob Lupton speaks the rest of us ought to sit up and take notice.  His work is deeply disturbing---in the best sense of the word.”  In this new study he troubles the waters even more, explaining how charitable enterprises, non-profits and faith-based initiatives can have negative consequences among those whose needs they are trying to serve.  It is no surprise that this book...


Reforming Federal Election Laws

November 11, 2011by Timothy Sherratt Florida’s voter registration law, passed earlier this year, threatens voter registration drives with a host of civil penalties for missing deadlines to turn in names, on the pretext of ensuring the integrity of the vote in close races. Whether or not it survives a legal challenge, the statute ought to mark the beginning of a campaign for a new federal law to make registration automatic for all citizens. Congress has ample constitutional authority for enacting such a law under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause and the enforcement power that accompanies it. Separate registration denies equal protection for the most fundamental of political rights. Automatic registration would enlarge the federal commitment to ensuring that each citizen’s voice is heard in the political process. And it would raise electoral turnout substantially. My proposed expansion of federal power over voter...


The Justice of Economic Mobility

November 11, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. From Occupy Wall Street to the presidential campaign, American politics is now focused on the issue of economic inequality.  The left tends to support the achievement of greater equality through redistribution.  The right prefers to talk about individual freedom and economic growth.  As this national debate moves forward, it is worth keeping four points in mind: First, capitalism assumes and requires greater rewards for greater effort.  Income inequality can be just – but only if it is accompanied by economic mobility.  People must have a reasonable expectation that their effort will matter.  In the absence of mobility, economic inequality becomes a caste system, incompatible with the American ideal.  Social mobility is important to the moral standing of the...


Corporations, Personhood and the Common Good

November 4, 2011by Jess O. Hale, Jr. The recent recession and the crises in the housing market and banking industry provide Americans an opportunity for a moral conversation with our fellow citizens about a critical social actor: the corporation.  Occupy Wall Street harangues financial institutions while presidential candidate Mitt Romney quips that “corporations are people too.” Both represent popular sentiments about the role of corporations in our economic and social life.  But what role should corporations play in our society? Many people understand a corporation as an institution that powers the economic engine of capitalism—an entity, created by humans, that holds property collectively for individuals and organizations for the sole purpose of making monetary profits for its shareholders.  Assigned human-like characteristics by our society, corporations exercise power and act not only to make...


Government and Representation

November 4, 2011by James W. Skillen This article is excerpted from an essay originally published by the Center for Public Justice in the Public Justice Report in December 1994, after Republicans took control of Congress for the first time in 40  years. This was the third in a series of articles articulating the fundamental principles of the Center for Public Justice. A recent article in Britain's Economist (Nov. 12) reporting on the last November's American election said, "All political structures are threatened by popular cynicism, distrust and the longing for more direct forms of citizen action. Revulsion goes wide and deep." Strong language. But do Americans really long for more direct forms of civic action? Voters managed to act quite decisively last November to elect enough Republicans and to throw out enough Democrats to shake up Congress and...


Uncommon Contributor to the Common Good: The Legacy of Mark Hatfield, 1922-2011

November 4, 2011by Stanley Carlson-Thies  This essay was originally published online at Q: ideas for the common good. Mark Hatfield, who died on August 7th, had a lengthy political career, serving in both houses of the Oregon legislature, as Oregon’s Secretary of State, twice as governor of Oregon, and then for thirty years in the U.S. Senate.  He was an outspoken Christian, an evangelical politician who witnessed to his faith in speech, action, and with a considerable list of publications.  His was an unusual witness in American politics. His unconventionality was remarked in his obituaries.  He was a life-long Republican with strong anti-war and pro-environment positions.  Both Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat George McGovern considered him as...


The Flawed Technological Approach to Electoral Reform of Americans Elect

November 4, 2011by Jason E. Summers This Wednesday Americans Elect held a kickoff press event in which they presented their plan to “nominate a presidential ticket that answers directly to voters” using the web to bypass the traditional process. Formed in 2010, Americans Elect seeks to field a slate of candidates chosen by self-appointed delegates in a nation-wide primary.  Delegates will clarify issues, draft candidates, and vote through a web application hosted by Americans Elect. With $22 million of funding and ballot access secured in multiple states, prospects for achieving their goals seem good. Citizens should watch these developments with interest, particularly as the Center for Public Justice...


The Justice of Covering Immigrant Children in SCHIP

October 28, 2011by Emilie Wolf The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was passed during the Clinton administration in the 90’s, and then re-authorized by Congress in 2009. Why then is this still a prevalent issue to consider under the scope of justice? As Christians are part of the greater political community, we are called to seek justice and love mercy (Micah 6:8). One of the most contested parts of the re-authorized version of this federal health program was the waiving of the five-year waiting period for legally present migrant children and pregnant women. According to research from the National Conference of State Legislatures, the number of children in immigrant families has risen seven times higher than the number of United States-born families. They are more likely than those with United States-born parents to live in poverty and are less likely to have health insurance and to receive medical care. Clearly, this is a...


Can We Talk Rationally about Educational Freedom?

October 28, 2011by Charles L. Glenn, Jr. In 1876, as Colorado prepared to adopt language in its new Constitution forbidding support for “sectarian” schools, the territory’s Catholic Vicar Apostolic wistfully wrote “we look forward hopefully to the future. A day shall at last dawn – surely it shall – when the passions of this hour will have subsided; when the exigencies of partisan politics will no longer stand in the way of right and justice, and political and religious equality shall again seem the heritage of the American citizen.”[i]  Why has the American political system found it so difficult to accommodate the desire of many families for schools that reflect their religious convictions? Other western democracies have done so; why does America fail to live up to the commitment of...


Tax Reform and Compromise

October 28, 2011by Ted Williams IIIRecently, while I was picking up my 5- and 3-year-old daughters from their school, I noticed a poster on the wall. The poster encouraged the kids to share and compromise when they had disagreements with one another, and my attention immediately turned to the American political system. President Obama’s Jobs Act recently met defeat in the US Senate, primarily due to opposition to raising taxes on the top 1%-2% of the wealthiest Americans. The airwaves have been full of accusations of class warfare and socialism. In response, President Obama has attempted to convince the American people that taxes would remain the same for 98% of the population. This battle is one that has been fought for years in American politics. To reject heavy taxes is as American as apple pie, and millions want reform of our current system to reduce our tax burden.  Yet is this burden as significant as many believe? In...


Turkey, the Arab Spring, and Islamic Democracy

October 28, 2011by Michelle Crotwell Kirtley For many years, Turkey has represented the hopes of the Western world for the Middle East:  a secular government in a Muslim country, working its way towards mature democracy as it works its way towards membership in the European Union.  In the context of the Arab spring, the death of Gaddafi, the recent elections in Tunisia, and the upcoming elections in Egypt, the example of Turkey is more relevant than ever. I came face to face with the paradox of Turkey on a recent vacation.   In a country where the fear of Islamic fundamentalism and a commitment to 20th century modern secularism have driven almost all aspects of public policy, Turkey’s western coast feels very European—complete with Western-style music videos and bars on every corner. Yet in Istanbul, home to the palaces of the Sultans, Islamic relics, and the Blue mosque, Turkey’s Islamic heritage is palpable....


Is Our Government Broken?

October 21, 2011by Napp Nazworth After our government neared default on promised payments last August, many were asking “is our government broken?” A CNN/ORC poll recently found that trust in government hit a new low. Only 15 percent of respondents said they trust the government to do what is right. Conservative columnist George Will took a different view on ABC's “This Week” recently when he argued that our government is working fine. When Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who has been urging Congress to “solve the problem,” was told of Will's remarks, he replied, “Is he out of his mind? Is he in a coma?” To understand whether something is broken, however, one must first understand its purpose. If I were to point at a car and say, “it's broken,...


Considering a Legacy

October 21, 2011by Vincent Bacote What exactly is a Kuyperian?  Some readers of Capital Commentary may have come across this term before but haven’t been sure of its meaning and significance.  The term is linked to Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), a Dutch figure whose life and thought features prominently in the DNA of Center for Public Justice.  Kuyper was born into the home of a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church (Nederlands Hervormde Kerk) and was educated in Leiden University, where he was strongly influenced by more liberal theological ideas.  He became a minister in the NHK, but experienced a conversion to a more traditional Reformed orthodoxy due to his reading the Christian allegorical novel The Heir of Redclyffe (1853) and the influence of more conservative parishioners. Even as a young minister he had an interest in public life, and he officially entered politics in 1874 but remained...


Civic Responsibility in Southern California

October 21, 2011An interview by Michelle Kirtley A group of over 30 citizens from the Southern California area met recently with the hopes of organizing into a group seeking to learn and apply the principles of the Center for Public Justice.  Retired school teacher Stan Cole and Providence Christian College student Shelli Cammenga took part in that meeting, and Capital Commentary editor Michelle Kirtley interviewed them to get their perspective on why they became involved and how they see the group developing. A former board member of The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Stan Cole has been familiar with the Center for Public Justice for years, but his interest had “always stayed on the back burner.”  In April 2011, he was invited by long-time Center for Public Justice Associate Tom McWhertor “to a presentation by [Center for...


USA, Inc.

October 21, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. We are entering a presidential campaign in which the economy and the budget are the main topics—but the political discussion remains vague, incomplete and even deceptive.  President Obama argues for the wealthiest one percent to pay more in taxes.  Some Republicans candidates, at their recent debate, called for drastic cuts in foreign assistance—which represents less than one percent of the federal budget.  Both sides leave the impression that our budget problems would be addressed if only a few took more of the burden.  It isn’t true.  To understand why, I’d strongly recommend looking at a hefty report by analyst Mary Meeker called USA, Inc.  Meeker examines the federal budget as though it were a business—setting out all its assets and liabilities. ...


Tranströmer's Politics

October 14, 2011by John Wilson Every year in October, certain rituals follow the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The trained Whiners come out and whine. A contingent devoted to the supreme genius of Philip Roth expresses outrage that, once again, he has been denied. And whoever can score a political point, whether by praising or sneering at the new laureate, hastens to do so. But making political hay from poems or stories or plays can be a tricky business. Great literature usually doesn’t fall neatly into a political category. Consider the work of 2011 Nobel Prize-winner Tomas Tranströmer. In 1966, when Tranströmer was in his mid-thirties, he published a poem titled “Out in the Open.” Here, in Robert Bly’s early translation, is how the poem begins: Late autumn labyrinth.On the porch of the woods a thrown-away bottle.Go in. Woods are silent abandoned houses this time of...


#Occupy and the Longing for Public Justice

October 14, 2011by Stephanie A. Summers The Center for Public Justice Guideline on Citizenship reminds us that “citizens share with governments the responsibility to uphold a just political community,” and that responsible citizenship includes “helping to shape the political community to conform to the demands of justice.” I was reminded of this as I waited at a bus stop on Capitol Hill this week, where I encountered a small group of citizens outside the Supreme Court holding a series of letters spelling “OCCUPY.”  Soon they put down their letters and picked up a new series, spelling “SOLD OUT,” and began to chant, “Corporations are not people!”  For all the criticism of the Occupy movement, the Center’s Guideline on Citizenship affirms the necessary civil rights to free speech and association, “since they are two of the means by which citizens exercise...


Politics and Prose

October 14, 2011by Byron Borger The Center for Public Justice will be present at the 30th annual national conference of the Christian Legal Society(CLS)  this month and Senior Fellow Gideon Strauss will be leading their symposium on jurisprudence.  In gratitude for the faithful work of CLS ministering to Christians in the legal profession, this month’s column lists a few helpful titles about law. The Lawyers Calling: Christian Faith and Legal Practice by Joseph Allegretti  (Paulist Press; 1996)  This is an excellent introductory reflection on the meaning of being called by God to the field of law.  Allegretti uses the famous categories of Richard Niebhur to compare and contrast deficient views, pushing for the “Christ transforming culture” model to inform and shape the practice of law done for the sake...


Protest and Fulfillment of the Democratic Bargain

October 14, 2011by Timothy Sherratt From the breathless commentary on the Occupy Wall Street movement and similar efforts around the country, one gains the unmistakable impression that American journalism has lost touch with protest. Protests always seem to provoke the suspicion that an opposing interest must be manipulating the protestors. Grass-roots initiatives will turn out to be Astroturf. Someone, somewhere must be orchestrating the spontaneity. Last week E.J. Dionne opined that the Obama administration needed its own tea party because a leftist version of the latter would position the President clearly within the sensible center-left. So, perhaps we have him to thank! Another common criticism insists that protest organizers double as fully-fledged experts with policy solutions at hand. Protest is not allowed to stand on its own terms. Take David Brooks’ objection that Occupy Wall Street’s us-versus-them frame will not help make...


The Question of Authority

October 7, 2011 by James W. Skillen This article is excerpted from an essay originally published in the Public Justice Report in 1994 as part of a series of articles articulating the fundamental principles of the Center for Public Justice. Almost everywhere today, authority is questioned. Anyone who holds an office of authority seems to come under suspicion….[But] whether suspect or not, any position of authority forces this question: by what authority does one hold an office of authority? […] In democratic countries such as ours, governments are tied by elections and other means to the governed, but "the people" are not unambiguously authoritative. Our Constitution, for example, was designed to set limits to the expression of a popular will…Within that constitutional framework,...


Afghanistan: The End of the Line?

October 7, 2011by Steven E. Meyer In light of the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan, we are republishing this article about lessons learned from the wars we have been involved in over the last ten years.   Last February outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cautioned that “any future defense secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.” Perhaps President Obama had this in mind when he announced in June that 12,000 American troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2011, another 23,000 by the summer of 2012 and the remainder at a “steady pace” until all troops have left Afghanistan.  But the American pain, loss and staggering inability to achieve the desired policy objectives in Iraq (where all American troops are to be gone by the end of this year)...


Upstream (Part Two)

October 7, 2011by Gideon Strauss This is the conclusion of a two-part essay on the relationship between cultural transformation and justice in public policy. People matter. Community matters. We need less cynicism, more hope. These are convictions that we need in our culture if our politics is to be healthy, and if we are to enact wise policies. How do we nurture these convictions? I want to suggest three cultural settings outside of politics in which we can nurture these convictions, for the sake of politics: in our everyday behavior and conversations; in the life of our churches; in the popular art that we create. Ordinary Christian citizens can make a considerable difference from the grassroots up through the nature of their conduct. When we respect and nurture the individuality of the people with whom we interact directly,...


"Ministerial Employees" and Sphere Sovereignty

October 7, 2011by Stanley Carlson-ThiesA version of this article originally appeared in the October 6 edition of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance eNewsletter entitled “Religious Hiring and the US Supreme Court--Twice Over." The US Supreme Court this week dealt with two employment cases that revolve around the rightful separation of church and state.  That principle is often misunderstood to mean that somehow religious principles can and should be banned from public affairs. Instead, it reflects a fundamental principle for the right ordering of society, which Jesus stated this way: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matt.22:21).    That is, not everything belongs under Caesar’s control. Or does it?  That was the basic issue in Wednesday’s oral argument in the...


Innovation, Intellectual Property, and the Constitution

September 30, 2011by Jason E. Summers Scientia Donum Dei Est,Unde Vendi Non Potest. Just as free markets rely on the institutional definition and enforecement of property rights, innovation within markets relies on institutionally defined and enforced patent rights, which enable innovators to recoup development costs through the exercise of temporary monopoly.  The Constitution grants Congress this power “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to...inventors the exclusive right to their...discoveries.”  Current debate over these protections centers around the question of whether the products of intellectual labor should be regarded as real property, subject to those rights developed in American jurisprudence, or whether such products more properly belong to a cultural commons, one in which innovators contribute...


When Religious Freedom and Gay Rights Clash

September 30, 2011by Stephen V. Monsma Many faith-based organizations that provide human services hold to the religiously-based belief that sexual relations must be limited to heterosexual couples within marriage. May such organizations refuse to hire or provide services to persons in active same-sex relationships?  This is not a theoretical question.  Several Christian agencies have withdrawn from the adoption business after their states required them to place children with same-sex couples on the same basis as heterosexual couples.  These states had responded to the gay rights movement’s contention that these agencies were “discriminating” against same-sex couples and violating their basic civil rights.  But for a religious agency to be forced to act against its religiously-based beliefs is surely a violation of its religious freedom.  How can one sort out these conflicting claims? The Center for...


Just Health Care Reform

September 30, 2011by Clarke E. Cochran “Unless we get control of Medicare spending, the country will go bankrupt! Medicare entitlement costs taxpayers $500 billion per year now; soon it will be over a $1 trillion. We can’t go on like this. Medicare is unsustainable. It must be fundamentally reformed.” “Reduce the deficit, but don’t cut Medicare! Cutting that program will place the life of the elderly in jeopardy. My grandmother’s heart medications are provided by Medicare.” It’s not difficult to see how this dichotomy is false. Yet it is not far from current political rhetoric.  There is a broad consensus that health care programs are central to the debate over government deficit and debt. There is broad consensus that we are living as a nation beyond our means. There is not, however, consensus about how federal health care programs should change. How might we think prudentially and in a principled...


Organizing for a Third Way

September 30, 2011by Michelle Crotwell Kirtley Matt Miller and Thomas Friedman have recently made waves strongly advocating for a third-party candidate to enter the 2012 presidential election.  Both columnists cite partisan paralysis as clear evidence that something radical is needed to set our country on a path towards long-term security and prosperity.  And, although Friedman has been dreaming of a third-party candidate for years, both columnists cite the rise of AmericansElect—a well organized and well funded internet-based effort to nominate such a third-party candidate—as a hopeful sign that the time is finally ripe for such a candidate to significantly influence national debate. Backlash has been...


A Super-Sized Wish List

September 23, 2011by Amy Black Most of us recall the drama that unfolded throughout the summer as members of Congress neared standoff over the issue of raising the nation’s debt ceiling.  The stakes were high.  A divided House and Senate needed to agree on legislation and send it to the President for his signature or the government would fall into default for the first time in history.  Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans battled more moderate members as party leaders tried to reach a deal to end the fiscal crisis.  With only a few hours remaining, legislators passed and President Obama signed the Budget Control Act, a compromise bill that extended the debt ceiling until the end of 2012 and cut federal spending by $2.4 trillion. The eleventh-hour legislation ended the immediate crisis, but the agreement included one significant caveat. The Budget Control Act left much of the hardest work undone.  When...


Upstream, Part One

September 23, 2011by Gideon Strauss In recent correspondence with a couple of my friends about the Center for Public Justice’s approach to slow politics, one of my friends wrote that “… in many cases we know what just policy is, but that policy is difficult to enact—not only because of the particular nature of our political system—but also because the culture does not see that particular policy as just.” Our correspondence reminded me of a statement often made by my friend Steven Garber: “Culture is upstream of politics.” This is sentiment I share, although, along with Michael Gerson, I recognize that sometimes—as was the case for the civil rights movement—politics is upstream of culture. What then, are our cultural responsibilities, upstream, if we want to see wise policies enacted, and responsible politics practiced? As best as...


Auden and Dylan, Poets of Justice and the Blues

September 23, 2011by Aaron BelzI’ve always loved British poet W. H. Auden’s poem “Embassy,” in which two gardeners observe “highly trained” government men converse about politics—and “price their shoes.” Auden juxtaposes this “picture of the private life” with another scene, in which armies “with all the instruments for causing pain” await instructions. The twofold picture resolves in “A land laid waste, with all its young men slain, / Its women weeping, and its towns in terror.” No subtle irony here: comfortable politicians call deadly shots without an existential connection to the bloody reality they are creating for others. “Embassy” was written in the 1930s around the same time Auden wrote a poem I’d forgotten about, “Refugee Blues.” It had slipped my mind that Auden, of whom I usually think as a more traditional, formal poet, wrote several poems in blues stanza during that period. “Refugee Blues”...


Justice as Opportunity

September 23, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The budget debate in Washington is now focused on the meaning of fairness.  President Obama argues that rich should pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes—what he calls their “fair share.”  Republicans counter that the wealthy already carry much of the tax burden in America and contend that higher tax rates on job creators would be unwise and unfair.  In this argument about fairness, people are talking about different kinds of justice.  One type of justice is concerned that the vulnerable have access to basic needs of life.  But there is also the justice of getting what you deserve—in this case, being able to keep what you work for and earn.  A fair society will care for the needy and have rules that make sure property is not unjustly taken, by...


Cardus Education Survey: Christian Schools and Cultural Engagement

September 16, 2011by Dave Larsen The recent works of Andy Crouch and James Davison Hunter offer divergent views on the possibilities for a Christian cultural engagement. Hunter calls for less triumphant “world-changer” language from Christians and more of a redemptive “faithful presence” in the world. Crouch makes the case for culture creation as the calling of Christians today, the most faithful way to craft the common good. The just-released Cardus Education Survey gives occasion for further thought on the topic as it relates to North American Christian schooling, where most schools use the language of transforming culture to define their purpose. The critical questions about Christian schooling have always centered on what is meant by “Christian” and the relative rigor of the educational process. I recall a conversation with a parent considering enrollment at a suburban Chicago...


What We Now Know (Again) Ten Years after September 11

September 16, 2011by John D. Carlson Ceremonies and conversations marking the September 11th anniversary revived the oft-heard refrain that “9/11 changed everything.” Stirring tributes—by children raised without fathers and mothers; parents grieving murdered sons and daughters; siblings, lovers, friends, and co-workers whose voids still ache with loss—displayed how drastically some lives changed. Indeed, 75% of Americans say 9/11 significantly affected them.  Looking back, though, 9/11 also clarified changes already underway. In fact, as a Christian realist who studies religion, politics, and ethics, I wager that insights from these three areas say even more about the unchanging features of our country, ourselves, and our moral universe. However oversimple, it’s true: religion isn’t just for Sundays anymore—meaning three...


Of Poverty and Civil Society

September 16, 2011by Josh Good The U.S. Census Bureau made headlines this week in reporting that in 2010, another 2.6 million Americans slipped into poverty, bringing the total to 42.6 million, the highest number in the last half-century.  But in reporting that nearly one in six Americans now live “in poverty,” the report fails to assess the effectiveness of federal spending on poverty alleviation—or provide insights into the basic quality of life of low-income Americans.  Living in a Northeast Washington, DC, row house, my family and I personally have been challenged by this dynamic: we live next-door to a family with eight children, two of whom have their own children.  The family has two televisions, a microwave and full kitchen, publicly subsidized housing, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) monthly income, food stamps, child support and numerous...


Politics to the Rescue?

September 16, 2011by Timothy Sherratt President Obama’s recent address to Congress was replete with campaign overtones, which have released a predictable flood of denunciation that fails to recognize the realities of the electoral calendar. A campaign speech it certainly was. But the conventional wisdom that politics precludes serious policy debate may not hold water this time around. Mr. Obama’s 2012 campaign challenge to Republicans to pass the American Jobs Act may prove to be that rare case of politics rescuing policy. The stalled economy and accompanying jitters about a global slowdown have pressured the Administration to seek a second round of stimulus. But right away this President, like any president, faces a dilemma. Direct job creation by the President is all but impossible. Even with congressional support, job creation is largely limited to workers on government payrolls. Restoration of funding to states to pay for teachers or other...


A World Free From Nuclear Weapons

September 9, 2011by Herman Keizer, Jr. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, as a nation we began learning how to live as the only world superpower. What do you do with all the foreign policy issues designed to address possible and probable scenarios developed for a bipolar world— a world that no longer existed? How do you alter defense policy to determine how to use military force?  How do you manage the use of nuclear weapons, with the possibility of expanding proliferation of nuclear weapons in a multipolar world? In August of 1990, John J. Mearsheimer wrote an article in The Atlantic titled “Why We Will Soon Miss The Cold War.” The summary of the article read, “The conditions that have made for decades of peace in the West are fast disappearing, as Europe prepares to return to the multi-polar system that, between 1648 and 1945, bred one destructive conflict after the other.” He...


On Taking Public Life Seriously

September 9, 2011by Stephanie A. Summers As is true for a majority of Capital Commentary readers, God used healthy civil-society institutions to shape me into the person I am today.  My love of civil-society institutions began with my mother’s leadership of my Brownie Girl Scout troop in 1980, where I learned that a life lived in service changed me as much as it helped hurting people. I can count hundreds of civil-society institutions that have influenced me, shaping in me a heart for the gracious and patient justice of God, and equipping me with myriad skills to work in solidarity with others to address the social and systemic needs of a broken world.  Yet I never gave a moment of thought to the relationship between government and these institutions until I encountered Jim Skillen and his work with the Center for Public Justice. I first met Jim when I was a student at Kenyon College, on a trip to...


Politics and Prose

September 9, 2011by Byron Borger This is a continuation of a series of articles by Byron Borger, introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice. Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today by Craig Bartholomew (Baker Academic; 2011)  They say it was Tip O’Neill who coined the aphorism “all politics is local,” and there is little doubt that our citizenship is not merely lived out in the national ballot box.  Christian citizens should care about their locale, and this book’s first half gives us a systematic study of how place is portrayed throughout the Biblical narrative.  In the brilliant, demanding second half Bartholomew shows how a contemporary view of place has been forged by philosophers and theologians—for better or worse.  No one has yet done such a sustained study of place, and while the topic is...


Prudential Politics: A Positive Role for Government

September 9, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. With the presidential campaign now in full swing, Republicans are judging the quality and electability of their top tier prospects. But they are also getting a chance to hear from candidates with little shot at the nomination, but who hold strong views about American politics. I’ve been involved in three presidential campaigns at one time or another.  I respect people who are willing to embark on that exhausting journey.  Leaders such as Rick Santorum and Herman Cain are making contributions, even if they don’t end up as their party’s choice.  Santorum urges the Republican field to remember the moral issues—especially the issue of life.  Cain adds the perspective of a corporate leader.    Representative Ron Paul of Texas also plays an instructive role in...


Accountable Care Organizations, Justice and Pluralism in Health Care Delivery

September 2, 2011by Jess O. Hale, Jr. The example of Jesus healing the sick and the history of Christian communities in creating hospitals should inspire Christians to attend to health care reform in the United States on principled grounds.  However, I suspect many of us are more consumed by the pragmatic concerns of the uninsured and our own rising deductibles.  With the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—the new health reform legislation—now the law of the land, many of the debates about how to actually provide quality, cost-effective health care in the United States—constitutional litigation notwithstanding—have moved to a new level.  Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) represent one of the new approaches to health care delivery that the ACA seeks to test in the Medicare system.  While still...


Why Freedom of Religion?

September 2, 2011by Stanley Carlson-Thies “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .”  These are the very first words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, coming even before the phrases setting out our freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble peaceably, and the freedom to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Religious freedom is the first right, the first freedom, in the Bill of Rights—the set of ten amendments that set out the limits on the power of government.  There can be in our nation no required religion, no state church.  The government may not impose on us an official religious (or irreligious) doctrine.  Instead, it must protect the “free exercise” of religion. What is that free exercise of religion and why should it be protected?  Religious freedom, at a minimum, protects the...


Public Justice and True Tolerance

Foundations is a new Capital Commentary column which will be published occasionally, featuring core principles and materials drawn from the rich history and scholarship of the staff and fellows of the Center for Public Justice. This excerpted essay was originally published in a collection entitled Confessing Christ and Doing Politics (1982). September 2, 2011by James W. Skillen Politics in our day usually begins and ends with “the People,” perhaps in the form of “We the people of the United States…,” or “The People’s Republic of China,” or “the will of the people…,” or “return power to the people.” Christian politics begins and ends with “the King of kings and the Lord of Lords.” […] Jesus acknowledges, as we know, that people do have political responsibilities and that people do indeed belong in certain political offices (cf. Matt...


Fetal Genetic Tests Facilitate Sex-Selective Abortion

September 2, 2011by Michelle Crotwell Kirtley Last year, the Economist devoted their cover and several stories to the 100 million “missing girls” who have been killed worldwide—either through abortion or infanticide—simply for the crime of being female. The lead article was appropriately titled “The worldwide war on baby girls: Technology, declining fertility, and ancient prejudice are combining to unbalance societies.”  The absence of girls is most pronounced in China, due in part to China’s explicit “one child policy” and a long-standing cultural preference for sons. But even in the absence of explicit government policy, sex selection remains widespread.  Sex ratios are often skewed in wealthy areas—including developed countries such as South Korea and the U.S.—which have access to ultrasound technology and fetal genetic testing that allow...


Immigration Reform Is for Our Neighbors

“On the Ground” is a new Capital Commentary column that will be published occasionally, featuring the stories of citizens working toward public justice in their local communities.  August 26, 2011by Harold Heie  The possibility that Congress will reach agreement on comprehensive immigration reform appears to have vanished, at least for the near future. A formidable challenge is that immigration law is primarily legislated at the national level—where immigrants are too easily viewed in impersonal terms—whereas the implementation of such laws takes place at the local level—where immigrants are our neighbors who we are called by Jesus to love. These neighbors live next door to us, worship with us in our churches, and go to school and play soccer with our children and grandchildren. This is not to suggest that immigration law should be legislated locally. The consequences of these laws, intended...


Accessing the Justice We Pursue

August 26, 2011by Julia K. Stronks The national political scene has taken over the news this summer.  The debt-ceiling crisis, the unstable stock market, and politicians’ civic discord dominate our discussions.  But, as we move into another election year with a 24-hour cable news cycle, it is important that we don’t get distracted from our call to justice.  As Christians one of our most important political responsibilities is to consider the impact of public policies on the weak and the poor among us.  An often overlooked aspect of policy analysis includes thinking about the access that lower and even middle income citizens have to our justice system.  We are a nation that relies heavily on private law to hold our institutions accountable.  Sex abuse by clergy, environmental catastrophe caused by human negligence, the gutting of state pensions—victims of all of these tragedies needed to hire lawyers to help...


Our New Poet Laureate: Philip Levine

August 26, 2011by Aaron BelzHaving taught creative writing for decades, Philip Levine has racked up hundreds of former students. Those of us who know him were happy to hear the news that he’d been appointed our nation’s next Poet Laureate. He’s personable, funny, and gracious. When it comes to poetry he’s legendarily unsparing. In the early 1990s I brought a long, meandering poem to Levine’s workshop at NYU, read it aloud, and after a silence he said: “I like the last line.” And when I sent him my first book he wrote back, “I expected to find one [bad poem] after another. I was pleasantly surprised.” It looks as though Levine will bring the same intolerance for unnecessary words—and foolishness in general—to his new appointment. He’s quoted in a recent Los Angeles Times article as saying, "I had thought that the worst collection of people was an English department having a meeting, but the U.S. Congress runs away with the...


Reflections on the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

 August 26, 2011 In light of this weekend’s planned dedication of the new Martin Luther King, Jr, Memorial in Washington, D.C., we are republishing reflections of several Capital Commentary contributors on Dr. King’s legacy. The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday provides us opportunity to consider how we regard public figures.  First, King typically is presented as a man who was zealous for “truth, justice, and the American way” and was incidentally Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  This oversight leaves us with a narrative absent of the fact that the religious character of King’s participation in the civil rights movement is central, not peripheral. His “Kitchen Table Experience” was a crisis moment when he clearly felt a divine call to the pursuit of justice.   Second, every public figure is imperfect, even the most heroic and virtuous.  King’s detractors often bring up...


Which Religious Employers' Rights Will Be Respected?

August 19, 2011by Stanley Carlson-Thies This article originally appeared in the August 9 edition of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance eNewsletter entitled “Federal Government Proposes Feeble Religious Exemption.” Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced new regulations requiring health insurance plans to cover a suite of preventive care services for women, including birth control, with no co-pay, exempting certain religious employers from these requirements.  Faith-based organizations, whatever their views on offering health insurance that pays for contraceptive services, should be deeply concerned about this religious employer exemption. The Obama administration claimed to be protecting religious freedom by creating an exemption for religious employers to the required coverage of certain services that Catholics and others...


A Christian Response to Terrorism

August 19, 2011by Brenda Kay Zylstra A decade ago the 9/11 terrorist attacks shattered the post-Cold War global order and resonated around the world, setting into motion a chain of events that would significantly alter the geo-political landscape. Terrorism is not a new threat, but in an age of hyper-interconnectedness it is a newly powerful threat. Its random violence and the looming specter of another 9/11 have led to a frightened American public willing to trade much treasure for the feeling of safety. As a community of believers we have largely failed to articulate a particularly Christian framework for thinking about terrorism, instead falling in with the standard line of whichever political party we prefer. To begin such a project, I present three angles for further examination. First, we ought never to be among those who demand our government take every precaution against terrorist attacks. We will never be totally safe...


Military Research Funding in an Era of Austerity

August 19, 2011by Jason E. Summers Provisions of the debt-ceiling deal ensure that the Department of Defense (DoD) budget will see reductions of $350 billion (relative to baseline growth) over the next ten years and an additional $600 billion in automatic reductions if the bipartisan super committee cannot agree on an additional $1.5 trillion in savings from across the government over 10 years. Research and development (R&D) expenditures, which make up almost 15 percent of the DoD budget, will be a significant component of these reductions. Already Michael E. O'Hanlon and Peter W. Singer have expressed concerns over potential cuts to defense R&D spending, which is “proportionally more important than other parts of the defense budget” but often targeted for cuts. Though DoD is the largest federal supporter of R&D, most funding is allocated to systems...


A Crisis of Civility and Representation

August 19, 2011by Timothy Sherratt Although we connect the constitutional phrase, “during good behavior” (Article III, Section 1) exclusively with the terms of Supreme Court judges, it reflects a broader intention on the part of the framers, who understood republican virtues as of equivalent importance to the separation of powers. To secure republican government it was not enough merely to thwart the concentration of political power. Indeed, the framers debated earnestly whether long terms and term limits or short terms and re-election offered the better inducement to good behavior from office holders. These deliberations resulted in different incentives to good behavior being tendered to Members of Congress, Senators, Presidents and Justices. But whatever the best incentives may have been, exactly what does this good republican behavior consist of? The framers did not...


Patenting of Human Organisms

  August 12, 2011by John B. MacIntyre The US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has traditionally followed the view that “anything under the sun that is made by man” can be patented.  A controversial area has been whether to grant patents on living organisms.  For nearly two hundred years, the PTO refused to grant patents on living organisms.  This changed in 1980, when the US Supreme Court allowed a patent on a bacterium created to break down crude oil.  The Court focused on the fact that the bacterium was non-naturally occurring. This ruling opened the door for the first patenting of a transgenic animal, the Harvard Mouse, in 1988.  Harvard researchers were granted a patent on a mouse that had been created with oncogenes that led to rapid cancer growth, which assisted researchers in testing cancer-fighting drugs. The PTO was now treating non-naturally occurring, non-human living...


Individual Prosperity or Social Justice?

August 12, 2011by Harold Dean Trulear Several years ago, the rap song “It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp” focused on prostitution as a means for making money, ignoring the obvious sexual immorality and injustice.  Reducing sex to a commodity, the rapper reflects on the hazards of his “business world” and his ability to negotiate the obstacles necessary to overcome poverty, reflecting a general cultural consensus regarding poverty alleviation. Cultural consensus? Yes, because our current approach to poverty focuses on providing individuals with the opportunity to overcome poverty, rather than addressing its root causes.  In so doing, we fail to commit ourselves to a just society.  Even the church buys into this consensus when its message eschews social justice for “self help,” which reduces the gospel to what works for the individual rather than what is true for the common good.  A gospel which preaches “efficacy”...


Kindness and the Gay Marriage Debate

August 12, 2011by Justin McRoberts A friend of mine who pastors a church in the Mission District of San Francisco—where the church’s intersection with gay culture has been greatly publicized and often distorted—has many stories to tell about his own church’s involvement in the collision of what many would consider opposing cultures.  My pastor friend (whom, in an effort to protect the identity of my subjects I will henceforth refer to as “Thor”— god of thunder) tells a story about his church’s more redemptive role in the relationship between gay culture and the Church, right around the same time Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the doors of City Hall to gay marriages. There had been a series of break-ins in the neighborhood around “Thor’s” church, including one at the home of a same-sex couple in an apartment attached to and owned by the church.  The couple lost quite a bit, and much of what remained was trashed....


In Memoriam: Christ's Call to Service

August 12, 2011by Senator Mark O. Hatfield Mark O. Hatfield, a former U.S. Senator (R-OR) and Governor of Oregon, died on August 7 at the age of 89. He delivered “Christ’s Call to Service” as the keynote address at the first major conference of the Association for Public Justice (now the Center for Public Justice) in 1977, held in Sioux Center, Iowa. Excerpted below, it was published in essay form by the Center for Public Justice in Confessing Christ and Doing Politics (1982). I have sensed for many years that we in the North American evangelical community have had a burning question put to us. What do we do with our political responsibility?  Many have felt that political activity is beyond the scope of appropriate Christian involvement.  I have frequently been asked by other Christians how I could retain my faith and still be a politician.  There has been a general tendency to believe that faith...


Rahm Emanuel's Choice

August 5, 2011by Dave Larsen Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel faced a difficult decision soon after assuming office: where to send his children to school? In the world of Chicago politics and urban school reform, some felt the choice had life and death consequences akin to Abraham’s on one of Moriah’s mountains. For many, the decision reached last week by the mayor and his wife, Amy Rule, struck yet another blow to Chicago’s public schools and any hint of progress the system had made in recent years. In their view, the choice of the prestigious Lab School at the University of Chicago for their three children was understandable but also a clear example of failed leadership. If he wants Chicago Public Schools to succeed, critics argue, he should lead by example, enroll his children in the system and learn what the educational options were from the inside, not from the sideline. In a crafty shot across the bow, Teachers Union President Karen Lewis...


No New Taxes, War, and the Debt Ceiling Crisis

August 5, 2011by Timothy Sherratt At the eleventh hour, Congress met the debt-ceiling deadline by kicking the can down the road. President Obama can increase the borrowing limit this year, and next, with a potential increase over $2 trillion by 2013. The law mandates spending cuts of $1 trillion over the next ten years. Additional cuts of around $1.5 trillion will be the responsibility of a twelve-member bipartisan Congressional commission, to be reported by November 23 and voted on a month later. If Congress fails to vote for these recommended cuts, automatic cuts will be triggered, also over ten years, split evenly between domestic and defense spending. In political terms, the House and Senate votes this week mark a Tea Party triumph, and a victory of sorts for House Speaker John Boehner. Together they had the best of the deal, which features significant spending cuts but no new taxes. To add irony to injury—for the protracted crisis over the...


Politics and Prose

August 5, 2011by Byron Borger This is a continuation of a series of articles by Byron Borger, introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice. Abraham Kuyper: A Personal and Short introduction, Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) 2011  It may almost go without saying that the late 19th-century theologian, cultural reformer, journalist and Prime Minister of Holland has had a decisive influence on the political philosophy of the Center for Public Justice.  Yet, there are very few introductory resources that explain who Kuyper was, what was unique about his social and political vision, and how it might be fruitful for our on-going 21st-century efforts at Christian civic life and faithful politics.  At last we have a near-perfect overview, about both Kuyper’s distinctive emphasis on pluralism and sphere sovereignty as well as...


Faith, Drama, & the Debt Ceiling

August 5, 2011by Michelle Crotwell Kirtley In the final days of the negotiations to raise our nation’s debt ceiling, the political drama was intense.  Politics is, after all, theater, and the political brinksmanship on display in Washington last week had many Americans on the edge of their seats.  Faith did not play a lead role in this fight over spending cuts and deficits, but religion did make an appearance.  On Tuesday, July 26, The Washington Post headline “What Would Jesus Cut?” was prominently displayed underneath the lead articles describing the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations.  This article described the efforts of the Circle of Protection, a broad coalition of churches and faith-based non-profit organizations who are lobbying to prevent spending cuts...


Free Speech and the War on Terror

July 29, 2011by Ryan McIlhenny The recent terror attacks in Norway by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik have generated both sorrow and outrage around the world, revealing, once again, the multiple meanings of terror and the increasing difficulties in battling it.  When such horrific events occur, the array of familiar questions is brought to the public’s attention: Why did this happen?  How could it happen?  What can be done to prevent this from happening again?  Answers to the first two questions may be easier then the last (although I don’t want to presume, especially when peering into the human psyche).  But it is the last question that requires careful consideration.  Making decisions for the future is always a challenge.  A knee-jerk reaction in the wake of such terrorist actions may be to pressure governments to increase their surveillance on the information shared among potential...


On the National Debt: A Voice from Future Generations

July 29, 2011by Nathan Thompson In the midst of all the economic and political woes that face the United States, it is rather easy to become discouraged, angry, and cynical. Seemingly every morning I wake up to newspaper headlines that amplify the infighting, blaming, and discord so fully present on Capitol Hill these days. Senator Reid calls Representative Cantor childish! Speaker Boehner walks out on debt talks! Democrats refuse to cut spending! Republicans won’t raise taxes! So, I ask, where is there hope? As part of a month-long internship with the Center for Public Justice, I studied the current economic situation regarding the national debt and how biblical principles might apply to solving the crisis at hand. Over that time, my knowledge of the economy, the country’s debt, and how Congress is handling it increased exponentially, as did my discouragement in where the U.S. is headed. I realized that I was frustrated with lawmakers for...


In Praise of the Debt Ceiling

July 29, 2011by Todd P. Steen The United States is one of the very few countries in the world that has a debt ceiling.  The time when our level of debt approaches the ceiling is typically a period of bluster and political wrangling that quickly is forgotten after the ceiling is increased (it has been raised ten times in the last ten years).  For example, then-Senator Barack Obama (as well as every other Democratic senator) voted against an increase in the ceiling back in 2006, citing his principled opposition to raising it.  This year, he has suggested that raising the ceiling is one of the most important things that we have to do as a nation.  This change of face on the debt ceiling is so common among politicians in both parties that President Obama's reversal of position barely garnered a second glance. As a result, the debt ceiling is often seen as anachronistic, useless, or worse.  Moody’s, the international credit...


In Remembrance of John Stott

  July 29, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. In this period of intense public disagreement – when the consequences of political choices are immediate and high – we have recently had a reminder of a different kind of influence.  The news came that John Stott died at age 90, in the company of friends. Many have recounted fond memories of Stott, who only seemed to leave fond memories behind.  I was a college Junior when I spent a summer at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, one of the institutions Stott founded.  It was among the defining experiences of my youth.  Stott went out of his way to engage a very shy and awkward young student, having me to his home, inviting me to a memorable lunch that included Malcolm Muggeridge.  Stott was my first experience of a great public man who was...


The Justice of Responsible Lending

July 22, 2011by Rachel Hope Anderson America’s ongoing economic difficulties point to the importance of a robust economy to the whole country. An improved economy, we hope, will benefit families struggling with unemployment and foreclosures. However, the fact that America’s prosperity has historically benefited low to moderate income families was neither an accident nor an outcome of economic growth on its own. It was also linked to choices and structures that gave average households tools to build wealth. Here are three examples: Federal deposit insurance helped make banking safe for households by protecting depositors against bank runs and market-wide turbulence.  Government guarantees encouraged and backed the creation of affordable, fixed-rate 30-year mortgages. Without this product, homeownership would not be the widely available vehicle for asset-building that it has been for the past 70 years. The laws and tax benefits associated...


In Defense of the Electoral College

July 22, 2011by Marc LiVecche Perhaps we can say of the Electoral College what can and has been said about much else in the governing structures of our country: it is worse than everything else except its alternatives. While it has evolved since 1787, the Electoral College nevertheless endures as a supporting structure for our founder’s very particular American expression of democracy. It witnesses both the founder’s principled effort to manage the self-serving proclivities of the human heart and their fidelity to classical and medieval notions of the bound sovereign and a plain distinction between tyrant and king. The founder’s solution to the danger of tyranny was the sovereignty of law, the separation of powers, and federalism. Crucially, the founders understood that tyranny had multiple manifestations and that the tyrant could be both singular and legion. Concerning the latter, it is federalism in particular which shields the...


Afghanistan: The End of the Line?

July 22, 2011by Steven E. Meyer This is the second of two responses to President Obama’s announcement regarding troup withdrawals in Afghanistan.   Last February outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cautioned that “any future defense secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.” Perhaps President Obama had this in mind when he announced in June that 12,000 American troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2011, another 23,000 by the summer of 2012 and the remainder at a “steady pace” until all troops have left Afghanistan.  But the American pain, loss and staggering inability to achieve the desired policy objectives in Iraq (where all American troops are to be gone by the end of this year) and Afghanistan echoes the sorry historical record of other large...


It's OK: Abandon Afghanistan

July 22, 2011by Jonathan Shine This is the first of two responses to President Obama’s announcement regarding troup withdrawals in Afghanistan. Maybe “abandon” is too strong, but I confess that I found myself guiltily applauding when President Obama announced a larger and faster-than-anticipated drawdown of forces from Afghanistan, even though I think the result is likely to be bloody and painful for the Afghans.  “Guiltily” because I hate departing without a win.  More so because the believer-citizen must always presume that, having gone abroad to break things and kill people, we will finish with the job well and nobly done.  Dad’s frequent axiom, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” never ended with, “…home, because they’re tired and out of good ideas.”  Just War Doctrine requires that in going to war we determine that there is a good chance of achieving the just ends...


Public Justice and the Debt Ceiling

July 15, 2011by George N. Monsma, Jr. A discussion of the public justice implications of the negotiations regarding the debt ceiling should begin with a statement of some fundamental economic aspects of public justice which God calls governments to uphold.  Governments are called, where possible, to establish conditions in which other institutions in society can fulfill their God-given callings, and in which this can continue in the future.  Families should be enabled to support themselves through their work and have access by other means to what is necessary to fulfill their callings in society when they cannot support themselves by work.  Government should provide this now, as well as enable this to continue in the future, e.g., by giving families access to education needed for earning in the future, by preserving the environment and natural resources so that society can flourish in the future, and by not burdening those living in the...


The Cross in Politics

July 15, 2011by Clay Cooke  “None can be reckoned to be the disciples of Christ unless they are true imitators of him, and are willing to pursue the same course.”       —John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke John Calvin’s statement underscores a long recognized maxim for Christian discipleship: In order to live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, his directive to “take up your cross and follow me” is central.  But what about the life of citizenship, say, in the United States of America?  Does the Way of the Cross apply to this role as well?  Christians who defend a position of active citizenship have often had a difficult time answering this question.  They have struggled, that is, to correlate the structures and tasks of politics—the pursuit of justice and common good within a given polity—to the cruciform life.  Instead of a “politics...


How to Pick a President

July 15, 2011by Carol Veldman Rudie If you want to produce glazed eyes at a party, just begin talking about a need to change the system.  Any system.  The minutae of detail and the leap of imagination required to envision a different way of doing things has a way of causing a change in subject but rarely in system. Increasingly, however, one type of system change is becoming the talk of politically savvy party-goers.  More and more people are beginning to understand that the method used to cast and count votes makes a big difference—not only because Candidate A might win rather than Candidate B, but also because voters get different messages about the value of their participation depending on the way in which they are asked to express their views. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the way we elect the President of the United States.  The Constitution mandates an Electoral College.  The number of electors is...


Combatting Modern Day Slavery

July 15, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The social conscience of modern Christianity was, in many ways, shaped in the fight against slavery.  Quakers and Methodists made strong, early contributions to that struggle.  “Liberty,” wrote John Wesley, “is the right of every human creature, as soon as he breathes the vital air. And no human can deprive him of that right, which he derives from the law of nature.” In the abolitionist movement, evangelicals found their great statesman-hero: William Wilberforce.  Northern evangelicals provided Abraham Lincoln some of his most loyal political support during the Civil War. It is a great history – worth remembering and honoring.  But it is not merely history.  Recently, I visited South Sudan for their independence celebration, watching the flag of a new nation rise....


U.S. Policy in Syria

July 8, 2011by Paul S. Rowe The pace of events in the Middle East continues to shock and surprise.  Few predicted the political earthquakes of January and February 2011.  Those revolutionary movements took place in relatively open societies with authoritarian regimes that proved unable to draw upon the violence necessary to quell the protests.   In the months that have followed, the uprisings have spread to more repressive societies like Libya and Syria.   The case of Syria is one of the most sensitive, due to the sectarian divide in that country and the central role of Syria in Lebanese and Palestinian politics as well as the peace process involving Israel.  For Christians, Syria presents a particularly difficult problem.  In this region, numerous Christians remain of the Syriac Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches, among others.  Syrian Christians, who make up about 10% of the...


30,000 Feet

July 8, 2011 by Napp Nazworth God is good. Satan is evil. There is absolute truth. These commonly held beliefs too often lead Christians to conclude that in politics, there must also be absolute right and absolute wrong answers to public policy questions. Perhaps our two-party system, which often reduces complex policy options into two and only two possible choices, contributes to this tendency towards political absolutism. Belief in right and wrong, good and evil, heaven and hell, God and Satan, has been translated too often into a belief that one party or candidate is on God's side, while the other party or candidate must be serving Satan's purposes. Implied in the “what would Jesus cut?” campaign, for instance, is that anyone who disagrees with campaign supporters disagrees with Jesus. Similarly, former Congressman and Ambassador Tony Hall said at a...


What's Lacking in the Climate Debate Isn't Presidential Leadership

July 8, 2011by Rusty Pritchard It’s possible that people have overreacted to the collapse of comprehensive climate legislation. Anti-environmental forces, emboldened by the seeming victory and energized by the libertarianism of the Tea Party movement, went into an all-out attempt to roll back environmental safeguards that were passed with bipartisan consensus, despite the economically-valuable benefits they have conferred on American society. Many on the right have decided that the climate is primarily a weapon for bashing the President and his party. Meanwhile the progressive environmental lobby is busy changing the subject. Climate change is taking a backseat to other measures that contribute to the same ends. The President himself appears to subscribe to the strategy, talking very little about climate in recent months, but relentlessly promoting green industry, green jobs,...


In Political Campaigns, Faith Matters

July 8, 2011by Michelle Crotwell Kirtley Last week in this space, Michael Gerson appropriately argued that despite the inflammatory statements made recently by some Republican presidential candidates, both the Constitution and a biblical view of human dignity require that we reject any religious “test” for public office. Yet, many Christians are secretly (or not-so-secretly) uncomfortable with the idea of a Muslim—or a Mormon—in public office, particularly in the office of President.  At one level, such discomfort is understandable. Christians rightly expect candidates to be influenced by their faith and may fear that the value differences that emerge from Islam or any other different religious system will lead to radically different policy positions.  Indeed, the very existence of the Center for Public Justice is predicated upon the idea that justice, although it is to be extended to all humanity without discrimination, has a...


Putting Parents First in Education

July 1, 2011by Jennifer A. Marshall “The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has changed my life and has made me the successful young man standing before you now,” Ronald Holassie told U.S. Senators at a hearing on Capitol Hill last year. This spring, Ronald graduated from Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C. and is on his way to college in Florida.Six years ago his mother feared for his future. Assigned a public school in a low-income neighborhood, Ronald brought home no homework, got poor grades, and was barely surviving in his school’s caustic culture. Public schools in the nation’s capital are notoriously bad. Test scores are the worst in the nation. Just over half the students graduate, and about one out of eight students has been threatened with a weapon. Ronald is one of a select few students in America who benefited from private school choice this past school year. Just 200,000 of the nation’s...


Politics and Prose

July 1, 2011by Bryon Borger This is a continuation of a series of articles by Byron Borger, introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice. Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age by Gregory Wolfe (ISI Books) One need not agree with a literal reading of the famous Dostoevsky line of the title (a favorite of Catholic activist Dorothy Day, by the way) to appreciate the profound way in which Wolfe underscores the aesthetic dimension for the common good—and how paying closer attention to the arts can help us recover a decent sense of civility and resist the sloganeering of the cultural warriors.  The first half of the book is fairly philosophical as he explores the role of the artist in modernity and explains the tradition of Christian Humanism.  Next he highlights a handful of our most profound writers (Waugh,...


Justice, Productivity, and the Basics of Tax Reform

July 1, 2011by Ryan Streeter The American public is used to having debates about tax rates. It is now getting used to a newer debate about the nature and complexity of the tax code itself. Our tax code has grown so confusing, unfair and costly that we are now forced to deal with it as we look at our burgeoning deficit. The way we do taxes in America is having a deleterious effect on our economy and way of life. We come a long way since, in James Madison’s words, the end of a just government is that “which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”  For this reason, when “taxes are again applied, by an unfeeling policy” to favor one kind of property over another, raid the “domestic sanctuaries of the rich,” and impose excessive taxes that “grind the face of the poor,” you have a blatant violation of justice and have undercut the purpose for which government was instituted. Madison’s views were...


Islam, Religious Freedom, and American Public Life

July 1, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. During the last few years, a debate has grown over the place of Islam in American life.  Recently, a Republican candidate for president, Herman Cain, said the he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or administration.  He later revised his statement, saying that Muslims could serve, but only after special scrutiny not given to Catholics or Mormons. Another Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, has repeatedly warned about the threat of sharia law to the American form of government.  A few states have moved to preemptively ban sharia as the basis for laws or judicial decisions. Some Americans even claim that Islam is not a religion at all, but rather an oppressive political system that does not deserve the protections of pluralism.  These views are both uninformed and...


What Would Jesus Cut?

June 24, 2011by Tim King One of the problems in political discourse today is a lack of common language. Various sides debate the same topic but start from such different assumptions that discourse is often not possible. Our common faith and especially a Biblical concern for the poor should influence how we talk about the federal budget and the decisions that we make. Through reason we can apply the values we see in scripture to a very different political system and social reality of today.  In responding to this challenge, Sojourners tried to come up with a simple, provocative question that could help guide our discussion: “What Would Jesus Cut?” While we aren’t advocating for Jesus to take over as budget director, we do hope to instigate a debate about how what we believe influences the decisions we make in regards to our budget. Our appropriation of a 90’s Evangelical fad has been criticized by some for not being...


Teaching the Art of Conversation and Civility

June 24, 2011by Alissa Wilkinson "The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness."—Proverbs 16:21 "Hatred is just a failure of the imagination.—Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory Teaching first-year college students to write is dull: lots of circling comma splices and reminding them to keep verb tenses consistent and cite sources properly. But at the college where I teach, the mission statement includes having graduates who are ready to "influence strategic institutions." In other words, we're trying to make public intellectuals. It's a hilariously high-minded goal, but colleges are in the business of inspiring, and it's left to the faculty to translate that into calculus and American politics and, yes, English grammar. So I wonder: should my first-year students be expressing well-formed opinions in a public forum by the end of the...


Court Rulings for the Rest of Us

June 24, 2011by Emily Belz If the Supreme Court were to hold a Scrabble tournament with the executive and legislative branches, the Supreme Court would win. In May alone, according to the Marquette Law Review, the justices cited the dictionary in eight decisions. The court cares more about words than almost any other body in the land. The justices debate words like "now." They take up cases based on written merit briefs, written amicus briefs; written opinions become law, written dissents are scrutinized for generations. And the court, to one degree or another, bases all of its decisions on a written Constitution. There’s nothing visual about the Supreme Court. The justices aren’t in front of any cameras because each year they resist media pleas to allow cameras in the courtroom. Most reporters sit along the north wall of the courtroom with the justices off to the left, behind pillars and heavy curtains, so they can’t be seen...


Civility in American Politics

June 24, 2011by Timothy Sherratt Michael Gerson’s latest contribution to this column contrasts the media’s feverish hunt for dirt with the actual, but hidden, courtesies and kindnesses of vilified politicians. The recent trove of emails, which revealed a “real” Governor Palin as kindly and considerate towards her subordinates to the chagrin of her many detractors whose expectations have been fueled by a distorted media image, serves as his point of departure. “This is the most basic explanation for political polarization in America—the tendency to deny the humanity of people we disagree with,” Gerson writes. Yes, that’ll preach, as they say—the reality of the Fall, along with its remedy in Jesus Christ, should always be preached. What should not be preached is a reduction of this universal truth to the particulars of our politics, culture and...


Supreme Court Assesses State Immigration Policy

June 17, 2011by Julia K. Stronks In May the Supreme Court handed down its first decision assessing new immigration laws passed by states across the nation.  The Court upheld Arizona’s law requiring employers to use the federal E-Verify system for new hires and sanctioning businesses that hire undocumented workers.  The case seems to address relatively straightforward issues concerning a state’s right to license businesses and the interpretation of a phrase in a federal law.  However, it also highlights concerns related to justice and immigration policy.            In U.S. Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting the question was to what extent federal immigration law pre-empts a state from having its own law punishing employers for hiring those who do not have the legal right to work in our country.  The federal law clearly pre-empts states from developing their own law...


Back Door Social Engineering

June 17, 2011by Jordan J. Ballor A return to a first-principles discussion of taxation in America requires a return to the fundamental purposes of taxation. Notwithstanding the current size of the federal tax code, the fundamental purpose of government taxation is not to encourage or discourage particular behaviors. The point of taxation is to raise funds to enable the government to fulfill its moral, political, and social responsibilities. It is true, as economist Arthur Laffer has made famous, that “when you tax something you get less of it, and when you reward something you get more of it.” But this reality, which takes into account how people respond to incentives, is secondary to the basic function of taxation. A corollary to the fundamental purpose of taxation (to raise money for government to function) is that any secondary purpose or consequence should not be confused for the primary purpose. To do so would be to hijack taxation and...


Beyond Timidity on Climate Justice

June 17, 2011by Benjamin G. Lee “We cannot afford more of the same timid politics, when the future of our planet is at stake.  Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now.” Those were Barack Obama’s words back in 2007, as a candidate campaigning in New Hampshire. Indeed the problem of global warming is happening now.  Temperatures measured around the globe continue to rise, glaciers that have existed since the last ice age have melted, and habitats of many plants and animals are shifting to higher latitudes.  Amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are higher than in the past 650,000 years and have dramatically risen by 40% since the start of the Industrial Revolution.  These are just a few of the facts that have convinced the vast majority of climate scientists that global warming is a serious, man-made problem. Now in office, how has the President fared in tackling climate change?  In his first year...


Let's Disagree, But Not Hate

June 17, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. Earlier this week, 24,000 pages of emails from Sarah Palin’s time as Alaska governor were released, as a result of a freedom of information request.  Journalists were looking for embarrassing material on a controversial figure.  Hundreds of news organizations combed through every page.  They didn’t find very much.  The Sarah Palin that emerges from the emails is considerate to her staff.  She takes her faith seriously.  She encouraged her employees to be honest with the media.  She is willing, on occasion, to praise Barack Obama.  She responds quickly to the concerns of her constituents.  The emails show a governor who cares deeply about her state and its people. This hunt for incriminating material tells us a lot about the press—concerned more...


End Educational Segregation

June  10, 2010by Ted Williams III Newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel campaigned on a promise to reform the city’s failing public schools. In his brief tenure, he has laid the groundwork for incentive-based pay based on the federal “Race to the Top” program, advocated a longer school day and school year, and has re-prioritized the focus of educational spending. In front of him lies the daunting challenge of changing a system that has struggled for years to provide an equal quality education for all.  It is a challenge that faces many mayors, and he must be applauded for confronting it in a bold and comprehensive manner. Yet as a resident of the city, an educator, and a parent, I must say that I am concerned that these reform efforts miss an important opportunity.  Private schools, specifically those with a religious mission, have proven to be effective alternatives to a struggling public school system. According to...


Moral Principles for a Healthy American Economy

June 10, 2011by Ryan Messmore A healthy economy enables citizens to fulfill their basic obligations—moral as well as financial.  These obligations include providing for themselves and their families and fulfilling responsibilities to the poor and to future generations.  The federal tax system plays an important role in shaping the American economy.  Many of the moral principles necessary for a free and just economy bear directly on questions of taxation.  To contribute to an ethically and financially healthy American economy, federal tax reform should adhere to several moral principles.  First, America’s tax system should enable the national government to perform its basic constitutional duties.  These duties include establishing justice and protecting the common good for present and future generations.      Second, taxation shouldn’t subsidize or encourage...


Stamp-Collectors, Tulip-Growers, and Poets

  June 10, 2011 by John Wilson June 30 marks the centenary of Czeslaw Milosz, the Nobel Prize-winning poet whose life, willy-nilly, was shaped by politics. “It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century,”  Milosz wrote in The Captive Mind, “that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.” This was a shock. After all, the “average human being, even if he had once been exposed to it, had written philosophy off as utterly impractical and useless. Therefore the great intellectual work of the Marxists could easily be passed off as just one more variation on a sterile pastime.” Milosz wrote these words after breaking with the postwar communist government in Poland. Defecting to France in 1951, he found himself in literary circles where communism was fashionable. When...


An Incremental Journey to Fiscal Stability

June 20, 2011by Michelle Kirtley Elections are won and lost on the basis of how Americans feel about the economy.  Yet for many Christians fiscal policy sounds as dry and disconnected from their spiritual view of the world as a macroeconomics textbook.  But, as Michael Gerson reminded us last week in these pages, “there is a moral value to economic growth.”  God designed man to work and create alongside Him, and Christians should advocate for “policies that encourage the creation of private sector jobs, which are a source of personal independence and dignity.” But which policies should we pursue? In the near term, there are a few proposals that Congress could enact in an effort to improve the economy, many of which have bipartisan support.  These policies are not designed to leap the tall buildings of high unemployment and trillion dollar...


Education Reform Under the Radar

June 3, 2011by Dave Larsen In “The Splendor of Cities,” a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, David Brooks describes accompanying Rahm Emanuel as he campaigned in the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago. A frequent topic raised by many Chicagoans they met along the way was the sorry state of education in the city and their hope that Emanuel could do something better, something dramatically significant. If nothing changes, the people fear their vital city may not prosper. Paddy Bauler was the bumbling and brawling Chicago alderman—and there have been many of them—famous for saying "Chicago ain't ready for reform." When it comes to education, Chicago is more than ready, and the demands for it are coming from many quarters: parents, educators, business interests, and politicians. Although most agree that the current situation is a vivid example of...


Federalism Is Not Enough

June 3, 2011 by Bill Gram-Reefer In his May 4 review of Congressman Ron Paul’s new book Liberty Defined, Joe Carter, at First Things, briskly outlines how American-style federalism falls short of the call for justice. In  “The Lives Federalists Won’t Save,” Carter notes how secular conservatives and even many pro-life Christians are tempted to make the same error. Touching on Roe v Wade and the Terry Schiavo case, Carter notes Congressman Paul’s preference for federalist procedure ahead of principle, notably in absolving the federal government from protecting human fetal life. The issue is much deeper than a matter of states rights, explains Carter. If any level of government fails to do its duty in defending and...


Beyond the Rush to Incarcerate

June 3, 2011by Harold Dean Trulear On May 23, the United States Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 margin to uphold a lower court decision requiring the state of California to reduce its prison population by up to 46,000 inmates due to overcrowding conditions which violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.  The decision in Brown vs. Plata comes twenty years after the filing of the initial class action lawsuit, and nearly a decade after California conceded that its overcrowding conditions actually were in violation of the Eighth Amendment.  But the legal battle to address the situation reflects the politicization of our prison system and the struggle to come to an American consensus around how we respond to criminal behavior in the press for public safety. Much of the arguments which led to the ruling, as well as popular responses to the proceedings, reflect existing political fault lines that have been forming at least...


The Moral Underpinnings of Capitalism

June 3, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.The last few weeks have brought disturbing economic news, renewing fears of long-term economic stagnation.  Economic growth is weak.  Unemployment remains high.  Nearly 6 million Americans have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks.  Nearly a million have given up looking for work entirely.  Housing prices have fallen for the seventh straight month, diminishing the main form of wealth held by many Americans. Massive public debt unsettles the markets and clouds our economic future.   These challenges should serve as a reminder: there is a moral value to economic growth.  In difficult economic times, it is important to pursue policies that serve the disadvantaged.  It is also important to pursue policies that increase wealth more broadly—policies...


Thinking Christianly about Debt, Spending and Taxes

May 27, 2011by Eric Teetsel I recently had the opportunity to speak at a Faith & Law gathering alongside my friend Tim King. This post is an abridged version of those remarks. The question this morning is “How should Christians think about debt, taxes, and spending?” It’s a timely question and one that is likely to remain relevant throughout the duration of President Obama’s term. Those involved in these policy debates would do well to remember that fiscal issues involve important moral questions. And so, it is quite appropriate to ask “How should Christians think about debt, taxes, and spending?” Before asking, “How should Christians think?” we must ask, “Why?” The answer is found in what Jesus deemed the most important commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This commandment tells us to worship God through stewardship of...


City Government and City Markets

May 27, 2011By Gideon Strauss In my article on Justice in place last week, I borrowed two distinct but equally necessary definitions of the word “city” from David Koyzis. On the one hand, “a city is a municipality, a differentiated, explicitly political subcommunity within the larger body politic”—a local community of government and citizens, commonly responsible for the exercise of public justice. On the other hand, “a city is a multifaceted network of local, differentiated communities—a community of communities—defying easy identification along social, economic, political or religious lines.” I then argued that the core task of the city in the first, political sense is to regulate or support the complex social fabric of public interdependencies that constitute the city in the second,...


A Good Tax-Reform Proposal

May 27, 2011by James W. Skillen In light of the fiscal issues currently facing our nation, Capital Commentary is reprinting an article from 2005 to catalyze a conversation on federal tax reform. Modest modifications to the mortage income deduction were included in the President's FY2012 budget. At a time of considerable turmoil and uncertainty in Washington, President Bush and Congress should take bipartisan action on a tax-reform proposal presented by the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform. Some may argue that the president is now so weakened by recent events and low poll numbers that he does not have the ability to push a major reform through Congress. After all, look what happened to his ardent, lengthy pitch for Social Security reform. Yet here is a proposal that could help reconnect the...


Moral Conversation and Christian Political Engagement

May 27, 20111by Timothy Sherratt Moral conversation about Medicare reform is part of democratic conversation, which is why we must have it. America’s democratic conversation is currently being played out in financial contributions, negative advertising and votes. Predictably, this week’s chatter is now focused on NY-26, Jack Kemp’s old seat no less, which, notwithstanding local circumstances, played the role of testing the Medicare reform waters—and elected a Democrat. Congressman Paul Ryan’s recent exchange of letters with Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, was the basis for Michael Gerson’s commentary last week. The exchange quickly brought out the usual skeptics. Some wonder if Ryan is looking for cover. Others worry that the Archbishop may have given it to him. Still others attribute to Archbishop Dolan a...


Are Christian School Graduates World-Changers?

May 20, 2011by Ray Pennings A few decades ago, Mark Noll wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind as an “epistle from a wounded lover,” lamenting that “there is not much of an evangelical mind.”  Christians have largely abandoned universities, the arts, and other realms of “high culture,” he argued. A decade later, Michael Lindsay reported the evangelical movement, usually thought of as belonging to the “disadvantaged ranks of the stratification system” had advanced in recent years so that “it now wields power in just about every segment of American society.”   These divergent perspectives, together with the current debate regarding how Christians might live out their calling to change the world come to mind as Cardus prepares to release the results of its comprehensive study of Christian education in North America.   For the past two years, our research...


Justice in Place

May 20, 2011by Gideon Strauss “Place is space that has historical meanings, where some things have happened that are now remembered and that provide continuity and identity across generations. Place is space in which important words have been spoken that have established identity, defined vocation, and envisioned destiny. Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued. Place is indeed a protest against the unpromising pursuit of space. It is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detachment, absence of commitment, and undefined...


Politics and Prose

May 20, 2011by Byron BorgerThis is the first in a series of articles by Byron Borger, introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice. Herman Dooyeweerd: Christian Philosopher of State and Civil Society, Jonathan Chaplin (University of Notre Dame, 2010)  Those that know the history of the Center for Public Justice know that its earliest founders were students of the complex works of Dutch scholar and legal theorist, Herman Dooyeweerd.   The rigorous philosopher did his work in the tradition of the wide-as-life Christian renewal of early 20th-century Holland led by Abraham Kuyper (who became the Prime Minister and helped forge a Christian political party that still inspires many to think faithfully about political life.)  This recent book is considered the finest exploration yet of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, especially as it...


A Moral Conversation About the Federal Budget

May 20, 2011by Michael Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. Any federal budget is filled with decisions that have moral implications.  But this does not mean that Christians can make simplistic moral judgments.  Politics is the realm of prudence.  Many decisions do not distinguish good from bad.  They are the weighing of relative goods.  A public official might need to balance environmental protection with maintaining jobs, or the creation of roads and parks with the demands of fiscal stewardship.  I’ve argued in the past that some budget issues are clear matters of conscience.  Cutting AIDS and malaria treatments would have a grave and measurable human cost.  It is neither just nor necessary to target the most vulnerable—particularly since such spending is a tiny portion of the total budget. But most federal budget...


A View from the Intersection of Church and State: Promoting Partnerships in both Obama and Bush Administrations

May 13, 2011by Ben O’Dell Over the past seven years, within both the Bush and Obama Administrations, I have had the pleasure of promoting partnerships between faith-based and neighborhood organizations and the federal government. Upon assuming control of the White House, the Obama Administration set out its own path, identifying specific differences that set faith-based and neighborhood partnerships apart from faith-based and community initiatives under the Bush Administration.  These include having specific policy priorities for these partnerships, creating an Advisory Courcil to provide feedback from stakeholders about how to improve this work, and  being up front about the lack of grant funding...


Vocational Stewardship Beyond Piety to Public Good

May 13, 2011by Amy L. Sherman Christians believe that God is on mission to bring restoration to every sector of life—and that following Jesus means joining Him on that mission. We need more creative thinking about what this means for our daily labors. Too often, counsel on integrating faith and work is exclusively pietistic. It’s about the kind of workers we should be: faithful, honest, caring, and evangelizing. While important, this says little about the work itself—and how it might be stewarded for the common good. Whether we’re architects or bankers or artists, we need to ask: What foretastes of the coming Kingdom could I facilitate through my vocation? Nehemiah’s story of the rebuilding of the city wall around Jerusalem is illuminating here. Without a strong city wall, Jerusalem was not a place of shalom. As my friend Rev. Scott Seaton of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church explains, in the...


How Might the Arts Be Funded?

May 13, 2011by Micah Mattix Earlier this year, when Senator Rand Paul proposed to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in his "Cut Federal Spending Act of 2011," it was but the latest call to defund or significantly lower the budget of the agency in its short and often precarious history. While Richard Nixon oversaw the agency's greatest expansion—more than quadrupling its budget in four years—in 1981, Ronald Reagan became the first President since the Endowment's inception in 1965 to propose a significant cut. The figure Reagan proposed was 50%, though ultimately the budget was cut by a little more than 10%. In part, Reagan was motivated by fiscal matters. Inflation was running in the teens and the country was badly in debt. However, President Carter's decision in 1977 to appoint Livingston Biddle, a Democratic insider, as chairman created the impression—rightly or wrongly—that the arts organization was being...


Now What? The Pursuit of Justice in a Post-bin Laden Afghanistan

May 13, 2011by Michelle Kirtley In the days following the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden some have called for a “recalibration” of our mission in Afghanistan, urging a swift exit from the country we have occupied for almost 10 years.  Bringing Osama bin Laden to justice was, after all, one of the primary reasons for invading Afghanistan and toppling the Taliban, who had provided him a safe place to plan and train for terror attacks around the world, including the awful attacks on September 11, 2001.  Just this week, a bipartisan group of House members sent a letter to President Obama, arguing that bin Laden’s death “require[s] us to reexamine our policy of nation building in Afghanistan. We believe it is no longer the best way to defend America against terror attacks, and we urge you to withdraw all...


Just War and Osama bin Laden (cont.)

May 6, 2011 Capital Commentary asked contributors to answer the question: In terms of just war doctrine, and given the facts publicly known, was the killing of Osama bin Laden a just act? (For a perspective on this question, among others, from Center for Public Justice CEO Gideon Strauss, see his recent Christianity Today article.) Public rhetoric related to news of Osama bin Laden’s death could easily lead us to believe that the military operation in Abbottabad was retributive, a meting out of vengeance upon a man who very much deserved it.  If revenge was indeed the intent, rather than a side effect, of the operation, it could be considered potentially unjust from a Christian perspective—and possibly counterproductive from a strategic perspective.     However, if we assume a non-retributive intent behind the operation—one of military necessity rather than of vengeance—then it was very...


Just War and Osama bin Laden (cont.)

May 6, 2011 Capital Commentary asked contributors to answer the question: In terms of just war doctrine, and given the facts publicly known, was the killing of Osama bin Laden a just act? (For a perspective on this question, among others, from Center for Public Justice CEO Gideon Strauss, see his recent Christianity Today article.) The fact that the Just War tradition exists at all indicates a critical distinction: while war is a great evil, it is sometimes not the greatest evil. A just war is, normatively, a greater good than an unjust peace. Osama bin Laden, the self-identified leader of a terrorist network, declared a war against the United States and her allies without any legitimate authority and manifested that declaration through the slaughter of innocents across our world. In adherence to the procedural and prudential Just War terms, bin Laden was rightly regarded as an enemy combatant. He was targeted and killed...


Just War and Osama bin Laden

May 6, 2011 Capital Commentary asked contributors to answer the question: In terms of just war doctrine, and given the facts publicly known, was the killing of Osama bin Laden a just act? (For a perspective on this question, among others, from Center for Public Justice CEO Gideon Strauss, see his recent Christianity Today article.)   As a Christian soldier, much about the War on Terrorism gives me pause: not this. The targeted killing of Osama bin Laden was the ultimate precision strike, carried out in a manner that ensured that the enemy combatant himself was attacked with a minimum risk to noncombatants. It was discriminate, proportional, and a military necessity. He was a combatant. He planned, trained, coordinated, financed, and inspired the...


Osama bin Laden: Criminal or Enemy Combatant?

May 6, 2011by Michael J. GersonThis is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. This week’s killing of Osama bin Laden ignited celebrations, as well as a public debate on the use of force in the war on terrorism.  To some, this act seemed more like revenge than justice.  They would have preferred to see punishment come after the decision of a jury, not after the decision of the president, who set the rules of engagement that resulted in bin Laden’s death. The most important moral distinction here is between the commission of a crime and the conduct of a war.  If bin Laden’s acts of mass murder on American soil were crimes—as in the case of the Oklahoma City bombing—then the proper setting for his punishment would be a court.  If the 9/11 attacks were an act of war, then an enemy combatant has a different status.  Pakistan would clearly be a...


Small Steps Forward on Climate Change and Public Justice

April 29, 2011by Rusty PritchardApplying the CPJ Environmental Guideline faithfully at national and international levels to the issue of climate change is obstructed by an ideological divide among Americans, including Christians. The guideline defends the role of governments in protecting the common good and engaging in sensible and proactive regulation of harmful practices. These are consonant with historic, traditional conservatism, which would believe in the conservation of conditions for families to flourish, whether environmental conditions or social. Strangely, progressives have begun to accept many conservative contributions to the solution of environmental problems: the expansion of private property rights in the management of key natural resources, the reliance on market mechanisms like cap-and-trade rather than...


Politics in Context

April 29, 2011by Gideon Strauss I am writing this after the first day of attending the Q conference in Portland, Oregon. Q is an annual gathering “where church and cultural leaders come together to collaborate and explore ideas about how the gospel can be expressed within our cultural context.” As I listened and participated in yesterday’s conversations, I am reflecting on how the calling to graceful citizenship connects with the way in which the gospel is expressed in contemporary American politics. Two words are standing out for me in these reflections: vocation and future. The framing presentation for the conference was from my dear friend Steven Garber, of the Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation, and Culture. Steven spoke on vocation, reflecting on ways in...


The Call of the Hour: A True Christian Approach to Politics

April 29, 2011Ted Williams III This week I found myself involved in a spirited Facebook debate on the impact of the Obama presidency. This debate, held among members of my church community, was filled with such acrimony that it became obvious why many churches avoid politics like the plague. There were well-defined camps of both liberals and conservatives, and neither seemed willing to acquiesce an inch to the other side. I forgot for a moment I was witnessing a debate among people with the same Lord and faith. What became evident through this debate was that the Christian community desperately needs biblical direction and healthy platforms for conversation and engagement around the intersection of faith and politics. The challenge surrounding Christian civic involvement is clear. America’s two major political parties frame our debates in ways that falsely demonize and isolate those with different opinions. This is often done in an effort to...


Political Symbolism and Elevated Political Discourse

April 29, 2011by Timothy Sherratt In 1964, Murray Edelman’s The Symbolic Uses of Politics distinguished between political symbols that gave imaginative expression to substantive policies and those that merely substituted symbol for substance. As Michael Gerson’s piece on Former Congressman Tony Hall’s recent fast demonstrates, Hall’s action falls wholly into the first category. It was undertaken against a background of commitment to the plight of the poor and hungry in every position the Ambassador Hall has held. It mirrors, too, an earlier fast in 1993 on the occasion of the eclipse of the House Select Committee on Hunger. Hall’s credibility separates his action from hollow symbolism and raises real questions about the place of this traditional Christian practice in contemporary policy deliberation. Gerson frames Hall’s action as a call to responsible governing, arguing that at a time of budgetary crisis,...


One of the Most Important Jobs in the World: Being a Father

April 22, 2011by Ben O’Dell In his 2010 Father’s Day remarks, the President emphasized how important his responsibility in the East Wing as Father is compared to his role as President in the West Wing.   “Over the course of my life, I have been an attorney, I’ve been a professor, I’ve been a state senator, I’ve been a U.S. senator -- and I currently am serving as President of the United States.  But I can say without hesitation that the most challenging, most fulfilling, most important job I will have during my time on this Earth is to be Sasha and Malia’s dad.” Since 2006, the President has used Father’s Day as an opportunity to draw attention to the importance of fatherhood and the crisis in communities where many fathers are absent.  As Senator, the President sponsored legislation supporting fatherhood. Upon his election as President, he has translated that message into...


Christ is Risen!

April 22, 2011by Gideon Strauss "Christ is risen!" "He is risen indeed!" "Alleluia!" These affirmations will ring loudly around the world as Christians celebrate Easter.  That Christ is risen is the central reality of the Christian life—and the public truth central to all of reality. The resurrection of Christ is the hope by which Christians live and the hope that enlivens the prospect of the world to come: a world in which all will be made right, God's creatures will flourish in a peaceable order, and God will be glorified.  It is the risen Christ who calls us to himself. It is by Christ's death and resurrection that we can answer the call. And it is as we answer this call that we find ourselves walking a way that includes faithful service for the good of our neighbors.  Serving the good of our neighbors includes serving the common good in the public realm. Making a contribution to the political life...


"Come now, let us reason together"—Civil Discourse and Cognitive Bias

April 22, 2011by Jason E. Summers In a recent article in Capital Commentary Richard J. Mouw wrote, "the specific traits associated with civility are...essential to the Christian life." Yet the traits that give rise to incivility are as closely tied to our humanity through our underlying mental apparatus. Civility requires that we see others as equals in dignity and right to conscience. Michael J. Gerson has previously asserted in this space that for Christians, this flows from our shared status as bearers of the Imago Dei. Nonetheless, despite my own commitment to civility, I often view those I disagree with as biased and irrational, driven more by ideology and prejudices than by careful reflection. In their failures, I offer judgment rather than mercy...


Fasting for Hunger Prevention

April 22, 2011by Michael J. GersonThis is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. Former congressman and ambassador Tony Hall is one of the most principled men in American public life.  As a Democratic member of congress, he focused public attention on food insecurity, helping found the Select Committee on Hunger.  As an ambassador appointed by President George W. Bush, he carried this anti-hunger message to the United Nations.  As the current head of the National Alliance to End Hunger, he is a voice for the world’s most vulnerable.  As an evangelical Christian leader, Hall has been a model of conscience and integrity, consistently calling our nation to acts of mercy.  Nearly a month ago, Hall began a fast to protest proposed cuts in domestic and international programs that confront hunger and preventable disease.  Fasting is a long Christian tradition,...


Recovering a Gospel-Centered Approach to Politics

  April 15, 2011by Jack Porter “Hello, my name is Jack and I am a recovering former member of the vast right wing conspiracy.”  During my tenure in the Bush Administration, I was actually on some web site’s list of what then First Lady Hillary Clinton dubbed the “vast right wing conspiracy.”   I wasn’t involved in any conspiracy, but the truth is, I did drink very deeply from the cup of an extreme conservative agenda.  Now that I have returned to Pittsburgh, I have begun to reexamine my political views, especially in light of Catholic Social Teaching and my thirty-year involvement with the Center for Public Justice.   Some of my former views will survive this new scrutiny; some may not.  But in the end, my politics will be more soberly grounded in my faith.  Thanks be to God, I am not alone on the path of recovery.  Recently about 80 people gathered in...


Ethics of Defense Spending

April 15, 2011by Jonathan Shine Like most good policy debates, the issue of reining in our federal budget goes well beyond “what works” to “what’s right;” it is a moral argument. But how do we parse the morality of the Defense budget to know what’s right? Whenever people talk about the Defense budget, two things come up: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the fact that we spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined.  Like most major Defense acquisitions, the F-35 costs a lot and doesn't actually exist yet.  It is supposed to be the most technologically advanced, and therefore the most expensive, air platform in history.  Obviously, where there is waste and fraud all citizens should deplore it and applaud its being brought to light.  At the same time, the American way of war is to show up for the fight with the absolute best equipment and training.  We do not...


Drawing the Line Somewhere

April 15, 2011by Aaron Belz The English novelist G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.” I recently tweeted this quote, and a friend cheekily replied, “Or building a statue somewhere.” It took me days to understand what my friend meant, but now I think I’ve got it. In our perennial need to define true from false, good from bad, law-abiding from criminal, we not only mark and enforce boundaries but erect monuments. Our monuments form the objects of our civic worship, gravitational centers of cultus. Consider the degree to which the Statue of Liberty defines our national identity. For Americans, she is both beautiful and true. So the mission of art and the mission of government overlap in multiple ways. Art and government are means by which we organize and govern ourselves, give definition to our most cherished beliefs. But what struck me when I first...


Politics: A Christian Duty

April 15, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. At a recent Center for Public Justice event in Chicago, I met several people who are involved in their community, deeply committed to their faith—but seriously disillusioned by the political process.  Some were disappointed by leaders they once admired. Others wonder if their views and voices really matter in the larger scheme of things.       These attitudes are not uncommon.  Political engagement is difficult and sometimes disappointing.  The tone of modern politics can be bitter and distasteful.  Many Christians are tempted to retreat into the security of their families and into the sanctuary of their churches.  Some Christian leaders have even recommended a sabbatical from politics, arguing that it would be better for believers to focus on living...


Just War Doctrine and Libya (continued)

I wish this issue were as simple as the "responsibility to protect."  The international community often has not done what it should to protect innocent lives, especially during the 1980s in the Great Lakes region of Africa when 800,000 died.  However, it is much less clear that the "responsibility to protect" is applicable to places such as Bosnia and Libya.  Innocent lives are threatened in Libya by both sides. The international community is essentially intervening in a civil war, which should be seen as something for the people involved to sort out. Also, while the Obama administration has stated clearly that Gaddafi must go, the U.N. is not working under any such mandate.  They are there only to “protect" innocent civilians.  These differences beg the question: when will we know when the issue is resolved?  Intervention in this civil war contains further unknowns: we have no idea who the rebels are.  And, more,...


Dialogue I

Aril 8, 2011 Capital Commentary asked contributors, "What does just war doctrine have to say about America participating in a military intervention in Libya?" In their recent book on jus post bellum, After the Smoke Clears, Mark Allman and Tobias Winright insist, as George Weigel did before them, on the importance of prioritizing telos (which Weigel defines as tranquillitas ordinis, or the “peace of public order in political community”) across the entire trajectory of a conflict or intervention.  Not only is a clear picture of telos important in ad bellum and in bello decision-making, Allman and Winright argue that it is meant to serve as an organizing principle in the imagining and planning of the postwar environment – a point they believe has been oft-neglected in the...


Comments on the Libya Intervention in Light of Just War Doctrine on 'Right Authority'

April 8, 2011by Jean Bethke Elshtain What does just war teaching offer us as we consider American intervention in Libya? As most readers of these commentaries know, just war consists of two parts: jus ad bellum, the justification (or not) for embarking on military action and jus in bello, the norms to be followed when an army fights. The most critical norms defining jus ad bellum are legitimate authority, response to an act of aggression or the imminent threat of such (and even this is highly controversial), probability of success, and right intention. Some also add that force should be a “last resort,” but this was not central to just war teaching historically. As we consider Libya, the first question is right authority. Who can legitimately send young men and women into war? The answer for centuries has been the sovereign state. Post World War II, efforts have been made to locate right authority within...


Politics: A Christian Duty

April 8, 2011by Michael Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. At a recent Center for Public Justice event in Chicago, I met several people who are involved in their community, deeply committed to their faith—but seriously disillusioned by the political process.  Some were disappointed by leaders they once admired. Others wonder if their views and voices really matter in the larger scheme of things.       These attitudes are not uncommon.  Political engagement is difficult and sometimes disappointing.  The tone of modern politics can be bitter and distasteful.  Many Christians are tempted to retreat into the security of their families and into the sanctuary of their churches.  Some Christian leaders have even recommended a sabbatical from politics, arguing that it would be better for believers to focus on living...


Entrepreneurship and Prison Re-entry

April 1, 2011by Harold Dean Trulear Ten years ago, in 2001, President George W. Bush signed an executive order creating the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives. Atop his agenda for this office was the ability of religious and community organizations to partner with government to help those in situations and communities of distress, notably those impacted by crime and incarceration. Its mission reflected research and practice demonstrating the potential of faith based organizations to provide social capital in distressed areas. The issues of crime, incarceration and criminal justice were addressed through initiatives such as the establishment of federal support for mentoring children of prisoners, job training for those returning from incarceration, and the bipartisan effort to pass the Second Chance Act, appropriating federal dollars for criminal justice agencies, faith based non-profits, and community organizations to provide...


The Civility Mandate

April 1, 2011by Richard J. Mouw When John Murray Cuddihy gave the title, The Ordeal of Civility, to his important 1974 book on civility, he was not engaging in hyperbole.  Civility is no easy virtue to cultivate for people who are serious about their basic beliefs. Civility is public politeness; it requires us to display tact, nice­ness, moderation—all the stuff that goes into being "civilized." The “ordeal,” Cuddiy argued, was trying to pull this off without compromising the deep beliefs that are embedded in our “sacred particularity.” So, how do we cultivate civility without compromising our strong convictions? It helps a lot to recognize that the specific traits associated with civility are themselves essential to the Christian life. It isn’t as if our Christianity inclines us toward an arrogant spirit that we must hold in check in the here-and-now as we wait things out amidst the messiness of our sinful...


Defining the Role of Government

April 1, 2011by Amy E. Black Four months after Ivory Coast’s presidential election, Laurent Gbagbo refuses to cede power to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally-recognized winner. Amidst growing violence and unrest, the nation stands on the brink of civil war. Thousands of citizens are pouring into the streets demanding an end to authoritarian regimes in popular uprisings across much of North Africa and the Middle East. More than a year after the devastating earthquake that claimed more than 230,000 lives, about a million Haitians remain in temporary shelters with most of the rubble yet to be cleared. These and other news headlines from across the globe remind us of the need for robust democratic governments. Yet far too many in the United States take their government for granted. We assume that elections will occur at regular intervals without violence and bloodshed.  We expect easy and safe transitions of political power. We are...


Libya and the Dilemmas of Overseas Intervention

April 1, 2011by David T. Koyzis There is longstanding disagreement over when, where and whether the United States is justified in intervening in trouble spots overseas. Clearly we cannot police the whole globe, as that would ultimately exhaust our limited resources. Some would prefer that the US withdraw from any and all foreign ventures and focus instead on domestic matters. This policy was followed between the two world wars but failed due to the aggressive ambitions of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. Assuming instead that intervention may be occasionally necessary, proponents of intervention divide themselves into two camps. First are those who believe that the US has an obligation to use its considerable power to protect and even to project abroad the ideals of liberty and justice that undergird the American political project. They regret that we did not intervene in Rwanda to end the genocide in 1994 and would have us acting elsewhere to...


Natural Law, Common Grace, and Public Justice

March 25, 2011by Vincent Bacote Last month I was a participant in a conference entitled “Natural Law and Evangelical Political Thought” at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA.  Featuring addresses by Robert P. George and J. Budziszewski along with several panel discussions, the conference allowed participants to  actually “confer” about the several aspects of natural law—the idea that there are moral norms common to all humans and intelligible to all. Among some of the more intriguing and surprising elements of the conference were presentations related to Karl Barth and natural law (with the surprising suggestion that the later Barth may have been less resistant to the idea of natural law), the work of C.S. Lewis as a bridge to evangelical engagement with natural law, and a presentation interacting with the concept of the church as counter-polis....


Slow Politics

March 25, 2011by Gideon Strauss “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” —Tim Keller, Generous Justice I'll start out by confessing that I quite like fast food. Especially when traveling, grabbing a warm hamburger and fries or a slice of pizza not only fuels me up for the road, but provides a certain kind of solace. There is much to like about fast food: it is quick, cheap, and easy. But I recognize that, as a steady diet, most fast food is unhealthy, wasteful, and dislocated—disconnected from local economies and communities. Discontent with fast food has led to the emergence of a movement of people who prefer Slow Food. Slow Food emphasizes taste, health, and local connections … and it is admittedly harder to prepare, costlier to buy, and demanding of investments of time, money, and energy. I can understand, therefore,...


What It Takes to Love Orphans

March 25, 2011by Jedd Medefind   The unmatched significance of the family is perhaps never more visible than when a child must face the world without one.   The depth of each orphan’s sorrow and struggle can leave us breathless, while the scope of what many call the “global orphan crisis” can paralyze.  But ultimately, both the breadth and the depth of orphan need must lead us to and then beyond the mass scale solutions that can be furnished by government and NGOs alone.  The homes and the church must play the watershed role. Studies of orphans worldwide consistently lay bare the inadequacy of mass scale care for children.  Commodities like food, shelter and medicine are vital, and can often be effectively delivered by the machinery of governments and NGOs.  But that same machinery proves utterly insufficient to meet the...


International Intervention in Libya

March 25, 2011by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. The wisdom of American military action in Libya has been debated on both sides.  But the moral principle guiding this intervention is an important one.  It is called “the responsibility to protect,” and it has informed the reactions of America and the United Nations in this crisis.   This principle emerged as the result of a terrible history.  The 20th century was scarred by a series of genocides and mass atrocities, including Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, in which the world stood by and watched.   I have visited the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, and stood near the common graves of more than 250,000 people who were killed in the course of 100 days—just a portion of the total.  The memorial symbolizes both the magnitude of the crime, and the indifference of other...


Seeing the World Through the Lens of Hope

March 18, 2011by Michelle Kirtley Most Christians agree with Paul that the resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christian faith: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).   But what difference does it make—to our work, to our relationships, to the work of social justice—that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead?  This is the question New Testament scholar N.T. Wright addresses in Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  Written primarily to reshape the Christian worldview around the hope of the resurrection, Wright’s insights necessarily also speak to how Christians engage in public justice.  After introducing his argument, Wright places the resurrection in its historical context—the...


The Politics of the Psalms

March 18, 2011by David T. Koyzis Perhaps it has something to do with my first name, but I have always been fascinated by the biblical book of the Psalms. I grew up singing from a hymn book in which the Psalms set to meter were given a prominent place. The liturgical practice of singing the Psalms has ancient roots going back to temple and synagogue worship, finding its way also into Christian churches. It is thus not surprising that, until the end of the 18th century, the majority of Protestants sang from metrical psalters containing all 150 Psalms. Most Protestants since then have abandoned this practice, but many in the Reformed tradition have held to it, glorifying God, as it is often said, in his own words. One of the characteristics of the Psalms is their earthiness. In contrast to some religions in which the divine is portrayed as a static something to which the soul strives to...


The Crisis of Global Poverty

March 18, 2011 by Brian FikkertFor a poor person everything is terrible—illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of. —Poor Woman from Moldova An estimated 2.6 billion people, approximately 40% of the world’s population, live on less than $2 per day.  At the same time, even the average resident of Canada or the U.S. is one of the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth. How shall Christians respond to this crisis?  The Center for Public Justice Guideline on Economic Justice provides a helpful starting point. Creative Image Bearers vs. Materialistic Consumers The Guideline argues that as beings created in the image of God, humans are to...


Forty Years of Loving, and Then the Tsunami

March 18, 2011 by Jim Stout “How do I reach the Japanese people for Christ?”       “Go and love them.”“Got it—then what?”      “Love them.”“OK then what?”                “Keep on loving them.”“How long to I have to do that for before they will be interested in hearing about Christ?”      “Spend 30 years or so loving these people and maybe then they will be willing to listen.” Such was a conversation that took place 40 years ago between my then 20-something father-in-law and a missionary mentor he was preparing to replace in Japan.  My father-in-law Cal Cummings was fresh out of college, passionate to make a difference in the lives of the people he had just fallen in love...


A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Dialogue

March 11, 2011 Last week the Center for Public Justice along with Evangelicals for Social Action and several charter signatories, including Richard Mouw, H. Dean Trulear, and Stanley Carlson-Thies, issued A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis. (You may also want to read our editorial statement on the Call from last week.) We asked a few signatories and non-signatories to write about their reasons for signing or not signing the Call.  YES: I support this statement because it weaves together two priorities: we must reduce our public debt, and we must love the needy.  If we don't reduce our debt, we will steal from the next...


A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Dialogue (continued):

March 11, 2011 Last week the Center for Public Justice along with Evangelicals for Social Action and several charter signatories, including Richard Mouw, H. Dean Trulear, and Stanley Carlson-Thies, issued A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis. (You may also want to read our editorial statement on the Call from last week.) We asked a few signatories and non-signatories to write about their reasons for signing or not signing the Call. YES: This effort merits attention and support.  As a Christian initiative, it brings a prophetic perspective to the policy debate. The founding signers write: Reforming our culture of debt is not just the responsibility of...


Dueling Cynicisms

March 11, 2011by Aaron Belz (This is the third installment in an irregular series on poetry and politics.)I love poetry. I shiver reading lines like these from T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land (1922): “‘You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; / ‘They called me the hyacinth girl.’ /  —Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden, / Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not / Speak…”  Or these, from William Wordsworth: “In thy voice I catch / The language of my former heart, and read / My former pleasures in the shooting lights / Of thy wild eyes.”   I love poetry because it is immediate, sensory, and summons some of my most difficult and beautiful memories—often resulting in a desire to perambulate through late afternoon side-streets, enter tiny shops and see what they have for sale. Or it is philosophical, mind-bending, hare-brained, maddening in a most satisfactory...


Debt, Courage, and Wisdom

March 11, 2011 by Michael J. Gerson This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.Recently, a number of evangelical leaders joined together to approve the Call for Intergenerational Justice, an important expression of Christian conscience.  I endorsed that document as well. It makes a two-fold case.  First,