Russell Moore on Religious Liberty

 

Keynote Address

Acton University 2017

Russell Moore heads the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention.

His after dinner keynote at Acton University hit the power chords on the issues of freedom of conscience in a free society.

What follows is a combination of brief notes and my observations/commentary.

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Many secularists today encourage us to keep our beliefs out of the public marketplace of ideas. They have no place to put things like:

…being motivated by religious conscience…

We get the feeling that we have other motivations, such as some kind of power grab which they need to block.

We have two challenges before us:

  1. Internal. Helping religious-minded people understand why religious liberty matters. Is the state God? The final authority? What limits the state’s sovereignty? The first amendment starting with religious freedom shows a “priority of conscience” which limits the state.
  2. External. Helping secularists understand that freedom to believe is more than private thinking. It is a freedom to act in spiritually motivated ways. Helping secularists better understand spiritual motivation.

Some thoughts/points:

  • Is “majoritarianism” the solution to everything? Winner takes all?
  • Can those with exclusive truth claims exist with others? Of course, they tend to be the best at it because of clarity. Exclusivists (with deontological postulates) who believe in religious liberty don’t want to coerce others to believe what they believe. A coerced Christian message (or Gospel) is not a Gospel at all.
  • Growing secularism forces us to self-define. This is a good thing. But we have to do the work of making it happen. Intellectual laziness comes easily.
  • We don’t have more atheists today. We have more HONEST atheists.
  • A majoritarian view of politics is a problem, secular OR religious. 
  • The temptation to use state coercion (force) to eliminate OR establish religion runs totally counter to our founding DNA in America. The founders clearly opposed both. De facto elimination (from the public square) of anything supernatural is an intellectual gutter ball. The tension (and there is indeed tension) must be held, and common sense must prevail in case-to-case situations.
  • The state does not have the capacity or authority to referee between truth claims. Eliminating the Design Argument from classrooms is over-reaching.
  • Advocacy for religious freedom is an offensive (literally) act. We can’t just play defense.
  • Those of us who are religiously motivated need to claim the power to have honest discussions in the public square.
  • The state does not settle every issue. No one believes that the state does NOT equal “highest truth.”
  • A state that can pave over conscience can do anything.
  • People with vague beliefs and no real church/God often over-identify personally with a political movement (right or left).
  • We don’t want to be persecutors OR to be persecuted.
  • There is something more important than Caesar. Caesar is not God. 

 

 

How Long do Big-Name Pastors Preach? (Average Sermon Length)

 

Great article by Justin Trapp on his blog.

Full article: http://justintrapp.com/the-average-sermon-length-of-these-10-well-known-pastors/

How long are sermons at your church?

Most people think “shorter is better.”

Some very effective pastors would beg to differ:

For the record, my sermons at Robinwood Church in Huntington Beach, CA, average 36 to 41 minutes over the last half year.

You can listen to all of them on SoundFaith: https://soundfaith.com/profile/robinwood-church

Or just look us up on iTunes under “Podcast Robinwood Church.”

Dazzling Television from India

 

It’s a strong statement to make, but Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (SRT to keep my spell checker from having an aneurism) may be the best series I’ve ever seen on television.

Spectacularly filmed in a kaleidoscope of colors and textures, SRT uses a palette of rich but calm images that come straight out of the conflicts of the heart, but never losing a playful feel.

Set in Bengal in the early part of the 20th century, the growing pains of an emerging educated Indian middle and upper class get twisted up in old Indian traditions. Tagore, ever the master story teller, unrolls tales with rich and fallbile characters thrust into responsible positions but often exhibiting almost adolescent immaturity and inability to cope.

Lots of dancing outdoor light on a pre-electronic, pre-frantic but prosperous Bengal landscape.

Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-Euro/American to win the Nobel prize for literature. Without going aerobic, he runs an astounding emotional range from suicidal to childish/quirky. None of his characters resemble other characters. Far from being a one trick pony, Tagore gives us a whole emotional zoo.

You can catch the series on Netflix. 26 episodes.

“Public Choice” -Liberty Vocabulary

 

If you listen to political or economic podcasts, read blogs and journals, or go to lectures, the phrased “public choice” will be bandied about.

Once we get a working knowledge of any topic (say….econ or politics) we often stop learning terminology, because we can gather the gist of what is being said by the context.

Pubic Choice is a microeconomic tool used to critique political structures, especially constitutions and the like.

It is a peer-reviewed science, and tries to understand, in economic terms, why people do what they do and vote the way they do.

How does consensus work? And how much unanimity do you need? Does the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) affect group decisions, and if so, how? Is utility for the majority, or a sense of justice which drives most people in public decision-making?

One of the problems with “majority rules” voting is that, scientifically speaking, decisions are more often than not favored which are less beneficial and cost more, rather than the other way around. Hello, $20 trillion deficit. 

Public Choice thought has exposed the idea of rent seeking (which I will explore soon in Life & Liberty). Rent seeking happens when incentives get mixed up when the government can offer certain advantages to certain individuals or groups. These protected entities tend to become monopolies. Thus the government, rather than protecting us from monopolies, is often tempted (by self interest) to go on multiplying and creating them, knowing that people would rather earn rent (cash flow from a stake in something) than work for money.

Public Choice thought tends to have an anti-statist bent, mostly because of its ongoing critique of the misplaced incentives in public bureaucracies as opposed to those in private corporations. Bureaucrats owe their allegiance to those above them who appoint them, and they lead a large, protected class of civil servants below them. Their tendency (behaviorally) is to please their appointers rather than the public which they “swear” to serve. Whereas no one on the private sector food chain, from CEO to laborer, can afford to take her/his eyes off of the well-being of the customer for very long.

It is especially controversial right now, because of Nancy McLean’s jeremiad against libertarianism, Democracy in Chains.

MacLean focuses on James Buchanan, her “bete noir,” who was prominent proponent of Public Choice thought. Buchanan and four other Public Choice scholars have won Nobel Prizes in Economics, including Vernon Smith whom I was privileged to meet in 2016 at Acton University.

MacLean sees a vast right-wing conspiracy, masquerading as science, which uses Public Choice data as a way to keep African Americans from voting. She presents no evidence for this; in fact, many Public Choice scholars were strident activists against Apartheid in South Africa.

This should be enough to get you started. But certainly not enough to explain it. Have a look around and let me know what you find.

For a great, simple slide show on Public Choice, click HERE.

For more info, check out the Wikipedia entry on Public Choice.

There is a Journal called Public Choice.

TrumpCare? ObamaCare? No thank you…

 

Both TrumpCare and ObamaCare are disasters.

Put together by politicians who have Cadillac health care plans and zero professional experience in medicine or insurance (with tiny exceptions like Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist). It’s ironic that John McCain could not make it to the vote because he was enjoying co-pay-free surgery at the time.

And what does Trump know about these things? He doesn’t even HAVE insurance because billionaires are simply self-insured by their net worth.

TrumpCare and ObamaCare are horrifically bad compromises between government control and free enterprise, somehow managing to avoid the benefits of either school of thought!

The benefits of socialized medicine:
  • It’s universal. Everyone has it and no one is left out. ObamaCare fails here, and TrumpCare leaves an even bigger “coverage gap.”
  • It’s streamlined. No layering of private/public bureaucracies which just over-feed each other and drive down efficiency and transparency, and drive up costs.
The benefits of a free enterprise health care system:
  • Competition. Which creates innovation and improvements. Look at the explosion of cell phone technology once government got out of the phone business.
  • Cost. What are the two fastest-improving segments of health care with dramatically falling prices? Lasik eye surgery and cosmetic surgery. Why? Because they aren’t under the control of government/insurance juntas.
  • The free market makes a huge effort to serve everyone (notice the dollar menu at the drive thru), and it is not incompatible with a basic social safety net for the poorest of the poor.
We end up with the worst of both systems with ObamaCare AND TrumpCare:
  • We have capitalism without competition (because of government control) which leads to price gouging and a total lack of pricing transparency. Heavy regulation favors the big boys of insurance and health care chains, because no startups can afford regulatory compliance. This is known as “regulatory capture” and monopolization.
  • We have “socialized” medicine without total coverage of the population; and so many layers of administration that the average person has no clue how to navigate the system.
  • The “Affordable Care Act (ACA)” has universally and dramatically driven up prices for both health care and insurance. It has been the polar opposite of “affordable.”
  • The truth is, it may not be feasible to administer any total-care system in a vast, continental empire of 335 million people. The necessary hierarchical layers would choke the whole thing. Poster-child examples tend to be little nations in Europe with the population of Orange County.
We have three options outside of the hideously dysfunctional non-option of ObamaCare or TrumpCare.
  1. Single-payer government health care. Even those who hate socialism can grant that it would be better than what we have now.
  2. A total free market. Don’t underestimate the power of the market to try to serve everyone, and to do it in better and better ways. The incentives are in the right place.
  3. Something way more creative which preserves competition and total coverage in a creative blend. That’s above my pay grade and certainly above the pay grade of your average senator.

The Conservative Case for Workers’ Unions

We all know that the “pendulum” swings back and forth over time as to many issues. And, although I never thought I would say this, one pendulum swing that should happen again regards what I call voluntary workers’ unions. I came to that conclusion after reading an article by Jonathan Rauch in the July/August issue of The Atlantic entitled “The Conservative Case for Unions.” As we all know, private-sector labor unions in the past had become so powerful that they could sometimes dictate how many companies could do business. So eventually the reaction against that power became so strong that laws were passed, along with many bureaucratic regulations and court interpretations  that specifically prohibited creative ways of forming unions, and those already formed were forbidden from engaging in a number of activities. Public unions (a real problem) are a whole ‘nother issue for another time. But, Liberty-lovers should always be in favor of voluntary associations.

Times have certainly changed, but the restrictive laws have not; laws which (mostly) prohibit the formation of such things as creative “workers’ unions.” Even if not fully empowered to negotiate wages, engage in strikes, or be involved in collective bargaining issues, workers’ unions can serve other functions. For example, almost all surveys of lower economic-level workers show their biggest complaint being a lack of respect and a feeling of diminishment in how they are treated in the workplace. So a workers’ union could 1) give the workers a unified voice, and 2) address and propose resolutions for things such as workplace safety issues. In addition, it would allow the workers to pursue (together with management) innovations like helping the administration of government-funded unemployment, health and benefit plans, wage insurance, and even serve as employment agencies. Liberty allows for innovation and change and, in this area, Liberty is being stifled.

-Judge Jim Gray, from his “Two Paragraphs for Liberty” series. Slightly edited.

Candidate for Vice President of the United States in 2012 on Governor Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party ticket. 

The Vocation Revolution. Martin Luther and 500 Year Reformation Anniversary

 

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is more or less the “Hamilton” of Germany this year–with a strange crossover merging pop culture and history.

What follows are my notes from a lecture at Acton University 2017 by Jordan Ballor (PhD Zürich); including some of my insights and comments. 

What is your vocation?

Before Martin Luther, the medieval view distributed the population into somewhat static “roles” (the military and clergy always being the exceptions; avenues of flexible upward mobility). One did one’s duty within the expectations of one’s place, and was rewarded with being worthy of approval.

There were mundane professions, on the one hand, and the way of perfection on the other.

Many look at the 1517 Reformation in economic terms, but the focus on vocational revolution was stronger.

Luther, personally, walked through a vocational transformation at the same time he was transforming Europe. This had theological, social, economic, and political implications. The “rood screen” between the “robed ones” in the choir and clergy and the unwashed laity sitting on the floor (religious and mundane), was removed, shuffling the ordered deck of medieval “role” cards.

Luther expounded the Bible texts “QVIA HODIE” (for today). He opposed the popular and libertine wings of the Reformation, asking rather “What is the faithful Christian to do…today?”

He appealed to the Christian nobility, and to Charles the emperor, in vocational terms. He called Charles to his vocational duty as emperor to call a great council (as Constantine had done), basically saying, “You can reform the oikumene.”

Martin Luther’s vocation: faithful exposition of scripture. 1520: temporal authority needs to act. But he knew Charles might fail to do so, and felt it correct, in this case, for local authorities and universities to do so in response to the emperor’s vocational failure.

What started as a theological dispute became a project for reforming all of life.

Luther held a pre-modern, pre-enlightenment worldview. He saw there being two kingdoms (sacred and secular); each consisting of three estates:

  • Household/oikonomia
  • State/polis
  • Church/ekklesia

Max Weber, in his study of the “Protestant work ethic,” was “off” in many ways. Capitalism existed long before the Reformation. But why only in the West was there thorough organization of labor and rational bookkeeping?

Weber explored the motivations behind Protestants. Why would they work so hard and in this way?

Weber traced some of it back to Luther, who equalized all vocations in the eyes of God. In doing so, he brought dignity to everyday work. Our “jobs” acquired a spiritual aspect, whether or not our vocations had anything to do with religious work.

Luther introduced the idea that all Christians have an equal vocation of following Christ, and thus their various forms daily work (some glamorous–some not) was of parallel value.

Luther never fully worked it out–this was left to the Reformed tradition, including Kuyper, and others.

But the wheels were set in motion and the train had left the station…

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Please go back to the main page and scroll down to see all the Acton University lectures I attended.

The House Is Burning…

A message by Pastor Dana Hanson, ELCA pastor in Los Angeles.

Honoring God means honoring Jesus. Everyone is called to acknowledge what he has done for them, give thanks, and trust in his way.