Friday, March 28, 2008

Compassionate Conservatives

Bleeding Hearts but Tight Fists
By George F. Will
Thursday, March 27, 2008 (

Residents of Austin, home of Texas's government and flagship university, have very refined social consciences, if they do say so themselves, and they do say so, speaking via bumper stickers. Don R. Willett, a justice of the state Supreme Court, has commuted behind bumpers proclaiming "Better a Bleeding Heart Than None at All," "Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Beauty," "The Moral High Ground Is Built on Compassion," "Arms Are For Hugging," "Will Work (When the Jobs Come Back From India)," "Jesus Is a Liberal," "God Wants Spiritual Fruits, Not Religious Nuts," "The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans," "Republicans Are People Too -- Mean, Selfish, Greedy People" and so on. But Willett thinks Austin subverts a stereotype: "The belief that liberals care more about the poor may scratch a partisan or ideological itch, but the facts are hostile witnesses."

Sixteen months ago, Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, published "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism." The surprise is that liberals are markedly less charitable than conservatives.
If many conservatives are liberals who have been mugged by reality, Brooks, a registered independent, is, as a reviewer of his book said, a social scientist who has been mugged by data. They include these findings:

• Although liberal families' incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).
• Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.
• Residents of the states that voted for John Kerry in 2004 gave smaller percentages of their incomes to charity than did residents of states that voted for George Bush.
• Bush carried 24 of the 25 states where charitable giving was above average.
• In the 10 reddest states, in which Bush got more than 60 percent majorities, the average percentage of personal income donated to charity was 3.5. Residents of the bluest states, which gave Bush less than 40 percent, donated just 1.9 percent.
• People who reject the idea that "government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality" give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

Brooks demonstrates a correlation between charitable behavior and "the values that lie beneath" liberal and conservative labels. Two influences on charitable behavior are religion and attitudes about the proper role of government.

The single biggest predictor of someone's altruism, Willett says, is religion. It increasingly correlates with conservative political affiliations because, as Brooks's book says, "the percentage of self-described Democrats who say they have 'no religion' has more than quadrupled since the early 1970s." America is largely divided between religious givers and secular nongivers, and the former are disproportionately conservative. One demonstration that religion is a strong determinant of charitable behavior is that the least charitable cohort is a relatively small one -- secular conservatives.

Reviewing Brooks's book in the Texas Review of Law & Politics, Justice Willett notes that Austin -- it voted 56 percent for Kerry while he was getting just 38 percent statewide -- is ranked by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as 48th out of America's 50 largest cities in per capita charitable giving. Brooks's data about disparities between liberals' and conservatives' charitable giving fit these facts: Democrats represent a majority of the wealthiest congressional districts, and half of America's richest households live in states where both senators are Democrats.

While conservatives tend to regard giving as a personal rather than governmental responsibility, some liberals consider private charity a retrograde phenomenon -- a poor palliative for an inadequate welfare state and a distraction from achieving adequacy by force, by increasing taxes. Ralph Nader, running for president in 2000, said: "A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity." Brooks, however, warns: "If support for a policy that does not exist . . . substitutes for private charity, the needy are left worse off than before. It is one of the bitterest ironies of liberal politics today that political opinions are apparently taking the place of help for others."

In 2000, brows were furrowed in perplexity because Vice President Al Gore's charitable contributions, as a percentage of his income, were below the national average: He gave 0.2 percent of his family income, one-seventh of the average for donating households. But Gore "gave at the office." By using public office to give other people's money to government programs, he was being charitable, as liberals increasingly, and conveniently, understand that word.

A leader's character and need for control...

"The leader's character is what makes the difference between advancing or de-centering the morale, competence, and commitment of an organization. The truth about confession is that it doesn't lead to people's weakness and disrespect; instead, it transforms the leader's character and earns her greater respect and power.

This is the strange paradox of leading: to the degree you attempt to hide or dissemble your weaknesses, the more you will need to control those you lead, the more insecure you will become, and the more rigidly you will impose - prompting the ultimate departure of your best people.

The dark spiral of spin control inevitably leads to people's cynicism and mistrust. So do yourself and your organization a favor and don't go there. Prepare now to admit to your staff that you are the organization's chief sinner."

From Dan Allender's book "Leading with a Limp" (WaterBrook Press, 2006, p. 3)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

N.T. Wright on the Resurrection

At the National Pastors Conference in San Diego,'s Brian Lowery got to interview N. T. Wright about his latest book—Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church—and how it relates to preaching. Since we are all in the midst of the Easter journey, his words are timely, challenging, and above all else, hopeful.

Preaching Today: In your book Surprised by Hope, you talk about a deeper understanding of hope "that provides a coherent and energizing basis for work in today's world." How has that deeper understanding influenced your preaching through the years?

Bishop N. T. Wright: [Studying] the Resurrection for an earlier book, Resurrection of the Son of God … ended up rubbing my nose in the New Testament theology of new creation, and the fact that the new creation has begun with Easter. I discovered that when we do new creation—when we encourage one another in the church to be active in projects of new creation, of healing, of hope for communities—we are standing on the ground that Jesus has won in his resurrection.

New creation is not just "whistling in the dark." It's not a kind of social Pelagianism, where we try to improve things by pulling ourselves up from our own bootstraps. Because Jesus is raised from the dead, God's new world has begun. We are not only the beneficiaries of new creation; we are the agents of it. I just can't stop preaching about that, because that is where we're going with Easter.

For me, therefore, there's no disjunction between preaching about the salvation which is ours in God's new age—the new heavens and new earth—and preaching about what that means for the present. The two go very closely together. If you have an eschatology that is nonmaterial, why bother with this present world? But if God intends to renew the world, then what we do in the present matters. That's 1 Corinthians 15:58! This understanding has made my preaching more challenging to me, and hopefully to my hearers, to actually get off our backsides and do something in the local community—things that are signs of new creation.

To read more, click the link: N. T. Wright on Resurrection

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

West Michigan passes 30,000 in Easter weekend attendance!

Easter 2008 - Worship Attendance totals 30,027!

161 Albion - Caring Community Church - Steve Shafe
116 Allegan - Allegan Wesleyan Church - Marc Kelley
475 Allendale - Allendale Wesleyan Church - Jim Maness
3556 Battle Creek - First Wesleyan Church - Philip Griffin
133 Battle Creek - Garrison Hills Wesleyan Church - Rick Weesner
126 Belding - Encounter Community Church - Jim Bowen
106 Benton Harbor - Overflow Community Church - Brian Bennett
321 Burnips - Burnips Wesleyan Church - Steve Jones
308 Byron Center - Compass Church - Chad McCallum
141 Caledonia - The Journey Church - Jon Allen
58 Clarksville - Gateway Community Church - Richard Wollan
100 Coldwater - Coldwater Wesleyan Church - Jeff Gilbert
217 Eaton Rapids - Eaton Rapids Wesleyan Church - Frank Klassen
474 Grand Haven - Watermark Church - Steve Deur
286 Grand Rapids - Berkley Hills Wesleyan Church - Kyle Brown
109 Grand Rapids - City Life Church: A Wesleyan Commun - Christy
975 Grand Rapids - Frontline Community Church - Brian Blum
75 Grand Rapids - Greenhouse Ministries - Jason Grate
121 Grand Rapids - Tallmadge Wesleyan Church - Kurt Stevens
107 Grandville - The Voyage Church - Jeff Bouma
150 Hamilton - Diamond Springs Wesleyan Church - Mark Inman
69 Hastings - Grace Wesleyan Church - Al Yates
157 Hickory Corners - Hickory Corners Wesleyan Church - Len Davis
4216 Holland - Central Wesleyan Church - Paul Hontz
244 Holland - La Roca - Jose Pacheco
250 Holland - engedi church - Brian Aulick
59 Hudson - Hudson Wesleyan Church - Wes Rowan
228 Hudsonville - Bauer Community Fellowship - Robert Whinnen
2503 Hudsonville - Daybreak Community Church - Wes Dupin
80 Jackson - Cascades Wesleyan Church - Clive Heyd
84 Jackson - Central Wesleyan Church - Bart Hall
85 Jackson - Rivertree Community Church - Andy Merritt
779 Jackson - Trinity Wesleyan Church - Keith Hinton
388 Kalamazoo - Lighthouse Community Church - Danny Janes
309 Kalamazoo - Spring Valley Wesleyan Church - Ken Dykhoff
5207 Kentwood - Kentwood Community Church - Wayne Schmidt
100 Lake Odessa - West Berlin Wesleyan Church - Mark Lipscomb
557 Lansing - Faith Church - Brandon Bruce
130 Lansing - Willow Community Church - Bill Lawson
801 Lowell - Impact: a Wesleyan Church - Phil Struckmeyer
110 Marshall - Marshall Wesleyan Church - Dennis Croy
115 Middleville - Middleville Wesleyan Church - Mark Patchett
85 Norton Shores - The Deep - Rob Paterson
280 Owosso - Northgate Wesleyan Church - Cal Emerson
369 Owosso - Owosso Wesleyan Church - Wes Coffey
80 Parma - SpringLife Church - Keith Allison
101 Pittsford - Pittsford Wesleyan Church - Doug Plunkett
330 Plainwell - Friendship Wesleyan Church - Kevin Smith
390 Portland - epic: a community church - Ed Love
667 Rockford - Crossroads Wesleyan Church - Eldon Sanders
1748 Spring Lake - Spring Lake Wesleyan Church - Dennis Jackson
185 Sturgis - La Vina Centro de Adoracion - Reynaldo Moralez
379 Sturgis - Sturgis Wesleyan Church - Brian Poole
165 Three Rivers - Light & Life Wesleyan Church - Sam Maddox
122 Union City - Union City Wesleyan Church - Dan Wheeler
50 Waldron - Waldron Wesleyan Church - Thomas Brodbeck
226 Williamston - Rowley Wesleyan Church - Les Kephart
264 Williamston - West Locke Wesleyan Church - Mike Black

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Baptist Pastor Released in Azerbaijan

There's good news coming out of Azerbaijan concerning imprisoned Baptist Pastor Zuer Balaev.

Slavic Gospel Association's Joel Griffith says, "He has indeed been released on an amnesty by the president of Azerbaijan. And it was in conjunction with a holiday. The government will traditionally do amnesty sometimes on holidays. So Zuer Balaev was one of several prisoners in Azerbaijan who was amnestied."

Azerbaijan is located in Southwestern Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea, between Iran and Russia with a small European portion north of the Caucasus range

After his release, Balaev made the six-hour journey back to his home village of Aliabad in Azerbaijan's remote northwest. "We won! It's a great joy to be free," he said to Forum 18.

"We're all waiting for him!" exclaimed one of his church members.

Ilya Zenchenko, head of the Baptist Union, welcomed the release. "We thank God and those who prayed and supported Zaur," he said. "But there is a lot more work still to be done to defend religious freedom in Azerbaijan."

Balaev's amnesty came under a March 18 decree from President Ilham Aliev, published on the presidential website, which pardoned 58 prisoners and reduced the sentence of one other. Reports indicate former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was among those who appealed for Balaev's release, writing to President Aliev on February 15.

Balaev was arrested in May 2007 and sentenced in August on charges of using violence against state representatives, an accusation church members denied. After his appeal failed in October, Balaev was transferred to a prison in the capital Baku.

While Christians are thanking God for Balaev's releases, that doesn't mean religious freedom is improving. Griffith says, "With any Baptist pastor, evangelical or non-Islamic religious group, they're probably going to be watched very closely. We know from officials over there that other pastors have been threatened with the same kind of treatment if they were to pursue their ministries or plant other congregations."

Griffith is hopeful, however. "Our hope is that the international outcry of the Balaev case will result somehow in the government loosening some of the strings."

Despite their joy at Balaev's release, Griffith says there are still some concerns. "He has indeed been amnestied, but his actual conviction remains in force." The country's Supreme Court has still not responded to Balaev's latest appeal. They're also considering whether or not to move forward with an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over what they regard as an unjust sentence.

It has been difficult and next-to-impossible for evangelical groups to gain legal status from the government. Efforts to register or apply for legal status by Balaev's church and others have been thwarted by local officials. Censorship of religious materials is also common.

Continue to pray for believers in Azerbaijan. Pray that they'll be bold in their witness, strong in their faith and loving to those who persecute them.