Sunday, July 19, 2009

Unimpressed Gospel Oops?

As I entered the ballroom where the National Governor Association's "Gospel Brunch" was being held, Shania Twain's grammatical atrocity, "That Don't Impress Me Much," was blaring over the sound system.

While that was likely unintentional, I found it strangely appropriate. The god worshipped in many contemporary church settings doesn't really impress me all that much, either.

By the way, I ate breakfast and left before the program started.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

NGA "Gospel Brunch"

Biloxi, Mississippi -- Evangelical Christians tend to get excited over the civil embrace of religion. Today's promotion of a "gospel brunch" Sunday morning at the meeting of the National Governors Association provided a reminder as to why they should reconsider.

Encouraging attendance at the event, Mississippi governor and NGA host Haley Barber declared, "Tomorrow there's going to be a gospel brunch -- and I don't care what religion you are: it's going to be fun."

Governor Barber perhaps has not reflected to consider that a religion that's fun for everybody might not mean much to anybody. This is not meant as criticism of the governor per se, who is expressing thoughts very similar to those stated a half century ago by President Eisenhower and that have been a part of America's religious fabric going all of the way back to the founding. However, that active Christians find encouragement in these minimalistic expressions of faith is sad, actually.

Economic Outlook Discussed at NGA

Biloxi, Mississippi -- Declaring that "the green shoots are real," Dr. David Altig, Senior Vice-President and Director of Research for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, argued that the current recession will end sometime during the third quarter of this year. However, speaking before the Economic Development and Commerce Committee of the National Governors Association, Dr. Altig said that many people would not notice. He compared the end of the recession to a person beginning to be hit in the head with a hammer only once a day after having endured twice a day hits. While the economy will stabilize, he does not see a significant return of economic growth or an improved employment outlook in the short term.

Dr. Altig emphasized that he was only speaking for himself and that his statements did not express the views of the Federal Reserve.

Over the course of his presentation, the economist also stated the following:

  • High rates of personal savings will hinder the return of the kind of robust consumer spending that drove previous economic growth.
  • He does not see any quick return to pre-recession GDP levels before 2011.
  • Demographic changes also weigh heavily on long term economic forecasts, which he admitted are tentative, at best. The aging of the U.S. population would suggest slower rates of growth in the long-term than have been previously experienced since World War II.
  • The lack of clarity regarding policy changes in major areas of the economy creates uncertainty that makes entrepreneurs reluctant to invest at this time.
  • The current economic crisis has shaken the U.S.'s standing as one of the three financial centers in the world, the others being Europe and Asia. The nature of future regulation could determine whether the U.S. remains among those three.
  • In a cursory response to questions regarding the Chinese economy, Dr. Altig emphasized the difference between stimulus spending on infrastructure that increased long-term productivity from such spending that did not meaningfully impact the economy.

National Governors' Association Annual Meeting Lightly Attended

Biloxi, Mississippi -- The National Governors' Association annual meeting has traditionally been a high profile event offering its members with presidential aspirations an opportunity to shine before their peers, but this year fewer than half of the governors are expected to show up. Even this year's chairman of the group -- Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell -- will be a no show. He is stuck in Pennsylvania trying to reach agreement with legislative leaders on a budget.

It was already known that other governors whose national ambitions have recently been quashed will also not be here. Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who is chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, will not attend. South Carolina governor Mark Sanford is skipping the meeting to try to find a new soul mate -- he is traveling with his wife. Another high profile leader, New York governor David Paterson, was forced to skip the meeting due to uncertainty over who has gubernatorial authority while he is out of state.

Today's meetings open with a news conference this morning and include sessions on the nation's infrastructure, the state of the economy, and education reform.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Emergent Calvinism?

Noting the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, an article in The Tennessean reports on a resurgence of interest in Calvinism, also known as "Reformed theology," among American Christians. One hopes that is the case.

Calvinism emphasizes the sovereignty of God in salvation. People who become believers choose God because He first chose them. Only because of divine election will people be saved.

As the article indicates, this growing interest does not arise only among those who have decided that they agree with all of Calvinism's tenets. Reformed churches tend to offer more depth in their biblical teaching, including more thoughtful reflection both on matters of Christian theology and on the relationship between Christianity and culture, and that emphasis appeals to thoughtful young Christians who have tired of the shallow teaching in many evangelical churches. That was the path of my co-blogger, who initially rejected Calvinist distinctives but began attending a conservative Presbyterian church due to the strong Bible teaching and God-centered approach to worship and ministry. Ultimately, her personal Bible study resulted in her embracing Reformed theology.

Because of the focus on teaching and sound doctrine, interest in Calvinism arises mostly among more intellectually oriented evangelicals. Whether the movement will ultimately reach beyond that core group and have broader appeal in a culture not known for its depth of thought remains to be seen. Certainly, a revival of Calvinism would reverse nearly 300 years of trends in American Christianity, which has largely been a race away from Calvinism toward a more human centered approach to religion. In recent years, Reformed denominations such as the Presbyterian Church in America have seen rapid growth, and interest in Calvinism among Southern Baptists has grown, though not without controversy. Calvinism is also strong among conservative Episcopalians, as well as in a number of other denominations.

Too much of the teaching in typical evangelical churches, including the megachurches that garner so much attention, is vacuous and trivializes the faith. Calvinist understanding begins, in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, with the notion that man's "chief aim" is to "glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." That beginning point points to an understanding of God that sees Him as truly worthy of our worship and devotion.

Perhaps they needed some boots along with those shovels?

When President Barack Obama writes for the Washington Post that the massive spending package, labelled a stimulus, that passed in the opening weeks of his administration was "from the start, a two-year program," he is counting on the collective amnesia of the American people. In fact, a friend in Washington tells me that Democrats have been urged to avoid using the phrase used repeatedly in the lead up to passage of the legislation: "shovel ready." Americans may recall that they were assured that quick passage of the unread bill was necessary so that "shovel ready" projects could revive the economy. Conservatives and Republicans that pointed out that much of the spending was delayed and aimed at Democratic constituencies without regard to stimulative effect were dismissed as naysaying gadflies.

The administration clearly overpromised on what they could deliver. Whether the latest spin succeeds in distracting the electorate from that fact remains to be seen.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Palin's Resignation

Sarah Palin today announced her resignation as governor of Alaska. Her political stature has steadily declined since last August, when she wowed much of the nation with an impressive performance at the Republican National Convention. With this announcement, she has virtually guaranteed that the zenith of her political career is in the past.

Undoubtedly, Ms. Palin believes that leaving office provides her with the time needed to maintain her visibility before the American public. However, while visibility presents a daunting challenge for a would be national candidate from the land of the midnight sun, it is not Ms. Palin's most pressing need. For her to expand beyond her contingent of enthusiastic supporters, her primary need is to increase her credibility and expertise in key areas in the years leading up to 2012. The office of Governor provides her with an opportunity to both increase expertise and demonstrate leadership. Travelling around the country giving speeches and raising money does not.

Ms. Palin has talent that could be effective in a national campaign. It is unfortunate that she made it to prime time before she was ready. In 2012, her primary notice will be when she endorses some other Republican candidate running for the presidency.