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Acton Notes - July/August 2012 Notes

Acton and Eric Metaxas Defend Religious Liberty

Author and speaker Eric Metaxas was interviewed about threats to religious freedom in the latest issue of Religion & Liberty magazine. Metaxas, who was a lecturer and keynote speaker at Acton University, will keynote Acton's 22nd Annual Dinner in Grand Rapids on October 24.

The Acton Institute has taken a leading role in defending religious freedom and addressing the threat posed by the Health and Human Services mandate that requires employers to cover contraception in their insurance plan. Opponents of the mandate have argued the mandate violates religious conscience and the guaranteed protection of religious freedom in the First Amendment.

Metaxas participated in an Acton video short discussing why the HHS Mandate is not about the morality of contraception or even abortion. The mandate is an issue concerning religious liberty and maintaining the freedom of religion that our Founders realized was so important to a free society. You can view the video on Acton's YouTube page. In the pages of R&L, Metaxas declared:

In this case of the HHS Mandate, this is a minority that represents all of us, because this is one case where you may not agree, but what about the next thing that's going to come up? If we do not stand as one, we will certainly hang separately, to quote the founders.

Metaxas is the author of The New York Times #1 bestseller, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, which was named "Book of the Year" by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. He is also the author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. Metaxas addressed the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. this year where he challenged the president directly on religious freedom and right to life. Metaxas will be available to sign copies of his new book at the Acton Annual Dinner.

Acton Expands Urban Ministry Reach

Acton held its first Thriving Churches: Flourishing Communities conference September 6-8 in Weehawken, New Jersey. Twenty-six pastors, urban educators, and practitioners attended the revised program, based on the Toward a Free and Virtuous City conference series.

Participants engaged in vibrant discussion on economic leadership in urban ministry throughout the sessions and long into the evening. Instead of looking to the government to create a fair society, conversation focused on individual responsibility, private action, and the dignity of the human person to alleviate social ills.

Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the program's supporters, Acton was able to accommodate the most influential and intriguing groups of participants in the history of its work with urban ministries, representing a constituency of more than 70,000 congregants, students, and disciples each year.

In addition to a revised curriculum, Acton brought in two new faculty members in 2012. Dr. Victor Claar is an economist and author who specializes in making complex economic concepts accessible to Christians at any level of prior knowledge. Shortly after his Fulbright year, Claar transitioned to teaching in a community college where more than 50 percent of the student body is comprised of first generation college students. He used this expertise to bring wisdom and economic understanding to participants, both on a general principle level, and in relation to one of the most significant challenges for urban ministers, how to address gentrification and displacement in neighborhoods.

Dr. Vincent Bacote also joined the faculty to lecture on "Sphere Sovereignty and Sustainable Human Development," focusing on Abraham Kuyper and the common good. Participants evaluated Bacote's lecture as "good theological framework," "intellectually provoking," "fantastic," and "relevant to the contemporary church".

Overall, Acton found this to be its most successful urban ministry conference to date. Diversity, participant demand, and fellowship were at an all-time high. One-hundred percent of conference participants would attend another Acton conference and recommend the conference to a friend or colleague. Additionally, all participants gained new perspectives about both the need for private action instead of government intervention, and the potential for entrepreneurial free enterprise to lift those in need out of poverty permanently.

Capsule of an Acton University Lecture: Hope for the Inner City

On June 15, 2012, Mr. Ismael Hernandez gave a talk on urban ministry at Acton University 2012, held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mr. Hernandez discussed how welfare programs and private charities, in some cases, crush the human spirit in the inner city. He argued that merely concerning ourselves with providing material comforts to the poor puts us at risk of ignoring their moral and spiritual needs. Disassociating work and achievement from reward seriously threatens people's moral framework. "Our society's focus on providing material benefits is crushing the human spirit, and diminishes the ability of people to flourish," he declared. Mr. Ismael Hernandez is the founder of the Freedom & Virtue Institute.

Nothstine Discusses Faith and Presidential Campaigns

Religion has influenced presidential campaigns from the earliest elections in American history. On August 27, Ray Nothstine, who is the managing editor of Religion & Liberty, delivered the Shaftesbury Lecture at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina. Nothstine warned about problems associated with political messianism and the problems it poses for a moral society and limited government. "People will look to man and government first in a godless world," he said. The lecture was an expansion of his Acton commentary, "As Secularism Advances, Political Messianism Draws More Believers."

Nothstine also stressed the importance of how religion serves as a buffer against state power and that the Church serves as the conscience of the state. He elaborated on some of the messianic themes in presidential campaigns including the recent 2008 election of President Barack Obama. "It may seem interesting that so many on the left, that often cherish the fully secular state and a secular worldview, put so many religious and messianic connotations into Obama. But this is consistent with increases in secularism," declared Nothstine.

Nothstine also talked about the importance of faith in America today and throughout history:

Religion raises the deeper issues and asks the great questions that mankind has asked throughout the ages. It makes us look up and calls us out of ourselves. And any society where religion and faith is strong then it will naturally extend to all aspects of that society including the political realm.

The John Locke Foundation was created in 1990 as an independent, nonprofit think tank that would work "for truth, for freedom, and for the future of North Carolina." The Foundation is named for John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher whose writings inspired Thomas Jefferson and the other American Founders.