On Friday, October 30th, over 150 students, professors and local leaders gathered at AEI’s headquarters in Washington DC for the 2015 Values & Capitalism Fall Summit. The purpose of this year’s Summit was to provide a space for a series of nonpartisan conversations on poverty, justice, and opportunity while also connecting top students and professors on Christian college campuses with leaders in the broader evangelical community. With keen insights from a wide variety of experts and practitioners, these discussions explored several timely issues through a common lens of seeking greater human flourishing, an objective that is central to AEI’s mission of expanding personal opportunity, increasing human freedom, and strengthening free enterprise.
The first of these conversations examined the state of religious freedom in America and the current legal, political and cultural challenges and prospects facing the faith community today. Mr. Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center moderated the discussion, which included insights from Mr. Joshua Hawley of the University of Missouri School of Law, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Dr. Russell Moore, and Ms. Stephanie Summers, CEO of the Center for Public Justice. In addition to unpacking the significance and complexity of recent challenges to religious liberty that have surfaced in the U.S., the panelists underscored the need for the faith community to diligently seek to preserve this key aspect of America’s legacy. Panelists explained that our culture has often confused the concept of religious liberty with religious privilege, and religious leaders—particularly in the evangelical community—must continue to capitalize on the increasing opportunities to express their convictions while also articulating that reasons that religious freedom is truly in the interest of the common good.
The second panel, which included AEI’s Mr. Robert Doar and Dr. Brad Wilcox, Ms. Jennifer Marshall of the Heritage Foundation and Ms. Melissa Boteach from the Center for American Progress, explored the relationship between healthy families and individuals and communities in poverty. While the panelists argued for differing strategies to promote healthy families and communities, all agreed that this incredibly important institution is inseparable from the health of the economy. The growing culture of “radical autonomy” in the United States, they explained, is causing some of the lowest-income populations in the U.S. to lose a sense of connection to the value of marriage and family. For this reason, as Dr. Wilcox articulated, it is vital that institutions such as the church understand their role in equipping families in these communities to thrive.
During the lunch keynote, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), offered remarks challenging the evangelical community to resist the impulse to make justice a property of a political persuasion, and instead to embrace the “Lamb’s agenda” for seeking justice. Following his remarks, Rev. Rodriguez joined Mr. Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center for further conversation on the topic, which included reflections on the NHCLC’s “Just Integration Strategy” for immigration reform and entrepreneurship as an answer to cycles of poverty and dependency. Audience questions explored the tension between honoring one’s convictions and caring for others with authentic compassion.
Following lunch, Mr. Michael Matheson Miller of the Acton Institute and Mr. Peter Greer of HOPE International, took the stage to discuss the role of entrepreneurship in fighting poverty, particularly in developing countries. The speakers’ expertise and observations highlighted the reality that many avenues of charity actually perpetuate the difficulties and disadvantages faced by people in poverty. “Poor people are not poor because they do not have enough stuff,” the speakers argued, “they are poor because they lack the institutions of justice that allow them to pull themselves out of poverty.” Offering important insights into the unique value of free enterprise, these panelists made an important case for helping individuals not only survive, but equipping them with the necessary tools and institutions to lead flourishing lives.
The final panel of the day featured several unique figures active in the sphere of criminal justice, including: Mr. Shon Hopwood of Georgetown University Law Center, Dr. Jennifer Walsh of Azusa Pacific University, Rev. Dr. Harold Dean Trulear of Howard University and Healing Communities, and Ms. Heather Rice-Minus of Justice Fellowship. These panelists explored several key issues with the current criminal justice system that do not receive appropriate attention, such as inadequate training of corrections officers, the lack of focus on rehabilitation, and the difficulty of reintegrating citizens back into society. Mr. Hopwood and Rev. Dr. Trulear also shared their experiences as “returning citizens” and expressed the need for one’s debt to society to be truly paid after incarceration, rather than providing a permanent impediment to employment and civic engagement. Examining these issues through the lens of restorative justice, the panel considered the ways in which the evangelical community is distinctively positioned to ensure that these concerns are addressed.
To conclude the day, students, faculty and members of the Values & Capitalism Ideas Council gathered for a closing dinner discussion with four young professionals who have devoted significant time and energy to defining the concept of financial generosity in their lives. Mr. Greg Baumer of naviHealth, Mr. John Cortines of Generous Giving, Mr. Graham Smith of the Acumen Fund, and Ms. April Tam of Morgan Stanley described their individual journeys to generosity, which included personal decisions to cap their spending and saving, regardless of lifetime earnings, and even a period of reverse-tithing (giving away 90% and keeping 10%). Panelists encouraged the audience to serve with their wealth, rather than simply spending or saving, and suggested that Christians should not ask, “How much should I give?” but a far more radical question: “How much should I keep?
The summit began with a word of encouragement from Mr. Joshua Hawley, quoting Winston Churchill’s famous remark to his cabinet during the darkest days of World War II: “Gentlemen, I find it rather inspiring.” These words proved to set the tone for the entire day, not simply as a statement about the quality of the conversations, but as a reminder that the challenges we face as a society offer a unique opportunity for members of the Christian community to be at the forefront of making human flourishing a reality.
Responses to the Summit:
“Being a part of this program has further defined my course of focus and how I view current public policy and capitalism in light of the Gospel. It always prompts further conversation and I leave refreshed and encouraged of the future.” –Anna Grace Rutledge, Samford University
“The 2015 Values & Capitalism Fall Summit was a wonderful learning experience! Listening to professionals speak about how our faith affects our views on policy, justice, and leadership in the U.S. and the world was motivating. I not only learned about current issues, but also was inspired to take action. I would encourage anyone who wants to make a significant difference on our world to get involved with AEI on your campus.” – Andrew Newlin, Anderson University
“The V&C Summit was a great experience for me primarily because I saw and met so many other likeminded Christian college students. While the speakers and panels were very interesting and had some excellent insights, meeting and communicating with college students that are excelling in the same field I am in was a challenging and rewarding experience. I believe that the most good to come out of the V&C Summit will be from the connections and relationships made among the students… What we learned was important, but the best way for us to carry the torch of those ideas is as a group of friends and fellow believers.” – Jess Groenendyk, Covenant College