Some Thoughts on the Church of God’s Reallocation of Resources

I generally try not to take up too much space in this blog on strictly Church of God issues, but MissionalCOG’s recent post on the impending reallocation of resources compels me to say something on this subject.  (Before you start, read the Terms and Conditions of this site.)

For those of you who are a) new and/or b) unfamiliar with my church structure: the Church of God is presently taking a hard look at how much its local churches (the COG, unlike TEC, is a true centralised church) are required to send to its state/regional (diocesan) offices and to its International Offices in Cleveland, TN.  This has been an ongoing process; the church has formed a special select committee to review the issue and, as the MissionalCOG piece states, that committee has its next plenary session in April 2009.  So, in plain terms, something is about to happen.

The central reality of that “something” is that, combining the reduction in the percentage of local church tithes being sent up with the current state of the economy, the income of the general church will decrease from US$25,000,000/year to US$15,000,000/year.  That’s a 40% decrease, a hefty drop by any standard.  There will be hard decisions to make and there will be pain.  At this level, both are unavoidable.  Having spent most of my working career in an industries which are wildly cyclical, I am to some extent prepared for this kind of swing, but for those who are not this is coming as a rude jolt.

Working in that kind of environment convinced me of two things.

The first was that diversification of financial sources and resources is important.  It’s great to ride something straight up until it goes straight down; just ask anyone with real estate in South Florida.  The second was that it’s important to “travel light,” i.e. work and live with as little fixed overhead as possible.  Ideally ones expenses should be in a constant direct proportion to income, but that’s not realistic in this life.  So one must minimise the fixed component.

That’s significant to the present situation of our church because much of the difficulty we face is the result of a high fixed overhead, especially in physical plant.  The church is taking positive steps to rectify this situation (like this), and its ability to operate in the reduced funding environment will depend in no small measure on the success of these steps.

But that leads me to the next point: the general church’s tendency to expand physical plant past what is economically sensible isn’t a phenomenon restricted to the central church.  We see this in local churches as well, the same local churches which will economically benefit by the reduction in the “tithe on tithe” (which will become a true 10% if things go as anticipated.)  It’s simply unrealistic for a local church to invest in the kinds of physical plants we have seen so many of lately that are as underutilised as they are.  And it would be a tragedy for churches to reduce their contribution to the general church only to repeat the same mistakes at a local level.  (It’s also worthy of note that non-profits in general tend to overbuild their physical plants, be they parachurch ministries, country clubs, charitable organisations, and that great non-profit colossus, the government.)

Part of the reason for this is here; beyond that, Anglo churches in the U.S. operate in a high-maintenance culture, and feel constrained to keep up with that culture.  Depending on our future economic course, the culture’s propensity for “champagne taste and beer pocketbook” may change also, which would assist the church if it’s ready to operate in that environment.  If we got to the point where we could use cell groups to spawn churches, the propagation of the gospel in this country could be revolutionised.  (If the Muslims can elect imams from small groups, where’s our limitation?)

Beyond that, the most critical question any denomination must ask is this: who needs us the most?  There are two answers to that question.

The first is small and medium size local churches.  Large churches, whether they have a denominational “covering” (to use that infamous 1970’s term) or not, are in reality worlds unto themselves.  Small and medium size churches need the services of a denomination the most.  Any reallocation of resources needs to take this into consideration.

The second is that a denomination–especially a centralised one–is a source of strength in a time of persecution and attack.  Given the course of our country, all of us will need that strength in the coming times.  This too needs to be accounted for in our structure.

As far as missions are concerned, since the centre of Christianity is shifting to the Third World, it makes sense that the church’s structure reflect this.  I’ve kept up with this re the Anglicans; part of the reason I do that is that I hope that my Pentecostal and Evangelical bretheren will take the hint.

Finally, last week we said goodbye to John Nichols, whose life left few of us in the Church of God untouched.  In his moving farewell video, he thanked the church for giving him the opportunity to do the ministry that he had done.   That sentiment doesn’t get expressed very often, but I feel the same way.  I am grateful for the opportunity that this church has given me the last twelve years working in Laity Ministries.

Now we have uncertainty hanging over our heads.  Many who have more invested in this church that I do stand to lose more, and this is sad.  But ultimately, beyond the vicissitudes of ecclesiastical polity and politics, our eternal objective–and our work to facilitate that in others–is why we are here and do the things we do.  As my Facebook visitors read for my quote:

“And so Jesus, also, to purify the People by his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go out to him ‘outside the camp,’ bearing the same reproaches as he; for here we have no permanent city, but are looking for the City that is to be.” Hebrews 13:12-14, TCNT.

Running the Population Down

This time, it’s the UK:

JONATHON PORRITT, one of Gordon Brown’s leading green advisers, is to warn that Britain must drastically reduce its population if it is to build a sustainable society.

Porritt’s call will come at this week’s annual conference of the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), of which he is patron.

The trust will release research suggesting UK population must be cut to 30m if the country wants to feed itself sustainably.

Porritt said: “Population growth, plus economic growth, is putting the world under terrible pressure.

“Each person in Britain has far more impact on the environment than those in developing countries so cutting our population is one way to reduce that impact.”

Population growth is one of the most politically sensitive environmental problems. The issues it raises, including religion, culture and immigration policy, have proved too toxic for most green groups.

The article is right: it is a toxic issue.  Even the New Atheists don’t like it.  Who knows, they might not “make the cut” when the ukase goes out to make it a reality.  But no issue pits their idea of doing things “scientifically” against their claim that atheism can be “ethical.”

Keeping People Honest at the Polls

I’ll bet ACORN never thought of this (until now):

These events (Indonesian elections) are also the venues where the terms and conditions of traditional vote-buying are laid out by campaigners. Election monitors in the past have noted that while accepting money to vote for a particular candidate is commonplace, vote-buying has had little impact on the actual electoral outcome, as voters sometimes accept money from different candidates and trust the privacy of the voting booth to cast their ballots as they see fit.

This year, however, the proliferation of communications technology has added a new wrinkle to the process. At certain key polls, vote-buyers are expected to provide bribed voters with a cellphone or digital camera to take into the polling station and will only pay when the image of a correctly filled out ballot is displayed. One political organizer was heard by this correspondent lamenting that such steps were necessary “to keep people honest”.

If You Don’t Like Unscientific Policies, Choose Scientific People

From the “GeoCurmudgeon” column in the March/April 2009 Issue of GeoStrata:

Consider the nine wonders of the modern world; the nine men who comprise the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, led by PRC President Hu Jintao, a hydraulics engineer; Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, a geotechnical engineer; five other engineers; and two economists.  (An economist, I have been told, is an engineer without charisma.)  How is that possible?  How could engineers run a nation, let along the largest one on our planet?  And how could they do such an amazing job, simultaneously applying two polar-opposite political/economic systems to convert an ancient, rural giant into a modern, industrial colossus?

It’s true that, outside of the Anglophone world, it’s easier for people with scientific and engineering backgrounds to advance in “non-scientific” endeavours such as government, and even the ministry (which is why, IMHO, we have revival outside the US.)  No one thought this was advantageous when things were going up, but now that things are coming down, perhaps it’s time for a reassesment, especially by New Atheists, who place so much confidence in left-wing Western governments to advance their “scientific” agenda.

It’s also noteworthy that the current Chinese leadership has loosened its policies toward Christians in their country.  Why is this?  How could scientifically trained members of an atheist institution like the CCP give religious people a break?  Because they like the results.  Engineers know that the “proof of the pudding is in the eating,” and evidently they like the taste of the dessert that God’s church is serving up in China these days.

The Good News and the Bad News About Obama’s Reduction of the Charitable Deduction

As a follow-up to this, we have this:

Here’s what it means in real terms for the 5% of Americans whose household income exceeds $250,000 a year. Those families can currently save $350 in taxes for every $1,000 donated to charity; under Obama’s plan, that amount would drop to $280 per $1,000 donation.

“By doing this, you raise the cost of giving” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at The Tax Policy Center, a liberal Washington think tank.

By Williams’ calculations, the change will result in a 10% drop in charitable giving by wealthy Americans, who typically contribute about 20% of all charitable dollars. In real dollars, Williams projects a decline of about $6 billion in charitable donations because of the change.

At the same time, Williams said religious institutions may be spared because most wealthy Americans funnel their biggest donations to education, the arts and health care. Think campus buildings, art museums and hospital wards with family names attached.

“My guess is that religious groups will not see nearly the drop that other charitable recipients will see,” Williams said.

That leaves religious groups at the mercy of rank-and-file members and donors who have been tightening their belts in the economic downturn. For now, experts say, religious groups are probably on fairly safe ground.

The good news is that churches, especially conservative ones, will probably not be affected by this.  That’s why the big hue and cry against this is coming from the liberal charities.  I still think that the Obama Administration has unfavourable plans for conservative churches (his shoving abortion down the throats of medical providers for instance,) but this isn’t one of them.  Even eliminating the charitable deduction altogether would hit conservative churches less than their liberal counterparts, church and otherwise.

The bad news is that the promise of wealth flowing into the hands of charismatic people on account of their “faith” and giving is unfulfilled, as I noted almost four years ago in If You’re Going to Take the Land, Take It.

Promoting a Compassionate Agenda vs. Making Fun of the Special Olympics

Barack Obama’s comparison of his bowling game with the Special Olympics (which is unfair; there are people in the Special Olympics who can handily beat him) has gotten a lot of press.  There are those, however who view this as a passing gaffe.

But, as the French would remind us, “what fills the heart will rise to the lips.” (Matthew 12:34).  I don’t think this is a passing gaffe, but not for the reasons most people think.

For most of my adult lifetime, liberals have pummeled the rest of society with the endless drumbeat of how uncaring, bigoted, and selfish we are.  They’ve used this inducement of guilt to promote a wide variety of agendas, including those relating to race, gender, sexual orientation, and more recently girth.  The “disabled rights” movement (I know I’ll get winces for bad terminology, so hear me out) is one of those, and the Senior Bush passed the Americans With Disabilities Act as a centrepiece of our compassionate response.

When an Elitist Snob like Barack Obama, who has spent the time he wasn’t organising a community with his fellow élites, comes out with a remark like this, the first question in my mind is this: does this reflect what gets bandied about in élite cocktail parties and soirées?

My hunch–a hunch informed by my years in Palm Beach–is that it does.  It’s on par with his remark about guns and God.  There was a time when liberals had to be more clever about concealing what they really thought of the rest of the country.  But Barack Obama is more transparent about that, and he’s gotten away with it because of who he is and because our country doesn’t have the pride in itself it used to to bar someone from the highest office just because he–and his colleagues–think they’re inherently better than the rest of us.  It’s like Lu Xun’s story about the smiling Chinese in the photographs with their countrymen just executed by the Japanese.  The living Chinese, oblivious to the shame and suffering of their fellow sons of Han, are just glad they’re on the winning side.

What this says is that many of the left don’t believe in the cause of the disabled–and the politically correct attitudes they force on society–any more than they believe in so many other things they’ve “crusaded” for over the years.  Do this long enough and you’ll have a credibility problem, but that time hasn’t come just yet.

As Christians, we need to affirm the basic worth of every human being, irrespective of their bodily condition.  Diasbled rights advocates got a taste of how that plays out in the Terri Schiavo fiasco, but there’s more to come.

And as for the liberals:

“And why do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, while you pay no attention at all to the beam in your own? How can you say to your brother ‘Brother, let me take out the straw in your eye,’ while you yourself do not see the beam in your own? Hypocrite! Take out the beam from your own eye first, and then you will see clearly how to take out the straw in your brother’s.” Luke 6:41, 42, TCNT.

Chaplains Without God? Only in South Florida!

They’ve done it again:

A chaplain at Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton has resigned, she says, over a ban on use of the words “God” or “Lord” in public settings.

Chaplains still speak freely of the Almighty in private sessions with patients or families but, the Rev. Mirta Signorelli said: “I can’t do chaplain’s work if I can’t say ‘God’ – if I’m scripted.”

Hospice CEO Paula Alderson said the ban on religious references applies only to the inspirational messages that chaplains deliver in staff meetings. The hospice remains fully comfortable with ministers, priests and rabbis offering religious counsel to the dying and grieving.

Although it’s another one of those sad “culture wars” kinds of things, it’s also a lesson in absurdity from a place where absurdity is a way of life.

During World War I, the French, in the secularist fit that followed l’affaire Dreyfus, abolished the chaplaincy in the military that went “over the top.”  There were Roman Catholic priests and other clergy serving, but they served as regular soldiers, officiating unofficially.  And there was plenty of dying going on, to be sure.

In South Florida we have the mirror image of this, the ridiculous spectacle of an institution hiring chaplains but turning around and prohibiting their use of “God” or “Lord.”  Worse, out of the seven chaplains working at this place, the other six went along with this!  Who needs a chaplain without God?  (BTW, that’s one reason why I left TEC, it didn’t make sense going to the trouble of being in an institution where the belief in a real God was so tenuous.)

It’s just too much…

The Pagan Charles Grassley: From Victory at Sea to Defeat in Manhattan

He may not think of himself in this way, but…

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley suggested that AIG executives should take a Japanese approach toward accepting responsibility for the collapse of the insurance giant by resigning or killing themselves.

The Republican lawmaker’s harsh comments came during an interview with Cedar Rapids, Iowa, radio station WMT on Monday. They echo remarks he has made in the past about corporate executives and public apologies, but went further in suggesting suicide.

“I suggest, you know, obviously, maybe they ought to be removed,” Grassley said. “But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they’d follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.

“And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make any apology.”

…that’s what he’s advocating.  Although such things are usually associated with the Japanese these days, the old Romans did the same thing, and considered it a virtue.  I touched on that in a recent quote from St. Augustine’s City of God; it puts his whole investigation of ministries in a new light too.

My father’s favourite documentary was Victory at Sea, understandable since he spent his World War II service in the Pacific for the United States Coast Guard.  The Japanese were fanatical defenders, because of the intense shame of defeat and surrender.  Towards the end, of course, they developed the kamikaze suicide planes and pilots, a tactic replicated–in lower Manhattan, no less–by another group of people obsessed with their shame.

Manhattan has had enough of fanatical shame-honour.  If there’s shame to be felt, Grassley should be the one doing it.

Tax Collection, Late Roman Style: “There began to be fewer men who paid taxes than there were who received wages…”

This, under the Roman Emperor Gelarius:

But that which gave rise to public and universal calamity, was the tax imposed at once on each province and city. Surveyors having been spread abroad, and occupied in a general and severe scrutiny, horrible scenes were exhibited, like the outrages of victorious enemies, and the wretched state of captives. Each spot of ground was measured, vines and fruit-trees numbered, lists taken of animals of every kind, and a capitation-roll made up. In cities, the common people, whether residing within or without the walls, were assembled, the market-places filled with crowds of families, all attended with their children and slaves, the noise of torture and scourges resounded, sons were hung on the rack to force discovery of the effects of their fathers, the most trusty slaves compelled by pain to bear witness against their masters, and wives to bear witness against their husbands. In default of all other evidence, men were tortured to speak against themselves; and no sooner did agony oblige them to acknowledge what they had not, but those imaginary effects were noted down in the lists. Neither youth, nor old age, nor sickness, afforded any exemption. The diseased and the infirm were carried in; the age of each was estimated; and, that the capitation-tax might be enlarged, years were added to the young and struck off from the old. General lamentation and sorrow prevailed. Whatever, by the laws of war, conquerors had done to the conquered, the like did this man presume to perpetrate against Romans and the subjects of Rome, because his forefathers had been made liable to a like tax imposed by the victorious Trajan, as a penalty on the Dacians for their frequent rebellions. After this, money was levied for each head, as if a price had been paid for liberty to exist; yet full trust was not reposed on the same set of surveyors, but others and others still were sent round to make further discoveries; and thus the tributes were redoubled, not because the new surveyors made any fresh discoveries, but because they added at pleasure to the former rates, lest they should seem to have been employed to no purpose. Meanwhile the number of animals decreased, and men died; nevertheless taxes were paid even for the dead, so that no one could either live or cease to live without being subject to impositions. There remained mendicants alone, from whom nothing could be exacted, and whom their misery and wretchedness secured from ill-treatment. But this pious man had compassion on them, and determining that they should remain no longer in indigence, he caused them all to be assembled, put on board vessels, and sunk in the sea. So merciful was he in making provision that under his administration no man should want! And thus, while he took effectual measures that none, under the reigned pretext of poverty, should elude the tax, he put to death a multitude of real wretches, in violation of every law of humanity. (Lactantius, Of the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, XXIII)

May turn into “Late American” style someday, the rate things are going.  Lactantius, however, makes one obervation earlier in the work that also bears repeating, as it is one reason why Rome fell:

There began to be fewer men who paid taxes than there were who received wages; so that the means of the husbandmen being exhausted by enormous impositions, the farms were abandoned, cultivated grounds became woodland, and universal dismay prevailed. (Ibid., VII)

Any society which encourages–intentionally or not–the growth of unproductive sectors relative to productive ones is in serious trouble.  Since ancient society was largely agricultural, it’s natural to see this productivity shift in agricultural terms, but the change in the productive activity doesn’t void the principle.  The current administration is working towards having more voters who receive public funds–through a job or otherwise–than those who pay the taxes of productive income, and what Lactantius observed in his day will be “hard wired” into our society.

Update: thanks to a kind hat tip from my hedge-fund surviving cousin, another quotation from Lactantius on the consequences of Late Roman “economics,” in this case Diocletian’s price control régime.

Rewarding Incompetence: Not Only in the Private Sector

He’s right, but…

Rep. Barney Frank charged Monday that a decision by financially strapped insurance giant AIG to pay millions in executive bonuses amounts to “rewarding incompetence.”

Echoing outrage expressed on both sides of the political aisle in the wake of revelations that American International Group will pay roughly $165 million in bonuses, Frank said he believes it’s time to shake up the company.

“These people may have a right to their bonuses. They don’t have a right to their jobs forever,” said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

Neither do Members of Congress, but many (like Frank) get sent back term after term to commit the mistakes that helped get us into this mess.  And that’s our fault.  If you’re going to set a performance based standard for others, you have to live up to one yourself.