Category Archives: MOney & Giving

Study Shows Giving Finally Rebounding for Majority of Churches

By Tracy Simmons
SpokaneFAVS.com

Numerous churches suffered from plummeting donations after the recession began in 2008. But in the past year, a majority of congregations experienced giving increases because of a better economy, higher attendance and more church teaching on giving, according to a press release.

Trends in 2011 included higher budgets, greater attention to fiscal transparency and board governance and a rise in electronic giving through technological tools.

The fourth annual “State of the Plate” constituency survey of more than 1,360 congregations revealed that 51 percent of churches saw giving increase in 2011, up from 43 percent in 2010 and 36 percent in 2009.

According to the press release, among churches that saw giving increases, 50 percent attributed the rise to greater attendance. Forty-two percent said it was because people gave more after their church conducted financial/generosity teaching initiatives, such as sermons, classes, seminars or distributed devotionals about the subject.

“As giving has improved for many churches nationwide, this survey shows many have made budget decisions that directly care for people,” said Matt Branaugh, director of editorial for Christianity Today’s Church Management Team, a survey sponsor. “Many churches increased their spending for missions and benevolence – two ways churches work to meet the needs of people locally and globally. And pay raises for staff and pastors were a move to care for their own, after many churches were forced to freeze or cut salaries during the recession.”

For an executive summary with charts, graphs and trends, visit www.STATEofthePLATE.info/media2012.htm.

What I might say if I were externally audited

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

Something about the critique of Invisible Children moved me to a different layer of thought: the distribution of resources. In one way or another, almost every criticism centered on this very topic. Are the organization’s financials transparent? Is its appropriation of funds, well, appropriate?  More importantly, is it spending its energy in a manner that furthers others’ development? It made me wonder, how would I stand up to that scrutiny? How would you?

“I’m not a non-profit, or advocacy organization,” you may respond. Why not? Why don’t you look at yourself that way? Do you really believe what you have is yours and is solely the result of your hard work? Such hubris were not met well by Jesus.

Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, a theology professor, stated loving God and loving others is the human vocation. She suggested, “Love implies active commitment to the well-being of who or what is loved.” It follows, where there is suffering and oppression — whether local or global — such a definition of love requires an aspect of justice. This, in turn, requires challenging social structures that perpetuate such suffering. Based on this logic, Moe-Lobeda claimed many Christians, by their lack of action are, “defying the call to love.”

I have quite a few more thoughts on personal responsibility and the distribution of resources (time, money, relationships and conversation), and I will pick them up later.But for now, let’s just leave it at this question.

Perhaps we could share a deeper level of transparency between ourselves at this moment. In one sentence or paragraph, would you reveal what you fear and hope an external auditor might summarize of your distribution of resources?

I’ll go first: I fear that someone might find in the last two years, working on my degree has provided a justification for the lack of giving myself to others outside my family. And second, I have not found ways to incorporate the development of my family into the discipline of service for others.

Santorum rallies conservative Spokane voters

By Tracy Simmons
SpokaneFAVS.com

SPOKANE VALLEY —Rick Santorum has a lot of people praying for him.

More than 500 supporters filled New Life Assembly Church in Spokane Valley on Thursday to show the Republican candidate that they champion his Christian values.

“Thank you Rick, you’re in our prayers,” people called out to him.

Rick Santorum speaks in Spokane/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS.com

They cheered when he boasted about being a long-time conservative. They hailed when he knocked the idea of man-made global warming and spoke about unborn babies and the sanctity of life. And they hailed even louder when he slammed the Obama administration’s healthcare plan.

Santorum touched on those issues briefly, and he only had to speak about Washington’s new same-sex marriage legislation momentarily to stimulate the crowd.

“I know what happened here in Washington,” he said. “I know you feel like you’ve been railroaded and bulldozed. Well now you have a chance to speak to the country.”

And that’s exactly what 70-year-old Terry Thach wanted to hear.

“I came (today) because I like the Christian principles that Santorum stands for,” he said. “He’s taken a lot of heat from the press because he stands up to issues that are controversial…like gay marriage.”

Thatch, a member of Life Center Church, said he, an evangelical, supports the Catholic candidate, “because we learn from the same Bible.”

Rick Santorum visits with supporters/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS.com

Before Santorum delivered his speech (almost an hour late because of travel delays), New Life Lead Pastor Steve Williams asked the crowd to bow their heads.

“We come here today with great joy in our hearts, with anticipation for the future,” he prayed. “We ask today that you lead us in a common journey to restoring truth and faith. Let it begin in us. We pray that the process our founding fathers started so many years ago would be honored in the months ahead.”

“This race is about what kind of America you’re going to leave to your children and grandchildren because big things are happening in this country, and most of them are not good,” Santorum said when he took the stage.

He said the country needs a conservative republican to take the reins — not a moderate like the other candidates, who he didn’t name specifically.

Santorum supporters sign gay-marriage petition/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS.com

“I didn’t decide to become a conservative a few weeks ago to run for president. I’ve been a conservative and have fought in the trenches for conservative causes when they were unpopular,” he said.

He asked the crowd to stand firm for “the values that made this country great,” by voting for him on Saturday at the at the GOP caucuses.

Ron Paul is expected to make a similar plea today when holds a noon rally at the Spokane Convention Center.

View a photo gallery of this event on our Flickr page.

Consumerism – the third brick in the wall

By Contributor Daryl Gefken

This is the third in a three-part series.

Daryl Geffken

C.S. Lewis once quipped, “If you want to embarrass a Christian, ask them about their prayer life.”  That got me thinking, “If you want to embarrass an American, make them move.”  Perhaps I can explain by way of making fun of myself.

My family moved last summer.  And I finally came in touch with my own materialism.  It was when one car — an entire car — was filled with Tupperware containers holding all of my Star Wars Lego sets.  Am I given to hyperbole?  Often.  But not here.  Worse yet, these were Lego sets that I had built, photographed, and then put into separate Ziploc bags (or series of bags for the larger sets), and hidden away with their sequenced instruction booklets.  Toys not to be played with.

In my experience, I have come to believe an attitude of entitlement and consumerism is pervasive in American society where a merit-based system of thinking has justified accumulation.  This seems to pit liberty against social responsibility.  It says, “I can do what I please with that which is mine,” rather than recognizing that we were given opportunity by what Bono has labeled a “blessing of latitude.”

(The following may get a little academic, but read on.)

The scope of consumerism is substantial.  It’s the 21st century worldview that places the individual as one of its highest values and emphasizes the moral right of individual choice. By emphasizing the self above all else, a consumerist-ethic fosters the notion — we are what we buy. In fact, in the U.S., we spend three to four times as many hours shopping as our counterparts in Europe, according to Annie Leonard.  This describes a perpetual downward spiral that leads to over-consumption, or greed.  Author David Loy wrote, “Greed is based on a delusion: the delusion that happiness is to be found this way.  Trying to find fulfillment through profit, or by making consumption the meaning of one’s life amounts to idolatry.”  It follows that this moral right must be protected.  And we do protect it.  The United States, by foreign policy, business practice and military might continues to expand its values and enforce its sovereign right in the world.

Benjamin Barber took consumerism even further by arguing that a consumer-based economy has produced adult infants, “The child wants what it wants when it wants it, without consideration of the needs of others, and man-child does not outgrow this pattern.”  In such an economy, imaginary needs are created for those who have wealth, while the overwhelmingly true needs of those in poorer countries are marginalized because they are irrelevant as consumers.  It is so pervasive that it dominates almost all areas of society.  Infantilism has distorted need.  In my work with students I have heard many speak of the need for the latest jeans or new cell phone to change their look every two weeks.  I rarely have heard these students question where their next meal is coming from.  Barber maintained, “Not everything needs to earn a profit, not everyone needs to be a shopper—not all the time.”

Here’s an example that illustrates how compartmentalized Americans have become. In the late 90’s, Hillary Rodham Clinton protested against, “a consumer-driven culture that promotes values that undermine democracy” and berated, “materialism that undermines our spiritual centers.” Author Gregg Easterbrook writes, “Shortly thereafter, she bought a $1.7 million home and signed an $8 million book contract…. Clinton demonstrates what so many of us are inclined to do…We’re bent on saving everyone else from the horrors of consumption while taking care to make ourselves rich and comfy.”

Mark Gerzon made the assertion that, “Becoming a global citizen is not primarily a question of knowledge, or of feelings.  It is a question of values.  Becoming a global citizen requires that we ask ourselves: Are the values that we live by ‘good for the world?’”  He suggested five foundational values that could help create opportunities to conquer disparity in the world: integrity, learning, dialogue, bridging and synergy.

Here are two quotes to consider. “It is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich,” by Henry Ward Beecher. And, “The true measure of an individual is how he treats a person who can do him absolutely no good,” by Ann Landers.

As I have shared these thoughts in the past, some people have not only felt uncomfortable  (not a bad thing, I think), but also become quite angry or accusatory towards me.  I can understand this position in some ways.  If you are feeling a little edgy at this moment, ready to call me a liberal commie or something like that, listen: This is not social justice, I understand this to be the command of Christ.  If you want to call me names, feel free. But along with that, please show me where my understanding of Jesus’ expectation is wrong.

Church will have to step up, help the poor

By Contributor Eric Blauer

Pastor Eric Blauer

“You will have to talk to the state.”

That’s what an Iraqi woman was told Thursday afternoon after she was informed the State of Washington no longer covers eye glasses for adults on state assistance. We had spent an hour at the optometrist’s office, after being referred there by the woman’s doctor. She was assured that insurance would cover the visit. Turns out the state would only pay for determining what was wrong, not for the actual care.

This woman has been trying to get a job for the past couple of years and so far has been unsuccessful. She attends English classes at night via the public transportation system and is a mother of two teenage children. She has diabetes and a medical problem with one of her legs.

She came here from Iraq during our military’s campaign there. She had to choose between staying as a refugee in a country outside of Iraq, which wouldn’t allow her residency, or she could move to the U.S. Her journey has been tough, leaving family and friends and struggling to adjust to life in America.

She looked at me as I tried to explain she would have to pay $100 for the glasses she needed. I know she lives on less than $500 cash a month and didn’t have the money. It was an awkward moment as we stood at the counter looking at the glasses, the bill and the financial distance between. I told the lady behind the counter that our church would pay for the glasses. The church gets donations for situations like this.

I want this woman to be well, to see correctly and to be able to succeed at finding a job and providing for her family. Our nation and state are facing deep budget cuts. I pay a lot of taxes and that money pays for all kinds of stuff I would never spend it on (like wars). On Thursday I felt the impact of those budget cuts as I was looked straight into the eyes of this woman.

I know the church is going to be called upon to step into the gap that is growing between the state and the poor. That will probably please some politically right leaning types of people, until they realize that the church is us.

So in the days ahead, the question will be — what are we going to do about it?

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup: Holiday tree; mini Stonehenge; Christmas weapons

As bitter winter advances, religious communities from Portland to New York are opening their doors to Occupy protesters.

How many “Christmas among the Occupiers” stories do you think we’ll see this year?

Christmas, by the way, is on a Sunday this year. The vast majority of churches (91 percent) plan to hold some sort of worship service, according to Lifeway Research.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee says that anyone upset that he calls the blue spruce erected in the Statehouse a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree should hush up and go feed the poor.

Speaking of charity, donations are inching up, but it could take years to return to pre-recession levels, USA Today reports.

Read full post here.

Angry churches pull money from big banks

By JOSEF KUHN
c. 2011 Religion News Service
A small but growing number of religious communities across the country are removing their money from Wall Street banks to protest what they see as unfair mortgage foreclosures and unwillingness to lend to small businesses.
The New Bottom Line (NBL) coalition of congregations, community organizations, labor unions and individuals is promoting a “Move Our Money” campaign with the goal of shifting $1 billion from big banks to community banks and credit unions.
“In a way, the banks have divested from our communities, especially communities of color,” said the Rev. Ryan Bell, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Los Angeles. “So we’re basically telling Bank of America that we want them to invest in our communities, and until they do that we’re not going to give our money to them.”
Bell’s church was one of six Los Angeles Christian congregations that announced they would divest a collective $2 million from Bank of America and Wells Fargo as part of the Move Our Money campaign.
The campaign has been slow to get off the ground; but after a recent national convocation of clergy in New Orleans, about 100 more leaders from a broad cross section of Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations pledged to move an additional $100 million.
The New Orleans gathering was sponsored by PICO National Network, a coalition of more than 1,000 faith-based social justice groups.
The Move Our Money website reports that $55 million had been moved as part of the campaign as of Monday (Nov. 21), but that figure pales in comparison to the big banks’ trillions in total assets.
The campaign singles out Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase for not doing enough to provide home loan modifications to help guard against foreclosure; cramping down on small business lending; and escaping federal taxes by parking assets overseas, even after each bank received billions of taxpayer dollars in federal bailouts.
According to Move Our Money organizers, by the end of 2009 Wells Fargo modified loans for only 22 percent of those eligible for modifications under a federal program, and has not changed its foreclosure procedure “despite many confirmed reports of ‘robo-signing’ and other illegal practices.”
Richele Messick, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, countered that the bank has participated in more than 600 “home preservation workshops” and provided more than 700,000 mortgage modifications since 2009, as well as giving more than $219 million to 19,000 nonprofits last year.
“It’s definitely our priority to keep people in their homes and to avoid foreclosure. We’re also actively lending to small businesses,” Messick said.
Bank of America could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for JPMorgan Chase declined to comment, but pointed to the bank’s third-quarter earnings report for 2011, which shows that it had increased lending to small businesses by 71 percent from the previous year and had offered 1.2 milliontrial modifications to home loans since the beginning of 2009.
The Move Our Money campaign is separate from the “Move Your Money” project started two years ago by Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington and economist Rob Johnson.
It is also separate from a recent Facebook group that called for a national “Bank Transfer Day” on Nov. 5 to move funds from for-profit banks to credit unions.
The Credit Union National Association reported that 700,000 people joined credit unions nationwide in the month before Bank Transfer Day — more than the 600,000 who joined in all of 2010. The Bank Transfer Day movement claims credit for this uptick.
In addition to encouraging private divestments through the Move Our Money campaign, NBL plans to introduce legislation in 50 or more cities around the country that would move taxpayer money out of big banks.
One NBL partner group was already successful in San Jose, Calif., which enacted a social responsibility policy a year ago that diverted $1 billion from Bank of America. The policy was the first of its kind in the nation, and similar moves are under discussion in Seattle and Portland, Ore.
Rabbi Michael Latz, head of a Reform Jewish congregation in Minneapolis, has participated in meetings with Jewish activist groups and county commissioners discussing a responsible banking policy.
“I’m involved because I think it is one of the great moral issues of our generation, about how we build our communities,” Latz said. “As a religious leader, as a person who studies texts, I understand that our first commitment must always be to themost vulnerable among us.”