Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Church Can Take Care of the Poor?

A recurrent theme by some Christians, is that the church can take care of the poor, and that it would be more compassionate and efficiency if they did rather than the govt. Certain Matthew 25 is pretty hard core that Christians should be doing so. Likewise, the cities in Ezekiel that chose not to do so did not end well. Even more so, in this Sunday’s lectionary reading, we have the parable of the 5000… just a few fish and some bread starting with the apostles multiplied to feed the entire group, and there were 12 baskets left over! Whats perhaps most interesting, is the words of Jesus. “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!”

As such, it is certainly a reasonable stance that the church should take care of the poor…

If one were to go back to the Old Testament rules on tithing, ie not 10%, but 23-1/3%, the church could do so somewhat. On the other hand, most Christians believe that the old testament laws no longer apply, but more so that we should give from the heart. In theory, this sounds like a much better solution. There will be some who give little to nothing, and others who give 90%+, and it would seem that giving would be even greater than the OT’s 23-1/3& figure.

Realistically, the US average church tithe ends up being only 2.43% or about $40 billion. Of that $40 billion, nearly 3/4 goes to salaries, buildings, and program expenses… thus, there is about $10 billion left for missions. If one splits the missions costs in half, ie 50% for evangelism, materials, missionaries, overhead, we end up with $5 billion/year to take care of the world’s poor by providing food, clothing, & shelter. I’m leaving off medical care, as there are differences in opinion as to the parable of the good samaritan and todays medical practices.

The US Govt spends $9.1 billion on food, nutrition, and temporary assistance for needy families each month (page 16 of the above report). So… if the church were to take care of the poor in the US, they could do so for ~2 weeks, before running out of money. In fairness though, lets assume there is a loss of efficieny, fraud, waste, etc in govt programs where in the church could do quite a bit better. For the sake of argument, lets say the church could out perform government on a 10:1 basis... fewer regs, fewer middlemen, ie farm direct to the poor with volunteer transport, better negotiations, more donations than direct purchases, more volunteer positions than paid ones, greater oversight, less fraud, better full time employment placements etc. (Ok, so I’ve way overly optimistic on this)

The church at its current budget levels, and priorities could thus provide for food, nutrition and temporary assistance for the poor in the US for 6 months out of the year…

Some have suggested, if the govt were to step away, that church folks would then donate more… some have even researched this (its behind paywall) and suggest that church giving declined as the new deal programs came into being. Then again, causation and correlation are not the same. It is how ever interesting to note the following data:

1933 Church giving 3.2%

1955 Church tithing 3.2%

2002 Church tithing 2.6%

2008 Church tithing 2.4%

If one then adds in the fact that taxes as a percentage of GDP are lower than they have been for decades… its easy to go???? Again, correlation and causation are often at odds.

Another aspect to consider, is how much the poor should be helped. Ie, govts idea of what is reasonable support. may be at odds with the values of some Christians. A Bishop of the Catholic church says one thing, those in the pew another and priests another. Likewise, Hugh, a Mennonite minister, overhears some Bible study commentary and….

“The passage was the story of the rich young ruler, who comes to Jesus for advice, and then Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and to give it to the poor. The people in the small group were having a tough time with this.

After hearing that story read, a young guy in the room – richer than 80% of the planet, born the predominant race and the most privileged gender in the wealthiest country in the world – the very epitome of a rich young ruler to the majority of our planet – it was then that this kid said,”I think the important thing to keep in mind is to have a balanced view. After all, God gives us our possessions for a reason, and—”

It was then that I lost it….”

Read the entire article at Who Sinned that these people are poor

What about Barbados, Calcutta, Guyana? If churches only help those lacking food in the US for 6 months, what about the rest of the world? What about the rest of the year?

There is corruption in government, even the most optimistic pro-government person there is can see problems with favoritism, single bid contracts, political contributions etc… but alas, the church is not immune. A fellow was kicked out of his church, as he didnt attend often enough. Imagine in todays economic climate, how many can’t attend “often enough”…now imagine said folks not only being thrown out of church, but also economically tossed out on the street. A very sad example of this is what happens far too often when folks get divorced. Imagine what would happen to the poor person who the church was helping.

The thing is, it wasnt always this way, and likewise not all churches are like the above. Back when, churches were behind the building of hospitals, the building and planning of schools. Public schools, a hundred plus years ago were rallied for, and even funded by the ELCA’s predecessor bodies. Today, churches have sold their hospitals, sold their schools, and many have become exceedingly dependent upon government to function. Ie, Lutheran social services and Catholic charities here in MN receive so much money from the state, that had the MN budget shutdown continued, they were looking to have to cancel any number of services. Likewise, when government funds church charities, hospitals etc, strings are included, and rightly so… but alas, such is often in conflict with the mission and/or values of the church.

Bottom line, its not just a math thing, a history thing, a definition thing, or even an abuse thing. Recent history is pretty clear, the church cant do it all, or even a major portion, irrespective of Matthew 25. Likewise, the government cant do it all either, as evidenced by greater and greater budget cuts, almost always impacting the least of these more so than anyone else.

This is where churches can and often do step up to the plate… and yet so many still fall through the cracks. To think that the govt should step back, and shift greater burden for poverty onto the church is beyond unrealistic….

No Real Christian would do that????

“No real Christian would do that” seems to be a common Christian apologetic to what Breivik did. Most assuredly his actions were exceedingly evil… but whether he is a Christian or not is another story.

If we believe the words of Christ as concerns the parable of the wheat and the tares, the no real Christian phrase falls apart.

If we take the doctrinal position that all sins are equal, short of the unforgivable sin, the no real Christian argument crashes and burns. Yes, it is a hard thing to consider the lusting of the eyes of a 17 yr old with the murder of 90+ people, but either we believe what scriptures say about sin equivalence or we dont.

If all scripture is inspired and beneficial, the killing actions of Saul and David, namely the deaths of 10’s of thousands in 1 Samuel 18 and the acts of genocide commanded to Saul in 1 Samuel 15, must not be ignored.

If we look at contemporary culture, we have Francis Schaeffer, one of the founders of today’s Christian Right in the US, book “A Christian Manifesto” who states:

“There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate. . . . A true Christian in Hitler’s Germany and in the occupied countries should have defied the false and counterfeit state. This brings us to a current issue that is crucial for the future of the church in the United States, the issue of abortion. . . . It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God’s law it abrogates its authority. And our loyalty to the God who gave this law then requires that we make the appropriate response in that situation.”

Francis son, Frank, presents a really scathing analysis, which I think goes much too far, and likewise far too politicalized, but beneath it all there appears an element of truth. .

A scary deal is the following from Breivik’s 2083 Manifesto, much of which I’ve heard espoused by any number of folks who would be considered “real Christians”. Bear in mind, Breivik attributed this to another author, but must have agreed with it enough to include it in his book.

As Christianity is a way of life, and life involves power relationships, Christianity is at once a political way of life. One can not separat eout ones politics from ones faith and beliefs, they are intertwined as ones beliefs effects ones politics. Thus, within the Christian worldview, there is no separation of ‘Christianity’ and ‘politics’, as distinct spheres, ‘politics’ is but another sphere of the way of life that is Christianity. Politics is subsumed within Christianity.

Persecution of Christians and oppression of Christianity is contrary to the will of God. Thus, ‘the universal and global church on earth’ should enter into solidarity with persecuted Christians wherever they are found. The church should centre its life, not around sacraments, or dogmas, (though these should never be done away with), but on the experiences and the cause of the martyred, and the oppressed, and suffering Christian. Christians should come together and study and support one another in tackling persecution and oppression of Christians. Theology should be rooted in the experiences of the persecuted.

Perhaps whats even scarier, is its not just Breivik, case in point the following extended forum discussion from 2007 which references parts of the same document that Brevik quoted above. Its far too lengthy to cut and paste.

Lastly, in Breivik’s own words

Christian, Protestant but I support a reformation of Protestantism leading to it being absorbed by Catholisism. The typical “Protestant Labour Church” has to be deconstructed as its creation was an attempt to abolish the Church. Religious: I went from moderately to agnostic to moderately religious

My parents, being rather secular wanted to give me the choice in regards to religion.
At the age of 15 I chose to be baptised and confirmed in the Norwegian State Church. I
consider myself to be 100% Christian.

Regarding my personal relationship with God, I guess I’m not an excessively religious
man. I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a
monocultural Christian Europe.

We’d like to think no real Christian would do such, but alas with scripture, church history, contemporary writings, and others actually advocating violence… it appears that some would do such. Even sadder, I’m not convinced the perpetrators are always deluded nutjobs, no matter how convenient such a label would be.

Whosoever Getteth his Christology Right Enough

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever getteth his Christology right enough shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” is what a friend said the other day when we were having a rather indepth discussion on the trinity.

In isolation, such a comment seems pretty insane to the 21st century Christian. On the other hand, it doesnt seem too out of line when it comes to some of the writings of the early ecumenical councils. Even today, with a little bit of poking around, such a belief is a lot more common than one might think.

Where it gets really interesting, is when the above statement is a belief held by *Nestorians in regards to the other Abrahamic faiths or non-trinitarians. In a nutshell, “right enough” starts getting really crazy fast, so much so, that its pretty much impossible to resolve.

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading on the wheat and the tares seems quite applicable. Ie, as any gardener knows, when desirable plants and weeds are intermixed and young, its near impossible to tell them apart. In the case of Gospel readings, its even more difficult and dangerous, in that the weed in reference was darnal, where in its impossible to tell which is wheat, and which is a poisonous weed, until the time of harvest.

The part where Jesus goes on to explain the parable really hits home on this. The weeds and the wheat are people… the harvestors are the angels at the end of the age. Namely, the wheats role is not to pull up the weeds and cast them into the fire. Likewise, its not the wheats role to pound the suspected weed into the ground… but such is what happens far too often. My friend John in his sermon last sunday stated.

We are, in effect – no, that’s not right, it isn’t “in effect,” it’s exactly that we are ripping out the wheat along with the weeds, and doing it with wild and joyful abandon! In our passion to construct the perfect vehicle with which to express our freedom in Christ, we’ve fenced ourselves in – thirty-five thousand separate plots of theological ground. In our dedication to perfecting our walk, purifying our prayer, sanctifying our thought, we have shut out anything and everyone who does not conform to our precise expectations.

So what about the Nestorians, non-Trinitarians, and others with widely differing beliefs which we believe to be in error? Plant seeds, Love them, pray for them, and let God take care of the rest. Do bear in mind that abuse, spiritual or otherwise is a different matter… Unlike weeds and wheat that are hard to distinguish, a roaring fire in the field needs to be extinguished before it destroys everything.

*Nestorianism basically splits Christ in half, and in todays world, Nestoriansim by label primarily exists in Iran, albeit it is a very small group. By theological definition, Nestorianism is pretty rampant in US protestant circles, an informal survey some years back put the number upwards of 40%!

Beer, Christianity, The Least of These, and MN Shutdown

One of the topics getting a lot of attention today is the upcoming loss of Coors/Miller beer sales in MN. I don’t know if the remaining brands could pick the slack, being the Coors/Miller market share is near 40% in the state. If remaining brands can’t, much higher prices, and even a shortage of beer seems around the corner.

There also exists an element of moral outrage by some, that the needs of the vulnerable in the state are a lower priority than folks getting their beer. A few commentators have suggested that the lack of beer may be the impetus needed for the government to solve the budget issue.

I’m not quite sure what to think of this.

Amongst many pastor types of both parties and a multitude of denominations is a statement that a society is judged by how it takes care of the least of these. In the NT, we have the admonition of Jesus in Matthew to individuals that failure to feed and cloth the poor will not end well. In the OT, we have cities being vaporized for society seemingly having an out of sight, out of mind view of the poor.

In MN, we may have no beer.

A very honest socially conservative Christian laid out his views as concerns Jesus words in the NT quite well.

It’s a sobering warning, and I fear that I’m typical. For the most part I think about myself: my needs, my interests, my desires. And when I break out of my cocoon of self-interest, it’s usually because I’m thinking about my family or my friends, which is still a kind of self-interest. The poor? Sure, I feel a sense of responsibility, but they’re remote and more hypothetical than real: objects of a thin, distant moral concern that tends to be overwhelmed by the immediate demands of my life. As I said, I’m afraid I’m typical.

As a liberal, it would be easy to point fingers at this thinking, perhaps even tieing it directly to last weeks lectionary, where wealth and concerns of the world choke out the word of God in the parable of the sower. To some extent, when I see folks going “tsk, tsk, beer is more important than keeping grandma alive”, many parallels do exist with the thorny ground thing.

The thing is, other factors do enter in. Well meaning folks can disagree as to how to best take care of the poor. The above fellow goes on:

Some say the best way to meet these needs involves adopting tax policies designed to stimulate economic growth, along with redoubled efforts of private charity. Others emphasize public programs and increased government intervention. It’s an argument worth having, of course, and to a great degree our contemporary political debates turn on these issues. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there is a unifying consensus: The moral character of a nation is measured to a large degree by its concern for the poor.

He then presents an answer, likely shared by many social conservatives.

On this point I agree with many friends on the left who argue that America doesn’t have a proper concern for the poor. Our failure, however, is not merely economic. In fact, it’s not even mostly economic.

I think such is where much of the difference of opinion ultimately lies. No wonder we had MN Republican legislators messing around with societal legislation, rather than working on the budget. They likely feel if they can legislate their version of morality, poverty will self correct a bit, such that less services will be needed. In a related vein, many liberals believe if the environment is properly cared for, public health costs are likely to decrease.

Ultimately, I don’t understand how grandma’s oxygen needs, and the costs of atmospheric separation, labor, transportation and overhead is all of a sudden going to drop in cost out of the willingness of folks hearts. Perhaps in the longer term, it could happen as society might shift more altruistic, but grandma, and perhaps a generation or two, might be long gone before that happens. I could be too cynical in this, but if a surgeon is $350K in debt… I don’t think anyone, even a social conservative, expects them to work for little or no pay.

The fellow then goes on with the following:

Progressives talk about “social responsibility.” It is an apt term, but it surely means husbanding social capital just as much as—indeed, more than—providing financial resources. In our society a preferential option for the poor must rebuild the social capital squandered by rich baby boomers, and that means social conservatism. The bohemian fantasy works against this clear imperative, because it promises us that we can attend to the poor without paying any attention to our own manner of living. Appeals to aid the less fortunate, however urgent, make few demands on our day-to-day lives. We are called to awareness, perhaps, or activism, but not to anything that would cut against the liberations of recent decades and limit our own desires.

I think he nails it with the last sentence. In a lot of ways, this parallels the angst many have with short term mission trips, outsourcing services to the poor, and in general not wanting to self/family sacrifice.

Beer shortages impact daily living for the average Joe. The homeless lady w/o a prescription can jump govt hoops if she fits the right demographic, otherwise she must do without. Her poverty has little to no effect on the average Joes daily living… but if you know her, such is likely different.

There is no question, money must play a huge role, as one cant create grandmas oxygen or gene therapy drugs via individualistic “moral” living, no matter how much one ones to spin it. Likewise, the toddler who needs a special diet via a feeding tube can’t very well survive via a food bank.

By the same token, simply throwing money at an issue, all the while refusing to invest social capital, ie refusing to get ones own / families hands dirty is not an answer either. Such opens the door to skimming, and a multitude of unintended consequences such as government over-reach, state-church co-mingling, misplaced incentives, and mandated moral hazards, all of which are counter to the issue at hand. Real approaches to caring for the least of these, require both financial, and social capital.

The Sower Goes All Over

On the spreading of God’s word and the parable of the sower. Some bits from some sermons.

If the Sower is walking the hard packed road, is not the fertile soil farthest away, farthest away from the Sower and most reliant on the wind of God’s Spirit to carry it aloft and home to the good ground? Rev Gene

Seed eating birds are not the end state, they drop seeds all over, often on better soil, bird seeded mulberry bushes show up everywhere. Pastor Steve

It is as if the sower got on his John Deere, hooked up the Model SS10B Broadcast Spreader, and before he even drove out of the barn, pushed the PTO button that started the hopper spinning. As he drives to the field, seed is slinging everywhere! On the driveway, in the grass, bouncing off of passing cars, whizzing into the weeds on the side of the road, and finally – finally – as he drives into the field, the seed flies where it’s actually supposed to go! Tragic_Pizza

Some obervations from my garden:

Soil turns into a hard pack where nothing will grow if you follow the same exact samepath all the time. Such is advantageous for weed control. It is probably less so a good idea when it comes to spreading the Gospel.

Areas of minimal soil are not forever, quick shoots die off, and eventually turn into compost, which is uber fertile, but the wind blows it everywhere.

Thorns and vines are fleeting deals… they are there for a seasons, and they die, and new ones often return to take thier place. Gaps between growths do exist for a time. I’ve used this for automatic weed control, by planting corn, beans, and squash together. Likewise, I now have some volunteer tomatoes and a raspberry vine in my strawberry patch.

The parable brings home the radical idea to plant seeds everywhere, let no spot be left unseeded… even the spots off the beaten path.