The Potential of the Church
The following article was taken from The State of Church Giving through 2002 by John and Sylvia Ronsvalle. (©copyright empty tomb inc., Champaign, IL, 2004.)
How Much Does a Human Life Cost? $728.86. That's the average annual amount it would take to stop the preventable death of a child under five, using available low-cost solutions. The additional cost for 6.9 million such children around the globe is estimated to be $5 billion a year.1
The latest UNICEF data estimates that 10,889,000 children under five died in 2002 around the globe.2 A study published in the medical journal, The Lancet, estimated that 63% of global child deaths could be prevented using available strategies that could be applied in low-tech settings.3 Dividing the $5 billion cost by the 6,860,070 estimated number of preventable child deaths yielded $728.86, the cost of saving a child's life.
How Much Does the Church in the U.S. Have to Apply to This Need? Church members could have donated an additional $152 billion in 2002 by increasing their giving to a congregation-wide average of 10 percent from the 2.6% actually given. About 3% of this additional giving could have helped, in Jesus' name, stop the most readily preventable 6.9 million annual preventable child deaths.
Figure 15 presents both the potential giving amounts, and two areas of global need that could be addressed.4
Figure 15: Potential Additional Church Giving at a 2002 Average of 10%, and Illustrations of Global Need That Could Be Addressed
What Does This Disparity Mean? The lack of mobilization of additional giving to address this need is a crime against humanity, a crime of infanticide by omission, even though it is a crime of omission rather than commission.
A document of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference's justice and peace commission, about the church's role in the apartheid struggle, may be relevant to the present discussion. That document informed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that: "The complicity of the church...is found in acts of omission rather than commission...Silence in the face of ongoing and systematic oppression at all levels of society is perhaps the church's greatest sin."
Scripture supports this understanding. Consider the statement in James 4:17, here quoted in the New Revised Standard Version: "Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin."5
With the general affluence in American society, communications systems have improved dramatically. As a result, information about conditions around the globe is plentiful and widespread. The fact that children around the world are dying from a variety of poor living conditions has been broadly publicized. With that knowledge comes responsibility. To ignore that responsibility, according to the Bible, is sin.
Why Is There No General Mobilization? Why is there no general mobilization of church member giving to address this need? Most church members are more committed to the practice of idolatry than to trustworthy obedience to their faith.
Idolatry certainly sounds like an old-fashioned word. It conjures up images of carved stone or wood, combining strange rituals and practices. Surely, most church members in the U.S. would object, they are beyond such primitive ideas.
However, Scripture presents a more uncomfortable definition of idolatry. In two different letters, the Apostle Paul equates idolatry with greed. In Ephesians 5:5, he wrote, "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (NIV). In Colossians 3:5, Paul wrote, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature; sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry" (NIV).
In an effort to explore the definition of greed, Figure 16 presents statistics about American consumer expenditures and global need.
In this search for a workable definition of greed, consider the picture drawn by Jesus when he told the parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Of course, as the rich man roasted in the flames, he was very sorry he had never noticed poor Lazarus at his doorstep. And although, according to Jesus, Father Abraham indicated to the rich man that he felt his pain, there was nothing to be done at that point about the rich man's surviving brothers. As Abraham points out, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (v. 31, NIV).
Why Is There No Creative Leadership? Why is there no creative leadership to challenge church members to change? As church parking lots fill with new vehicles and congregation members approve budgets that keep more of their donated dollars for their own internal use, there is no evidence that church members are resisting the popular American consumer lifestyle to any great degree. Allowing that church members are practicing a level of greedy consumption indistinguishable from the general population, the only difference between church and non-church members is that church members are supposed to know that idolatrous deeds are bad. Yet, the potential for giving more money in order to help stop, in Jesus' name, the deaths of little Lazaruses around the globe goes untapped.
Why, then, are church leaders not guiding their members away from this unloving, self-centered behavior, and into spending patterns more consistent with the professed faith of loving God by loving others? Why is there no creative leadership to challenge church members to change to the extent that it would be evidenced in the amount given to Benevolences?
It may be because church leaders have other agendas than doing the hard work of discipling church members to increase missions giving.
One hypothesis is that church leaders assume that only a limited amount of money will be donated to the church. In that case, increased missions giving is perceived to be in competition with ongoing operations at every level of the church. Church leaders would not want missions giving to increase lest it subtract money from their own administrative budgets.
Budgeting at the Local Level. Chapter 1 of this volume documents that giving to the church has been losing market share as a portion of income since the late 1960s. However, a recovery of giving to Congregational Finances, funding the internal operations of the local congregation, began in 1992. Meanwhile, giving as a portion of income to Benevolences, funding the larger mission of the church beyond the local congregation, was lower in 2002 than in 1992. Two observations can be made from this information.
First, the change in Congregational Finances indicates that it was possible to reverse the negative trend in giving as a portion of income. While some leaders and scholars consider as inevitable a negative trend in giving as a portion of income when incomes increase, the reversal in support for Congregational Finances belies that notion. The trend in giving to Congregational Finances as a portion of income since 1992 is a recent example that the portion of income given to church can increase even as incomes increase. Chapter 4 in this volume describes a similar pattern that occurred in the 1950s.
Second, whatever strategy was used to increase the portion of income given to Congregational Finances was not also applied to the category of Benevolences.
One factor in the reversal of the negative Congregational Finances giving trend may be a commonly used approach to budgeting. In many congregations, each department is asked to develop its list of needs for the coming year. The annual pledge campaign is then held, yielding a total amount of expected income. A committee then conducts what can only be described as Solomonic deliberations to decide what line items to chop off or reduce. Since decreases in each internally-focused department affect people benefiting from those activities, the need to fund the local line items are well argued in the deliberations. This process has been exacerbated by a conscious decision to adopt a "felt-needs" approach, emphasizing consumer desires on the part of church members as a method to attract additional members. Thus, local operations are likely to have strong advocates during the congregational budgeting process. The less visible needs of abstract groups of distant neighbors, such as "the sick," "the poor," and "the unsaved"—or those mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46—are less likely to receive the attention accorded to the neighbor who sits in the next pew each Sunday morning. This disparity is especially true since the advent of the unified budget.
Unified Budgets at the Regional and National Levels. One of the roles of the regional and denominational structures used to be the promotion of missions needs. However, in the early twentieth century, many denominations adopted unified budgets. This approach to funding Benevolences meant that undesignated dollars from the congregations were made to stretch across a broad set of needs. International missions was now only one line item, compared to the several different regional and national denominational administrative departments to be funded. This budgeting process was overseen by professional denominational staff.
That missions was perceived to compete with local operations was evident as far back as the 1920s. At that time, Charles H. Fahs wrote about the development of unified budgets. It was a time when missionaries on furlough regularly attended local church services to describe their work as a way to secure financial support, especially through special collections. "The pastors, in turn, began to feel that they were being used as money-raisers rather than as spiritual leaders of the people, and many of them came to regard the providing of funds for the work of the benevolent boards as a pastoral burden rather than as an opportunity to lead people into ever-broadening sympathies and an ever-widening service." Denominations responded to complaints from pastors by moving toward a unified budget approach to benevolences. "Not a few of the great boards gave up their immediate contacts with constituencies, long conserved and cultivated, and unification and consolidation of benevolences became the order of the day. . . . The faithful few or the many, who had come through the years to visualize specific situations and needs, now had their eyes turned to a 'budget' to be raised."6
The Results of Unified Budgets. The unified budget is referred to by a variety of names, depending on the denomination. Requests for money to fund the unified budget may be known as, for example, "assessments," "Cooperative Program," or "apportionments." In each case, congregations are asked to forward an amount of money to fund the denomination's activities.
In a pattern similar to that at the local level, budgeting at the regional and national levels puts missions support in direct competition with staff salaries and programs favored by those staff.
The forces leading to the unified budget also appears to have contributed to an artificial prohibition on detailed communications to the congregation. Perhaps in part as a holdover from the concern about too many missionaries coming to seek support from the local congregation, denominations in general resist providing detailed project-specific information to congregations about missions dollars sent through the denomination. One often-voiced concern is that too many congregations will want to fund popular missions or programs, while other less dynamic but also worthy efforts will be underfunded. However, this general lack of specific feedback also serves denominational officials who may fear that enthusiasm for missions funding will lessen support for general denominational structures.
The end result of an unwillingness on the part of denominational leaders to serve congregations with dynamic missions feedback is a static or declining level of financial support that causes staffing and program cuts. Truly this is an example of one's nose being cut because of an argument with one's face. Perhaps a religious analogy is more appropriate. Church leaders refuse the advice given by Jesus in Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, and John 12:25, that is, to lose one's life in order to gain it.
Chapter 8 of this volume further explores the effects on giving patterns of the relationship between denominational information systems and congregation members' needs.
An Additional Agenda. Changing church members' giving patterns is hard work. National church leaders would have to apply creativity and a great deal of energy to provide the information needed by the disparate and numerous local congregation members who need to change their lifestyles in order to increase Benevolences mission giving.
It is not that national leaders do not know how to spend the kind of energy that would be needed to convince church members about the compelling reasons for increased missions support. Many of these leaders are busy telling national government structures what to do. Consider the following sampling of news reports from the first half of 2004.
United Methodist News Service: "The United Methodist Church has asked the U.S. government to change its policy on Haitians seeking political asylum."7
WorldNetDaily: "Mainline church leaders are urging the U.S. to stop the 'cycle of violence' in Iraq by turning over authority of the postwar transition and reconstruction to the United Nations." 8
Catholic News Service: "Priorities in approving the federal budget for next year should include full funding for a social services block grant, expansion of health care coverage for the uninsured, and rejection of efforts to cut Medicaid and housing voucher programs, according to the president of the U.S. bishops' conference."9
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America press release: "The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran church in America (ELCA), was among nine distinguished religious leaders who went to Washington, D.C., March 25 to remind the Bush Administration and other political leaders to keep financial promises to fund programs aimed at combating global poverty and HIV/AIDS."10
Many would argue that the church has long had, and should maintain, a public witness to ruling authorities. However, the present discussion asks why a similar level of effort, pronouncement, and accountability are not directed at church members who are cutting back on mission budgets? Why is the church not also expending every effort to secure from its members strong voluntary support for the alleviation of poverty, the expansion of social services, and combating devastating diseases, such as malaria and AIDS?
Denominations identify issues that are important to the national staff and then conduct intense information campaigns about them. Consider the efforts in a number of mainline denominations to institute multiyear studies and nationwide congregation-level dialogues on the issue of whether to ordain actively homosexual clergy.11
Yet, there has not been a similarly focused campaign to discuss the importance of increased voluntary financial support for stopping, in Jesus' name, global child deaths.
Church leaders have made the jump from personal morality to public policy, skipping the absolutely essential intervening variable of the corporate body of Christ developing a voluntary, widespread mobilization of missional resources. Without this critical component, the private morality and public witness ends of the spectrum are weakened.
Are There Signs of Hope? The signs of hope that exist, such as the breakthrough of the Episcopal Church with its "0.7% solution," are mixed with controversy and problems.
For example, by embracing the "0.7 percent solution," the Episcopal church has brought church policy into the 21st century at a global scale. The potential that the proposal introduces is commensurate with the realities of the present 50-year old Age of Affluence. However, some of the very partner churches to be helped have announced that they will refuse assistance from the Episcopal Church in the U.S.
A different example is a discussion going on in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. The proposal to study tithing made front-page news in that city. However, upon closer examination, the proposal does not realistically reflect the giving potential among Catholics in Chicago.
The Episcopal Church and the "0.7 Percent Solution." Since its 2003 General Convention, at which a resolution to support the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was passed, support for the idea has spread through the Episcopal Church. Figure 17 lists the MDGs.
Figure 17 lists the MDGs.
The support for the MDGs is being combined with an earlier 2000 General Convention resolution to set aside 0.7 percent of "net disposable budgeted income" to "contribute to sustainable development and microcredit initiatives." By January 2004, seven Episcopal dioceses were giving at the 0.7 percent level to support MDGs, with three more planning to begin doing so by 2005, and others moving in that direction.12
The concept has been supported by the Cambridge Consultation, a "group of Episcopal Church-related economists, business people, bishops and parish clergy, and others concerned with global economic development" that has been meeting since January 2003.13
A press release from the Episcopal News Service put this new undertaking in an interesting light. Speaking of the Episcopal dioceses that have committed to the "0.7% solution," the press release stated, "They join 191 member nations of the UN, including the United States, in embracing the goals and the '0.7 percent solution' of contributing that fraction of gross domestic product (GDP) to achieving the goals." By pursuing what has been called a "big, holy, audacious goal," The Episcopal Church has taken a remarkable step in developing an indigenous church policy for Christians in the United States that could transform the status-quo approach hobbling so many communions. To distribute these increased donations, Episcopalians are encouraged to work through denominational agencies, such as Episcopal Relief and Development, and the United Thank Offering/Episcopal Church Women, to help achieve the goals.14
The potential for a broader national Christian movement became more of a reality when it was announced in July 2004 that Pope John Paul II endorsed the MDGs.15 The Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and The United Methodist Church might be termed "the big three" denominations in the U.S., based on their large memberships. These three also represent a broad segment of the Christian tradition. If all three groups were to follow the Episcopal lead, and endorse the goal of applying a specific amount of increased giving to a specific global challenge, a national movement could take shape that could give church members in the U.S. a positive agenda for their affluence. That specific global challenge could well be "stopping, in Jesus' name, global child deaths," for which a consensus among a broad spectrum of church leaders has already been demonstrated.16 The significance of the Episcopal Church action is that leaders in this communion have broken through in their thinking to integrate the potential of voluntary church missional giving to impact global need on a significant scale. If effective leadership in the church existed, the emerging financial support by the Episcopal Church for the MDGs could serve as a rallying point to encourage significant voluntary action on the part of other church leaders and members in the U.S.
The sad irony about the remarkable initiative of the Episcopal Church is that the Episcopal Church is hampered in any effort to provide national leadership to other denominations. Some of the very partner churches in the two-thirds world, needed to help achieve the MDGs, have indicated that they will not accept money from the Episcopal Church in the U.S. because of an action unrelated to the communion's support for the MDGs.
The Church in the U.S. and the Church in the Two-Thirds World. Leaders of the "0.7 percent solution" in the Episcopal Church recognize the strategy as a new beginning. "It's not just once a year do-gooderism, say MDG advocates in the Episcopal Church, but a commitment to living out the Prayer Books' Baptismal Covenant by changing the way money is seen—and spent—that motivates the pledge."17
However, according to church leaders in the two-thirds world, the fact that Episcopalian leaders in the U.S. do not fulfill their church commitments in other areas of their faith practice may mean that cooperation on the MDGs as a witness to a shared faith is impossible.
There is no question of the need for wealthy Christians around the globe to partner with their front-line counterparts in other nations in order to solve critical problems threatening the lives of so many people on earth. Church leaders, as well as relief and development experts advise that the problem will require a multinational effort. For example, Archbishop Simon Ntamwana of Burundi appealed to the Roman Catholic leaders in the U.S. for assistance with Africa's intense physical as well as spiritual needs. He told the bishops, "Africa is a very young continent. We want the world to pay attention to our youth."18
Africans now comprise about half of the 77-million member Anglican church worldwide, which is represented in the United States by the Episcopal Church. The bishop of the oldest Anglican province in Africa, the Most Reverend Njobgonkulu Winston Hugh Ndungane, described the challenge faced by Africans in these words: "The Anglican Communion is right to highlight the issues facing Africa—we have life and death situations facing us every day, whether AIDS, poverty, or war—and we need people to feel this across the whole Anglican World."19
However, many of Archbishop Ndugane's counterparts in Africa were upset at the ordination of a practicing homosexual to the role of bishop by the Episcopal Church in the United States. As a consequence, African Anglican leaders announced an unwillingness to accept money from dioceses, or cooperate with missionaries, who support either ordination of practicing homosexuals or same-sex marriage.
Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria emerged as a spokesperson for the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa. The Council has taken a position that they will reject money from any diocese that ordains gay clergy, and refuse to work with missionaries who support the ordination of gay priests. Archbishop Akinola was widely quoted after the April 2004 decision as saying, "If we suffer for a while to gain our independence and our freedom and to build ourselves up, I think it will be a good thing for the church in Africa. And we will not, on the altar of money, mortgage our conscience, mortgage our faith, mortgage our salvation." Although some leaders in the Episcopal Church in the United States wondered if the statement was symbolic, Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya "indicated that the Africans were committed to giving up significant sources of funding."20
The Episcopal Church could not have been completely surprised at the response from the African bishops, as the African delegation had been joined by Anglican leaders from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean during a 1998 convocation of all Anglican leaders, when "82 percent of the leaders voted against gay clergy and church approval of same-sex couples."21
The traditional relationships of other denominations in the United States with former daughter, and now sister, churches are being tested as well. Conservative influence from African delegates helped to tighten language about homosexuality at the United Methodist General Conference in May 2004, and Kenyan Presbyterian leaders broke a longstanding partnership with a presbytery in the U.S., because that U.S. presbytery supported the idea of changing rules about ordination of homosexuals. This controversy may begin to isolate the church in the U.S. as global Christianity shifts away from the wealthy northern nations. One sociologist suggested that demographics are shifting in Christendom. According to Philip Jenkins, "In another 40 to 50 years, there will be 3 billion Christians, and only one in five will be a non-Latino white . . . We're talking basically about a black and brown religion."22
Some denominations in the United States may be faced with choosing between two apparently mutually exclusive priorities: to change longstanding morality standards, or to stand with two-thirds-world sister churches in their efforts to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick, as outlined by Jesus in Matthew 25: 31-46.
What the growing, dynamic churches of the two-thirds world encounter among congregations in the United States may be described by messages sent to the church in Thyatira and the church in Laodicea in the book of Revelation.
The Church of Thyatira and the Church of Laodicea. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, has been associated with end-times study and conjecture, made currently popular by the successful Left Behind series of novels. However, chapters two and three of Revelation record messages from Jesus Christ to seven different churches, named for seven different cities. The messages generally contain an element of warning, and a call to repentance evidenced by changed behavior.
In reviewing the messages, the analogy between the Church in Thyatira and the Episcopal Church in the United States bears review. Even as the Episcopal Church took vital leadership on the integration of faith and money through its endorsement of the "0.7 percent solution," its ordination of a practicing homosexual bishop threatened to isolate it from its global partners.
The message to the Church in Thyatira was addressed to a divided church in Revelation 2:18-26, here rendered in the New International Version:
To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
The message describes a church divided by sexual and idolatrous practices, a church that is called to repent. The good deeds, the service, and the growth in faithful action are acknowledged. However, those actions do not excuse embracing sexual immorality.
Yet, the message to a different church than the one in Thyatira may be relevant to a much larger segment of church members who worship in many different denominations in the United States. With the phenomenal potential for increased giving that could impact global need in Jesus' name, the lack of increased giving is a sin of omission. While two-thirds world leaders hold accountable those who evidence behaviors like those in the Church in Thyatira, more general accountability may be required of Christians who resemble the Church in Laodicea. Revelation 3:14-22 reads as follows in the New Revised Standard Version:
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God's creation:
No doubt, the churches in the two-thirds world can read the various messages to the churches in chapters two and three of Revelation, and find matters for reflection on their own behavior. In the present discussion of giving patterns of church members in the United States, the two passages above call Christians in the U.S. to accountability. Toleration of idolatry, either through sexual immorality or self-satisfied consumption, can make a church unacceptable to Jesus Christ. Both of the above messages to the churches offer warnings and promises of redemption. As throughout the Biblical account, the choice of whether to accept God's standards is a voluntary one. However, the God who loves the little children of the world is not likely to be pleased by a church that tolerates their preventable deaths at a rate of 20,000 a day, no matter how good the music offered, nor how thick the carpeting is on the altar stairs in First Church of Laodicea.
Another View. The present volume addresses the topic of faith and money, an issue little discussed in the church in the United States. Giving patterns reflect heart patterns, and one might suggest that the declining rates of giving and membership suggest a cooling of the heart of the church in the U.S. The goal of the present volume is to present adequate and sound information that both equips and challenges church members to integrate their faith with their money, so that those giving patterns will change.
However, there is currently an issue that has been dominating the attention of the church in the U.S. It is being debated in so many denominations, and is more recently disrupting international church relations, that it must be addressed in order to set it in its proper place, thus allowing the more profound discussion about faith and money to take center stage.
Much of the discussion on homosexuality that has dominated national and international circles has debated the issues related to the natural order. Perhaps there is also value in considering the issue from the "supernatural" order. That is, if God has an opinion, as expressed in the Bible, that homosexuality is wrong, one might ask why God might hold that opinion. The following points are intended to provide a basis from which to move beyond the debates about homosexuality that are polarizing and immobilizing the church, in order to free church members to explore their abilities to love others because they love God, and then to show it through increased giving.
Assumption 1: God's desire for humans is that they learn to love God and to love others as themselves. This idea is repeatedly stated in the Bible (Mark 2:29-31; Luke 10:25-28; James 2:8), and is described as summing up the law (Mt. 22:40; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14).
Assumption 2: In keeping with the goal of Assumption 1, God limits eros-love to one-half of the population, with the other half off limits for eros-love. This limitation allows the individual to explore agape-love with the same-sex half of the population, in an environment that is not complicated by the physical implications and demanding nature of eros-love.
Assumption 3: God focuses eros-love in a monogamous relationship with a member of the other half of the population. This relationship includes the reproductive possibility of "two becoming one." The result of the monogamous relationship—the infant child—places demands on each member of the couple. Both are now required to learn to love another being beyond themselves. Each adult cannot command the full attention of the other adult in the relationship, because there is now a third being, a dependent extension of themselves, to care for. The family unit becomes an environment that uses eros- and filial-love to grow the participants toward the more altruistic and self-sacrificing agape-love demanded of any parent.
Also, with the demanding eros-love channeled within the monogamous relationship, a sense of security and relief can develop. The power of eros-love is a force that can consume the individual, leaving less energy for growing beyond the filial to the more disinterested agape-love. However, when directed within the parameters of the monogamous relationship, the powerful force of eros-love can help construct a firm and secure foundation from which the family members can reach out in agape-love to the broader community. Now, the energy otherwise consumed in the search for continual sexual gratification can be channeled into problem-solving on behalf of the larger common good.
From within this framework of assumptions, then, the abhorrence of homosexual activity expressed by God in Biblical texts would not be due to homophobic prudishness. Rather, it is due to displeasure at humans' lack of taking seriously both a tremendously clever policy decision, and an intricately balanced homeostatic system, designed to develop humans in a way to maximize both their own and the common good at the same time. As demonstrated by the immobilizing debates going on in various denominations, a desire to expand eros-love to the entire population limits the ability of the church to create an environment for its members in which to grow toward the broadscale agape-love that the Bible indicates God wants for the church. The church could exercise that agape-love by impacting, in Jesus' name, the desperate needs faced by others through the means of increased giving.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and Tithing. Another sign of hope in terms of the church's potential appeared in 2004. However, the emerging proposal to explore tithing in the Archdiocese of Chicago does not reflect the reality of church members' potential.
When Cardinal Francis George assembled a group of experts to explore the concept of tithing, it made front-page news in Chicago. The Chicago Sun-Times ran the headline, "Archdiocese May Ask Catholics to Give 10%: Cardinal George Summons Experts to Discuss Voluntary Tithing Program."23 The accompanying article described the Archdiocese's consideration of a program used in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wichita, Kansas. According to article, the Wichita program produced an increase in volunteers, an increase in mass attendance, and eventually enough income that tuition has been free at Catholic schools in the diocese for years. Daniel Loughman, director of stewardship and tithing for the Wichita diocese, commented, "It's a spiritual conversion where we learn to understand and accept that all that we are and all that we have are gifts from God." Two parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago already build on the concept of tithing. As a result, one provides free tuition to its parochial school, and another provides scholarships. The pastor of Chicago's St. Sabina parish, one of the two already promoting tithing, said, "I think the future financial stability of the church is absolutely dependent on getting away from the Sunday collection mentality to stewardship teaching. I believe it can't survive unless it survives on God's principles."24
It should be noted that Cardinal George wrote a letter to the Sun-Times, after a related supportive editorial appeared in that newspaper. The cardinal indicated that the tithing program was only under consideration, the archdiocese does not have plans "to ask all Catholics in the archdiocese to give 10 percent this year or anytime soon without a lot of serious conversation and preparation."25
As exciting as the prospect is of the Archdiocese of Chicago tithing, there is nothing in the Sun-Times article to indicate that church leaders understand the true potential that church members have to impact human need in Jesus' name. A few numbers demonstrate this point.
When discussing the tithing proposal, Cardinal George was specifically including Catholics in Cook and Lake Counties in Illinois. For 2001, the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis put Personal Income for those counties at $221.6 billion. Of the total population in those two counties, forty percent identify themselves as Catholics. That means that Catholics in those two counties had an estimated $88.6 billion in income in 2001.
In the Sun-Times article, the director of development services for the Chicago archdiocese referred to national statistics that suggest Catholic giving is 1.2% of income. At that rate, Chicago Catholics gave an estimated $1.06 billion in 2001.
If Catholics increased to a parish-wide average of 10%, the additional income that year would have been $7.8 billion.
Information from the Archdiocese Web site indicated that there were 117,250 students in Lake and Cook Counties in Catholic schools. If the Roman Catholic church were to spend all of the increased potential giving on schools, that would work out to an additional $66,531 per pupil. The unreasonable nature of that proposal is apparent when one considers that the Chicago public schools spend an estimated average of $5,996 per pupil. Even assuming the Archdiocese of Chicago wanted to spend an additional $5,996 per pupil, on top of what is already spent, that amount would total $703 million. The remaining amount of additional giving at the ten percent level among Catholics in Lake and Cook Counties would be $7 billion. Church members in those two counties, alone, could provide the estimated $5 billion needed to stop two-thirds of the preventable deaths of children under five around the world, or the $7 billion needed to provide basic elementary education for children around the globe.26
The above analysis reflects increased giving among only Catholics in two Chicago-area counties. The numbers would be increased if all historically-Christian church members in the area were included. Any proposal to promote tithing should be accompanied by a vision big enough to engage the true potential of church members for faithful obedience.
Do We Understand What We Say We Believe? The contrast in the tithing discussion, between the potential of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago to impact global need in Jesus' name and the stated goal of free school tuition, highlights an important issue. Catholics in the Chicago area are not different from Baptists in Nashville or United Methodists in New York. Christians in the United States, who worship in groups of 20,000 or 10, share a common blind spot.
The potential of Christians in the United States to impact global physical and spiritual need on a voluntary basis through increased giving is either not understood or consciously ignored. If it is not understood, then some form of improved communication is a critical imperative for church leaders in the U.S. to develop. If that potential is being ignored, then leaders and church members need to repent. Either way, the present inaction is sin.
Traditional Christian beliefs point to stories from both the Old and New Testaments as examples for the journey of faith. The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews recalls the litany of Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, David, Samuel (Hebrews 11).
More recently, Christianity Today presented its readers with the story of Chinese Christians who want to evangelize along the Silk Road to "witness for the Lord under any circumstance, and that means even if you're handcuffed and being led to the execution ground."27
However, what is the largely male, middle-aged, college educated, well-to-do reader28 supposed to do with the example of the Chinese Christians? Should these readers serve as a cloud of witnesses for the Chinese Christians, much like those described in Hebrews 12:1, a sort of spiritual cheering squad? The problem with that idea is that the members of the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12:1 are dead. These witnesses were faithful during their own lives. The currently still-living, middle-aged, well-to-do readers are to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles" in order to "run the race marked out" for them (Hebrews 12:1, NIV).
What is that race for well-to-do active church members in a society so committed to materialism that only old-fashioned terms like "idolatry" are able to describe it?
Sadly, these middle-aged Christians, and those younger and older and in-between, are not given a vision as compelling for them, as the one given to those Chinese Christians who are willing to sacrifice their lives on the Silk Road. Instead, Christians in the U.S. are protected by religious experts and counseled to tame the Gospel. Consider two examples.
Suppose the typical reader described above, hereafter referred to as Joe Christian, is troubled by the idea that those Chinese Christians are putting their lives on the line. He wonders if there is something more he is supposed to be doing. He picks up his Bible to see what Jesus has to say. He finds the surprising statement in John 14:12 in The New Living Translation: "The truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father." Joe Christian looks at his safe suburban habits and wonders whether he should be concerned that he hasn't done anything great for God recently. He then looks to the study note and is reassured by the experts who write: "Jesus is not saying that his disciples would do greater works—after all, raising the dead is about as amazing as you can get. Rather, the disciples, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, would carry the Good News of God's Kingdom out of Palestine and into the whole world." Really? Was Jesus' statement only meant for those early Christians, and only referring to word evangelism, even though Jesus did many physical miracles? Nothing in Jesus' statement implies either conclusion. Instead, what if Joe Christian did take Jesus' words seriously. Wouldn't organizing to prevent the deaths of seven million children each year, children who are under the age of five and who mostly live in areas where they have no chance to hear about Jesus, be a great work? Jesus, while here incarnate, did his miracles in a confined geographic area. Wouldn't the sheer volume of love administered through well-funded mission outreaches, administering modern medical and nutritional "miracles" be "greater" than what Jesus was able to do? Might not Jesus, who loves the little children, be excited about his body reaching out around the globe?
Or consider a second example of how church members are encouraged to tame the Gospel. Suppose Joe Christian has been reading the popular Left Behind series, and wonders if perhaps Jesus is returning soon. If so, he may be taken aback by the verses found in the New International Version of James 5:1-3: "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days."
Whoa, thinks Joe Christian. The last days may be here, and the congregation he attends just voted to cut the mission budget again this year. Could these verses apply to him? However, once again, the experts will protect Joe Christian. The NIV Study Bible note to this section reads: "rich. These are not Christians." Of course, the first verse in James addresses the letter to "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations," clearly implying it is addressed to believers. However, the note rationalizes that verses in chapter 5 are inserted among the points addressed to believers, and are really addressed to other people who will probably never read the letter. Further, the study notes for verses that outline additional consequences that will befall those rich people are described as applying to the "wicked rich."30 It is interesting to note that none of the seven translations included in The Precise Parallel New Testament includes anything but the unqualified word "rich" in the text.31 Further, if a parent in a distant land, who is coddling her child dying from dehydration due to diarrhea, were to watch a Sunday worship service in a U.S. congregation that has cut back missions money but just added a new sound system, how might this parent apply the words in James 5 to the scene before her eyes?
For middle-aged, middle-income, educated Joe Christian, it is not clear what the equivalent for him is, compared to the sacrifice being made by Chinese Christians setting off to be martyred on the Silk Road. And church leaders are not helping him. That sacrifice, instead of going on a dangerous journey, could mean going on a rigorous budget in order to increase giving to missions. However, that proposal has not been dynamically promoted in the present age of Affluence. Instead, in attempts to revitalize the church, denominational leaders in the U.S. have offered everything from comfortable pews and bigger, better buildings with really good music to "felt-needs" membership drives, from new church starts to pronouncements about the need to be arrested for anti-abortion or anti-apartheid campaigns. Yet membership trends and giving levels continue to decline in the U.S. What will revitalize the church in the United States? The one thing national denominational church leaders have not tried is to provide a big enough missions vision that will encourage sacrificial giving on the part of Joe Christian, a vision designed to accomplish a goal that resonates with what Joe reads in his Bible. The goal to expand missions at a level commensurate with the potential of Christians in America may be the solution for the strengthening of the church in the U.S. Increasing giving specifically to be sent outside the local congregation for both international and local mission might be the solution. However, if it is, the problem is safe from being solved, because church leaders do not want to offer a vision that may tap the pocketbooks of their members in an unpredictable manner. Vitality is messy and difficult to control. Look at what happened to Jesus and the early church.
A Korean Church That Gives 60% To Missions. Again, the church in the U.S. might look beyond its borders for inspiration. There is another Asian church that is taking a different tack than those Chinese Christians training for martyrdom as they evangelize along the Silk Road. The approach of a South Korean Church requires no less discipline, however.
When the Rev. Donghwee Lee founded the Antioch Presbyterian Church in Chonju City, south of Seoul, South Korea in 1983, he developed seven operating principles. The fourth was that the church would give at least 60% of its income to missions.32
The church developed the nickname "Tin Can Church" because Sunday school students announced that it looked like a tin can lying on its side, half buried in the ground. At the beginning, some people were concerned that the missions giving goal would hinder the growth of the church. On the contrary, according to Rev. Lee, money invested in the local church did not result in growth, but increased missions giving directly affected church growth.33 The congregation now has over 4,000 members.34
In 2001, the congregation gave 75% of its income to mission activities. In 2002, the amount was 70% and in 2003 it was 72.3%. In correspondence, one of the pastors confirmed these numbers and noted, "Please understand. In 2002 and 2003, we invested only 70% and 72.3% out of the annual income in mission giving because we built a youth retreat and conference center" during those two years.35
To distribute the missions money, Rev. Lee of the Chonju Antioch Presbyterian Church and pastors from other congregations founded The Paul Mission in 1986. As of 2004, 248 missionaries had been sent out to 70 countries. The Paul Mission also promotes evangelism, church planting, theological education, prison ministry, mercy ministries, missionary training, children and youth programs, and family counseling. An evangelistic radio program in Thailand is another outreach of The Paul Mission.36
As Benevolences giving as a portion of income declines, even while giving to Congregational Finances increases, and membership as a portion of U.S. population decreases, the church in the U.S. might do well to consider what models actually produce the results that church members want. The Tin Can Church has found that setting the goal of loving others because of Jesus Christ led to congregational growth and vitality as byproducts. Perhaps, after trying a whole series of clever and innovative church-building techniques that have not reversed measurable decline, some congregations in the U.S. might want to take a cue from this South Korean congregation, and try basic faithfulness to the commands of Jesus Christ as a way to build the church.
Summary. The potential for increased missions giving among church members in the United States continues to be untapped by church leaders. The potential levels of giving could make a significant impact on spiritual and physical needs around the world. A few church leaders have begun to identify strategies to combine more of the potential with the need. However, much of the church leadership in the U.S. is preoccupied with other issues, and is not confronting the vast majority of church members about their lack of obedience, as evident in giving levels. Church leaders display little imagination about the possibilities associated with the general affluence in the U.S. available to church members. Church members are not being served by their leadership, in terms of what actions to take to integrate faith and money. The result is a church generally mired in the sins of idolatry (greed), and omission (knowing what is right to do and not doing it). Church leaders may wonder how to change the present declines in giving as a portion of income and membership. One way would be to approach the potential for good inherent in the Age of Affluence when most church members in the U.S. have experienced increasing incomes over the past few decades. Repentance regarding the practice of idolatry and lack of belief going on in the church in the U.S. may be the necessary first step.
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