Category: Effective Compassion

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, January 24, 2008
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Add Colorado to the list of state governments sharpening the points of the already thorny problem of church and state. Catholic News Agency reports on a kerfuffle between Archbishop Charles Chaput (on behalf of Catholic Charities of Colorado) and the state’s legislature over a pending bill that would restrict religious organizations’ ability to discriminate on the basis of religion in their hiring. (The regulation applies, of course, to groups that take government funds.) In other words, a non-profit such as Catholic Charities would not be permitted to make adherence to the Catholic faith a qualification necessary to be a manager, even a director, in the organization. Obviously this is a cause for concern for an institution claiming to have a distinctly Catholic identity.

There are at least a couple interesting angles to this story. First, this is yet another example of the spread of a terrible misunderstanding of the meaning of church-state separation in the American context. Place blame where you like: I choose the 1947 Supreme Court decision Everson v. Board of Education, which burdened the legal system with the unfortunate phrase “high wall of separation.” Creative and mendacious judges notwithstanding, the First Amendment does not prohibit any and every relationship between churches and governments, especially state governments, and including funding that has as its purpose social programs rather than church functions (as in the case of Catholic Charities). We went through this whole thing when the current president proposed his faith-based initiative, but evidently not everybody attained clarity on the issue.

Second—also a throwback to the faith-based initiative debate—there is the related but distinct question of whether it is wise, helpful, and ultimately beneficial to all parties to have state funds funneled through religious organizations such as Catholic Charities. The question has been raised with specific reference to Catholic Charities USA by, among others, Acton’s Fr. Sirico, going back at least to the mid-1990s. More recently, the issue has been forced by, for example, California’s 2004 attack on Catholic Charities over the provision of birth control in employees’ health insurance, Massachusetts’ mandate on adoption by gay couples, and now this. To their credit, the pertinent Catholic authorities have usually refused to compromise in these cases.

To be clear, I think the Colorado legislature is mistaken and this and other similar assaults on the prerogatives of Catholic (or any other religious) institutions are unjust and unconstitutional. Yet it may be time once again to make the proposal, which would solve the problem and which will doubtless be categorically rejected by Catholic leaders and government officials alike: pull back the reach of the state’s provision of social assistance and let private donations fund Catholic Charities and all such charitable groups.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
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In this week’s Acton Commentary I examine “The Truth about Tithing.”

“Whatever benefits we claim to receive from tithing, whether spiritual, emotional, or financial, these are not to be the reason that we give. We give out of obedience to God’s word,” I write.

Here’s a link to a Marketplace Money report from last Friday that was the proximate occasion for the piece, “Tithing can be a good investment.” It’s a pretty disgustingly caricatured picture of tithing we get from the Marketplace report.

One more bit of evidence that the press just doesn’t “get” religion.

Blog author: rnothstine
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
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Thanks to Rob Chaney at the Missoulian, the touching story of young Caden Stufflebeam is told. Chaney wrote a piece titled, “Rocks to riches: Missoula boy sells stones he finds to buy food for needy.”

Appropriately noted as the top story for the paper in Missoula, Mont., Caden has been collecting and selling rocks and donating the proceeds to the less fortunate. The young boy is filled with an abundance of generosity and spiritual knowledge. Christ declared in Matthew, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Caden noted:

I think I might keep on selling rocks, Then I can buy more bags for the hungry to eat other dinners. I think God has a purpose for me to sell rocks.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
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As a quick follow-up to Ray’s post yesterday, be sure to check out the work of Arthur C. Brooks on charitable giving. The spring issue of Religion & Liberty featured an interview with him, and his book, Who Really Cares?, was the basis for a special focus on ABC’s 20/20 (hosted by John Stossel):

John Stossel: “But it turns out that this idea that liberals give more is a myth. These are the twenty-five states where people give an above average percent of their income, twenty-four were red states in the last presidential election.”

Arthur Brooks, Who Really Cares, author: “When you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about thirty percent more per conservative-headed family than per liberal-headed family. And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.”

Connecting the links between so-called “red” states, conservatism, religiosity, and the south are interesting and instructive exercises.

I remember riding back to seminary in Kentucky a couple years ago with a young lady and we pulled off the expressway to grab a bite. As we were getting ready to pay our bill, the young lady, who happened to be from Mississippi, said, “God is telling me to give 100 dollars to this young man behind the counter of this restaurant. ” Needless to say this young man was thankful of God’s decision to speak through the young woman in this manner.

An article by Heather Donckels and a study by empty tomb, inc shows that Southerners as a group give the most to church and religious organizations. Empty tomb, inc. is a Christian research organization in Champaign, Illinois.

If there are any Southern evangelicals who have been a member of a church during a building campaign, this study makes even more sense. Midwesterners placed second in the study. While Southerners lead in overall charitable giving, they give less as a group to charities outside of the religious domain.

Donckels notes in her piece:

The North American Religion Atlas, using data from the 2000 census, shows a high concentration of Protestants in the South while Catholics dominate the Northeast. For example, only 8 percent of people in the South are Catholics, compared to 42 percent of New Englanders.

Francis Butler, president of the Washington-based Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, said research shows Catholics give about 1 percent of income to charity. Protestants, meanwhile, generally give double that, he said.

While this may be one factor of many, there is obviously more to giving than denominational demographics. One obvious factor may be that religious participation and church attendance is higher in Southern states, compared with other regions. Cultural differences are probably more of a factor than denominational factors.

Also in the article, University of Mississippi professor Charles Reagan Wilson is quoted as saying:

The South’s approach to giving has stressed private charity over governmental assistance. Southerners have long tended to be conservative on issues of government, stressing provision from family and churches rather than government intervention in times of crisis.

So it seems, there is still a flickering spirit of Jeffersonian political philosophy alive in Dixie.

The mammoth Congressional expansion of SCHIP is such a bad idea, even the normally big spending President Bush vetoed the bill. I wrote a piece titled, “Abandon SCHIP: Big Government Returns,” which is now available on the Acton Website.

The political posturing concerning the program has reached a troubling level. Supporters are using using kids as props to usher in socialized medicine and government expansion. But one of the main problems with the bill is the regressive characteristic of the expanded version. Money will be transfered from poorer states and citizens to fund a permanent middle to upper-middle class entitlement. While the growing cost of health care is a serious problem, we need to find solutions that provide affordable private coverage outside of the impending bureaucratic and regulatory nightmare.

Another growing frustration is a lack of conservative leadership on explaining the consequences of expanding this program. In general it seems, in the last few years political and moral leadership on government expansion has been largely vacant. Conservatives use to fight the expansion of these programs and point out the unintended consequences of such measures. Do we really want a permanent entitlement for the well to do?

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
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The new issue of Philanthropy Magazine features a cover story on Frank Hanna, vice chairman of the Acton Institute board of directors, and winner of the 2007 William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership. The story is titled “Call of the Philanthropist,” a play on Acton’s Call of the Entrepreneur documentary, which features Hanna prominently.

The lengthy profile by Christopher Levenick offers insights into Hanna’s philanthropic activities and his philosophy of giving. Rev. Robert Sirico is quoted extensively, as are executives of other nonprofits that Hanna supports. For those who are interested in how philanthropy can be thoughtfully applied — and effective — the article is well worth reading.

Here’s Hanna on “indispensable causes:”

According to Hanna, donors should direct their funds only to causes they deem truly essential. “I believe,” he writes, “that the charities to which we give significant help should themselves be indispensable. In other words, their success should bring to mankind physical, intellectual, moral, or spiritual benefits of the most important kind, benefits without which mankind (or particular individuals) would be fundamentally diminished.”

Once philanthropists have identified the indispensable causes, they should restrict their donations to charities for which their support is truly indispensable. A small contribution to a massive organization will have marginal influence, at best. A series of marginal contributions is hardly better. Funds are always best spent where they will be put to the most effective use. If the organization can succeed without this donation, the money would be better spent on an organization that absolutely needs the funds to attain its objectives.

The Principle of Indispensability is designed to help maximize the leverage of charitable contributions. “Archimedes is credited with discovering how to use a lever to get seemingly disproportionate results,” says Hanna. “But Archimedes didn’t just stick his lever anywhere. He had to find the point of maximal leverage.” So too with philanthropy: Charitable donations achieve seemingly disproportionate results when they are directed to the point of maximal leverage.