Posts tagged with: christianity today

United Methodist Salem OregonWe might need an update to the children’s rhyme: “Here is the church, / here is the steeple, / open the doors, / and see all the people.”

Before I got wrapped up in ongoing conversations here, there, and seemingly everywhere about the nation’s budget, I noted that the ripple effects from the economic downturn were beginning to hit churches in a serious way. Christianity Today passes along a piece that speaks to a much more particular phenomenon: the decline of church steeples in America.

There are a number of contributing factors. The economic downturn has affected giving, which has in turn forced churches to make hard decisions about maintenance. In other cases, churches that are most likely to have traditional buildings (including steeples), are losing membership. As Cathy Lynn Grossman writes, “Architects and church planners say today’s new congregations meet in retooled sports arenas or shopping malls or modern buildings designed to appeal to contemporary believers turned off by the look of old-time religion.” Goodbye, steeple. Goodbye, people.

Some other interesting factors include the potential decline of steeplejacking as a profession. “It’s sad. I’m not doing the same thing my grandfather did. We used to do six to eight steeples a year—painting, repairing, waterproofing, regilding the crosses on top. Now I do one or two a year,” said third-generation steeplejack Jim Phelan. Other churches are leasing their steeple space to serve as cell phone towers, which can bring in tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Speaking of the budget debates, I have asserted the importance of Christian charity in relieving the burdens of the welfare state, and also have argued that the local church needs to be the primary locus of Christian giving. But I’ve also noted that even though Christian charity begins with the local church, it doesn’t end there. A discussion of this point, especially as related to the idea of tithing, is going on over at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog.

I took some issue with a quote from an otherwise fine piece about food banks in the December issue of Christianity Today. So let me follow-up with a recommendation without reservation for this profile of the work of the Big Reach Center of Hope in the current issue of CT by Nicole Russell, “A God-Sized Food Bank.”

Big Reach is “a food pantry and distribution center situated in a town so small it’s an unincorporated dot on the Ohio map. But its reach is indeed big: The center, which serves five counties, has provided food and clothing to nearly 150,000 individuals since its inauspicious opening in 2004, including 70,000 individuals in 2010 alone, making it one of Ohio’s biggest food pantries.”

Power Line has a post over at its site titled “Why Don’t Christians Care?” Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit also linked to the post today. Powerline’s question refers to the lack of concern from the “mainstream” Christian community on Christians being massacred by Muslims in the Middle East and Africa. It’s a great question to ask.

Just for the record, we want to remind people that the Acton Institute cares. Last month I wrote a piece that received a lot of attention on the plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians. It’s also an issue we heavily address in the next issue of Religion & Liberty, which features an interview with Nina Shea. Shea talks about many pressing issues concerning global Christian persecution. An exclusive preview of the interview is currently available on the PowerBlog. Christianity Today referred to Shea as the “Daniel of Religious Rights.”

This month’s Christianity Today features a cover package devoted to the challenge faced by non-profit ministries amidst the recent economic downturn. The lengthy analysis defies any easy or simplistic summary of the state of Christian charity. There are examples of ministries that are scaling back as well as those who are enjoying donations at increased levels.

Compassion International and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship are cited as those bucking the conventional logic that giving to charities decreases during a recession. “So far, many parachurch ministries are not facing the same income declines as other organizations. In fact, some are forging ahead with bold initiatives that seemingly defy the dour economic tone,” writes John W. Kennedy.

At the same time, Prison Fellowship laid of 40 staffers in January as part of a 12% budget reduction. And in a more recent move, International Aid, based in Spring Lake, Michigan, announced the resignation of Myles Fish as president and CEO. Following a sharp decline in donations, the agreement for Fish to resign is part of a larger restructuring plan to deal with decreased income.

Fish reported that revenue fell by about $600,000 in December of 2008. “People are perhaps more focused on the needs of the local agencies than the international ones,” he said.

So while the results reported by CT might well give us a less pessimistic perspective on the landscape of Christian giving, it also seems true that the economic downturn is changing not only spending habits but also giving patterns. Charities with more marginal loyalties are more likely to suffer than those with a “family-like link,” and there also appears to be a correlative move toward local rather than international needs.

This may not be all bad. I’m not in principle against voluntary wealth transfers between citizens in richer and poorer nations, and I support the work of groups like Compassion International and Five Talents. But the ability for givers to be significantly involved in keeping tabs on the oversight and administration of an agency is usually reduced as the focus moves away from local involvement.

In response to the question, “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

As part of Christianity Today’s Speaking Out (web-only) feature, Stephen V. Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies, of Calvin College’s Henry Institute and the Center for Public Justice respectively, address the future of the faith-based initiative under President Obama.

Monsma and Carlton-Thies outline five “encouraging signs” and one “major concern.”

The encouraging signs include the naming of the office executive director (Joshua DuBois) and advisory council (including “recognized evangelicals” like Richard Stearns, president of World Vision; Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Frank Page, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention; and pastor Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida).

The major concern? “The hiring issue. The status quo remains in effect but without a strong administration defense of it.”

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, June 19, 2008

Beginning this month in Christianity Today, Acton is introducing a new advertising campaign that asks readers to look at the economic implications of policy questions put forward by religious leaders. The first ad looks at the top down planning, command-and-control orientation of many humanitarian aid programs and opens with this:

In developing countries, two million children die each year from common diarrhea. Even though a 10¢ dose of oral rehydration therapy can cure it. The remedy is cheap and effective — so why can’t we get it to those poor people?

According to the Religious Left, rich countries just don’t care enough about the poor. Their solution? Government policies that advance a more ‘just distribution’ of wealth. But, will more money get that lifesaving stuff to the mother in Ghana watching her child die?

A special Impact page has been introduced on the Acton site with a deep set of resources for those who want to learn more about faith and policy questions. You can go there to download a copy of the new ad, and access an archive of the previous ads.

The campaign will also include an advertisement for Acton’s new documentary The Birth of Freedom.

The new campaign is being produced by the award-winning team that has partnered with Acton since our first issue advertising rolled out more than two years ago: Copywriter Catherine Snow of Creatif Boutique and Rick Devon and the talented crew at the Grey Matter Group, all of Grand Rapids.

Hunter Baker has a new column at ChristianityToday.com named “Evangelical Minds,” and in it he examines issues of evangelical interest in academics and higher education. Today’s piece quotes me at some length on the question of evangelicals and economics, related to the firing of a professor at Colorado Christian University (scroll down to the final section titled, “Christian Economics?”).

This piece is the third installment of the feature, and you can check out the first two here and here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Christianity Today has identified four political races to watch that “feature debates about issues of special concern to evangelicals.” One of these is Michigan’s race for governor between incumbent Jennifer Granholm and challenger Dick DeVos.

CT is featuring the economy as an issue of evangelical concern in this race:

The September news of massive layoffs by Ford has become far too common in Michigan. Unemployment stands at 7.1 percent, well above the national average. What’s bad for the state could be good for the campaign of Dick DeVos, the Republican. The name may sound familiar to evangelicals. His father, Rich DeVos, helped found Amway Corporation and bankrolled many evangelical schools and ministries.

Acton’s Jerry Zandstra is quoted in the brief piece, as is Corwin Smidt, executive director of Calvin College’s Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics, whose “research indicates evangelicals have become more receptive to Republican economics.

Says Smidt, “Whereas evangelicals were fairly united on social issues in the 1980s and early 1990s and much less unified on economic issues, evangelical voters took a much more unified stand on economic issues by the end of the millennium.”

This contradicts, by the way, the message of Fr. Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout in their recent book The Truth About Conservative Christians: What They Think and What They Believe. In a review of the book, E.J. Dionne writes of their conclusions, “All this suggests that a significant share of the white Christian community, including Evangelicals, is willing to hear alternative arguments to those offered by the Right. Greeley and Hout believe the best arguments for Democrats are about economics. ‘Get economic justice right,’ they argue, ‘and the conservative Christians held back by economic injustice will back you.’” (HT: Mirror of Justice)

Other races featured by CT include Pennsylvania’s Senate race between Bob Casey Jr. and Sen. Rick Santorum and South Dakota’s abortion ban.