Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Economic growth and religion

A recent feature in the Boston Globe covered the economic effects of religion. It's a worthy review. I bring it up to draw attention to the work of Barro and McCleary. As described by the Globe:
The two collected data from 59 countries where a majority of the population followed one of the four major religions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. They ran this data - which covered slices of years from 1981 to 2000, measuring things like levels of belief in God, afterlife beliefs, and worship attendance - through statistical models. Their results show a strong correlation between economic growth and certain shifts in beliefs, though only in developing countries. Most strikingly, if belief in hell jumps up sharply while actual church attendance stays flat, it correlates with economic growth. Belief in heaven also has a similar effect, though less pronounced. Mere belief in God has no effect one way or the other. Meanwhile, if church attendance actually rises, it slows growth in developing economies.

McCleary says this makes sense from a strictly economic standpoint - as economies develop and people can earn more money, their time becomes more valuable. For economic growth, she says, “What you want is to have people have their children grow up in a faith, but then they should become productive members of society. They shouldn’t be spending all their time in religious services.”
I wonder if McCleary is aware that these policy recommendations are being taken seriously. From Ghana comes this news
The President of the Volta Region House of Chiefs and Paramount Chief of Asogli traditional area, Togbe Afede XIV has stressed the need for the church to educate its members on the need to work hard and blend their Christian and spiritual growth with work, and avoid spending productive hours on church activities.

He observed that some Christians were spending more of their productive hours at prayer camps and on church activities, than getting involved in socio economic activities, thereby worsening the existing poverty situation in the country.

Togbe Afede, who was addressing the 150th anniversary celebration of the Ho-Kpodzi Evangelical Presbyterian (EP) Church, said "it seems Africans are now worshiping God more than those who introduced the Christian religion to us", saying even though that was the current picture, most Christians in Ghana and Africa were suffering from high level of poverty.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Damian Thompson does not get it

Damian Thompson on the cover up of sexual abuse of children by the Irish Catholic Church:
The greatest scandal, of course, lies in the acts perpetrated by wicked clergy against the innocent. But it’s the secrecy and deceit of the Church authorities that resonates most with me. For, although I was educated by Irish brothers, I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced clerical paedophilia, or even met a priest or brother who was to my knowledge a classic paedophile. But I have encountered, many times, the arrogance of senior clergy who believe that almost anything can be kept secret from the laity if it might “damage the good name of the Church” (ie, inconvenience or embarrass them).
All well said. Except. The greatest scandal is not the individual acts, but the cover up. Without the impulse to protect the name of the church, wicked clergy would have been weeded out instead being passed on to another unsuspecting parish. Without the impulse to protect the name of the church, fewer pedophiles would have entered the priesthood. Without the impulse to present the church as unquestionable there would have been rules to protect children from situations where they could be abused.

The cover up is primary and symptomatic of the structure of the church. The individual acts are secondary.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Doctor calls it like he sees it

Asheville Citizen-Times:
An Asheville eye doctor said he is prepared to go to court against the N.C. Medical Board if it reprimands him for telling a patient she was fat.
...
The patient complained that Sunderhaus poked her thigh and told her she was fat, and scolded her as irresponsible for being unemployed and relying on taxpayers to pay for another pregnancy.
...
The Medical Board ordered Sunderhaus to undergo a psychological evaluation and meet with the board, he said, although he refused to have more extensive physiological tests performed. Sunderhaus said the Medical Board told him it would inform him by letter about any actions they may take against him.

Sunderhaus said he has not had any other complaints against him to the Medical Board and he has never been reprimanded by the board.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Markets in everything - Communion dispenser

Purity Communion Solutions - no irony here - offers a Pez-like dispenser for distribution of communion bread. See the video here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Don't blame the actuary

Has your local hospital recently shuttered services that where the patients are predominantly on Medicare or Medicaid? There could be a very logical reason.

The Department of Health and Human Services is the home the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Its Office of Actuary recently issued a report on the financial effects of the House healthcare bill.

The Washington Post reports,
A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending -- one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health-care system -- would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.

The report, requested by House Republicans, found that Medicare cuts contained in the health package approved by the House on Nov. 7 are likely to prove so costly to hospitals and nursing homes that they could stop taking Medicare altogether.

Congress could intervene to avoid such an outcome, but "so doing would likely result in significantly smaller actual savings" than is currently projected, according to the analysis by the chief actuary for the agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid. That would wipe out a big chunk of the financing for the health-care reform package, which is projected to cost $1.05 trillion over the next decade.
...
In the face of greatly increased demand for services, providers are likely to charge higher fees or take patients with better-paying private insurance over Medicaid recipients, "exacerbating existing access problems" in that program, according to the report from Richard S. Foster of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Though the report does not attempt to quantify that impact, Foster writes: "It is reasonable to expect that a significant portion of the increased demand for Medicaid would not be realized."
The excellent economics expositor Greg Mankiw puts it this way:
If a government policy increases the demand for a service, the price of that service tends to rise. If the government prevents prices from rising, shortages develop. The quantity provided is then determined by supply and not demand. In the presence of such excess demand, the result could be a two-tier market structure. Consumers who can somehow pay more than the government-mandated price will be able to purchase the service, while those paying the controlled price may be unable to find a willing supplier.
The laws of economics are like the laws of physics. You can't suspend them.

How do our elected representatives want to deal with the ethical issue they have created? Do they want to face the very real likelihood that the bills being considered what hurt the very people they seek to help? Do they want to be honest that the bills do not pay for themselves?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Clergy Stress

Margaret Treadwell has a great post in today's Episcopal Cafe titled "Managing Stress in Times of Anxiety." She writes, "All of us bear the brunt of some familial anxiety, and searching for its real cause can be of great benefit. But the best way to reduce anxiety is often to increase one’s basic level of differentiation." In other words, how to not let other people's anxiety increase our own.

This is equally true in congregational systems (families), and is of course, what Edwin Friedman's classic book on family systems "Generation To Generation" deals with (Ms. Treadwell studied and worked with Friedman).

I work with a lot of clergy and Episcopal vestries who spend 90% of their time dealing with issues of anxiety in 10% of the congregation. Can we learn to say, as Ms. Treadwell writes, "Where do I begin and end and where does another begin?"

If I, as a church leader, do not have to be responsible for how you heard my sermon, do I have more time to get on with the business of the church - evangelism, sharing the Good News?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Imagination to help the world

Tom Mitchell, writes in the November 5th, Daily News Record (Harrisonburg VA)(subscription required) about Eastern Mennonite University's Spiritual Life Week. Two of the speakers were Tom and Christine Sine, founders of Mustard Seed Associates, a nonprofit multi-denominational alliance headquartered in Seattle. The goal of the organization is to spur people to help others at home and abroad. The Sines were speaking to young adults about these financially fragile times as an opportunity "to help others through service that meets the needs of the less fortunate...We're trying to help college people consider using their lives more to make a difference than a living, " Sine said.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Vestry Elections

Many churches have their annual meetings in December or January, and a big piece of the agenda is often election of new vestry members.

Maybe your church has a wealth of people wanting to serve on the Vestry.
Maybe your church has enough people, often the exact number as the open slots.
Maybe your church has to beat people over the head to get them to serve on the Vestry.

Here are some good rules to follow for leadership recruitment:
1. Those rotating off the Vestry can serve as the nominating committee. Plus the Rector/Vicar.
2. At a meeting (NOT a regular Vestry meeting), begin with prayer for discernment. Then sit down with your parish register and make some notes besides people's names:
a. Who has served within the last 2-3 years and therefore, still needs time off.
b. Who are newcomers to your church? Scratch them off the list of possibilities. Let them get incorporated in other ways before thrusting them onto the Vestry.
c. Who are current program leaders who are not on the Vestry? Which ones do you think may have a call to Vestry leadership? Be sure and check this with your clergy because they often have information about family situations that others do not have.
d. Who are current members/leaders who demonstrate maturity of faith and judgment? Which ones do you think may have a call to Vestry leadership? Be sure and check this with your clergy because they often have information about family situations that others do not have. Note that I say "maturity of faith and judgment."
e. Are there others who you think might have this call and haven't been scratched off the list?

3. Someone on the committee drafts a letter to these people inviting them to consider leadership on the Vestry. Carefully explain the commitment needed from them (meeting days, times and length, other obligations...) AND include what the congregation, wardens and clergy will do for them. Leadership is not a one-way street! Finally, ask for their prayerful consideration of the invitation and say that someone from the nominating committee will call them in a week to discuss.

Circulate the letter via email to others on the nominating committee for their input. Include the Rector/Vicar.

Pray for this list of people.

4. One week later, meet again. Pray. Discuss the list and decide if some people should be removed or others added. Review the letter. Pray. Decide which members of the committee will call which people on the list.
5. Mail the letter.
6. Make phone calls.
7. Re-group is you still do not have enough people to run in the election, and begin again.

This isn't an overnight task! Which is why I'm making this post in early November!

Carolyn Moomaw Chilton is a Congregational Consultant available to help you and your church with issues of leadership development, strategic planning, vestry retreats and staff development. You can contact her by replying to this post.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Making the Grade Isn't about Race

Patrick Welsh, an English teacher at T.C. Williams HS in Alexandria VA, writes in the Washington Post on Sunday, Oct. 18, that he asked his "virtually all-black class of 12th-graders...why don't you guys study like the kids from Africa?" The answers that he got:

"It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study."
"You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us."

And Welsh continues, "When I did, not one hand went up."

His thesis, as it develops, is that the achievement gaps between white and black students is based less on race than on the "gap in familial support and involvement..." in black families.

As the Church struggles to be relevant in the lives of people, and particularly young people, is there a place here for us? What are we doing to strengthen families and help parents help their children?

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Virginia Churchman: February 1979

Virginia Churchman, February 1979, p. 4, "Editor Appointed."
David W. Virtue was appointed interim editor of The Virginia Churchman by Bishop Hall, in consultation with the Communications Committee, effective with the February 1979 edition of the newspaper.

For the past five years he has been religion editor of The Vancouver Province, the heading morning daily in Vancouver, British Columbia. He completed a Master of Christian Studies degree in 1972 at Regent College, University of British Columbia, with a dissertation on "Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Christian View of Man."

Virtue is married to the former Linda Carol Greenberg of Towson, Maryland. They have a three-year-old son, Jonathan."