Sunday, December 14, 2008

WMU provides creative, biblical response to the growing recession

Three cheers for Woman's Missionary Union and its willingness to act creatively and biblically during times of economic uncertainty and belt-tightening!

Instead of acting in the usual church-bureaucratic fashion—following the secular world's lead of laying people off or camouflaging its actions as some sort of reorganization—WMU has provided some important new groundwork for how to cope with the economic turmoil facing the United States and the rest of the world today.

According to Baptist Press on Friday: "During a Dec. 10 meeting at the 120-year-old organization’s Birmingham, Ala., headquarters, WMU Executive Director Wanda S. Lee told employees about the measures, which include budget reductions, streamlining expenses, a hiring freeze on vacant positions, a reduction on employer contributions to employee retirement plans, a freeze on merit pay increases, elimination of incentive bonuses in 2009 and the implementation of four weeks unpaid furlough for each staff member between January and August 2009."

News reports say WMU leadership sought to avoid layoffs and keep health insurance affordable for its about 100 employees, most of whom are female.

Putting individuals and families first and refusing to succumb to kneejerk business patterns which make some individuals and families suffer more than others, WMU acted in ways more consistent with biblical teachings about how Christians are to treat each other.

As the current economic recession continues to unfurl, church groups across the country are continuing to react in various ways, some more consistent than others with biblical principles.  Many are amping up their pleas for more donations even as their donors' home values, retirement accounts, and incomes slide. Some such as Focus on the Family have cut jobs and laid off people. (See my previous blog on this.) And still others are quietly going about reorganizations, which do the dirty work of layoffs but with a "positive" public spin put on it.

These are difficult times mostly because even governments don't seem to know exactly what to do to halt the declines. And predictions about how long this recession is going to last and how deep it eventually will become keep growing.

Interesting to note in WMU's actions is that most measures are short-term and time-limited. Most seem to be confined to 2009. That pattern seems to argue for optimism that the current situation will soon turn around. We can only hope WMU is right.

Meanwhile, individual Christians, churches, church institutions, and parachurch organizations would all do well to take note of WMU's biblically based creativity in addressing the current situation. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Both Religious Right and Religious Left have much they could learn from one another

After riding high for years, the Religious Right is about to see its sun begin to set on political influence in this country. Meanwhile, the sun is rising for the Religious Left's influence on American political life.

January 20 marks the day. That's when Barack Obama officially takes the oath of office as President of the United States.

The Religious Right opposed Obama, though some in that crowd tried to praise him for breaking the glass ceiling imposed by racial attitudes in this country. The Religious Left supported Obama about as subtly as the Religious Right tried to oppose him.

Already signs of the shift are everywhere.

I keep a watchful eye on this shifting landscape through two very important news sources for me—the Southern Baptist Convention's news agency Baptist Press, and the National Council of Churches' NCC News. Together they represent the ying and the yang of political/religious life in America today. For the naive, the SBC is very much a part of the Religious Right, while the National Council is very much part and parcel of the Religious Left.

One can almost see the teardrops falling in the daily SBC postings and the bright smiles emanating from what is becoming almost daily news releases from the NCC.

Sadly, both groups seem to limit their interests to a few select issues. Reading Baptist Press regularly and exclusively could lead one to believe the Bible is mostly concerned about only two political/social issues: the pro-life movement and the anti-homosexual movement. Reading NCC News regularly and exclusively could lead one to believe the Bible is mostly concerned about those prisoners at Guantanamo and Global Warming.

The truth is the Bible is filled with a lot more than just these four issues. The Bible contains information on just about every moral, ethical, economic, social, and relevant issue today. Name an issue, and the Bible offers up an applicable verse or a teaching that relates to it.

The Bible is also neither a Republican nor a Democratic handbook, though regrettably both the SBC and the NCC seem to have a penchant for skewing biblical teachings toward the party of preference of each.

Both the Religious Right and the Religious Left stand correctly on different issues—sometimes on the opposite side of the same coin. The Religious Right is correct in its strong pro-life stand on behalf of the unborn. But while the Religious Left is wrong on sanctity of human life issues, it does score well in reminding us that once a person is born, medical care, education, and other necessities matter much. I wish the Religious Right was as passionate for children living in poverty without adequate education and medical care and in troubled environments as it is about the unborn. The Bible is clear that both the unborn and the born are precious in God's sight. 

The same could be said for a number of other issues. The Religious Left is more right than wrong on environmental issues; the Religious Right would do well to stop arguing about global warming, reread the book of Genesis about the Creation,  and start emphasizing God's commands to be good stewards of the world He has given us.

I know members of the Religious Right who cannot see a bit of good in Obama's uncoming inauguration. For them the demise of the Religious Right's influence will be a disaster of unfathomable porportions. 

I also know members of the Religious Left who will not for a moment concede that the Religious Right has done anything correct. To them the Religious Right's influence on political life for the past eight years has been a colossal disaster.

Both groups need to take some deep breaths and try to put things in perspective. Each brings to the table perspectives that deserve to be heard. 

And each could learn from the other. In listening to each other and in genuine, above-politics dialogue both the Religious Right and the Religious Left just might learn some important biblical lessons and truths from the other. Neither has a complete lock on the truth.