Let's unpack this one a little bit, shall we? First off, Father Anonymous doesn't want to hear the trashier sort of trash-talk, like the GLBT site that crowed "Warren's fund for hypocrisy is a million dollars short this year." We are actually touched by how hard Warren has worked to avoid becoming part of the religious right, despite the many temptations that face a man in his position. He knows that turning the church into a political action committee is a betrayal of the Gospel, and he has tried to live accordingly. And, despite what some commentary has already suggested, Warren can't just bail the church out from his personal fortune. According to an interview some years back, he has repaid the Saddleback every cent it ever gave him in salary, and donates 90% of his outside income, living on the remainder.
(That said, we confess that we do have certain reservations about Warren, whom we suspect of what among Lutherans is sometimes politely called "synergism," and among Calvinists "Arminianism." Most of the world calls it semi-Pelagianism, and it is another betrayal of the Gospel. However, it is s subtle and debatable one. Given that the ELCA is now in full communion with the principal Methodist church, perhaps the Gospel has even changed a bit. We'll look into this some other time. We also think the Hawaiian shirts are a cliche, but he seems to have retired those.)
What was that? Right -- back to the 900 large. Per Warren, his church is pretty well managed, and despite an ugly recession, had managed to stay close to meeting its budget all year. Of course, every church and charitable institution has been struggling this year. He says that about 10% of his church members are unemployed, which of course is a fraction of a point below the national average. So while we're impressed by the management claim, we aren't thrilled by it.
Christmas, unfortunately, hit Saddleback hard. The holiday services were well-attended, on the order of 10,000 people. The problem (as readers may recall) is that the following Sunday came two days later, and attendance was about half what it had been on the previous year. Now, this is not exactly an act of God, at least not one comparable to an earthquake or a flood. Here in Europe, the first few days of Christmas are still important churchgoing events, but that has not been true in America since the days of Bishop Moore. (And we mean Clement, not Paul). Presumably, the top-notch management team at Saddleback owns a calendar, and could see how close the holiday came to a Sunday. (If not, they have have a terrifying surprise coming in about 11.75 months).
Look, we aren't trying to mock Warren or his church. Church finances are notoriously tight, and the end of the year is tough on many parishes. Back in the Bronx, we once made photocopies of our unpaid bills, and posted them on a bulletin board for adoption by members. (By the way, we got many complaints, but very few adoptions. We sincerely hope that Warren's middle-class suburbanites fork over the cash more quickly than our desperately poor slum-dwellers did).
So this all sounds reasonable enough, and in fact unremarkable. Except for a couple of things.
Thing #1: Waitasecond. Were they really expecting to rake in a million dollars in one weekend? Or even -- since they had been sweating a bit already -- half that much? Because if they were, the rest of us may as well just throw in the towel. There's no way we can compete with that. Semi-pelagianism and Hawaiian shirts it is, now and forever.
Thing #2: Nobody seems to know what they were expecting, because -- according to all the news coverage, at least -- Saddleback doesn't make its finances public. It's a church, not a public trust, so it's under no obligation. But we would like to point out that every Lutheran church in America, as well, we expect, as every church organized on even remotely comparable lines, has an annual meeting, at which its financial statements are circulated to every member who stuck around long enough to get a copy. A few copies are usually left in the narthex afterward, slowly wilting as they wait for
Thing #3: But that's okay, because we can figure it out. Assuming that Saddleback really did expect something north of half-a-mil last weekend, we can multiply by 52 weekends and guesstimate an annual member giving in the range of $26 million. Of course that's a bit unrealistic; let's assume they have a summer slump like everybody else, and cut offerings in half for the months of June, July and August. So that's a piddling $23 million. Even assuming the church has no other sources of income -- real estate, endowment funds, a modest synod mission-support stipend -- they're still doing pretty well.
All of which brings us to Thing #4: For these people, $900 grand in the red is a 2% deficit. And even during the boom years, most of the churches Father Anonymous saw up close ran much larger deficits than that. He himself served as assistant pastor at a parish where the deficit was almost exactly equal to -- you guessed it -- the salary of the assistant pastor. Nor is this an isolated case; Mother A. had the same experience. In both cases, we are describing double-digit deficits.
From a Saddleback perspective, this money is chicken-feed. So here's our proposal: just give it to them. The Egg's editorial team and readership, personally, should just did into our pockets and get it done. They probably won't send a thank-you note, and of course our children will starve and our altars go breadless. But what the heck. We'll have helped a colleague in distress, and probably stemmed the tide of public mockery coming his way.
And at least he asked politely.