Saturday, January 30, 2010

Three-Card Monte: The Redirected Benevolence Version

Susan Hogan, of whom we had never heard until recently, is now indispensable.  Where the rest of us just shoot off our mouths willy-nilly, her blog, Pretty Good Lutherans, brings actual journalism skills to bear on the church and its life.

She recently directed our attention to the not-yet-final minutes of a Southeastern Synod Council meeting, posted on the web.  Normally, you can't pay us enough to read synod council minutes, but it is cold outside, the nearest bookstore is far away, and its wares are mostly in Romanian.  (Oh, there's some Hungarian too, but we're saying mostly.)

Anyhoo, two related bits caught our attention:

1.  That a few SES congregations are designating their benevolence "for SES salaries and expenses only."  That is, they are saying "don't send our money to that lousy no-good-gay-loving national church."

This creates a conundrum, both ethical and otherwise, for the synod.  Typically, synods give very generously to the national church; in our own, the number is (if we recall correctly; fact-checks are welcome) well over 40% of receipts.  In times like these, that is not an easy commitment to meet.  It reflects a genuine sense that the national church's work is important, and that the synods have a duty to support it.  

So what do you do when your own donors tell you not to share their money?  To violate your own sense of duty?

The SES has apparently decided to keep the money, so that it will -- ahem -- avoid alienating the congregations in question.  It is easy to criticize, but then again, were we (God forbid!) a bishop, we would be working overtime not to give offense these days.

2.  At the same time, synods have been forced to cut back on their giving to the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.  No surprise; in the SES, congregational giving is down a whopping 15% from last year, and the budget shortfall looks to break $150,000.   You have to cut back somewhere, right?

But here's the wrinkle.  Congregations unhappy not only with the national church but also with the synod (which is, after all, an arm of the evil octopus), and which have directed their benevolence giving away from either, have offered to redirect it into the grimly depleted coffers of the seminary.  (Which is, it seems to us, also an arm of the same evil octopus, but then again, we've always thought the benevolence-redirection crowd were prone to curious self-delusion).

And LTSS, though its president Marcus Miller, has refused their money.  

He does not take the moral high road here, at least not in the minutes.  He says that he has refused the money because he doesn't want to alienate the synods.  We aren't sure the synods would have a right to be alienated if he took it; the money was supposed to go to them in the first place, but they were supposed to give it to the seminary. We expect most people would just say, "Whew.  Glad it got there, even if I don't like the path it took."  Of course, public preening over this decision would have been unseemly, not to mention alienating in the extreme to people who had chosen differently.

Either way, we expect you'll agree:  it was a conundrum, wasn't it?


Pastor Joelle said...

Of course then you have people like those in my congregation who don't want their money going to seminaries that "educate gay pastors"

I tell this whole thing is turning people whom I thought had some concept of mission and grace into people I do not recognize. Or perhaps it is exposing them. I dunno but it is unfathomable. I shall blog about it sometime soon but it is just a little too close to home right now.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

There's always somebody with a bee in their bonnet about something, isn't there? We had a dust-up some years ago when the worn out flags were removed from the church, but new ones were bought for our fellowship hall. When a certain pastor left, the flag people marched those flags and stands up into the church and placed them between the altar and the cross, all haphazard. Of course, if you carry a flag, there's some money you your pocket, it seems, so there were money issues associated with this. The gay stuff hasn't seemed to impact our congregation, with the exception of one couple leaving, to my knowledge.