Sunday, February 5, 2017

Yesterday, the closest mosque to me held an open house and having business in the vicinity, I stopped by. This is an annual event that draws quite a crowd of local, non-Islamic visitors. The small parking lot was full and cars were parked up and down the street.

The open house included guided tours of the facility, information about Islam and the local center, questions and answers, free food, some "sweet water" from Mecca, free literature, and some Islamic art. As with the only other mosque I have visited (the al-Hussein Mosque adjacent to the mammoth souk in Cairo) visitors had to remove shoes before entering. The prayer room with the carpet with spaces pointed towards Mecca is small, about the size of a large living room.

The imam introduced himself to me, quite a friendly and gregarious fellow. He, along with all of the males, were dressed in western fashion. A few had the kufi, a white cap. Many of the females were covered but I didn't see any with the full coverings. There may have been uncovered females but with a large crowd, I wouldn't know how to identify the Muslim women. The imam I recognized from local newspapers, since he is the local source for comments on Islamic matters, terrorist attacks, and the like.

One might note from the information given that the purposes of the open house was:
  • Come and meet your Muslim neighbors. The locale, Athens, is a university town and has a sizable international population. I do not know what percentage is Islamic. The mosque is quite small.
  • Take a tour of the mosque.  It is interesting. I wasn't present when any of the various call to prayers were held.
  • Try henna tatoos or try a hijab.  No thanks.
  • Enjoy some snacks. I did indeed. They were good.
  • Attend Q & A. No questions off the table. I wasn't present for this but bet it was interesting. Note the specific statement that there would be "no questions off the table." As an aside, I did learn that the Quran is in Arabic. A translation of the Quran is not a Quran (sort of like the KJV 1611 only folks maybe?).
Athens is a liberal-minded community, above average in education with the major employer being the University of Georgia, and probably more ecumenical and open minded than a typical Georgia city. The county was in a minority of such that voted for Clinton in the election, about 70% in her favor attributable to the sizable minority population and the more liberal "gown" part of a "town and gown" community. The mosque has been around for years and there was no protest or controversy about its establishment.

One can judge the reason for the open house: demystify Muslims to folks with whom they work, shop, attend school, and live. It's tough to generate a general hatred or bigotry to folks whom you know and whose behavior is the same as yours, dignified, civil, law-abiding. With general hostility towards Muslims a little hospitality and openness goes a long way in establishing goodwill.

Our constitution says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"  

There are those who would have the state classify Islam as some hybrid religion, a geopolitical movement deserving either no state first amendment protections or some limited version of such. My views on church and state are not influenced by a mosque tour and a few free snacks. All religions should have the same rights of free exercise as does mine - Christian, Protestant, Baptist, Southern Baptist. I doubt a friendly imam and some Baptist-like hospitality at a mosque will influence those who seek to restrict religious liberty for Muslims in our country but it might help to de-demonize all Muslims by getting to know a few neighbors.

There are something like a billion and a half Muslims in the world. I've been around a few of these in a half dozen countries, eaten in their homes, talked with them, visited their places of worship. In America, where Muslims, Mormons, or Baptists should have the same religious freedoms under our constitution. Where worship practices or behavior of Muslims, Mormons, or Baptists run counter to our laws, they should be stopped.

This Baptist, while wishing and working for the salvation of all who do not follow Christ, favors protecting the religious liberty of all.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Not good news, Cooperative Program 2016-17 is down significantly

National CP 4.13% under projection

The percentage drop featured in the Baptist Press story above is a bit less negative than the actual CP receipts for the first two months of the fiscal year as compared to the first two months last year: a drop of 5.07%.

There is some variation in how states might send the checks to Nashville, so the two consecutive drops may be quickly reversed. 

The CP has leveled off and even shown slight increases at the national level. The economy is doing better, state conventions are giving slightly increased proportions of their CP revenues to the national CP allocation budget, and the Executive Committee's latest increase program has been adopted by numerous SBC churches. 

So, why the early indications of a CP decline this fiscal year? 

I haven't seen any leader speculate as to the cause. Perhaps they are hoping it is a statistical anomaly that will be corrected in the coming months.

It should remind SBCers and those recipients of SBC allocations that the CP is likely not going to be the engine of ministry growth in the future and, in fact, is rather precarious as a funding stream. 

No one in leadership may be saying it but our venerable Cooperative Progam which will celebrate its centennial in a few years does not capture the enthusiasm of Southern Baptist churches. I am open to persuasion that it is doing so but cannot find good reasons absent cold, hard revenues.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The long, slow slog to a 50/50 Cooperative Program split

The money collected under our venerable Cooperative Program, now in its tenth decade, is divided into two parts: the first part is the money kept by the state conventions, the second part is forwarded to the SBC Executive Committee, most of which is divided among the mission boards and seminaries.

Of interest to those who pay attention is the "split"; how much stays in each state and how much gets to SBC seminaries and mission boards. A few data points on this:

  1. Historically, state conventions keep most of the money. There has never been a year that state conventions split the money equally or kept less than 50%. In nine decades of CP collections only twice (1949-50, 1950-51) have state conventions kept less than 60% 
  2.  The most recent data show that of every CP dollar, the state conventions kept 61.25% and the SBC received 38.75%. 
  3. In the past half century the percentage kept by state convention has ranged between 61.29 and 66.56.  
  4. Since the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report was adopted by the SBC in 2010 and called for a "return to the historic ideal of a 50/50 Cooperative Program distribution between the state conventions and the SBC", the state conventions have kept between 61.25% and 62.20% of CP dollars. 
  5. The most recent statistical year, 2014-2015 showed states reducing their percentage about a full point to 61.25%
  6. The Florida state convention made a drastic change that put their split at 49/51 making them the only legacy state forwarding a majority of CP dollars to SBC causes.
  7. Southern Baptists of Texas, the conservative state body in Texas, has been at 45/55 for a few years.
  8. Two smaller state conventions, Iowa and Nevada, are at 50/50.
For those who believe Southern Baptists are better served when the state conventions keep less money and forward more to the mission boards and seminaries, the call for a 50/50 split was a welcome one. Many of the states have responded with small steps in that direction. Some have responded with giant steps. 

Over 90% of CP revenue comes from 16 legacy, southern states. In these, except for Florida and the upstart state conventions in Texas and Virginia, progress towards 50/50 has been slow or non-existent.
  • My state, Georgia, is moving to a 58/42 split, a move made much easier as a result of a $25 million gift to the convention to retire the mortgage on the headquarters building. It is unclear how much progress will be made to move from 58/42 to 50/50.
  • The Alabama convention, which gives the largest amount in CP revenues to SBC causes, is at 55/45.
  • The Tennessee convention, third largest CP giver, is at about 57/43.
  • The Louisiana and Mississippi conventions have the least favorable splits among the legacy states (not counting the more moderate conventions in Texas and Virginia) at about 63/37.
I think the recent trend in state conventions relative to the CP split is healthy but I'm not optimistic that we will get anywhere near 50/50 in my lifetime. 

I would ask my colleagues what they feel is the ideal state/SBC split of CP dollars in your state.