Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bring ye the whole tithe into the Cooperative Program storehouse!

What gives anyone in Southern Baptist life the right to presume that a tithe of the offerings to any SBC local church belongs to the Cooperative Program?

Nothing that is in the Bible; nothing that is in denominational and state constitutions and by-laws, and nothing that has been agreed upon by any assembled Baptist body.

So why do otherwise very intelligent and decent people among us write, speak, and act as if denominational entities are entitled to that ten percent?

The latest such entitlement presumption comes in the Baptist Press story collection “2010: GCR Task Force Report Viewpoints” and is written by David Williams , editor of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist, newsjournal of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention.

The usual route for expressing this presumption is to make an equivalence of a member’s tithe to his or her church with a church’s “tithe” of the Cooperative Program. Williams wrote:

As a pastor, when a tithing family gives a designated gift over and above their tithe for a special need in our church, I rejoice and thank God for their generosity. When a non-tithing family gives a designated gift because they would rather decide how their money is spent than submit it to the decision-making process of our church, I grieve over their lack of cooperation.

Sigh...there you go again.

When and where is it written that anyone, any group, any entity has the right to feel entitled to ten percent of a church’s offering plate dollars? When did we move in Southern Baptist life from commending the Cooperative Program to the churches for their consideration in the interest of supporting state conventions, seminaries, and our mission organizations, to demanding that they give a certain proportion of their offerings or else be branded as non-cooperative?

The Baptist Press GCRTF story collection includes 15 articles written by 11 different people. Nine of the eleven people are on the Baptist payroll at some level. While this doesn’t mean their opinions are not legitimate, it is appropriate to take note of that fact. Not surprisingly, nine of the eleven are critical of the GCRTF.

We have four presidential candidates this year - three major candidates. All four have outstanding records of denominational support. The three major candidates have all cut Cooperative Program giving in their churches. Only one (Ted Traylor) gives the golden 10% and he supports the GCRTF report with its "Great Commission Giving" recommendation. The candidate who is most critical of the report (Jimmy Jackson) gives below the SBC average to the CP, well below 10%, and his church even budgets direct gifts to the mission boards. In the terminology of the CP tithe entitlement crowd this is called designating your giving "around" the CP, as if that is something to be shamed about.

Southern Baptist churches, the places where ordinary Baptists make their funding decisions every Sunday, have consistently, persistently, insistently lowered their Cooperative Program percentages for decades and it stands at about 6% depending on how it is calculated and hasn't seen 10% since who knows when, maybe never.

Maybe we should stick with the idea that the tithe belongs to the Lord and not to the Cooperative Program.


Norm said...

William: Maybe we should stick with the idea that the tithe belongs to the Lord and not to the Cooperative Program.

Norm: Then simply toss your offering into the air and what the Lord wants, the Lord will keep. When your church became an SBC church, assuming such was perceived as an act of following God’s Spirit, the church committed itself to support the program of SBC. Lose the association with SBC then there would be no expectation that the church support the entity.

William Thornton said...

No SBC church needs to commit to tithing to the denominational funding program in order to be considered a cooperating church. The author whom I quoted above might need to be reminded that a decided minority of SBC churches give 10%, making the vast majority uncooperative, I suppose.

I don't object to the CP promoters asking a church to consider giving 10%. I do object to classifying those who do not as being uncooperative.

Norm said...

William: … as being uncooperative.

Norm: I do not think the argument is about tithing as understood as 10%, for such is legalistic, and I think even fundamentalist Christians are beyond this particular understanding on this particular issue. However, that which is not highly valued among baptist fundamentalists is cooperation, for the typical mode of behavior is competitively based. Such in itself is not problematic, but can be when it is over-worked. And here on this issue, it appears to be over-worked. At the heart of societal giving, regardless of what it is called, is competitive behavior. Pitting one department against another in approaching churches for funds as its major method for funding adds an incredible expense to the entity, given fundraising efforts are heavily duplicated throughout the organization. There is not much incentive among departments to cooperate given the gain of one often comes with a perceived loss in the other. Societal funding, however, can provide degrees of freedom lost in purely cooperative ventures, but in the place of reasonable and sufficient cooperative support, societal giving undermines an organization’s ability to reach a workable level of efficiency, which, in turn, enables structures and processes that adapt well to environmental demand and change.

William Thornton said...

We have always had both systems in place leading to both cooperation and competition. My objection is to the approach that cooperation, as embodied in the CP, may demand the 10% or else one is branded uncooperative.

Tithing may be legalistic but it is far from being something many fundies are "beyond." One recently went after the job of a SEBTS prof who didn't believe his view of tithing.

Norm said...

William: We have always had both systems in place ….

Norm: Yet, that is not the issue with SBC; the issue is whether SBC can do all it desires with insufficient attention given to the common good. An increasing reduction in common funds, along with marginal increase in specified funds will not take it where it wishes to go. The increasingly competitive nature of the organization will eventually over-run its ability or desire to create sufficient integrative structures and processes. A strong whole does not require weak parts, rather a strong whole needs strong parts that place demands on the whole, but it is important that the whole is not lost (and, I repeat, that the whole not obscure the part, as well). Current SBC does not do well with creative tensions, rather it seems to prefer the comfort of the ‘settled thing,’ even when it knows such is more theoretical than operational, political than useful.

Dave Miller said...

Enjoyed your perspective, William.

William Thornton said...

By showing declining CP percentages for many, many years churches are saying, as I see it, that they do not want to do all that they are doing through the CP but prefer more direct giving whereby their priorities are better exhibited.

At any rate, I object to the approach that the denomination should receive a "tithe" of church offerings.

Norm said...

William: By showing declining CP percentages for many, many years ….

Norm: When does the 'many, many years' begin, William? And what years does one find the greatest rates of reduction? What is the ratio of societal to cooperative giving in the 30 years prior to 1980 and those after 1980, both in general and by cohort? I think what you will find is the ‘many, many’ years are those associated with the most recent history of SBC, i.e., since 1980. Bottom line, prior and subsequent to the the control of SBC by those sharing the present and dominant theological perspective, a spirit of cooperativeness was not and is not a dominant value, thus the current situation and recommendation. It is your choice to ignore the elephant in the room.

William Thornton said...

Actually, since well before 1980, Norm.

I said early on that it was good to hear from you and I meant it but I don't wish to get into a pattern of heavy back-and-forth as in the old days.

Since I am no longer moderating any BLife forum, and only post occasionally, you may wish to reconnect there.

Blake said...

William, Baptist21 recently talked about the same article. I posted a comment over there (#4) that I'd be interested in your reaction to either over there, here or on the BL forums. I didn't want to address the issue twice and say the same thing. Thanks.


Norm said...

William: Actually, since well before 1980, Norm.

Norm: Perhaps you could provide the evidence of such both before and after 1980? And recall, let’s look at the rate of change in addition to absolute value (and also recall that with large number, small differences may be statistically significant, even if that which follows in practice is minimal. However, at some point a threshold is reached in which it matters not if subsequent change is small or large, desired outcomes are compromised, nonetheless). The question is not that societal-type giving was in use prior to 1980, but to what degree was it used in relation to cooperative giving and to what degree is it operative now? It surely does not seem that cooperative-style giving is a dominant value with this new initiative; further, I don't recall pre-79 leadership advocating what is being advanced at this moment. Do you?

If it is your desire to build a religious entity, which has somewhat of a bureaucratic nature, via society-style giving, it is important to realize that inherent non-cooperative behaviors in said organizational structure will only be intensified. Again, when the part is stressed over the whole, the part, for short-sided, immediate gain, sows seeds for its and the whole's eventual attenuation or perhaps demise. There is a logic and a strength to community, which when functioning properly facilitates individual development and creative individualism. To stress individualism without adequate attention to the community, will, in time, remove broader structures and processes that promote said creativity and the community’s best chance for a viable future.

I perceive your last remark as a way of saying 'go away' or at least 'do not demonstrate diligence with a point of view.' In terms of BL, as you remember, I was banned, notwithstanding the owner's comments. It is his view that the entire situation was not relevant in interpreting my behavior or for asserting his decision. So be it; I was trained in social science research (e.g., management) not to neglect important and significant (explained) variance when making decisions (given the importance of the notion of contingency, context becomes an important, determining factor). Perhaps historians are trained differently.

William Thornton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.