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Is IMB taking missionaries in the field and people in the pews for granted?

Former Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board (IMB) member Wade Burleson persuasively argues that the IMB has its cost-cutting strategy upside down.

In a Dec. 2 blog entry A Recommendation to IMB Administrators and Trustees in the Midst of a Financial Shortfall, he reviews the IMB plans to cut as many as 600 missionaries “in 2010 if the current 8% to 10% decline in revenues through the Lottie Moon Offering and Cooperative Program gifts continue.” And make cuts in benefits to those already in the field:

The IMB administration in Richmond has informed all International Service Corp, Journeymen, and Masters missionaries that they will no longer be reimbursed by the IMB for dryers, cell phones, or air conditioning while on the field. These missionaries will be allowed to have heat in the winter, but the IMB will no longer be able to pay for air conditioning. Phones for communication (an essential in foreign countries) will now be paid for by the aforementioned missionaries themselves. Clothes will need to be dried by air or the missionaries will pay the cost for drying their own clothes. This information has not been publicized except through emails sent to the supervisors of the ISC’ers, Journeymen, and Masters affected. It is hoped by Richmond that these cost saving measures among the front-line staff will allow for more missionaries to be appointed in the short term.

The natural consequence of making those cuts without making equivalent cuts back at the home office, where career administrators are well-paid and board members enjoy meetings under unnecessarily privileged circumstances, will be a crash in missionary morale. As a result, he proposes equivalent cuts for board members and among staff in the Richmond, Va., headquarters offices. Along with curtailments in travel and other sensible adjustments.

Reading down his list of recommendations you will come to:

(4). Let the missionaries ON THE FIELD determine the kind of ministry that is needed. Allow for the creation and adoption of reports that count “conversions” and “church planting” in the various countries by reflecting the different cultural and demographic make-ups of those respective countries. We must resist the cookie cutter approach that forces every missionary in every country to do the same thing the same way. Resisting perpetual world-wide reorganization of the IMB (every five years) will save huge amounts of money in the long term.

True, and his passing reference to reports is of much more than passing interest, because this year’s IMB numbers look a lot like previous years’ (padded, inflated, manufactured) numbers. In a Dec. 1 story on the 2008 IMB numbers, the Biblical Recorder reports:

Bershi’s baptism is among the more than 506,000 recorded by the International Mission Board in 2008 — an average of one baptism per minute. Southern Baptist missionaries and their partners also reported starting more than 24,650 new churches last year. (Baptisms were 10.6 percent below the 2007 total; new churches, 8.6 percent below.) Meanwhile, the total number of overseas churches topped 204,000, up from 111,000 just five years ago.

Those are very much like the 2007 numbers, which Burleson found to be essentially made up. On Jan. 2 he wrote:

For example, in the Fast Facts posted on the International Mission Board web site, one reads that 5,551 missionaries were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for 25,497 new church starts in 2007, and 609,968 baptisms.

Burleson explained that "planting" a church is a complex, time-consuming, typically expensive process. Just as the conversion and Christian nurture process which attends baptism is complex and time-consuming.

Yet those IMB numbers suggested that each of the 5,551 missionaries in the field:

  • Plants an average of five new churches per missionary in 2007.
  • Baptises an average of 120 new members per missionary in 2007.

Those numbers defied belief in January, he and some of those who commented on the blog suggested.

The most recent numbers are little changed, you can see from the table below. Absent compelling explanation with documented answers to the questions raised in January, the latest figures are also difficult to accept.

Year 2007 2008
Church Starts 25,497 24,650
Baptisms 609,968 506,000
Missionaries 5,551 5,512

Read January’s Inflated and fabricated Southern Baptist Mission numbers for the full, thorough dissection.

Publishing another set of numbers so similar as to be similarly questionable, and doing so without compelling explanation, seems to suggest to the folks in the pews that they are regarded as numbskulls.

Watch. It is they from whom cometh the contributions.

They are as acutely aware of being taken for granted as are the missionaries in the field.

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December 2, 2009 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Is IMB taking missionaries in the field and people in the pews for granted?

Huckabee the Dominionist theology candidate?

“Unfit for command” writes Frank Schaeffer about former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. At Brad Blog, the former Religious Right leader says:

It is clear that Huckabee is unfit for any national office and was unfit to ever be a governor. It is also clear that his record of insane irresponsibility was well known by the evangelicals that supported him for theological reasons in the 2007 primaries leading up to the ’08 race.

Schaeffer argues that Huckabee is a zealot whose blizzard of clemencies/pardons was a “direct result of a theology known as “Dominionism” (or “Reconstructionism“) where believers want to not just believe their religion privately but “take back America for God” in other words rule on the basis not of American law but the Bible.”

Some of Huckabee’s commutations, pardons and associated actions make no sense and his explanations tend to be confused, characterized by blame-shifting and denial. Yet it is readily seen that Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, was unduly responsive to the requests of Baptist ministers. For example, Huckabee granted clemency [reversed in the face of furious public reaction] to Glen Green over the objections of the Post-Prison Transfer Board, not for substantial reasons, but apparently because Green’s minister interceded on his behalf. Green’s minister argued that “the murder was an accident and Green was forced to confess.” Garrick Feldman of the Arkansas Leader could find no reason to believe the confession was coerced and wrote:

But if [Huckabee] read the confession and still considers Green deserving of parole, he’s certainly unfit to hold office. Who would free a madman who beat an 18-year-old woman with Chinese martial-arts sticks, raped her as she barely clung to life, ran over her with his car, then dumped her in the bayou, her hand reaching up, as if begging for mercy?

Joe Conason at Salon builds an argument. As does David Waters at OnFaith, although he reaches the misguided conclusion that “Huckabee is no zealot.”

Huckabee strenuously denies that his decision to commute the sentence of Maurice Clemmons was faith-based, but there is considerable evidence it was. Dan Gilgoff reviews it in brief. Atheist PZ Myers is even more synoptic while dealing with the importance applying real mercy within our criminal justice system.

Huckabee’s response at RedState that “Religion had nothing to do with the commutation” is a ludicrous denial of the available record of events. It makes even less sense than his denial of the power of ordinary human conscience and of our collective allegiance to reasonable social order with the hyperventilating argument that “Soldiers and police officers are the line between us and anarchy.”

Nor does Huckabee’s recourse to denial and blame-shifting blunt Schaeffer’s overarching argument. The public record [like the parole documentation [.pdf]] and weight of accounts [Murray Waas 2002 Arkansas Times article,The Arkansas Leader series, Mahablog, Jeralyn] is with Schaeffer when he writes:

In Huckabee’s more than 1000 pardons of criminals that prosecutors and victims objected to in Arkansas Huckabee most often cited his belief in “redemption” as his “reason.” This belief was a result of Huckabee’s extreme and literal born-again fundamentalist views about people’s path to God.

Republican reaction to Huckabee and his arguments will demonstrate whether Schaeffer is right when he says:

It seems to me that Huckabee’s absurd record of unwarranted pardons of dangerous criminals including killers and rapists is just another example proving that the heart of the Republican Party is now in the hands of religious extremists.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Politics, SBC | , , | 5 Comments

Australia’s NSW Police investigating Scientology

“Hundreds of allegations” against the Church of Scientology are being investigation by New South Wales Police, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Tuesday.

This investigation of the cult founded by the late L. Ron Hubbard was provoked by “a series of letters from former members tabled in Federal Parliament by independent senator Nick Xenophon,” reported The Age.

Xenophon used parliamentary privilege to accuse Scientology of criminal misconduct, including torture and forced abortions. The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

The most senior executive to defect from the church, American Marty Rathbun, has said the allegations, including coercion to have abortions and donate money, are unwritten church policy, dictated from its head office, according to a speech by the Greens MP John Kaye to the NSW Upper House.

Federal funding to two schools closely linked to Scientology was also under fire. Herald education editor Anna Patty wrote:

FEWER than 100 children will benefit from more than $1.6 million in Federal Government subsidies over four years to two schools strongly linked to the Scientology movement.
. . .
A NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, said the Athena School had enrolled fewer than 50 students last year, according to NSW Government figures. He said the Rudd Government, despite its concerns about Scientology, had endorsed the use of public money to support a school that promoted Hubbard’s teaching.

”Public funding to the Scientology schools promotes the teachings of an organisation that has been accused of intimidation, blackmail and fraud.”

Dr. Kaye said:

”These explosive revelations underline the urgency of investigating the operations of the Church of Scientology in Australia. It is possible that recognising the organisation as a religion was a grave mistake that has granted legitimacy to a cult that bullies, intimidate and exploits,” he said.

”There is a growing case for comprehensive examination not only of the church leadership in Australia but also of the church itself as a religion.”

December 2, 2009 Posted by | Crime, Education | | Comments Off on Australia’s NSW Police investigating Scientology