Southern Religion

Rector of thousand-year-old greek monestary arrested/charged with embezzlement

Ten police officers went to the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos in Greece on Tuesday to arrest the, Father Ephraim as though he were “a gangster,” raged The Voice of Russian. But as Angeliki Koutantou and Harry Papachristou of Reuters explain:

The abbot of one of Greece’s richest and most powerful monasteries went to jail on Wednesday awaiting trial for hoodwinking the government in a high-profile land swap deal six years ago. Cypriot-born Efraim, 56, chief of the Vatopedi Monastery at the monastic community of Mount Athos, is accused of inciting officials to commit acts of fraud, perjury and money-laundering, a charge that can fetch him a jail term of several years.

The government is said to have lost tens of millions of euros in a series of land swaps with Vatopedi, a monastery with many prominent fans in Greece and abroad including Britain’s Prince Charles, who is a frequent visitor. Exposure of the scandal precipitated the fall of the country’s then conservative government in 2009.

Louis A. Ruprecht writes:

It is obvious that the most visible religious institutions — from the Vatican, to Mount Athos, to the Southern Baptist Convention — are enormous bureaucracies virtually swimming in cash. Their relative immunity from taxation and the normal rules of fiscal oversight are troubling. But this case is especially jarring for the contrast it draws out between the grinding poverty of the Greek people under their new program of enforced austerity and the immeasurable wealth of the Orthodox Church. The same contrast will be drawn out in coming months in Rome, and I dare say in the U.S. as well.

The very public arrest of Catholic priests in Belgium or the U.S. for sexual crimes is one thing; the revelation of the Greek (or Roman) Church’s complicity in white-collar theft, pork-barrel politicking and a form of nepotism whose sole purpose has been to line the clerical elites’ own pockets is something else again.

Without question, the sex crimes are more heinous, but even outside criminal court there is a perhaps growing interest in financial accountability and other kinds. A few arrests, even at the level seen in Greece, aren’t enough action.

December 30, 2011 Posted by | Catholic, Crime, Economy, SBC | , , | Comments Off on Rector of thousand-year-old greek monestary arrested/charged with embezzlement

Graph of the day: Jobs

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly “graphs monthly job losses since the start of the Great Recession.” Red is under the Bush administration and blue is under the Obama administration.

You can see from that last blue bar that nonfarm payrolls have surged, as the New York Times reported:

Employers added 162,000 jobs last month, and employment numbers in the previous two months were revised upward. Nationwide, the unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent.

To many ordinary, out-of-work Americans, the recovery may finally start to feel real.

“The key message from this report is that we’ve finally turned the corner,” said Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at IHS Global Insight. “Going forward, we should expect things to strengthen further over the rest of the year.”

Is it not both Good Friday and a good Friday?

April 2, 2010 Posted by | Economy | , | Comments Off on Graph of the day: Jobs

Today’s graph: Senate health care reform $ & cents

Analyst Nate Silver runs the numbers and concludes that the outburst of progressive opposition is nuts. Read it here.

December 16, 2009 Posted by | Economy, Health | , , , | Comments Off on Today’s graph: Senate health care reform $ & cents

Buy Nothing Day/Week/Life

No one has to die under the feet of door-busting, Black Friday shoppers this morning. The 34-year-old employee who was trampled at a Long Island, N.Y., store last year would have been spared had more people celebrated Black Friday as Buy Nothing Day.

On Buy Nothing Day, some of us celebrate our own refusal to be stampeded by the kind of fear-driven consumerism that kills relatively few people outright, but is deadly to lasting human happiness and a livable planet. As the video below explains:

Rather than shop, you can just kick back and listen to Buy Nothing Day: The Album, organize a repudiation of the prosperity gospel or just enjoy not going to the mall.

You can begin walking that path any day of any week, and keep walking.

The odd underlying idea is living within our means.

November 27, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Economy, Health | , | Comments Off on Buy Nothing Day/Week/Life

Saturday night graph: It’s still the economy …

[H/T Nate Silver]

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Economy, Obama, Politics | Comments Off on Saturday night graph: It’s still the economy …

How hungry the homeless for the holidays in D.C.?

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, DC has threatened to withdraw its social services from the District of Columbia (DC) absent change in the proposed same-sex marriage law. This amid criticism (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), applause(1, 2) and some | neutrality.

The impact would be considerable, as the Washington Post reports:

Catholic Charities, the church’s social services arm, is one of dozens of nonprofit organizations that partner with the District. It serves 68,000 people in the city, including the one-third of Washington’s homeless people who go to city-owned shelters managed by the church. City leaders said the church is not the dominant provider of any particular social service, but the church pointed out that it supplements funding for city programs with $10 million from its own coffers.

After the DC City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary narrowed the exemption for religious freedom under the bill legalizing marriage between same-sex couples, the archdiocese issued a press release which says:

Under the bill, religious organizations do not have to participate in the “solemnization or celebration” of a same-sex marriage ceremony. An earlier version of the bill also exempted them from “the promotion of marriage that is in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs.” The revised language significantly narrows that exemption to the “promotion of marriage through religious programs, counseling, courses, or retreats.”
As a result, religious organizations and individuals are at risk of legal action for refusing to promote and support same-sex marriages in a host of settings where it would compromise their religious beliefs. This includes employee benefits, adoption services and even the use of a church hall for non-wedding events for same-sex married couples. Religious organizations such as Catholic Charities could be denied licenses or certification by the government, denied the right to offer adoption and foster care services, or no longer be able to partner with the city to provide social services for the needy.

City Councilman David A. Catania said he would rather end the city’s relationship with Catholic charities than give in to the Church’s demands.

Thus far it appears the D.C. City Council agrees with Atrios:

Good. Someone else who [cares] can run them with federal tax dollars.

November 12, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Economy, Law, Politics | , , , , | Comments Off on How hungry the homeless for the holidays in D.C.?

Seven unsolid BSCNC pillars

Why did the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina would include Eddie Hammett on a list of employees it let go in August?

He’s a prolific author, well-known church consultant and someone who draws crowds to breakout sessions about reaching young people while keeping older people.

The rational for throwing Hammett overboard lies deep within a speech made by BSCNC Executive Director-treasurer Milton Hollifield three months before the layoffs.

Hollifield told the BSCNC’s Board of Directors on May 20 that the organization had been streamlined based on a document called “Seven Pillars for Ministry,” which outlines Hollifield’s vision for the BSCNC. Hollifield told the directors then that he did not know if the BSCNC would be able to get by without downsizing.

“I shared that possibility with our staff this week. Painfully, I told them, I could not promise that we would be able to avoid eliminating positions,” he said. “If we do, however, it will be based upon what we consider to be mission critical in the direction of the work as documented in the 7 Pillars booklet.”

One would assume, therefore, that Hammett’s role was not considered “mission critical” under the “seven pillars.” They are:

  1. Practice fervent prayer.
  2. Strengthen existing churches.
  3. Promote evangelism and church growth.
  4. Plant new multiplication churches.
  5. Increase work with the international community.
  6. Escalate technology improvements and upgrade the web site.
  7. Reclaim the younger generation of church leaders.

Several of the areas don’t seem to fit Hammett’s strengths. Yet it is still true that Hammett helped strengthen N.C. Baptist churches and helped reclaim younger leaders.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina understood that. That group hired Hammett about a month after he was let go by the BSCNC.

“Eddie brings to the table a unique awareness of the challenges and needs of congregational life in the 21st century,” said Larry Hovis, the CBFNC coordinator. “His background as a staff minister in local churches, coupled with his experience and expertise in coaching and consulting, will be an invaluable asset to what CBFNC is already doing in bringing Baptists together in North Carolina for Christ-centered ministry.”

BSCNC’s loss is clearly CBFNC’s big gain.

All of which leaves us with an nagging question: If they rationalize bad decisions, how can those pillars hold the BSCNC roof up?

September 25, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Economy, Religion | , | Comments Off on Seven unsolid BSCNC pillars

[Updated] Baptist newspaper closes & death stalks the rest

Which Baptist state newspaper will follow the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Witness into oblivion?

The Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention announced in February that the tabloid-sized paper would end publication. There was mention of looking “at alternative ways to communicate the stories of our churches and associations and state convention,” but as of this writing the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Witness has not been replaced with a Web news or other service.

It published 10 issues a year for perhaps 1,300 subscribers: not a viable market. The announcement said, “There have been numerous approaches to try to increase the number of subscriptions and make it cost-effective over the years.”

All of those efforts failed, as have the circulation-building efforts of Baptist state publications as a group. The arc of Baptist state association newspaper publication circulation decline is inexorable. Circulation trends among state Southern Baptist  newspapers in aggregate are well-documented.

Falling revenue has, as with other recession-plagued religious organizations — whether ministries, seminaries or nondenominational enterprises — forced staff and other cutbacks on the ecclesiastical press.

Lacking the heavy marketplace pressure which has driven mainstream publications, the ecclesiastical press has on the whole adapted even less well to the rise of the Web than its for-profit kinfolk. The Christian Science Monitor’s shift from print to a Web-based strategy, with a high-quality Web product to support it, is the shining exception.

Among the less well-known, some which were once technological leaders have reversed field to give up, for example, an early adopter advantage in social-networking distribution via twitter. Similarly, the Texas Baptist Standard recently announced an online subscription strategy — paid access to a visual analog of the print newspaper, with online bells and whistles. Yet online experiments with paid subscriptions have produced no general information winners.

Baptist state convention newspapers in general may have a very limited future. The big Texas Baptist Standard, for example, persuades the average visitor to spend barely enough time on the site (just over a minute and half per visitor) to peruse the index page or perhaps read part of an online story. Repackaging or more heavily promoting content whose Web traffic already demonstrates little marketplace appeal may not be a path to survival, no matter what kind of digital presentation is used.

Update re Baptist Standard

The Texas Baptist Standard’s paid-subscription, page-flipping, “enhanced Web edition” is built on zmags .pdf to Flash conversion software.

Although significantly more is involved than a simple conversion, even with bells and whistles added, it is still a page-flipping solution behind a pay wall.

A low pay wall of merely $8 per year, BTW.

Unfortunately, the Web already has plenty of small-payment publication solutions that failed.

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Economy, Religion, WWW | , , , | 1 Comment

Shared sacrifice (not layoffs) is working at NOBTS

No hint of inquisition. No layoffs. Shared sacrifice was the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), model response to the recession announced in January.

Bruce Nolan of The New Orleans Times-Picayune described it this week:

. . . nearly across-the-board 5 percent pay cuts for some 250 faculty and staff. Beyond that, other austerity measures: a hiring freeze, energy conservation and rigorous cost-cutting. Increases in teaching loads and, for the families of student workers, loss of medical benefits. . . . President Chuck Kelley . . . 10 percent . . . Key administrators would take a 7 percent cut.

Returning to NOBTS six weeks after that austerity was imposed, he found “the seminary seems to have absorbed the news with a mixture of determination, grim acceptance and relief that the administration chose not to cut jobs.”


“I think, to a person, people are saying that a 5 percent pay cut is better than a layoff. I don’t think I have any colleagues who are thinking, ‘We could do without those two (people). I’d put a noose around their necks if I could have my 5 percent back,’ ” said Bob Stewart, an associate professor of philosophy and theology.

This binding together of the ethics of Christian compassion and business practice is the way to go, some say. Something NOBTS staff affirmed this week. Lloyd Harsch, an associate professor of church history, told Nolan:

We feel like we’re in this together. Whether you’re cleaning the carpets or the president, we’re in this together.

Thus far, shared (necessary) sacrifice for a shared mission = a stronger team.

March 12, 2009 Posted by | Economy, Religion | , , , , , | Comments Off on Shared sacrifice (not layoffs) is working at NOBTS

Limbaughism indeed

Limbaughism is all that currently remains of the once-Republican Party, gently submits Mark Silk at Spiritual Politics.

March 5, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Economy, Politics, Religion | | 1 Comment