What Do Churches Have to Hide?

Church Accountability Open BooksThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is a freethought organization that has won some high-profile lawsuits supporting the separation of church and state. It is also known for displaying freethought statements to balance religious Christmas messages on state property.

Want to know what the revenue of the FFRF is? For 2012, it was $3,075,998. Exactly.

Want to know how I know that? I looked it up; it’s public information. That’s true for all U.S. nonprofits. All nonprofits, that is, except churches.

Church transparency

Isn’t it startling that church leaders, who supposedly believe that the all-knowing Accountant in the Sky will judge them eternally for how ethically they spend the money given by parishioners, are embarrassed to show their financial records to the rest of us? That they want church donations to be tax exempt but refuse to show the public (which is picking up the slack for the missing taxes) how they spend this money?

What do you suppose they have to hide?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s form 990 has a bold “Open to Public Inspection” at the top. The form gives the salaries of each staff member, to the dollar. It shows revenue, expenses, cash in the bank, mortgages, and lots more financial details. They seem to shoulder this burden pretty well, and I think churches can, too.

Go to GuideStar, the Foundation Center, or similar organizations to look up any nonprofit to which you’re considering a donation to check how they spend their money.

Any nonprofit, that is, except churches.

What Would Jesus Do?

Let’s remember what religion we’re talking about. It’s the religion that tells the story of the rich man who was too attached to his wealth to follow Jesus’s command, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:17–31). It’s the religion in which Jesus will say to the worthy people, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:31–46). And, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). And, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19–21).

Apparently Jesus didn’t care much for rich people but cared greatly for the poor. How do you suppose he would react to churches being secretive today about how they spend the money given to them? About churches exempting themselves from the requirement to open their books?

Some groups are trying to fix this problem. The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability imposes on its members standards of financial accountability and transparency. It’s a nice step. I wish all large ministries and churches followed these rules.

MinistryWatch is a clearinghouse that compares financial and governance information from ministries. But this is just a baby step. MinistryWatch has only about 500 ministries in their list when there are an estimated 350,000 congregations in the U.S.

And many of the ministries don’t get a five-star rating. In fact, those who get zero or one star are a Who’s Who of high-profile televangelists and religious newsmakers: Benny Hinn, Rod Parsley, Creflo Dollar, Paul and Jan Crouch and the Trinity Broadcasting Network, John Hagee, Kenneth Copeland, TD Jakes, R.C. Sproul, Chuck Colson, Harold Camping’s Family Radio, and Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis.

Some churches are open about their finances, but only to members. According to one survey, 92% of churches provide financial information upon request to members. Why is this not 100%? And what good is this to the U.S. taxpayer who wants to verify the claimed benefit that churches provide a good to society that earns them nonprofit status? Compare this with the financial records of the more than 1.5 million ordinary nonprofits easily accessible in a single database.

A request for change

Let’s make a simple, logical change—a change that helps churches look better. This cloud of doubt hangs over every church. The change costs churches and other ministries very little and makes things fair, and it shows that they have nothing to hide. Remove the exemption allowing churches to avoid providing financial information.

Some ministries will have to clean up their acts, but isn’t that a good thing? Doesn’t this benefit the Christians at the churches that spend their income honorably?

If there really is a God
who created the entire universe with all of its glories,
and He decides to deliver a message to humanity,
He will not use, as His messenger,
a person on cable TV with a bad hairstyle.
— Dave Barry

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 5/7/12.)

Photo credit: IRS

About Bob Seidensticker
  • katiehippie

    When I worked at a bank a church member came in to ask about a church bank account. We couldn’t find it and it turned out the pastor of the church had closed it, taken the money and faked bank statements to make the members think the money was still there.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Sounds like an instance where not just the general public would benefit from church openness.

      • katiehippie

        Never ever let the pastor be in charge of the money. Even at the church I went to the pastor decided he “needed” a huge amount of office supplies and whatnot. The church barely makes it’s bills as it is.

        • wtfwjtd

          My uncle used to say that there’s two things in a church that the preacher should keep his hands off of– the women, and the money, and not necessarily in that order.

  • MNb

    This should be a non-issue, so I don’t have anything to comment.

    I’m pretty sure you will like this:

    http://www.sheffieldphoenix.com/showbook.asp?bkid=271

    • shart of turin

      That’s going to be a very interesting read. Thanks.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      An intriguing argument, thanks.

  • wtfwjtd

    As churches are used more and more for partisan political purposes, the practice of hiding their financials from the tax payers who help prop them up becomes even more unethical. I would definitely hope that this issue gets the attention it deserves, sooner rather than later.

  • smrnda

    I wonder if a reason isn’t that Christian churches want to hide their finance from us secular people, but if they want to hide it from the other Christian churches?

    Despite the claim that they’re all following the same Jesus, Xtian churches go out of their way to get people to *switch brands* so to speak. Let’s say you are the calculating leader of a church; knowing financial information about your rivals would be pretty nice.

    All said, in that case they’re behaving like for profit businesses.

  • Greg G.

    Hey, Pat Robertson and the CBN got four stars. The rankings apparently don’t factor in marital advice dispensed.

    • wtfwjtd

      Speaking of which, I saw where Hemant had a post about Ken “the hamster” Ham wanted to debate Pat about the age of the earth and such. As Hemant said, that would be comedy gold! I wonder if it would boost their ratings?

  • KarlUdy

    Here is one topic where I am in principle in full agreement with you.

    The only comment I would make is that I think the more relevant information to pay attention to on MinistryWatch regarding transparency and accountability is those ministries that have Donor Alerts versus those that are identified as Shining Lights.

    The star-rating refers to efficiency, and factors such as whether the ministry receives income from outside sources, and how much assets the ministry has (I don’t think liquidity comes into the question). Also, it is impossible for all the ministries to get a five-star rating as only the top 10% get a five-star rating. Some of the ministries on there are not rated at all (presumably because the data is not available.)

    However, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar and TBN are all on the Donor Watch list (which frankly doesn’t surprise me – they would be often described as preachers of “prosperity theology”, which is criticised heavily in many Christian circles.) I want people like this removed from their positions of influence as much as you do.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      It’s good we have this point of agreement.

      I suppose different countries have different relationships with churches and have different rules about financial transparency, but the way it’s done in the U.S. is pretty messed up from just about any perspective.

      • MNb

        Dutch PKN (the umbrella protestant church) is open:

        http://www.pkn.nl/actief-in-de-kerk/besturen/college-van-diakenen/Paginas/Modellen-Jaarrekening-en-begroting.aspx

        The RCC is only since two years:

        http://www.accountant.nl/Accountant/Nieuws/Kerkelijke+transparantie+maakt+rode+cijfers+bisdom.aspx

        Pofarmer will rejoice to learn that the seven Dutch dioceses together have suffered a loss of 4 million Euro in 2013 on a budget of 30 million.
        PKN is hardly doing better: the budget for 2014 has a deficit of slightly more than 3 million on 40 million.

        • wtfwjtd

          Here’s a revealing quote from that bottom link:

          “The cause of the losses in the Netherlands come from a lower payment of parishes and higher spending, among other compensation to abuse victims. Details will be missing from the annual reports. It is not clear how much will be there yet. Paid.”

          Payments to abuse victims? Wow.

          And I really like this:

          “The dioceses reorganize for years. Thereby be merged parishes and churches closed. However, the dioceses are worried about the ever declining remittance of parishes.”

          Let’s hope this trend continues, and hopefully comes to the USA.

        • Pofarmer

          The Catholic Church can’t go the way of the DODO fast enough, unfortunately they have their business arms to prop them up. On the wall of the Hospital/Church where why my wife works, there is now a large Catholic crucifix when you walk in that says something to the effect of “Revealing the healing power of the holy spirit” Or something really close to that. There are now Catholic Crucifixes hung everywhere in the hospital. She also picked up a pamphlet detailing all the work the church does in poor countries “helping” the poor. I then had to explain to the kids how the Catholic Church enslaves ever more people in these poor countries by opposing birth control, which causes even more children to be born into some of the poorest slums on earth, and discouraging Condom Use, which could prevent the spread of Sexually Transmitted diseases. They are measurably making the lives of people on this planet WORSE while going on about “helping the poor.” Man, I hate that Church.

        • wtfwjtd

          Your comment brings to mind Bob’s post here awhile back entitled, “Does Christianity lead to a better society?” When you look at actual numbers, religion in general, including Christianity, tends to thrive where people are poorest and most desperate. So, as you point out, religion actually seems to work at keeping people destitute and in fear and ignorance, so it can thrive. A rational, ethical person finds this behavior appalling; it’s all the more reason and motivation to fight such outdated and downright barbaric thinking.

        • Pofarmer

          I can’t describe how frustrating it is to see otherwise rational people that buy into all of it.

        • wtfwjtd

          Like Greg said, once you see it, you can’t unsee it. But, getting certain people to see it is indeed a tall order.

        • Pofarmer

          Yeah, there ain’t no going back unless I lie to myself.

        • Pofarmer

          This brought back to mind a discussion I had with Theodore Seeber, I think on Leah Libresco’s blog. The subject was helping the poor, and I pointed out that, as Christopher Hitchens had noted, if you want to bring people out of poverty, you control the birth rate, and give women control of at least some of the finances. He replied that if this was the way to prosperity, then “Prosperity is an error.” Anything that doesn’t fit with the theology just gets tossed.

        • MNb

          I don’t have words – I only can shake my head.

        • wtfwjtd

          And theists wonder why atheists get all hot under the collar about their flawed worldview. Sheesh.

  • http://opportunityseekers20.blogspot.it AndyT

    As the years go by, American Christianity is becoming a business, where shrewd and technology savvy pastors/businessmen reach new levels of enterpreneurship, and rival churches/corporations compete against each other, the strongest ones expanding their business in developing countries in Asia and Africa.

    • 90Lew90

      Christianity has been a business since Constantine.

      • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

        Possibly even before (though they were less pro-business then): I’ve heard that since the beginning, the church was willed Christians’ estates, which they then sold for profit in many cases (admittedly this was often equitably divided to benefit those in the congregation, which Acts mentions).

        • Greg G.

          That would be Acts 4:32-37 and Acts 5:1-11. (That’s a misplaced chapter break.) Luke appears to have attributed Josephus’ description of the Essenes to the early Christian community.

        • wtfwjtd

          Yes, the Acts portrayal of the socialist aspects of early Christianity doesn’t square well with their current political rhetoric, at least in the US. I’ve always wondered about that Ananias thing–I guess that’s supposed to be a warning to folks to give ’til it hurts, literally.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          That might be in keeping with the actual practice of socialist states, where the “giving” was not optional. It’s not said that everyone should do what the early believers did, but still, it is a problematic depiction for modern Christians.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          I’ve heard there was some connection of those two. Perhaps early Christians were influenced by or drawn from them.

        • Greg G.

          I think the Gospels and Acts are almost pure fiction. The impurities would be a few facts inserted for verisimilitude. Mark attributed deeds to Jesus that were performed by others in the literature of the day. The other gospels used those fictions. Luke created fiction using Josephus as an encyclopedia and as a muse, especially in Acts.

          Paul got his facts about Jesus from centuries old scripture and credits Cephas for being the first to see it, so Cephas was not an illiterate fisherman.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          I definitely agree. For those who hold them sacred, though, such incidents as the early Christians’ communism are very embarrassing and worth pointing out.

        • Greg G.

          Quite true.

  • 90Lew90

    Good post. This is important. The Catholic Church is as bad as any televangelist but more sneaky (they would probably try to say they were more “noble”). Untold amounts of land are left to that church every year. I know of this personally in Ireland because a friend of mine is a farmer who can point, on a ten-mile stretch of road in the area where he has land, to numerous workable fields which have been left to the church in wills and been left to run into terrible neglect. It drives him mad that he can’t buy. It’s a completely squanderous neglect of that land and shows little concern for either the poor or a very hard-working farmer who could put otherwise useless land to good use producing food. And don’t get me started on the €1.4 billion bill for child-sex abuse that the Irish state picked up for the church. Stinking.

    • wtfwjtd

      And, looking a little further afield, IIRC there was a big money-laundering scandal involving an Italian priest, I believe. I don’t remember the details, except it involved tens of millions of euros, it’s astounding that kind of cash could go missing and nobody notice it.
      And what was that I was reading about parts of the UK, local churches were allowed to charge certain landowners “maintenance fees” or some other such euphemism, using a law that dated to the 15th century? It wasn’t pocket change either, several thousand quid if I remember correctly–it basically amounted to an extortion racket, enforced by the state.

    • Brandon Roberts

      there’s churches worse than the televangelists!

    • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

      I grew up in the farmlands of Galway and I can personally sympathise with your Irish friend. It’s terrible how much land the RCC uses and wastes.

      In another Irish matter, many American Catholic Churches raised collections to fund the Irish Republican Army during the Troubles. I’d love to be able to look and figure out how much money was raised to buy the bullets and bombs that killed my friends and neighbours, but no go, because the Church deserves ‘privacy.’

  • MNb

    As it’s quiet in this thread I go off topic once again. I recommend everyone to read Daniel Fincke’s thorough and systematic debunking of christian morals.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2014/05/empowerment-ethics-how-can-atheists-condemn-rape-without-theistic-moral-absolutism/
    Nobody can accuse DF of misunderstanding what the Bible teaches, because he is a deconverted fundie who for years has studied this stuff and embraced it.

  • Pofarmer

    So help me out here. Bart Ehrman uses his passage to say Paul must be quoting an “original teaching” of Jesus.

    “1 Thessalonians, where he is discussing the future return of Jesus from heaven, when all the dead will be raised and all living believers will join them in a heavenly reunion with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).  In this context Paul states “For this we say to you by a word of the Lord, that we who are living who are left until the coming of the Lord will certainly not precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ will rise first….”    For Paul, those who had already died would meet the Lord first, to be immediately followed by those who had not yet died.  And he learned this from a “word of the Lord.””

    Wouldn’t that passage be just as at home in Revelations?

    • Greg G.

      I’ve posted somewhere that the 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, and one from Philippians all come from Isaiah and Daniel. I’m working early today so I don’t have my computer up to cite the verses specifically right now.

      • Pofarmer

        I guess my only concern with a passage like that, is that there isn’t any real reason that this would have to be an “authentic” teaching of Jesus. It’s just an Apocalyptic teaching, and it’s pretty much a given that there was lot’s of Apocalyptic thought in that time and place. It’s as much a teaching about Jesus as from Jesus,and I don’t see any reason it doesn’t fit in well with the idea that the Jews were rereading Ancient texts and incorporating new Roman and Greek thought (some of it Astrological) into their religion.

        • wtfwjtd

          As Truthsurge points out, notice how Paul talks of the “coming of the Lord”, as if speaking of an event that is to happen for the *first* time, not a “return” or “coming back”. Does Ehrman cite anything from anywhere in the NT to attribute this to a historical Jesus ?

        • Pofarmer

          No, it’s just “We have good reason to believe” that this would be an authentic teaching, because, yada, yada, yada. I dunno, reading some of his comments though, I think he understands, in some fashion, how weak this case really is. I hope Carrier can make a good argument. I also wish Carrier’s style wasn’t so combative, but I’m not so sure that Ehrman didn’t start it.

        • wtfwjtd

          Well, there is obviously considerable resistance to the idea of mythical Jesus, and those who have staked out sides on this issue seem very combative. I’m content to go where the evidence leads, and as far as I’m concerned it’s not a huge deal either way, really, since there’s so little left of a historical Jesus anyhow. Even Ehrman agrees the resurrection tale is a myth, and many of the NT books are pseud epigraphical. What’s left beyond a few sayings and maybe some travel stories? Hell, Christians don’t even have an authentic empty tomb to point to, and they have to fight tooth and nail for a couple of extra-gospel references from decades after the time of Jesus. The origins of the Christian faith have been shown to be just as ordinary as the beginnings of any other man-made religion on the planet.

        • MNb

          “any real reason that this would have to be an “authentic” teaching of Jesus”
          That was my first thought too. It’s impossible to separate “authentic teachings of Jesus himself” from additions by the authors of the NT.

  • Brandon Roberts

    well that’s actually completely fair. jesus would probaly be pissed if he could see what some of the church leaders do.

  • Yonah

    A completely rediculous article.

    Of course Rod Parsely isn’t going to show you squat. He and his operation are not really a church, but a corporation with a church facade.

    Most normal churches publish the numbers with every newsletter and more exhaustively at their annual congregational meeting. You want them to put it on a website or facebook. Some do.

    Many small and medium churches try to maintain a website or a face book page with the best of intentions of actually maintaining it. But, money and volunteers and time fluxuate. It is very common to find a congregation’s web presence not having been updated in several years. And, so you want to accuse them, in that, of being unaccountable for their finances…to the Atheist nation.

    lol, I’d like to hear the council meeting take that conern up after they try to figure out if they can get pastor to wait another week on his paycheck so they can pay the “light bill”.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Of course Rod Parsely isn’t going to show you squat. He and his operation are not really a church, but a corporation with a church facade.

      Given that we agree here, I’m surprised that you find the post ridiculous.

      Most normal churches publish the numbers with every newsletter and more exhaustively at their annual congregational meeting.

      Not good enough. I want them to fill out a 990, like all the other 501(c)3 organizations, so that I can browse each one in seconds on an aggregator like Charity Navigator.

      But, money and volunteers and time fluxuate.

      1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. manage to fill out a 990, including the thousands whose income is trifling. I’ll bet churches can take responsibility, too.

      This is a simple and reasonable request. That churches refuse to accept it (or that politicians are determined to cover for them) makes them all look bad. Why churches put up with that, I can’t imagine.

      lol, I’d like to hear the council meeting take that conern up after they try to figure out if they can get pastor to wait another week on his paycheck so they can pay the “light b ill”.

      My sympathy is nonexistent. If someone can take dozens to hundreds of hours to manage the church’s finances throughout the year, they can take the half hour to fill out and file a 990 EZ.

      • Yonah

        You don’t devluge your motivation. The original article seemed to straddle concern for accountability to anyone including members and then folk soley outside the church community. If the accusation is that churches hide the numbers, that is clearly rediculous. They are published within the churchs’ own political unit. That you want it served up on a silver platter for you on the internet, is another matter.

        I would be curious what you would be looking for, and what you would do about it.

        My assumption is that you ultimately want to do away with 501(c) three status for churches. And with that, I would most heartily agree, although for different reasons. Churches paying the tax gives churches all the more moral and political right to engage in the political process. Or, in order to not to pay tax, churches can own nothing and pay no staff…and have ultimate authenticity and moral credibility.

        Go ahead, make my day.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You don’t devluge your motivation.

          It’s not obvious? The status quo is unfair.

          If the accusation is that churches hide the numbers, that is clearly rediculous.

          That’s not an accusation; it’s a fact.

          They are published within the churchs’ own political unit.

          Wait—you’re saying that every single church makes its finances freely and easily available to its members? This is new information to me. Show me the evidence.

          That you want it served up on a silver platter for you on the internet, is another matter.

          Yes, that’s exactly what I want. All the other nonprofits seem to get that done without undue aggravation.

          My assumption is that you ultimately want to do away with 501(c) three status for churches.

          That’s a completely separate argument. Let’s get transparency with the $100 billion/year U.S. church system first. We can worry about nonprofit status later.

          Churches paying the tax gives churches all the more moral and political right to engage in the political process.

          Churches and donors.

          Yes, that might be a good thing from one perspective. On the other hand, there are some who say that churches getting involved with politics is a really stupid and tangential thing to do.

          Or, in order to not to pay tax, churches can own nothing and pay no staff…and have ultimate authenticity and moral credibility.

          A money-free church? All the better.

        • Yonah

          Money/power free churches get stronger.

          You probably do not understand the Abrahamic tradition wiring.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Is this supposed to rebut the points I made earlier?

        • Yonah

          I doubt it. As before, I think it would be cool for your program to be instituted. It would pour gas on the Pentecost fire, especially for little churches that need something to be gassed up about. I think the downside is that it’s probably just you and a dozen others who are interested in what St. Micro and all of their ten members are doing with their hundred bucks a week total offering. I read recently of a defunct Episcopal church in a nearby town that was finally shut by the Diocese. The article said the place had been run by ten old people for ten years BEFORE shutting. I suppose now, your committee shall have to write the Bishop to give up the numbers on what’s going on currently with the building…are they renting it…did they sell it. I dunno. It’s gonna be an interesting bill for you to get passed to handle those things. Go for it.

          How about them Russian Orthodox, huh? Waited them Soviets out for almost a hundred years. Now look at ’em. They got Putin bowin & crossin himself all over their icons. That Abrahamic thing is kind of Kenyan runnerish…takes the long long path. And the KGB is no more.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I think it would be cool for your program to be instituted.

          Just to clarify, “my program” is to get transparency in all nonprofits, not to eliminate tax-exempt status. (That’s worth considering as step 2.)

          I think the downside is that it’s probably just you and a dozen others who are interested in what St. Micro and all of their ten members are doing with their hundred bucks a week total offering.

          You think that it’s St. Micro that I’m concerned about? Uh … no. Reread the post and see if that’s the likeliest explanation.

          I’m a bit more interested in Scientology, Benny Hinn, and other charlatans. And you? You don’t think that shining a little light on those corrupt “churches” would be refreshing?

        • Yonah

          Well, if you’re talking about just shaming those charlatans, the culture’s done passed the point where its willing to get upset about carnival acts parading as religion. The question is what criminal activity are they potentially engaged in…and is there teeth in the current system to hold them accountable. Transparency is one thing. Actually funding enforcement is another…assuming no political shenangans get in the way of the enforcement. So, if it is your hope that citizen cyber cops using mandated transparency will in some way help the enforcement authorities do their job more fully…that would be, at this point, a black box theory. As one who has been a pastor, public school teacher, and social worker…I have reported child abuse to the authorities until I’m blue…and nada happened.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Well, if you’re talking about just shaming those charlatans, the culture’s done passed the point where its willing to get upset about carnival acts parading as religion.

          Culture changes, sometimes quickly. Consider how smoking is frowned upon and how gays are not. That’s a complete reversal from 30-40 years ago.

          The question is what criminal activity are they potentially engaged in

          That’s not my concern. Let’s just have a level playing field, let in some light, and let the chips fall where they may. Public outrage would be all that is necessary.

          I can’t mandate the public outrage, but the argument for fair transparency is falling-off-a-log obvious.

        • Yonah

          On public outrage…the same public which hasn’t stood up to the NRA?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The same public that changed its mind on civil rights, gay rights, and public smoking.

          If your point is that the public doesn’t get it sometimes, yeah. Nevertheless, public opinion is always changing.

        • Yonah

          I think it not right to put smoking on the same level with civil rights and gay rights.

          Actually, civil rights has been turned back. The moves toward voter suppression will probably reap reward for the Republicans in 2014. The Supreme Court has assisted the regression with this agenda. So, while various aspects of the legal infrastructure have been hacked away at, the cultural fabric as well has been damaged. Not only has the Obama presidency revealed the true still present entrenched racism resident in the culture, but the culture wars have served as a hot house to produce even more virualent amounts and varieties of racism.

          The jury is still out on how far legal decisions and the polling data on gay rights can indicate where we are on gay rights.

          Overall, the present situation is not good, but my daughter’s generation, I think, will rectify it. I think we’re looking at another ten years. Youth and Hispanaic influence will help much.

          But, the political problem is that money-power increasingly rests in the hands of the very few…this skews our understanding of normal politics and will continue to do so. If the few can buy any amount of armed aggression/enforcement it wants against the 99%…then the potential for greater violence than existed in the civil rights era exists.

          I think many in the public are afraid of the NRA. I worry that somehow we are not able, first and foremost, to put the human rights of children on the same level with identity politics.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I think it not right to put smoking on the same level with civil rights and gay rights.

          They’re all examples of the public making a radical change.

        • Yonah

          I don’t think there is a monolithic “the public”.

          In regard to civil rights in the 1960s, the movement would not have happened if not for the Black Church. White religious and secularist liberals did not invest up front. JFK and RFK were late in being drawn in. Actually the more conservative LBJ did more. But, still. On the ground from where the movement came from…if not for people in the Black Church who shed their blood and had their bodies broken on the streets, the movement would have gone nowhere. Today, the current equivalent…on a much smaller scale is the Black preacher in North Carolina doing Moral Mondays.

          The problem is that the Tea Party discovered that property of the Abrahamic tradition that you do not understand…that is…if you lose, you win. There is no such thing as bad publicity, etc. Their ability to screw things up is enough to provide a confidence in the existence of Satan….I speak symbolicly there.

          The question is: what entity is able to muster today a movement similar in scale to that of the civil rights movement in the 1960s/70s? If you think little of the Church in that regard, it begs the question of what else has the infrastructure to pull anything off. I voted for President Obama twice, and didn’t git no change…got a little bit of creeping advance in a few areas…nothing huge…not change. His presidency is aleady over.

          Meanwhile, the country…if you can call it that, continues to fragment into a mosaic of culturally war-scarred re-tooled experiments in human sociology. It matters much more today where one lives geographicallly than say, 20 years ago.

          My worry is that much of what passes for “the public” is just a passive default libertarianism…completely unwilling to engender a vigorous defense of the vulnerable.

          So. If you a faith in “the public” Tell me some good news to look for in the near future on gun control.


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