Foreclosing on churches

The housing market woes are having a big impact also on houses of worship, as banks are increasingly foreclosing on churches:

(Reuters) – Banks are foreclosing on America’s churches in record numbers as lenders increasingly lose patience with religious facilities that have defaulted on their mortgages, according to new data.

The surge in church foreclosures represents a new wave of distressed property seizures triggered by the 2008 financial crash, analysts say, with many banks no longer willing to grant struggling religious organizations forbearance.

Since 2010, 270 churches have been sold after defaulting on their loans, with 90 percent of those sales coming after a lender-triggered foreclosure, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group.

In 2011, 138 churches were sold by banks, an annual record, with no sign that these religious foreclosures are abating, according to CoStar. That compares to just 24 sales in 2008 and only a handful in the decade before.

The church foreclosures have hit all denominations across America, black and white, but with small to medium size houses of worship the worst. Most of these institutions have ended up being purchased by other churches.

The highest percentage have occurred in some of the states hardest hit by the home foreclosure crisis: California, Georgia, Florida and Michigan.

“Churches are among the final institutions to get foreclosed upon because banks have not wanted to look like they are being heavy handed with the churches,” said Scott Rolfs, managing director of Religious and Education finance at the investment bank Ziegler.

Church defaults differ from residential foreclosures. Most of the loans in question are not 30-year mortgages but rather commercial loans that typically mature after just five years when the full balance becomes due immediately.

Its common practice for banks to refinance such loans when they come due. But banks have become increasingly reluctant to do that because of pressure from regulators to clean up their balance sheets, said Rolfs.

“A lot of these loans were given when the properties were evaluated at a certain level in 2005 or 2006,” Rolfs said. “Banks have had to reappraise the value of these properties, whether it’s a church or a commercial office building. Values have gone down, so the loans cannot continue in the same form.” . . .

Solid Rock Christian Church near Memphis, Tennessee, took out a $2.9 million loan with the Evangelical Christian Credit Union at the beginning of 2008, to construct a new, 2,000 seat, 34,000 square-foot building to house its growing congregation.

In the middle of construction, the economy crashed. The church raided its savings to finish the project, but ended up defaulting on the loan.

The ECCU foreclosed and put the church up for auction.

“We are still fighting this,” a church spokesman told Reuters. “We have filed for bankruptcy to stop this foreclosure and to restructure our debt.”

via Banks foreclosing on churches in record numbers | Reuters.

Though the article says that small and medium size churches are most affected–there are more of those–the example is of a megachurch.  My impression is that lots of big congregations may have become over-extended in building their big “campuses.”  Again, the problem is not so much failure to make payments on  a conventional mortgage but having to make a “balloon payment” after a few years, only to find the decrease in the value of the property makes refinancing impossible.  I didn’t realize that churches could go bankrupt.

Have any of your churches had problems like these?

Islamic-friendly Bibles

Many missionary groups in Islamic countries are using Bible translations that avoid offending Muslim sensibilities, getting rid of phrases such as “the Son of God” and “God the Father.”   All in the name of church growth.  And yet Christians in these countries, beleagured as they are, are strenuously objecting to these translations.  Mindy Belz of World Magazine reports:

A team of translators with Frontiers helped produce the disputed translation of Matthew in Turkish, and SIL said some of its consultants helped at certain points in the process. Sabeel Media, a partner organization of SIL, published the translation in August 2011, printing it in book form and posting it online. In the Turkish Matthew, the “alternative form” for “Son of God” is something along the lines of “representative of God,” according to Turkish speakers, and “God the Father” has become “great protector.” A footnote explains the alternate terms: “According to the Jews, ‘God’s Son’ means ‘God’s beloved ruler’ and is equivalent with the title ‘Messiah.’”. . .

The translators emphasize their desire to promote evangelism. Bob Blincoe, the U.S. director of Frontiers, cited in an email lack of growth as one reason for the translation: “The big problem is that church planting among the tens of millions of religious Muslims in Turkey has not been successful; it has not even begun.” Turkey is 99.8 percent Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook. Turks estimate that their country has about 5,000 Christians now, but when Bocek became a Christian in 1988, he was one of a total of 80 Protestants in the country. “One significant barrier may be the existing translation of the Bible,” Blincoe wrote in an email: “These are paraphrases that help a conservative Sunni Muslim audience know what the Bible really says.” . . .

Thomas Cosmades, a Turkish Christian who translated the New Testament into Turkish from the original Greek, mailed a letter to Frontiers at the end of 2007 after he saw a copy of the Turkish Matthew. (Several hundred were printed before the official publication in 2011). Cosmades died in 2010, at age 86, just after he published a new edition of his New Testament. In his letter he wrote that he was “highly disquieted” by the paraphrased Matthew and proceeded to analyze the debatable phrases in detail.

“This translation is not seeking to emphasize the value of the incarnation,” he wrote. “Should the trend continue, who knows where it will lead the coming generation? If Athanasius of old would have encountered such departure from biblical Christology he would have placed these redactors far below the Arians.” . . .

The Pakistan church at large may not know about the debate, but the Pakistan Bible Society (PBS) does. After 20 years of work together, the Bible society and SIL are parting ways over the issue, which is a blow to SIL because now it must operate without the imprimatur of the premier local publisher. SIL said in a statement that the decision not to work together on one project was mutual, the result of “translation style differences,” not just the debate on divine familial terms.

But the general secretary of the Pakistan Bible Society, Anthony Lamuel, wrote in a letter on Jan. 26 that the issue of altering terms for target audiences was central in the decision, and added that such translations have resulted in the “water downing” of Christian concepts: “We the Pakistan Bible Society will not promote experiments with the translation at the cost of hurting the church.”

A woman working on another translation project in Central Asia, who asked for anonymity for the sake of her work, said the debate on the “Son of God” issue in her translation team has deadlocked their project and stirred confusion among local believers who don’t have a Bible in their own language as a reference: “It has eroded their faith in the authority of the Word of God and in us as foreigners who are supposed to be the ‘teachers’ but can’t seem to agree on some basic truths of who Christ said he was. … Sadly it raises doubts and endless discussion, wasting a lot of time.”

Anwar Hussain, the head of the Bangladesh Bible Society, has been at the forefront of efforts in his country the last few years to repel Bible translations from various groups that change divine familial terms. Hussain grew up Muslim, and when he professed Christ as a young man, his family cut ties with him. Edward Ayub, another Christian of Muslim background, is the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh and—alongside Hussain—has vigorously opposed the translations. “I want to die for the Bible,” not a misleading translation, Ayub said. “The harm they are doing now for the church will be long-lasting.”

via WORLDmag.com | Translation battle | Emily Belz | Feb 25, 12.  (Subscription required to read full text.

What connections do you see between this particular tactic on the mission field and the church growth movement here?

Only churches can be religious

How to restrict religion given the Bill of Right’s protection of the “free exercise” of religion?  Easy, the secularists in power are finding:  Define religion as only what goes on behind the walls of churches.

That’s what the administration has done in its abortion pill/contraceptive mandate in exempting only church congregations, while requiring church-run hospitals and other ministries to provide that coverage free of charge even when they violate their religious convictions.

Now colleges are using the same strategy, as Greg Forster reports:

The Supreme Court declared in 2010 that public universities must permit religious student clubs to select leaders who share their faith. UNC-Greensboro is now getting around this by declaring that a Christian student club isn’t really religious.

On what grounds? It isn’t affiliated with a church.

Other schools are apparently pursuing this strategy as well. Expect to hear more about it.

via An Arm of the North Carolina State Government Says Christianity Isn’t a Religion » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

The next step, as in the former Soviet Union:  Religion is restricted to what goes on inside of your head.

 

 

Issues, Etc., returns to KFUO

The saga of Issues, Etc., after much drama, is moving to a happy resolution.  The confessional Lutheran radio show  was booted from the LCMS-owned radio station KFUO for its uncompromising theological stands, sparking an uproar that, arguably, contributed to the election of new, more conservative leadership in the church body.  After being killed off, Issues, Etc., hosted by Todd Wilkens and produced by Jeff Schwarz, rose from the dead on the Internet, raising their own money and purchasing some time from another St. Louis station.

But now the program is coming back in triumph to KFUO AM.  (Though the Missouri Synod sold the classical FM station, it still owns the AM facilities.)  But the program will retain its internet presence, its own funding, and its independence.  Paul McCain tells the tale:

It was, to say the least, a horrendously bad decision when Issues, Etc. was removed from KFUO AM. Issues was, by far, the most popular show on KFUO and the only theological programming The LCMS was producing of this depth and substance.

After that most unhappy incident, Issues Etc. went on to establish itself as a strong, independent voice for confessing Lutheranism. I officially learned today that they are returning on March 12 to KFUO AM in syndication which will allow them to retain total control over their content, while giving the St. Louis and KFUO AM listening audience access to two hours of programming, Monday to Friday.

This is great news! Here is the press release.

“Issues, Etc.”, a radio talk show produced by Lutheran Public Radio and hosted by Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Pastor Todd Wilken, will begin broadcasting live Monday, March 12 from 3-5 p.m. CST weekdays on KFUO, 850 AM in St. Louis. “Issues, Etc.” has been broadcasting on KSIV, Bott Radio Network in St. Louis since June 30, 2008. KFUO is owned and operated by the LCMS. The popular radio show aired for more than 15 years on KFUO. However, the LCMS cancelled the program on March 18, 2008.

“By purchasing airtime on KFUO instead of KSIV, we will be able to offer ten hours of live programming each week to St. Louis area listeners instead of five hours of programming. KFUO also provides a stronger signal for our listeners in southern Illinois,” said Jeff Schwarz, general manager of LPR.

“We will not become employees of KFUO or the LCMS,” said Pastor Todd Wilken, host of Issues, Etc. “Lutheran Public Radio and KFUO are totally separate entities. When listeners donate to KFUO, they won’t be supporting LPR and vice versa. It is vitally important for us to have complete editorial control and financial independence from the LCMS.”

via The Boys are Back in Town – Issues, Etc. Returns to KFUO AM Saint Louis | CyberBrethren – A Lutheran Blog.

Denying Communion to a lesbian

This story marshalled so much outrage that it made the front page of the Washington Post:

Deep in grief, Barbara Johnson stood first in the line for Communion at her mother’s funeral Saturday morning. But the priest in front of her immediately made it clear that she would not receive the sacramental bread and wine.

Johnson, an art-studio owner from the District, had come to St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg with her lesbian partner. The Rev. Marcel Guarnizo had learned of their relationship just before the service.

“He put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin,’ ” she recalled Tuesday.

She reacted with stunned silence. Her anger and outrage have now led her and members of her family to demand that Guarnizo be removed from his ministry.

Family members said the priest left the altar while Johnson, 51, was delivering a eulogy and did not attend the burial or find another priest to be there.

“You brought your politics, not your God into that Church yesterday, and you will pay dearly on the day of judgment for judging me,” she wrote in a letter to Guarnizo. “I will pray for your soul, but first I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life so that you will not be permitted to harm any more families.”

Late Tuesday, Johnson received a letter of apology from the Rev. Barry Knestout, one of the archdiocese’s highest-ranking administrators, who said the lack of “kindness” she and her family received “is a cause of great concern and personal regret to me.” . . .

Johnson called the letter “comforting” and said she greatly appreciates the apology. But, she added, “I will not be satisfied” until Guarnizo is removed.

via D.C. archdiocese: Denying Communion to lesbian at funeral was against ‘policy’ – The Washington Post.

So church discipline is now the business of the news media, the public, and people who do not belong to the church.   I wonder if the person who was denied communion could sue for having her rights violated.

Having said that, the incident seems to bring up some differences between the Roman Catholic use of the Sacrament and that of, for instance, Lutherans.  (I’d like to hear from Reformed, Baptist, Orthodox, and other traditions about how they would handle this.)

For Catholics, one should be free from sin–confessed, absolved, penance performed–before receiving the Sacrament.  Lutherans, in contrast, see the Sacrament as being specifically for sinners.  To receive the Sacrament unworthily is to receive it without faith (Small Catechism vi).

And yet, I’m not sure how this is handled pastorally.  Perhaps someone living in open and unrepentant sin is likely not in a state of faith.  On the other hand, perhaps she has repented.  If she confessed her sin in the rite of confession and she was absolved, hasn’t she, in fact, been objectively forgiven?  Lutheran pastors, how would you have dealt with this woman?  Again, I’d like to hear from pastors of other traditions also.  (For those of you who think communion is only symbolic, would this not be an issue at all since it doesn’t really matter?)

For this discussion, please do me a favor:  Please leave out complaints about Lutheran churches that practice closed communion!  (“You’d commune that lesbian, but not me because I’m a Methodist!”)  We have had that discussion.  Your complaint is registered.  Let’s stick to the issues raised in this story.

HT:  Aaron Lewis

Santorum’s sermons

People are digging up Rick Santorum’s religious addresses from years back.  And though what he says is pretty conventional to most of us Christians, his sermons are being used to alarm the voting public.  This is about something he said in 2008 at Ave Maria University, a conservative Catholic college:

“Satan has his sights on the United States of America!” Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has declared.

“Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”

The former senator from Pennsylvania warned in 2008 how politics and government are falling to Satan.

“This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country – the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age?”

“He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions.”

Santorum made the provocative comments to students at Ave Maria University in Florida.

via DRUDGE: SANTORUM’S SATAN WARNING.

Wouldn’t any of us agree with that?  I’ve heard even liberal theologians with liberal politics talk like this.  And yet, in a political context, from someone running for president, it sounds whacky, if not crazy and dangerous.  But it isn’t!

Santorum doesn’t seem to have moral transgressions in his closet, so the opposition researchers are focusing on his religious beliefs.  (He doesn’t believe in birth control!  He believes Satan is attacking America!)  But whose religious beliefs couldn’t be made similarly scary?  (He wants to eat Jesus and drink His blood!)


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