Thursday, March 27, 2014

Church: Fast or Slow?

A new book argues that the successful practices of megachurches cannot be mass-produced by small, local churches.  Instead, these small local churches should promote "slow church," drawing lessons from the slow food movement.  The slow food movement discourages the eating of fast food and encourages eating of locally grown and produced food.  Fast food, here a metaphor for the not-fully-satisfying meal of the megachurch, is viewed as not fully satisfying the community needs of the churchgoer.  See here for a RNS article about the new book and the issues it discusses.

This argument is a neat example of how religious leaders and groups draw ideas from the secular world in informing how they might or should conduct their religious operations.  Our economic analysis cannot assess whether their argument is correct or incorrect, and, of course, different religious consumers may prefer different kinds of religious services.  But the issues of club production and religious capital permeate the article despite the lack of those labels.  And at the least, the slow church people have a nice image around which to market themselves.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Speaking of Schism and Property Rights

What timing!  Earlier this week we discussed how the ownership of church property may factor into a congregation's decision to break away from a denomination.  Well, there has just been an interesting court ruling in Montana on a real-life case of this very issue.

Faith Lutheran Church, a congregation in Great Falls, Montana, decided by vote to ends its affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America due to the ELCA's ordination of gay clergy.  According to the congregation's founding constitution, two-thirds support was needed to authorize disafilliation, but 90% in favor of disaffiliation was needed for the church property and endowment to go with the break-away congregation.    The vote revealed 71% in favor of disaffiliation, with 29% voting to stay.  Those that stayed, renamed the New Hope Lutheran Ministry, thus had legal claim to the property even though they had a much smaller membership than the break-away group (which kept the same Faith Lutheran Church name).  However, the break-away group took over control of the property immediately after the vote.

New Hope sued to keep the property, with Faith Lutheran claiming that the dispute was about religious doctrine so that a court intervention giving New Hope the property would violate First Amendment rights.  The case went to trial and appeals and just yesterday the Montana Supreme Court  ruled that the original constitution was a legitimate contract and thus there was no reason for courts to intervene in a manner contrary to the group's constitution.  For more legal information, see the write-up at Religion Clause, but for the newsy piece, see this article from a local newspaper.

Did those who voted for breaking-away automatically assume they would keep the property and the endowment?  Would they have voted in favor of breaking-away if they anticipated this legal ruling?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Digital Innovation by the Tzu Chi

The Religion News Service has a new article about the role of online technology is fostering the activities of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation.  Tzu Chi, which emphasizes activism and donation above traditional Buddhist practices such as meditation, was established under 50 years ago but has millions of members.  As the article explains, the organization uses social media extensively to spread its spiritual message and build community ties--or, as we would say, the social media builds religious capital. The USA web site of the Tzu Chi can be found here.

Religious Freedom Resources from Class

See here for the TEDx talk by Brian Grim that we watched in class, and here is his Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Religious Leader the Fifth Toughest Leadership Role

That is, according to a recent ranking by Forbes magazine (see here).  The list of the top nine includes:
  1. Stay-at-home Parent.
  2. University President.
  3. Second-in-command of Any Organization.
  4. Football Coach.
  5. Pastor, Rabbi, Mullah, or Other Holy Leader.
  6. Mayor.
  7. Editor for a Daily Newspaper.
  8. U.S. Congressperson.
  9. Corporate CEO.
For #5, the article writes:
Pros: You’re seen as a man or woman of God, and what you say gets taken seriously, at least momentarily.
Cons: “Being a pastor is like death by a thousand paper cuts,” says Rev. Dr. Ken Fong, senior pastor at Evergreen Baptist Church in Rosemead, California and a program director at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.  “You’re scrutinized and criticized from top to bottom, stem to stern. You work for an invisible, perfect Boss, and you’re supposed to lead a ragtag gaggle of volunteers towards God’s coming future. It’s like herding cats, but harder.”
Adds Rob Jackson, interim pastor at Hilliard Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio: “I’ve managed people in a traditional office and also in a church—and one of the major differences between is most of the workers in a church are volunteers who will not do something just because it’s their job. Managers of volunteers must always lead by demonstrating a vision for our mission and how their work fits into it.”