Thinking Out Loud

July 25, 2017

Church Funding in Europe

We almost walked by this little office, but the word “Evangelisher” caught my eye. A wonderful 15-minute conversation awaited us inside.

Actually, if a search engine brought you here and you’re looking for the definitive article on this subject this isn’t it. If you can deal with the pop-ups, this website is quite helpful.

But I do want to share some impressions we took away from a very brief meeting with an English speaking worker at Evangelisher Informationsladen in Nuremberg, Germany.

North American ears probably miss the significance of the phrase “registered church.” It’s part of life in many parts of the world. In Germany it’s significant in terms of the church itself being registered with the government, but also that members identify with a registered church. And here it gets interesting: 8% (in some areas 9%) of the members’ personal income is taxed and given to the church.

Solves the whole tithing problem, I suppose.  Or does it? Stay tuned.

If you did click the first link (above) you noted that a lot of people simply have themselves taken off the rolls in order to avoid the tax, even if they continue to hold a personal faith. That alone is enough to skew religious affiliation data. In both the Czech example mentioned a few days ago and this situation, it means potentially there might be more Christians in Europe than any official government stats show, just for different reasons.

But here’s another factor: Newer Evangelical or Charismatic groups don’t register at all. They meet in homes or find other spaces. Our contact was worried that these groups are becoming more numerous and more vocal.

It’s a concern for two reasons. First these groups have arrived on the religious scene under the banner of young earth, six day creation. Second, they have an extreme view of the sovereignty of God which leaves out any room for free will, even in more trivial details of life. We covered this a few days ago at this article. But it also means that numerically, some disappearing off the rolls of established Lutheran or Catholic churches are attending these newer churches, which would, by necessity, have to rely on something similar to a North American tithing model to meet any expenses that might arise, even without having to maintain an historical building…

…A few weeks ago Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario told the story of a visitor asking, “How do you fund all this?” I guess he thought there must be some support at one or several levels of government in order to maintain their megachurch auditorium and adjacent Christian education meeting rooms and classrooms. Bruxy explained the people support it, but we know statistically that North Americans, on average, are not tithing 10%, or even 8%.

According to The State of the Plate study, in North America, the state of tithing moving forward may depend on the behavior of “young (i.e., future) donors. But their habits may prove difficult to capitalize on. According to the survey, people in their 20s and 30s are much more likely to miss church in the first place, making getting in-person connections and donations much harder…”

The report continues, “Young people (the same demographic) are also more likely to give less frequently than other generations, with 6 in 10 giving no more than twice per month and sometimes only once every few months. Perhaps most damagingly, though, only about 3 out of 5 (63%) young people give 10 percent or more of their income to church. For everyone aged 40 or over, the average is 4 out of 5 (83%)…”

According to the website Charity Navigator, “Total giving as a percentage of GDP was 2.1% for three of the four years, 2013–2016… Historically, Religious groups have received the largest share of charitable donations. This remained true in 2016. With the 3.0% increase in donations this year, 32% of all donations, or $122.94 billion, went to Religious organizations. Much of these contributions can be attributed to people giving to their local place of worship.”

But comparing the 8 or 9% church tax in Germany to the North American 10% tithing ideal changes when you consider that it’s not 8% of income, but 8% of income tax. A 2015 article at Catholic News Agency (CNA) notes, “When Germans register as Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish on their tax forms, the government automatically collects an income tax from them which amounts to 8 or 9 percent of their total income tax, or 3-4 percent of their salary.”

Do Christians in Germany make additional contributions? Is the offering plate passed on Sunday morning? Giving is part of Christian worship, so we must assume that is the case, but would someone contributing through payroll deductions bother to put anything additional in the plate? That was a question we didn’t get around to asking.

According to a Wikipedia article on Religion in Berlin, “The largest denominations as of 2010 are the Protestant regional church body of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia (EKBO), a united church comprising mostly Lutheran, a few Reformed and United Protestant congregations. EKBO is a member of both the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Union Evangelischer Kirchen (UEK) claiming 18.7 percent of the city population.”

But that needs to be seen in perspective as the article also says, “About 60 percent of Berlin residents have no registered religious affiliation. Berlin has been described as the ‘atheist capital of Europe’ in 2009.”

Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church in particular doesn’t retain the church tax it collects, as the infographic in our initial link reminds us that, “a sizeable portion of the Catholic money is also channeled to The Vatican.”  Catholics who opt out face other issues as the CNA article notes:

German bishops – who each earn an average salary of 7,000 Euro per month (some up to 14,000 Euro along with free housing and cars, according to Lohmann) – issued a decree in September 2012 calling such departure “a serious lapse” and listing a number of ways they are barred from participating in the life of the Church.

The decree specified that those who do not pay the church tax cannot receive the sacraments of Confession, Communion, Confirmation, or Anointing of the Sick, except when in danger of death; cannot hold ecclesial office or perform functions within the Church; cannot be a godparent or sponsor; cannot be a member of diocesan or parish councils; and cannot be members of public associations of the Church.

If those who de-registered show no sign of repentance before their death, they can even be refused a religious burial.

And while these penalties have been described as “de facto excommunication,” the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, wrote in a March 13, 2006 document that opting out of taxes in a civil situation was not the same as renouncing the faith, and thus excommunication did not apply to such persons.

So while a cursory reading of a statement like, “The church gets 8% of the personal income tax collected;” seems to indicate a measure of financial strength and stability, declining membership and secularization would seem to threaten the future of that source of funding.

 

 

 

 

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July 22, 2017

A Place Where God Isn’t

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:43 am

Crowds in Prague are looking upward, not for some spiritual reason, but rather waiting for the 12:00 Noon strike of the Astronomical Clock

First of all, let’s deal with the theological error in today’s title. No, there is no place where God is not present, but I’m sure there are many places in this world, beyond the ones that we explored, where it seems that way.

Our last tour guide said something to the effect, “Most people here [Czech Republic] do not have a religion because we’ve [collectively, historically] tried religion and we see that it doesn’t do anything [help, solve problems].”

Again, we need to look at a statement like that theologically as well, because if the Bible teaches us anything it shows that when it appears “there is no one left” it often turns out that God has a remnant of people who have stayed loyal to him.

Peering through the glass doors at the back while a Priest leads a small group in a midweek 5:00 PM mass.

In the 2011 census, 34.5% claimed no religion and 44.7% did not answer the question. That situation leaves us with 10.4% Roman Catholic, 0.5% identified with an Evangelical denomination there and 0.8% claiming affiliation with “Christian churches not exactly stated” along with even smaller percentages of other groups.

However, we know that historically, under Communism, answering a question about religion on a government survey would be unwise. It’s possible that in that combined 79.2% saying they are ‘nones’ or skipping the question there is room for belief.

Still, it stands in contrast to the vast number of cathedrals and churches and synagogues (0.01% present membership) that are clustered throughout the cities and countryside. It stands in contrast to the degree to which religious belief is interwoven throughout the country’s history.

At the end of June, a four day rally or festival was held in Prague, the third such summer event held as part of the Awakening Europe series begun with Nuremberg in 2015 and Stockholm in 2016.  On their website, one of the organizers wrote:

Even though it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world outwardly, to my heart it seemed like Nineveh, caught in the valley of decision – not knowing where to go. There are many cities like it all across Central Europe…

That’s how I felt. Despite the history. Despite the beautiful churches. The words of the tour guide keep echoing as I write this.

On the second last day, I told her that for some of us, the Jesus story is real, and vital, and life-changing and something we commit our lives to daily. She was cordial, but I felt like I was being met by a blank stare.


Awakening Europe (June 29 – July 2) on YouTube. Organizers from the UK’s GOD-TV seem to have brought a Charismatic worship style, but I hope they presented a strong apologetic that would rationally and intellectually present the Christian message to seekers. My other concern with this event is that possibly the majority of attendees were simply Christians from other parts of Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

July 16, 2017

We’re Back from Europe

We are back from eleven days in Europe

In the early days of my reading faith-focused blogs — approximately 2005 to 2009 — I was often disappointed to turn to some of my favorite writers only to learn they had taken the day to talk about their latest vacation. This occurred at a time when even an out-of-state (or province in our case) trip would have been impossible. Over the years there have been four significant factors preventing us from going anywhere. In order:

  • Raising children, including one who would have been considered special needs at the time.
  • My health; though we did take some road trips.
  • Economics, especially in the sense of affording air travel.
  • My parents health which perhaps wasn’t always as much a barrier as we thought, but certainly did require us to be in daily contact, which would have complicated an overseas holiday.

So when the opportunity to catch up arose, we selected a package which took us to Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. We also passed through Slovakia which I later got to visit more closely while Ruth took a different side trip.

I knew nothing of these countries prior to leaving and did not have time to do much research. I probably could have pointed to Germany on a map and said something about wiener schnitzel, polka music and beer. (For the record, I don’t remember hearing an accordion and my beer consumption consisted of splitting one with my wife on the last day of the trip.)

As familiar as sightseeing destinations are in Paris and England and Rome, the recent terrorist activity in the first two doesn’t lend itself to worry-free touring. (I’ll grant that Germany has not escaped such events.) So we chose this particular set of countries. They were different. They were unknown. They were a nine-hour flight away.

The trip was certainly eye-opening. As I sit typing this at 5:45 in the morning — my body confused by the six hour time difference — I am reminded particularly of our reaction the first day to the historical sections of Budapest on our first full day, and our first glimpse of the old town of Prague last Wednesday. It was surreal.

We were there. It wasn’t a movie set. We saw it. We felt the bricks. We walked on the cobblestones. We pinched ourselves a few times to make sure it wasn’t a dream.

In North America, generally speaking nothing old is older than the late 1700s. Our old buildings are mostly mid-to-late 1800s. In Europe, tour guides speak of a structure saying, “this was erected in the year 921” as casually as they are reminding you not to leave personal belongings on the bus. “…And the one on the left was built in the 1100s.”

Europe is also all about cathedrals. Our last tour director — the trip was in two stages — told us that many travelers reach a the ABC stage, meaning “Another bloody castle.” But they might also say, “Another bloody cathedral.” You know your brain is saturated when, knowing the ornateness and beauty that awaits inside, you pass by because you are simply cathedraled-out.

But it does offer the opportunity to consider a number of faith-focused things. Tomorrow we’ll look at the emergence of a new group of conservative Christians in Germany, and then move on to look at

  • The very not-seeker-sensitive synagogue district in Prague
  • Resenting the church’s wealth
  • Church funding in Germany
  • Meeting people who grew up Godless

and other topics as I think of them and go through our pictures.

So that’s the line-up for this week, plus hopefully a return of the link list on Wednesday.

If you don’t want to hear about someone’s holiday excursion when having one of your own seems remote right now, please understand I totally get that.



The Eugene Peterson Thing

On the last few days of our trip an interview Religion News’ Jonathan Merritt did with Eugene Peterson blew up into a major tempest and then within 24 hours, as quickly as it had begun, the gale subsided. We’ll obviously be focused on other things this week, but here’s a 7:00 AM Sunday morning update from Religion News in case you missed it:

  • Jonathan Merritt’s column was actually the third in a series of Q&As with the author. | Read the story
  • Merritt’s question to Peterson was by no means unfounded, especially given what he said in this 2014 video. | Read the story
  • Our summer intern Madeleine Buckley looked at other prominent Christians who’ve had a change of heart on LGBT issues. | Read the story
  • Commentator Jacob Lupfer says the controversy shows that Peterson is exactly where most non-mainline Christians are — “confused, conflicted, and torn between fidelity to beliefs … and compassion for people they know and love.” | Read the story

Note: I thought what Peterson said about engaging in hypotheticals in interviews like this was brilliant; it’s hard for a pastor to answer a question which begins if there was a gay couple and if they were Christians and if they asked you to marry them…

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