Thinking Out Loud

January 24, 2016

Paid Parking Pettiness Probably unProductive

Yesterday in Toronto we were visiting our son who is living at a large Bible College and Seminary that will remain nameless.

At 5:30 PM, there were only 3 cars in the parking lot. We were the 4th. The place was deserted. Apparently the students have other places they can be on the weekend. Nothing going on inside except for the sound of crickets.

img 012416However, on entry, we were informed that parking our car would cost us $1.00 per hour. I couldn’t help but point out to the girl on the desk that there was nobody there; there was no reason to attempt to monetize an empty lot.

But, not wanting to do this fine institution out of some revenue, my wife and son, who had change were happy to oblige.

Then we had to wait while a receipt was hand-written. That is to say, with a pen and ink. I am not making this up. I don’t know what they do when the college is very busy, but there must be much receipt-writing.

And since we had only paid for a single hour, we watched the clock as we ate — choice of hamburger, pizza or hamburger — under threat of having our car towed away.

I felt like perhaps I should write them a thousand dollar check so they don’t have to go through this nonsense with people. Pay it forward for the next thousand parking hours.

But then I also thought this is a public relations disaster in progress.

Policies need to make sense.

If they need money, ask for a donation. Tell people, “We ask visitors to make a voluntary donation to help us pay to pave the extension on our parking lot in the spring.”

Some would simply pass. I might myself, but only because I would file the request away and see if perhaps in the near future there is not an opportunity for more significant philanthropy.

Overall however, adding up whatever change people dropped in the bucket, they’d end up with more money and a much better relationship with the Christian constituency in that city.

A dollar an hour with only four cars in an empty parking lot on a Saturday night just seems petty.

Advertisements

January 15, 2015

Missions Models: Paying the Staff

Ministry Salaries Deputation SupportWe continue where we left off on Monday and Tuesday with more of our missions theme. Today we want to look at how the actual mission workers — as well as people working for Christian parachurch organizations — get paid.

Salary – Several lifetimes ago I was hired by the publishing division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). I was the warehouse manager for the Canadian operation, and to the best of my knowledge this was the only time in my life I was ever covered by a dental plan, though being young and carefree I never used it. They were probably the best organization I ever worked for full-time. I was also hired for three years by our local Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, and again, it was a fixed dollar amount, though I was basically subcontracted to them which meant not technically on their payroll. I also worked briefly for the Canadian Bible Society and again, the job included a guranteed pay rate, as did all the jobs in their head office.

Raising Support – Several times in my life I’ve been offered an opportunity to work with the too-often repeated phrase, “but you need to raise your own support.”  Sigh! Do they want me, my gifts and abilities, or simply to exploit my network? Some of these Christian organizations actually don’t have a cap on the number of people they will hire; if you have the support raised, you’re welcome to come on board. (The organization takes 10 to 20% off the top for ‘administration.’)

Base Salary + Donations – This one is a combination of the two above, and the place I’ve seen it practiced most often is with students working at Christian summer camps. They are promised a very conservative rate of pay which includes meals and housing, but can then do fundraising over and above that in order to increase their bi-weekly pay. Sometimes the donors remain on the camp’s mailing list long after the kids have left and the last canoe has been stored away, which can be a bit of a windfall for the camp long-term.

Deputation – This is a word used largely in the Evangelical community to describe the relationship missionaries have with the local churches that support them. It usually means that when they are home on “furlough” instead of having a season of sabbath rest, they spend their weekends driving around to visit those churches, hand out prayer cards, set up a table in the lobby with artifacts and possibly even preach the Sunday morning sermon. This guarantees that they will be kept on the missions budget for the following year. 

Bi-Vocational – We usually hear this term used in conjunction with pastoral ministry, as it’s a growing model. But anyone serving part-time in ministry and part-time with a ‘secular’ job qualifies. There are really two meanings to bi-vocational; sometimes it means two part-time jobs, but other times it may mean the ministry job doesn’t really pay at all. Despite this, the ministry job may actually have demands that leave the individual ‘on call’ 24/7. There’s a saying that, “When they have you part-time, they have you full-time.” You’re expected to be available at all hours.

You Pay Us – In many cases, the person working for the organization actually pays for the privilege of doing so. In the case of an organization like YWAM, its entry program, known as Discipleship Training School is really an educational opportunity, not anything resembling actual employment. Participants can do fundraising to cover the costs, or if they’re coming out of the business world, or a students who took a year off to raise funds to take any of YWAM’s schools, they might just show up on day one with their checkbook and pay it that way. However, in other organizations (i.e. not YWAM) the line between education and training and the need for people to actually work on the organization’s behalf is rather blurred. If you’re paying to sweep floors or do dishes, and that is the majority of your responsibility, then you have the worst of both worlds: It’s not a job, and you’re not learning anything.

Are there some I’ve missed? Probably. One faith ministry I worked for frequently gathered the staff together and announced that the payroll would be late that week. I was a single guy, but there were people working for them that were the sole earners in their family, with dependent children. That’s why I’m sure this story is incomplete; there are all manner of variations out there because, after all, “It’s the Lord’s work.”

January 12, 2012

Supreme Court Sides with Churches on Hiring and Firing


U.S. citizens who don’t get picked for a job with a religious organization, or get dumped by such an institution can no longer run to the courts crying foul.  That’s the outcome of a landmark decision by the Supremes, and I don’t mean the band led by Diana Ross.

In fact, the decision was unanimous.  Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision, as ABC News reports:

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment –”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”–bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers.

Roberts gave a history lesson in his opinion, noting that “controversy between church and state over religious offices is hardly new.” He noted that the founders sought to foreclose the possibility of a national church.

“The Establishment Clause prevents the government from appointing ministers,” Roberts said, and the “Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own. ”

But not everyone was thrilled:

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he thought in today’s ruling the Court had gone too far.

“If you are declared a minister by a religious organization, you are out of luck if you have a claim for discrimination even if it’s based on race, gender or any other non religious factor,” Lynn said. “This effectively blocks almost any kind of serious challenge to an adverse employment decision. ”

The Washington Post also quoted Lynn:

“It’s just a gigantic new exception, a new loophole to the civil rights law for religious groups that will not be shut in a very long time — if ever.”

At NBC News, reporter Pete Williams noted that the judge emphasized the necessity of maintaining the autonomy of mosques, synagogues and churches — and religious schools, which was the particular test case — to

” preach their beliefs, teach their beliefs, and carry out their mission.”

Canadians will be forgiven if the following story reminds you somewhat of something that took place there a few years back, the Christian Horizons case

…Or the American World Vision case going back to 2007 that was resolved nearly a year ago.  In all cases, courts have allowed the religious bodies to set their own employment standards.

November 25, 2011

Unlike Keyboard, Piano Story Probably Not Black and White

I can already hear the cries of, “But, Paul; you don’t understand the big picture; there’s another side to this you have to consider.”

So let’s begin with the facts.  St. Andrew’s Church in downtown Toronto, Canada recently paid $100,000 for a Bosendorfer grand piano. 

Actually, that’s not fact, either.  The price of the piano was at least $100,000, but the exact amount is protected by a non-disclosure agreement by both the church and the vendor, Robert Lowry Piano Experts, also of Toronto. 

But can the church keep the secret?  By law, sometime in the spring the church has to have an annual meeting; copies of the budget need to be distributed and the purchase price of the piano should be there, in black and white for all to read.

Unless it’s buried in another budget item.  Last month, a Toronto Star piece on this musical spending spree noted that superior instruments of this caliber (or calibre as we spell it here) can go for up to $240,000. 

Some context:  St. Andrew’s is not a megachurch.  A survey of 1,000 churchgoers in the greater Toronto metropolitan area might, if we’re lucky, reveal 50 people who could place the church on a map or among a list of church images. 

Unless we asked a specifically downtown crowd.  The church is located in the heart of the financial district and also just a block from Toronto’s gallery of live theaters (or theatres, as we spell it here; noticing a trend?) on King Street West, not to mention across the road from Roy Thompson Hall.  Perhaps both arts-minded and wealthy business patrons require excellence in their musical instruments, and this church does host the occasional concert, and wanted a piano that any self-respecting pianist would desire to play.

However, walk a mile in almost any direction from this church or any other downtown church and you’ll find examples of poverty.  Two miles and you’ll find shelters and missions and soup kitchens.  The question is not, “How could the church spend $100,000 on a piano?”  There were after all donations as part of a two-year fundraising campaign.  The better question is, “How can a church justify having a $100,000 piano in the present economic climate?” 

It just seems a little out of touch with times we live in. But then this strikes at the heart of times we live in; where examples of grotesque wealth of the few exist side-by-side examples of gross poverty of the many. 

You’d think someone would see this and stage a protest or something.

May 20, 2010

EFC Claims Victory in Christian Horizons Case

I recognize that today’s post won’t be as significant to my largely U.S. readership, but it has major repercussions here in Canada, so I hope you’ll permit me this domestic story.    For context, the EFC (Evangelical Fellowship of Canada) is our version of the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) which sometimes also fulfills the role taken on in the U.S. by the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice) lobbying in Canada’s capital on behalf of Christian ideals.

Over two years ago on this blog, I reported on a complaint filed by Connie Heintz, a former employee of Christian Horizons, a Christian organization which operates group homes for developmentally challenged adults.   The big picture issue was the requirement by CH that employees live up to a lifestyle clause with certain moral or behavioral guidelines.   The complaint was filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT), a group with a reputation for never losing; so this was a David vs. Goliath type of battle.

But it was also a battle with large scale implications for Christian (and by extension various other religious groups’) organizations of all stripes, not to mention churches.   The OHRT argued that on the basis of the variety of people being served and on the basis of the government funding received by Christian Horizons. (Read the editorial that is part of the above link, which comprises the second two-thirds of the blog post.)

Wednesday, we received this announcement in an e-mail from EFC, which you can also read online:

OTTAWA – In December 2009, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) appeared before the Superior Court of Ontario, Divisional Court, in the landmark religious freedom case, Heintz v. Christian Horizons. The court, which heard an appeal of the decision of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT), released its decision late Friday afternoon.

Christian Horizons, a faith-based ministry, employs over 2,500 people to provide housing, care and support to over 1,400 developmentally disabled individuals, and has done so for more than 40 years. This Christian ministry, which requires its employees to sign a Statement of Faith and a Lifestyle and Morality Policy, was the subject of a human rights complaint when a staff member resigned after she felt she could no longer live according to the commitment she made when she signed the policy.

In the decision being appealed, the OHRT had ruled that Christian Horizon’s efforts were not the ministry of a religious community but rather social work and that it, as well as other faith-based bodies serving public needs on a non-discriminatory basis, could no longer require that employees share their religious beliefs and resulting service commitment. The Divisional Court ruled differently and reversed much of the OHRT’s decision.

“This is significant victory for faith-based charities across Canada. While they must clarify certain governing documents and review certain employment policies, they may largely continue to require employee compliance with both statements of faith and lifestyle and morality policies,” said Don Hutchinson, the EFC’s Vice-President and General Legal Counsel.

“We’re relieved to see the court found that the exemption provision in the Ontario Human Rights Code which permits certain charities, including religious charities, to selectively hire employees who share the same beliefs makes no private/public distinction. This means that Christian charities may continue to serve non co-religionists in society all while maintaining their internal religious ethos and integrity,” continued Hutchinson. “I’m relieved that the court recognized that the exemption exists to guarantee the right to free association in this way. This was of serious concern as the OHRT had found otherwise.”

“Of course, we are also disappointed that the Court found it reasonable for the OHRT to have concluded that Christian Horizons did not meet an objective test for a bona fide occupational requirement for Ms. Heintz’s job, but the Court was instructive as to how that situation may be corrected.”

“What does this mean for Christian charities across Canada? Well, it means that it’s time again for them to clarify their statements of faith, lifestyle policies and job descriptions for all employees in order to clearly demonstrate how compliance with both statement of faith and codes of conduct are necessary for and related to job duties.”

This case is huge here, and while Christian Horizons didn’t have the resources to fight this on their own, there was simply too much at stake here for Canadian Christian charities, hence the involvement of EFC.

UPDATE:  Here’s a different perspective on the recent decision from an editorial in Canada’s national newspaper, The National Post.

ALSO: “…But the gay rights group EGALE, which was an intervenor in the court case, also said this week’s ruling was a victory. Lawyer Cynthia Petersen said the ruling would make it hard for religious charities to prove that a person’s sexual orientation or beliefs would get in the way of their duties.”  That quotation is from an article in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record.

FURTHER UPDATE (5.21.10) Here’s a summary of the decision posted on a blog operated by CFPL, the Centre for Faith and Public Life, a division of EFC.

May 6, 2010

When Excellence Gives Way to Expediency

For several months now I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing on a subject that has distressed me personally, but I’ve hesitated knowing that I’ve already touched on the issues of (a) radio and television preachers asking for money, and (b) the difficulty of getting off mailing lists once you’re on them.

The current frustration revolves around the fact that over the Christmas period, I made some donations to some organizations, but the value of my donation has been reduced to nil in light of the subsequent solicitations they have sent me to try to get more donations.   I know what mailing pieces like this cost to produce (and mail) and any “ministry credit” that was in my “account” has reset back to zero, or even gone into a negative balance.

Let me pause at this point, and add that, following Biblical instruction, I have gone to them directly on this, and at least one agreed to work with me to solve the problem.   The others did not write back.

There’s one list I’d like to remain on, albeit more minimally.   They produce a devotional booklet that we’ve been using with our family for several years now.  (We read two days at a time, and do other readings on other days.)

The book is produced by a popular radio ministry organization,  but it is multi-authored; that is to say, it is shared around by a number of other organizations with contributions from their key spokespeople.   That said, the producing organization makes sure that it’s man always has:

  • The first word; the lead devotional of each month
  • The last word; the closing devotional of each month
  • The word on any special holidays or other significant days

So yes, it’s a little biased towards the one organization, that happens to be the one from whom I obtain monthly copies.

So I’m at a crossroads, because they’re telling me that if I don’t make a donation soon, I’m going to be cut off from receiving future issues; and many of the devotional commentaries are working well with our family.

But now I have new issue.

We’ve noticed in the last three or four copies a number of glaring typographical errors.   Little things.   Little foxes spoiling the vines, so to speak.   Stupid, trifling, trivial errors that should have been spotted in simple proofreading.

Tonight’s was the worst.   The devotional was based on Psalm 8 with the key verse:

O Lord , our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.  Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.  (vs. 1-2, ESV)

So far, so good.   But the devotional title is, “Stinkers Minding God’s Store.”   Huh?

I waited through all six paragraphs for the title to kick in, but it never did.  I checked ahead a few pages to see if the header had been transposed from another article.   I even considered the possibility that the reference to “babes and infants” somehow lined up with the word “stinkers.”  (C’mon now, you would have made the same conclusion.)

I get the feeling that this whole thing is being rather haphazardly thrown together.   I haven’t red-lined the other errors, but now I wish I had been keeping score.  (Actually, if you approach your devotional time with a red pen in your hand, that’s not exactly a good thing…)    I’d like to do a mark-up on the text and send it back to them.

While this sentiment might be true, we're talking here about something a little more serious than a compulsive need to make corrections.

We’re all going to make mistakes.   Me.  You.  All of us.   But we need to strive for excellence.   And the more public the forum, the higher the standard we need to aim toward.

I’m just not sure I should be contributing to — and thereby encouraging — something that isn’t more carefully considered before it goes to press.   However, like I said, the nightly readings are registering with my sons, and when you have something that’s connecting with a couple of teenagers, you don’t want to be too dismissive.


February 11, 2010

Autonomy of Christian Organizations In Canada Under Threat

With the Christian Horizons case already on the minds of Evangelicals in Canada, the right of Christian organizations to establish hiring practices which aim to hire Christian staff has shifted to another arena:  Christian colleges and universities.

The Horizons case came about after an employee felt she was wrongfully dismissed for contravening that organization’s lifestyle clause.    But investigations into Trinity Western University (TWU) and Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) have no specific complainant.   Rather, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) feels that hiring committed believers to university teaching positions violates academic freedom.  (None of the TWU faculty are members of CAUT.)

Christian Week, Canada’s national Christian newspaper reports:

[CAUT] placed TWU on a list of institutions “found to have imposed a requirement of a commitment to a particular ideology or statement as a condition of employment.”

CAUT is also investigating the statement of faith policies of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg and Crandall University (formerly Atlantic Baptist University) in Moncton.

“In our view,” says CAUT executive director James Turk, “the role of a university is not to make disciples, whether of a religious viewpoint or an ideological viewpoint. They’re to create the context in which people can make their own decisions.”

Turk adds, “If a fundamentalist Christian were barred from working at a university because of their religious beliefs, we’d be every bit as outraged.”

[TWU President Jonathan] Raymond calls the move a “red herring.” He says the sole purpose of TWU’s statement of faith is to uphold the founding charter granted by the province in 1972 that allows the school to function as a Christian university. Hiring teachers who self-identify as Christians does not mean that their scholarly pursuits must all conform to biblical principles.

“We don’t insist on the engagement of Christian faith,” Raymond says, “but we anticipate a high probability that the choice of research topics, how one puts their syllabus together, the interpretation of theories, will be informed by a person’s faith just as a matter of course.”

[…read the entire story here…]

As with the Christian Horizons case, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, this country’s equivalent to the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals, is certain to weigh in on the matter.

The difference however is that some of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal case against Christian Horizons concerned the matter of who was being served; that is, that the clients of Christian Horizons represented a cross-section of the public at large.   That case can’t be made here, as both undergraduate and graduate students clearly make their academic choices most carefully and in full regard for the Christian institutions’  Christian heritage and practices.

However, in both cases, the larger issue is the right of organizations which don’t hide their Christian history and association to hire like minded staff, and to deliver a faith-based service using faith-based employees.   Committing to a lifestyle agreement or signing a statement of faith is one step toward having a staff that are all on the same page when it comes to motivation and spiritual ethics.

The EFC media release on the Christian Horizons is quite clear:

“This decision was shocking,” states Faye Sonier, Legal Counsel for the EFC. “It’s inconsistent with long-standing Supreme Court jurisprudence that clearly sets out that people of faith can choose to gather for ministry works and service – this has been confirmed as an extension of their right to freedom of religion.”

Without over-reacting, the bottom line is that it’s not academic freedom that’s currently under threat, but clearly it’s the freedom of Christians and in particular Evangelical Christians in Canada.

Where will the next battle be staging?

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.