Politics

“Invisible Wire Pullers”

Eerily familiar to the American left…

Prideful of their own higher learning and cultivation, the intellectual classes could not absorb the idea that, thanks to “invisible wire-pullers”—the self-interested groups and individuals who believed they could manipulate the charismatic maverick for their own gain—this uneducated “beer-hall agitator” had already amassed vast support. After all, Germany was a state where the law rested on a firm foundation, where a majority in parliament was opposed to Hitler, and where every citizen believed that “his liberty and equal rights were secured by the solemnly affirmed constitution.”

— Read on www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/when-its-too-late-to-stop-fascism-according-to-stefan-zweig

Overwriting Monuments with AR

I do think augmented reality and voice-first computing (Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant etc) will get us out behind computer screens and keyboards and into the “real” world. What “real” means is subjective, and that will only intensify in the coming decades as computing comes full circle to being something that we naturally do with our voices and thoughts and without the need for a keyboard and mouse.

Now we just need a good pair of AR glasses from Apple or Google or some startup we haven’t heard of yet that’s working hard in a garage to change the world…

Last year, Movers and Shakers assembled a team of coders, artists and designers who use augmented reality technology to do their work. Their goal was circumvent the city’s decision by replacing the statue and similar monuments with digital ones of other historical figures — namely, people of color and women. “I think we have an opportunity to harness the storytelling capabilities of this technology,” said Glenn Cantave, founder and lead organizer, when explaining the group’s motivations. “Who’s going to own our narrative?”

— Read on theoutline.com/post/5123/movers-and-shakers-digital-sculptures-new-york-city

Romans 13 and American Appeals to Authority of the Government

Good read on the historical uses of Romans 13 in American history to justify obedience to the government in light of our Attorney General’s use of that text today to defend the deplorable and immoral and utterly un-Christian internment camps we’re setting up along the Mexican border for children that we’re forcibly separating children from their asylum-seeking parents…

As I wrote at my own blog, I’m not sure we should “act as if the New Testament has any kind of authority over the religiously plural officer corps that protects a democratic republic that separates church and state.” But Pence is hardly the first prominent American to make such public use of these Christian scriptures — though what they mean has been hotly contested since even before the Republic won its independence.

— Read on www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2017/05/mike-pence-romans-13/

Fear and Preaching in Sin City

It is possible — even essential — to take a stand against things that are morally wrong without taking sides between Republicans and Democrats. We are currently hamstrung by the myth that to work against things like racism and sexism and mistreatment of refugees is to take sides on politics. There are some things to which there are not two sides — things the church must condemn as morally wrong whether they are advocated by Republicans, Democrats or independents. To speak against these evils only condemns a political party if that entire party chooses to embrace what is evil.

— Read on baptistnews.com/article/what-the-church-could-learn-from-abc/

Cautionary Tale of Climate Change Prepping from Ancient Egypt and Bronze Age

These agricultural feats managed to extend the life of the Egyptian empire about half a century longer than it might otherwise have lasted, according to the archaeologists. The lesson for our own civilization — which is likely to face increasingly severe droughts as humans change the climate far faster than nature has ever done — is to plan ahead, Dr. Finkelstein said.

— Read on www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/climate/egypt-climate-drought.html

Changing Conceptions of Marriage and Church Marketing

Fascinating stats here for same-sex and different-sex marriages. To think of marriage as a trophy or celebration of what two people have accomplished in life that come together into a new stage directly flies in the face of so much of what churches of all stripes and sizes (but especially my beloved Baptist tradition) have supported:

According to the Census Bureau, the median age at first marriage—the age at which half of all marriages occur—was 27.4 for women and 29.5 for men in 2017. That’s higher than at any time since the Census began keeping records in 1890. It is six years higher than when I got married in 1972 (at the typical age of 24). In my era, a young couple usually got married first, then moved in together, then started their adult roles as workers or homemakers, and then had children. (I scandalized my parents by living with my future wife before I married her.) Now marriage tends to come after most of these markers are attained.

Source: Andrew Cherlin: Marriage Has Become a Trophy – The Atlantic

In an era where church attendance is declining and church donations aren’t keeping up with expenses, it’s interesting to ponder what something like the institution of marriage might mean for the future health of congregations based on their marketing and messaging.

Reaping Data

Not to mention how companies and governments so haphazardly use this data for causes and purposes…

The unchecked power of companies that harvest our data is a great problem—but it’s hard to get angry about an idea that’s so nebulous. Like climate change, the reaping of our data is a problem of psychology as much as business. We know that the accumulation of massive power in so few hands is bad, but it’s impossible to anticipate what terrible result might come of it. And if we could envision them, these consequences are imaginary: abstract and in the future. It feels so oppressively intractable it’s hard to summon the will to act.

Source: Cambridge Analytica Is Finally Under Fire Because of Whistleblowers | WIRED

Facebook is facing an existential crisis

Zuckerberg really needs to make a statement. This is going thermonuclear and Facebook’s sole commodity is trust via relationship.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has done immense damage to the brand, sources across the company believe. It will now take a Herculean effort to restore public trust in Facebook’s commitment to privacy and data protection, they said. Outside observers think regulation has suddenly become more likely, and yet CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears missing in action.

Source: Facebook facing an existential crisis over privacy and data – Mar. 19, 2018

Churches Should Turn and Face the Strange

 

The “America” that Baby Boomers and my fellow Gen X’ers grew up with is rapidly changing, and Protestant churches are an example of community institutions that will be most affected… and made irrelevant or obsolete if they continue to operate as if it’s still 1985.

Of course, whites are a smaller share of the post-millennial generation than any other, so their views will be less dispositive in shaping its direction. Other changes cataloged in the poll underscore how great a change the post-millennials could bring. In the survey, 45% of these young people identified as religiously unaffiliated or non-Christian (compared with about 3 in 10 among all Americans), according to results provided to CNN. And about 1 in every 16 young men and 1 in 7 young women identified as gay or bisexual.

Source: The Parkland students are our first glimpse of the post-Millennial wave that’s going to change the country – CNNPolitics

Should Americans buy Hauwei phones?

The Mate 10 looks like a pretty amazing device and I’ve wondered at times whether I should pick up a Hauwei device to make sure I’m staying on top of things. Last week, U.S. intelligence officials warned citizens about buying devices from Chinese companies such as Hauwei and ZTE over concerns that there are potential “back doors” allowing for the Chinese government to eavesdrop on Americans. Given all that we do on our mobile devices in 2018 (I literally run my company from my device), it’s easy to see why there might be concern.

However, the U.S. government hasn’t put forth any evidence of tampering or back-doors and Americans who do own devices from these companies haven’t been able to detect any intrusion or suspicious traffic. I’m not asserting that the concerns over Chinese devices isn’t warranted but I have wondered all week whether these warnings were a result of politic-economic motivation.

Great write up by Jerry Hildenbrand here:

Huawei is the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world behind Samsung and Apple. It is also the ninth largest technology company (by revenue) worldwide with 180,000 employees and an average annual revenue of $78.8 billion. In other words, Huawei is as “big” a company as Microsoft. That’s good news for Huawei, and usually seeing a company move up the ladder to challenge the market leaders is good for consumers, too. Officially, Huawei is a subsidiary of Huawei Investment & Holding Co., Ltd. in Shenzhen, China and that’s where the real issues the U.S. has with Huawei start.

Source: The U.S. government’s beef with Huawei isn’t really about phones | Android Central

Baptist Fields

“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make any sense. The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.”

Rumi

The painful truth the Illumination Project uncovered in their long discernment process is how silent our churches are when it comes to what is life and death for real people in our pews. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach of most of our churches toward LGBTQ Christians leaves them in the shadows, if not in the dark. If we want CBF to be a bright light on the spiritual equality of all Christians, that light must begin to shine more brightly from our CBF congregations. CBF would not have to parse its hiring policy so carefully if our churches did the hard but liberating work of the gospel where Baptists know it matters most.

Source: Illuminations: Spiritual Equality of All Christians – EthicsDaily.com

“What is the spirit saying here?”

Good reflection by Julia Pennington-Russell here on the CBF’s Illumination Project work as well as moralism, legalism, and theopolitics regardless of denomination:

And many, maybe most, CBF churches are so anxious about jeopardizing a fragile harmony that they avoid even the mildest conversation about human sexuality, even as their LGBTQ brothers and sisters suffer outside the gate. What is the Spirit saying here?

Source: Illuminations: The Healing Space between “Good” and “Bad” | CBFblog

CBF’s New Hiring and Personnel Statement

Here are results from the 18-month long Illumination Project that the CBF launched to address its controversial anti-LGBTQ hiring policy back in 2016.

Thomas and I did an episode of Thinking Religion last night to share some thoughts if you’d like to know where I stand.

To reflect the practice of most of its congregations, the procedure states: “Among other qualifying factors, CBF will employ persons for leadership positions in ministry who exhibit the ideals set forth in our hiring policy, have gifts appropriate to the particular position and who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and a man.” For other positions on the CBF staff in Decatur, applicants will be considered who meet the qualities set forth in the new hiring policy, including Christians who identify as LGBT.

Source: CBF Governing Board receives Illumination Project recommendation, adopts Christ-centered hiring policy | CBFblog

Churches and nonprofits must explore income alternatives in 2018 and beyond.

American churches and nonprofits are in for an even louder wake-up call in 2018 and beyond. It’s definitely time to start planning for the near future to keep your church or nonprofit solvent, especially if you are smaller in size and rely on donors who make less than $75,000 yearly.

Churches must begin to explore income alternatives with an expected decline in individual giving in 2018 from the pending tax reform plan, along with year-over-year declining church attendance in all mainline Protestant denominations and increasing numbers of individuals with no reported religious affiliation.

via Tax reform plan reinforces the need for churches to seek alternative income methods | Religion News Service

The source of concern is how the tax bill is expected to sharply reduce the number of taxpayers who qualify for the charitable tax deduction — a big driver of gifts to nonprofits. One study predicts that donations will fall by at least $13 billion, about 4.5 percent, next year. That decline is expected to be concentrated among gifts from the middle of the income scale. The richest Americans will mostly keep their ability to take the tax break.

via Charities fear tax bill could turn philanthropy into a pursuit only for the rich | Washington Post

The tax reform legislation that was just passed by Congress and signed into law by the President will present an unprecedented challenge to churches and nonprofits in light of charitable tax exemptions. In short, because of changes to the standard deductions, far fewer taxpayers and households (particularly those making less than $75,000) will itemize. That’s now the only way to take advantage of the charitable contributions deduction.

So unless your church or nonprofit relies heavily on donors in the top tax brackets, you need to diversify income sources.

If you rely on a large number of smaller donations from members or patrons who are in “the middle class,” you need to diversify income sources.

From CNBC:

“To use your charitable contributions against your taxes, you must itemize your deductions. This means for it to make financial sense, the combined value of all your deductions would need to exceed the standard deductions for 2017: $12,700 for married couples, $9,350 for heads of households and $6,350 for single filers and married couples filing separately.”

We work with churches and nonprofits to help identify and engage with alternative income sources. Get in touch if you need help.

Tech and Public Policy

Interesting article from NY’s Attorney General directed at the FCC:

In today’s digital age, the rules that govern the operation and delivery of internet service to hundreds of millions of Americans are critical to the economic and social well-being of the nation. Yet the process the FCC has employed to consider potentially sweeping alterations to current net neutrality rules has been corrupted by the fraudulent use of Americans’ identities — and the FCC has been unwilling to assist my office in our efforts to investigate this unlawful activity.

If law enforcement can’t investigate and (where appropriate) prosecute when it happens on this scale, the door is open for it to happen again and again

via An Open Letter to the FCC: – Eric Schneiderman – Medium

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