Century Marks

Century Marks

Time for silence

When Job's friends first showed up, they sat with him in silence for seven days and nights (2:11–13). They should have kept their mouths closed. Rather than attending to Job's pain, they voiced their own ideas about justice and suffering. In her seminary course on grief, Janet L. Ramsey gives examples of what not to say to people in deep pain: "This too will pass." "Your faith is strong enough to get you through." "I know how you feel." The most important thing is to be present and listen to the person and the Holy Spirit. Appropriate comments include an acknowledgment of the difficulty the person is facing and encouraging words about God's loving and abiding presence (Word & World, Fall).

Vision needed

Americans continue to give the majority of their donations to the church and other religious organizations, according to a study by John and Sylvia Ronsvalle. In 2009, the most recent year studied, Americans gave 74 percent of their donations to religious institutions. Charities and other organizations received 21 percent and educational institutions received 3 percent. Per member giving, however, declined from 2008 to 2009 in constant dollars. The Ronsvalles believe that church members are not likely to increase giving toward institutional maintenance. To stimulate increased giving, church leaders need to convey a vision that engages people both inside and outside the congregation (The State of Church Giving through 2009, empty tomb, inc.).

No exit

The popular uprisings that deposed autocratic governments in Tunisia and Egypt were initiated by people whose lives were so desperate that they felt they had nothing to lose. Before the revolts, many in North Africa thought their only hope was to immigrate to Europe. In 2007 a cobbler in Tunisia said to David Cook, a scholar from Rice University: "Do you think that any of us would be here if we could move to France? Everyone would be gone in a week if they would let us in!" (Hedgehog Review, Fall).

Tax free

A comprehensive study of the 280 most profitable Fortune 500 companies shows that 78 of them paid no income tax in one out of the past three years and 30 of them had a negative income tax rate during that three-year period. In the 1950s a quarter of federal outlays were paid by corporate taxes; in fiscal year 2010 corporate taxes paid only 6 percent of federal government expenses. The report, done by Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, notes: "Most Americans can rightfully complain, 'I pay more federal income taxes than General Electric, Boeing, DuPont, Wells Fargo, Verizon, etc., etc., all put together'" (Salon, November 3).

Church too big to fail?

Megachurches in South Korea have become big business. The Yoido Full Gospel Church is the largest congregation in the world with over a million members. Cho Yong-gi, its founder and leader since 1958, has family enterprises that include newspapers and private universities. In late September an investigation was launched into Cho's finances on the basis of allegations from 29 church elders that he embezzled $20 million of church funds. A TV documentary claims that the money was used to buy real estate in the U.S. Cho also made a controversial statement following the recent Japan earthquake and tsunami, saying it was God's warning to a country known for "idol worship, atheism and materialism" (Economist, October 15).