Century Marks

Century Marks

Busy, busy

Kim Armentrout, a United Methodist Church pastor in Ohio, began a yearlong time-logging project in January. The project has revealed that she’s not as busy as she claims and has more time for interacting with her husband and daughter than she thought. “I can stop feeling guilty” about neglecting family, Armentrout said. She thought that on weeks when she had a funeral there was little time for anything else. Her log shows that a funeral involves only five hours at a funeral home or seven if the funeral is held at the church. Holy week was stressful, having put in 58 hours of church work. But the exercise taught her that she told herself “false stories” about how busy she is. Armentrout, like other professionals, tend to think of their busiest weeks as the norm (New York Times, May 13).

Deal or no deal

Six months after a nuclear deal was reached between the United States and Iran, Iran hasn’t realized the economic stimulus it expected from the lifting of economic sanctions and gaining access to about $100 billion of assets frozen in foreign banks. U.S. laws are still very restrictive on dealing with Iran, and foreign businesses haven’t flooded to Iran as expected because European and Asian banks are afraid of violating American sanctions and being subjected to penalties. The Iranian government accuses the United States of obstructing Iran’s effort to join the world economy. Relaxing sanctions takes congressional action, something unlikely to happen in an election year (Newsweek, May 18).

Virtual sacraments?

The Church of Scotland is launching a two-year study of online interaction with the church and questions this raises about membership and sacraments. The church, known as The Kirk, has seen its rolls fall by almost one-third between 2004 and 2015 to just under 364,000 members. The church’s Legal Questions Committee is pushing for “a wide-ranging review of practice and procedure which is impacted by the use of new technology in church life.” David Robertson, moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, whose members broke from the Church of Scotland in 1843, said: “At best it is a cheap gimmick, at worst it comes across as yet another desperate attempt by a declining national church to shore up its numbers and justify its existence” (RNS).

Poor getting poorer

American households in extreme poverty increased between 1996 and 2011. One reason is that jobs were harder to find in 2011. Another reason is that Congress replaced the welfare program with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Benefits under TANF are harder to get, and parents without a job can find themselves penniless. States still receive federal funds to help pay the TANF benefits, but they are free to set their own eligibility requirements and shorten the length of time recipients can receive assistance. States can also divert TANF aid to other causes, such as financial aid for college students or prekindergarten programs, incentivizing them to be stingy with people in poverty (New York Review of Books, June 9).

Resigning in protest

Christopher John Antal, a Unitarian Universalist pastor and U.S. Army chaplain, resigned from the army in protest of the military’s use of drones. In a letter to President Obama, he wrote that the White House “continues to claim the right to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, for secret reasons, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials. I refuse to support this policy of unaccountable killing.” Antal had condemned drone warfare in a sermon to troops and private contractors in 2012, which led to an unrequested departure from Afghanistan where he was stationed at the time. He said that if the United States is one nation under God, then it is not only under God’s grace and protection, but also God’s judgment (Military.com, May 12).