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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Money stirs some concerns

Topic reveals broader issues

It’s been said that money brings out the best and worst in people. I don’t know about that, but it can certainly stir things up. In the April issue my column, “A conversation about money,” and a chart on ELCA income and expenses sure did that.

One reader challenged the graphic showing income and expenses from 1989 to 2013 as “deceptive to the point of being unethical” because the chart ranged only from $45 million to $90 million, instead of from zero. “Whether by ignorance or by intent, this presentation does not speak well for the ELCA,” the writer said, also invoking the bookHow to Lie with Statistics.

A couple readers took issue with the premise of the column. It’s not about money, one said (page 48), it “is a conversation about what the ELCA stands for,” citing the 2009 votes on sexuality matters.

And a pastor, reacting to the column, told of a clergy gathering in which it was agreed that the national expression of the church should focus on the education of pastors and other church leaders, the rostering of such, missionaries and World Hunger. Everything else should be left to congregations and individual members. He added that the column ended with a “dismissive sort of line that I have heard from some other so-called leaders in the bureaucracy of the church.”

Well. The first two concerns can be dealt with quickly, not the third. Charts like the one cited have been in use by the media throughout the 40-plus years I’ve been at this. I trust that people do read the numbers involved and understand them for what they are. And yes, the sexuality votes likely contributed to the decline in giving from lost membership, along with the worst recession since the Great Depression and the steady, continuing decline in worship attendance and church participation that started in the 1960s.


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December issue

DECEMBER issue:

Advent: Waiting together

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