Saturday, April 1, 2017

Christian Faith, A Three Legged Stool

A Peter Beinart article in the April 2017 issue of The Atlantic points out a correlation between the increasingly vicious and hateful political climate in the USA and decreasing participation in organized religion. The differences in positions between left and right have always been present, but we seem to be losing respect for each other and, in Beinart's words, "have come to define "us" and "them" in even more primal and irreconcilable ways."

Beinart provides statistics showing that the percentage of US citizens rejecting any religious affiliation increased almost 300% from 1992 to 2014. And even the "percentage of white Republicans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled since 1990." Beinart quotes Geoffrey Layman of Notre Dame: "Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don't really go to church." And, Beinart states, "... liberal non-attenders fueled Bernie Sanders's insurgency against Hillary Clinton.

You can read the article to see why Mr. Beinart believes these religious and political trends are related, but I have a slightly different take on it. It seems to me that if we give up on the idea that we are all the result of the creative activity of a benevolent God who is "gracious, merciful, and abounding in steadfast love," we lose respect for each other and one of the most important bases of our civilization crumbles. And we fight.

What are we to do? Well, one possibility for Christians is to do a much better job of learning and teaching the essentials of the Christian faith. What a mish-mash of Christian theologies we have allowed to develop in the American culture of freedom!

Now, before launching into theological issues, let me make it clear that I am not ordained, am not a preacher, and am not speaking with any authority. What I am describing below is more personal testimony, a description of what I have come to believe, at this point, over a lifetime in Christian churches of various labels and a smattering of Lutheran seminary education about theology and Church history. So here goes:

It seems to me that the Christian faith stands on a three legged stool.
  • The first leg is Sacred Scripture, the written expression of "The Word," the Bible Jesus knew and read from and quoted and referred to and to which the writers of the New Testament referred, and the New Testament, written and assembled, by the Church, after, sometimes long after, the ministry of Jesus. The first complete listing of the NT Canon, after all, is from the fourth century AD.
  • The second leg is Jesus, The Christ, eternal Anointed One, God in flesh, Immanuel, who came and lived among us and showed us The Way and died, at our hands, for us. 
  • The third leg is The Church, The Body of Christ, established by Jesus, and led by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised, to follow his example and to develop and teach the basic theologies of the faith, the Holy Trinity, and the divinity of Jesus.
The diagram below is an attempt to show how these three legs, Sacred Scripture, Jesus, and The Church, fit together and to present a pretty complete picture of the theology of Christian faith as I currently understand and experience it.

Don't like diagrams? I'l try to explain. I believe that Sacred Scripture is the story of our developing understanding of God, that Jesus was God in flesh, with us for a specific period of time, and that the Church is his legacy, his body, through which we jointly can be in union with The Triune God, and abide in Him. That is pretty much unbelievable, isn't it. It almost sounds ridiculous. Well, I just label it Divine Mystery, subject to our best efforts to explain the unexplainable.

Church is where Christians belong. Church is not a civic club, a social club, a networking organization, or a social service agency. Nor is it a hospice, just taking care of old folks as they die off. It is the Body of Christ, intended to go about doing good just as Jesus, the original Body of Christ did.

Just as Jesus and his followers took up space and attracted attention in the first century, the Church is supposed to take up space and attract attention in the world today. We are to be a community, salt and light and leaven, always going out from the church building and having a positive influence and inviting and drawing people in. That is not evident from what we see? Well, Jesus never promised that the Church would be perfect but only that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.

If we did a better job with Christian education, maybe we could reduce the mish-mash and focus on these essentials and maybe the Body of Christ would grow and some of the viciousness and hate would moderate.

If these ideas seem strange, Google "church as the body of Christ scripture" for more food for thought. And read John 6 closely for a better understanding of worship, Holy Communion, and unity with Christ. These are not easy or simplistic teachings as evidenced by the response to talk of flesh and blood by some disciples as described in these verses from John 6: 
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Last Two Dollars

I was having trouble understanding the man, but I believe his last words as the police walked up were, “I’m down to my last two dollars.”

One of my favorite workouts is a five mile or so walk in the City of Columbia at a 17 minute per mile pace. It is a good time for thinking as well as exercising. I do it once a week or so, and yesterday was the day. On such a journey, one sees and experiences the city much differently than driving.

I do not stick to busy and crowded Main and Gervais but take the side streets through neighborhoods and by smaller businesses. Lots of lawyer offices, medical offices, non-profits, historical homes, etc. Today I walked south on Pickens, crossed Taylor, and saw something unusual at the bus stop on the southwest corner.

There were two men there, a forty something Black man sitting on the bench, and an elderly Black man, legless, lying flat on the concrete sidewalk on his back beside a wheelchair. I wasn’t easily distracted from my walking and whatever was going through my mind at the time so I just kept moving on.

I assumed the two were together, the younger looking after the older, but I wondered if I should have said something or perhaps asked if he needed help getting the man back in his wheelchair. I thought of the Good Samaritan and began to feel a little guilty for just passing on by. So, a hundred yards or so further along, I stopped and turned to look just as the younger man got up and walked off. Maybe he was going to call for help.

So, at that point, I had to walk back and do a little investigating. I asked the man if he was taking a nap. He said he was trying to. I asked if he was OK. He said yes. I asked if he needed help getting in his chair. He said no. So, I left again. But I still felt there was unfinished business so I went around the block and passed the man again.

On this third pass, I bent down and tried to talk to him, though he was difficult to understand. I asked if he needed me to call an ambulance. He said no, that he was OK. I asked where he lives, expecting that perhaps he is a resident of the Marion St. Tower, nearby home to many poor and disabled. He said, “Right here.”

Then a police car with two officers pulled up. Just as the man mentioned the “two dollars,” one of the officers asked the man if he was OK. He said he was. Then an ambulance arrived. The officer thanked me and said, “We’ve got it.” I felt dismissed. Maybe the officer was thinking I had called in the situation. It looked like the ambulance drivers were about to get a stretcher out, but I didn’t stick around to see what happened. 

So, what is wrong with that situation. It’s not lack of “health care” since the man is obviously on Medicare, probably because of age and certainly because of disability. There is a good chance he suffers from some mental illness because almost certainly he has had opportunities through the SC Department of Social Services for some housing and has rejected those opportunities. Surely he has!

I hope the ambulance drivers took the man to the closest emergency room and that the police called the Department of Social Services to send someone to meet him there and arrange appropriate nursing care and housing for him. If the man insists on being on the street during the day to panhandle and enjoy some social interaction and independence, let him do so. But the City of Columbia should not allow him to spend helpless nights on the street. It is dangerous, unhealthy, unsafe, and unacceptable.

Mental health reforms, apparently inspired by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, might have had some good results but also had a lot of unintended and unfortunate consequences. I frankly don’t have any sympathy for people wanting the government to provide their flu shots and birth control pills and pay for their annual physicals, but our system for caring for the helpless needs a lot of improvement. That is a priority.

I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the man. He won’t be difficult to spot. Next time I see him, hopefully in his chair, I will find out his name, how old he is, how he lost his legs, how much income he has, and the name of his social worker. I’ll give him a few dollars. Then I will call that social worker who will tell me that she can’t discuss the case because of privacy concerns. Then I’ll find Mr. ______ and give him a few more dollars and tell him that he must give his social worker permission to talk to me if he wants any more help from me.

And maybe once he has a safe place to sleep and bathe and get clean clothes and eat three meals a day, his SSI or SS income will be enough that he won’t always be down to his last two dollars.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Same as if it Were

It was the fall of 1990, and I was in a new member class led by Pastor Saresky at Faith Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) in Penfield, NY. He was discussing Communion, The Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, the celebration of that Last Supper Jesus celebrated in the Upper Room with his closest followers and commanded that they continue in remembrance of Him. It seemed to me that my new pastor was presenting a quite different view than what I had learned in my Southern Baptist and Presbyterian backgrounds so I asked, “You aren’t saying that the bread and wine are literally the body and blood of Christ, are you?” He answered, “No, but it is the same as if they were.”

That was one giant step in my journey from young Baptist to elderly Catholic. Pastor Saresky was expressing Lutheran doctrine, a theology of “the real presence” of Jesus, “in, with, and under” the elements of bread and wine. I believe that is a bit divergent from Luther’s position which, even for the time of the Reformation, was a bit at odds with Catholic teaching. Luther apparently believed that the 12th century doctrine of Transubstantiation was an unnecessary attempt to explain the divine mystery and that it was adequate to just say that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ.

But, all that is just an introduction to what I want to write about. There is a bit of an uproar going on now in social media about Trump supporters, even some of the picks for his administration, taking the early chapters of Genesis, those that cover the prehistoric events before historical figure Abraham appears on the scene in Chapter 12, as literally true. Such believers are sometimes referred to as Young Earth Creationists, a handy label used to disrespect and marginalize.

Those early Genesis events include two divergent creation stories, the story of Adam, Eve, Eden, and that nasty serpent, the first shedding of blood in jealousy, rapid population growth and the spread of wickedness, the story of Noah and his family, a couple of conflicting stories about a great flood covering the earth, and the Tower of Babel story about why there were so many languages and about the desire of humans always to be God, or at least to worship themselves.

Here is the problem. Many people who would never think of taking the words of Jesus in John 6 literally, want to take the stories in Genesis 1-11 literally. There is no way to submit the John 6 teachings to any kind of scientific investigation. Whether we believe those words is simply a matter of personal faith. But we know from scientific investigation that the earth is not just a few thousand years old. And, given the way continents have shifted position and risen and sunk, we may not be able to prove scientifically that the land masses comprising the highest mountains were never under water, but we do know they were not under water in the last five thousand years.

I recall another former pastor, maybe 25 years after the Saresky lesson, saying that when we ask difficult questions sparked by literal understanding of those first 11 chapters of Genesis, questions such as, “Where did the wives of Cain and Able come from?” or “Where did the waters in Genesis 1:2 come from?” we are simply asking the wrong questions. The questions we should be asking are about the theological truths taught in those ancient stories. Nothing we have learned from scientific investigation of the origins of the universe and humankind takes anything away from those lessons.

Those ancient stories, first written down perhaps 3000 years ago, represent hundreds or perhaps thousands of years of oral tradition, stories told and retold in an attempt by the people to explain how things were, and why they were that way. Where did the earth and its people come from? Why did they have to work so hard? Why was there so much sin and suffering? Why were people selfish and jealous? Why did people want to be God? And, as a believer in the One Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, active in the lives of people from the beginning, I accept these stories as part of Sacred Scripture revealing spiritual truth. In other words, theologically speaking, “It is the same as if those ancient stories were literally true.”

The thing that concerns me, the reason for this little essay, is that when we Christians take the position that the ancient stories refute what we have learned through scientific investigation, with our God-given intelligence, about creation, we lose credibility and fail to help people understand the great spiritual truths taught in both Old and New Testaments, the truths that lead us to The Church, the Body of Christ. We make an easy target for those who want to ridicule and discredit the Church. Some non-believers even argue that, when we insist on such literal interpretations, we are worshiping the Bible, the written expression of the Word of God, instead of The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We should not let that happen. Jesus Christ is the Word of God, and, according to Catholic teaching, Sacred Scripture is all about Him.

It is interesting to reflect on the words at the beginning of Genesis and at the beginning of the Gospel of John, the theological or spiritual gospel.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” – Genesis 1:1-2

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” – John 1:1-4

And, by the way, the two most basic spiritual and eternal truths taught in the ancient stories are these:
  • God created and it was good (but we don't know exactly how)
  • Humankind has a strong tendency to be bad and to blame somebody else for it

And one final thought: Efforts, such as this one to “prove” the Bible is true seem to me to completely miss the point and, for me, would be an expression of lack of faith. They ignore not only the characteristics of ancient writings but the simple fact that Christianity is a spiritual matter of personal faith. After all, if we could "prove" that everything in the Bible is true, no faith would be required.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Confessing Failure to Help

It's 10pm in the parking lot of a hotel, and we are just arriving, tired and looking for a good night's sleep. A minivan pulls up, window down, and a young Black woman says, "Sir, I'm not asking for any money or anything but we just need a place to sleep tonight. We can check into a shelter in the morning, but they don't have room for us tonight."

Well, I'm not going to ask her to share a room with my wife and me, and I'm not going to check her in on my credit card and ID, taking responsibility for anything that might happen in the room, regardless of how long she might stay. I doubt the Holiday Inn would even allow that under the circumstances.

I admit that I am suspicious, thinking that it is really just money she wants and that she may be going home somewhere at bedtime. I'm concerned about who else might be in the car and whether it is an organized scam, maybe even a setup for armed robbery if I get too close to the car, wallet in hand. My wife has walked on to the hotel entrance and is waiting there for me.

So, I ask the woman, from some distance, if she has a credit card, and she says she doesn't. I suggest that the shelter that has agreed to take her in the morning should have a referral system for some place she can get temporary shelter. Surely suburban Atlanta has such a system in place for single women with children, if that is, in fact her situation. I don't see the children but there seems to be a child seat in the car. I would have known where to send her in Columbia SC.

I tell her that I can't help her, and she drives away.

After getting to the room, I still have her on my mind and wonder if she is circling through the parking lot and soliciting other arrivals, so I go back outside and look around. My plan is that, if I see her, I will ask her to park her car at the door of the hotel and come inside by herself, in view of security cameras, so I can see her ID and discuss her dilemma with her. I have a couple of hundred dollars in cash and will be glad to give her enough to pay for a room somewhere that does not require a credit card, a small gift of no consequence to me and possibly very helpful to her.

I don't see her anywhere. So, I go back to the room feeling guilty for passing up an opportunity to help somebody, obviously in much worse shape than I, even if she is lying and scamming.

If I ever face that same situation again, I now have a plan. I will say to the driver, "Drive to the front door of the hotel, step out of the car by yourself and go just inside the door by yourself, where there will be security cameras and I can see your ID and we can discuss your situation in a public place. Maybe I can help."

If she takes me up on that, I will be glad to give her enough money for a night in a hotel. And I won't have to feel guilty, and she can do whatever she wants to with the money. If she doesn't take me up on that, I will know it is a scam.

As for the young woman I encountered Friday night, at least, if she was telling the truth, she is in a shelter now.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost 2016 - Five Years Catholic

At Pentecost, 2011, I was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Columbia, SC. From a purely logical standpoint, I had concluded, hopefully under the influence of The Holy Spirit, that Jesus established The Church, His “Body,” and left Apostles in charge, promising the guidance of The Holy Spirit, and that that Church, with its apostolic succession, was The Church I wanted to be a part of. And, yes, I know there has been much misbehavior of Catholics and Catholic leadership down through the centuries even with that guidance of the Holy Spirit. However, Jesus promised not that the Church would be perfect but only that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.

Aside from that logic, a number of things about Catholic faith appealed to me spiritually and theologically. It is not just about me and whether I am “saved” but is primarily about growing in worship of and service in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, obedience of the Greatest Commandments and The Great Commission. Catholicism recognizes that there is divine mystery and theology beyond human understanding but eloquently, if imperfectly, expressed in the centuries old Nicene Creed, a clear statement of The Gospel of Jesus Christ which we are commanded to proclaim. That divine mystery is acknowledged in the reverence and ritual of Mass, the focus on the timeless sacrifice of Jesus, and the mystical sharing in His Body and Blood clearly prescribed in the Gospel of John and practiced in the early church and down through the centuries.

Before making the change from Lutheran to Catholic, I read through the several hundred pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and concluded that the Catholic Church could reasonably be described as “full gospel,” a term relatively recently and narrowly applied to some charismatic evangelical churches, but that, in the case of Catholicism, it would mean paying attention to all of Sacred Scripture, and to the ways it was written, compiled, understood, preserved, revered, and practiced by the early Church.

The key statement in the Catechism about the Bible is this: “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.” (P134). With that understanding of the Bible, Catholicism generally resists the temptation to boil down the complexity of our relationship with the Triune God to simple formulas and selected Bible verses without context. We reverently hear readings of Sacred Scripture from the Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles, and Gospels in most celebrations of The Mass, but it is clear that Catholics do not worship the Bible (or Mary either). It is the Triune God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit whom Catholics worship.

I have joked that one reason I became Catholic was that I wanted to be persecuted. Not true of course but I do hear and read disturbing condemnations of Catholicism from time to time from serious and faithful non-Catholic Christians. There are still divisive issues that keep us from being one, but I have concluded that the answer to those divisive issues is usually not either-or, but both-and. We have been saved, and we are being saved, and we will be saved. We are predestined and we are called to make decisions for Christ. We are adopted, our names written down, justified by grace through faith, and we are commanded to persevere, obey, work, give, serve, love, learn, and finish the course. Jesus came to save souls and to save the world. God created the heavens and the earth (in unknown ways) and that act of creation continues and includes all the processes still operating, including any “evolutionary” processes. Eternal life begins when we are baptized and there will be a resurrection, details of which I have no knowledge and about which I have no concern, at some future time. These are just examples. If one carefully considers Sacred Scripture in its entirety, I believe that the both-and approach is validated and that we waste our time insisting on either-or decisions rather than serving together. We, the Body of Christ, have a job to do.

During progression through three prior Christian denominations, I sometimes had the conviction that the current theology I was hearing was correct and would argue in defense of it. Now, in the Catholic Church, I believe that the theology is sound, but the primary feeling is one, not of being right, or of needing to prove or argue in favor of anything, but of being at home, in The Church, even if I sometimes see and hear things (usually expressions of personal piety or theological slants) that cause a little discomfort. And I take comfort joining weekly with Catholics around the globe, hearing the same selections from Sacred Scripture, reciting the Nicene Creed, and “passing the peace” in hundreds of languages, and then standing in line with fellow worshipers, awaiting my turn, to share in the Body and Blood of Christ.

Thanks be to God!

Friday, September 25, 2015

"Believing," "Believing That," and "Believing In"

  • Matthew 24:23 - Then if anyone says to you, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'There he is!'-- do not believe it.
  • James 2:19 -  You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-- and shudder.
  • John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Those are three often quoted Bible verses, the first giving an example of “believing” something heard or read, the second an example of “believing that” something is true, and the third an example of “believing in” some thing or some person. The little three letter Greek word translated “in” is important in John 3:16 and can also be translated “into.” Trying to understand the Greek is complicated by the fact that the word translated “believe” can also be translated as “believe in” or “have faith.” So, putting those two Greek words together can be translated as "have faith in," or “believe in in” for double emphasis implying a serious, life-changing, kind of belief.

The reason I thought of commenting on the subject of belief is the frequency with which people are accused of not “believing in” global warming or of not “believing in” evolution. Use of that language supports speculation that those two topics, global warming and evolution, have become twenty first century matters of faith, or perhaps even religions. Well, let me make it clear that I do not "believe in" global warming, nor do I "believe in" evolution.

Before you get too excited and start calling me names, let me hasten to add that I do “believe that” our climate changes with time and “that” there has been a significant warming trend over the past few thousand years, maybe even a degree or so in the last few decades, and “that” it is at least partly due to human activity. Just the presence of 7 billion bodies at 98.6 degrees F should have a warming effect, with or without any atmospheric CO2 influence. And certainly our cutting of so much forest in recent centuries would have tended to result in warming. I just don’t “believe in” global warming to the extent that I organize my life or even my day around the concept. (I do recycle and moved into the city at least partly to cut down on driving, but I still take hot showers, keep the house at comfortable temperatures throughout the year, and drive a gasoline powered automobile.)

I also want to affirm that I “believe that” evolutionary processes are an important part of God’s creation even though they really have not been proven conclusively to result in new species and offer no explanation for why there is anything to evolve. I see no reasonable way to refute the evidence of their existence, nor do I see any good reason to try to do so. I just don’t “believe in” evolution to the extent that I let it guide my daily living and set my priorities or even suggest atheism. There is really nothing I can do about it anyway. I understand that evolution is a very slow process, and I have not been trained in any genetic modification techniques.

Turning to religion, with respect to personal faith in something around which I can try to organize my life, I can use “believe” in all three ways.

I “believe” the Catholic Catechism statement on Sacred Scripture: “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, ‘because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.’” Well, of course such believing is a matter of Christian faith, and we really can’t expect people of other faith traditions or of no faith to buy it.

I “believe that” Jesus was the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, con-substantial with the Father, that through Him all things were made, that for us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, that by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man, that for our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; that he suffered, died, and was buried. That on the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; that he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. That He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and that his kingdom will have no end. (That is all from the Nicene Creed.) And, here again it is a matter of faith which Christians tend to view as a gift and not a personal accomplishment. It is not something to generate pride, but rather something to motivate thanksgiving and action.

But neither “believing” nor “believing that” approaches what Jesus really asks of us. It is only “believing in” Him, as in John 3:16 quoted above, that approaches the ideal. And that means having a desire, even if we fail, to organize our lives based on what we have been told and what we have learned about Him and what we have come to believe about Him. It might be like a "believer in" global warming adopting a cold shower, open window, bicycle only approach to life, which wouldn't be all bad. It might be like a "believer in" evolution dedicating his or her life to trying to persuade others of the truth of it and the absence of any creator, which would be all bad.

Objectively, “believing in” Jesus, means, at the very least, being baptized and a part of His Body, the Church, which He founded and left to do his work, obey his commandments, and follow his example. It is through His Church that we achieve unity with Him. Subjectively, however, the interesting and often confusing thing is that understandings and expressions of that unity by the millions of Christians around the globe vary as much as the differences in their personalities, dispositions, educations, understandings, cultures, environments, spiritual maturities, and personal histories. And that is a lot of variability, and a very good thing, creating many opportunities for us to help each other along.

So, don’t be looking for “cookie cutter” Christians as you travel the globe, or even as you look around the community in which you reside.

1 Corinthians 12:27 - Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 

Colossians 1:15-19 - He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Designated Giving, Loss Leaders, and Planned Parenthood

(Often there are intersections between politics, economics, faith, and church. This is one of those cases so I am posting this on both blogs.)

Encouragement of designated giving can be an effective fundraising tool but, except in the case of major capital campaigns for specific projects, has little or no effect on programs of non-profits using the method to raise money. I am reminded of the confession of a police department that, although their fund raising campaign was focused on bullet proof vests for officers, they were going to buy the same number of bullet proof vests regardless of the fund raising result. It was just that bullet proof vests support an effective emotional appeal for money. 

As a young adult, I was a member of a Southern Baptist Church that taught tithing and essentially forbade designated giving, unless pre-approved by the Board of Deacons, because it was seen as a way for church members to vote with their money and personally impact church priorities, a clear responsibility of the Board of Deacons. It was also a nuisance for the church treasurer to keep up with the various designated funds and make sure they went to the right place.

About that same time, the local Community Chest was raising a million dollars or so each year to fund locally popular non-profits serving the community. Over the next couple of decades, the Community Chest gave way to United Way, and some of the agencies being funded under the new regime were extremely unpopular with some of the donors pressured to give to the annual drive. To assuage their concerns, donors were allowed to designate their gifts to one or more agencies and leave the others out. It made no difference of course in the distribution of the funds except in the very rare case that designations to a particular agency exceeded the budgeted amount for that agency. I doubt that ever happened. And money of course is fungible, making it impossible for a designator to track his or her hundred dollars and make sure it went to the Boy Scouts or whatever other agency he or she might have designated and not to some organization with goals perceived by him or her as suspicious.

Loss leaders of course are those products sold in groceries and other retail outlets at a "loss," less than their fully allocated cost of acquisition, selling, and distribution, because they are known to increase store traffic and total sales revenue and thus result in greater profits even if showing losses as individual items. It has been a long standing tradition, for example, for groceries to feature Coca Cola products one week as loss leaders and Pepsi Cola the next. (Both soft drink companies were rumored to require the stores to feature their products at least fifty percent of the time if they were to have the privilege of selling them at all, and that was judged by smaller soft drink companies as a grossly unfair trade practice.) The point is that revenue is revenue and always contributes to the bottom line profits whether the particular product generating the revenue, based on the accounting system in place, shows a profit or not.

What are the points of this rambling? There are two: 

  1. Whether the $500M in federal funding going to Planned Parenthood is designated for services other than abortions is absolutely immaterial because money is fungible and enables the organization to grow and increase impact on society while directing whatever other income it has to expansion of abortion services. So long as the books show spending on services other than abortion is equal to or greater than the federal funding, the organization can claim that none of the federal $500M went to abortion services. Accounting is a wonderful art.
  2. Whether the collection of revenue from transfer of fetal tissue, in the form of body parts, shows a profit based on the accounting system in place is absolutely immaterial. The claims of Planned Parenthood that they are only offsetting cost with the revenue collected would be like Publix Supermarkets claiming that it is not profitable for them to sell soft drinks as loss leaders. It obviously is profitable or they would not do it.

So, here is my recommendation for Planned Parenthood. Spin off whichever is the smaller of the two major parts of the organization, Abortion Services or Women's Health, and then let the Federal Government contract with the Women's Health part to provide Women's Health Services on a cost plus basis just as they pay through Medicare for elderly health services. If funds were to be transferred from the Women’s Health entity to the Abortion Services entity, that would be very difficult to hide with accounting manipulations. Then the Abortion Services part of the organization could look elsewhere than the US Congress for funding. I suspect there will be plenty of it, probably largely from organizations much more interested in preventing births than in Women's Health. PP Abortion Services might even become the larger of the two. 

And, to Congress, until Planned Parenthood engineers that divorce, there should be no federal funding of it.