For the week of September 11, 2003
Gifts through the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program totaled more than $16.7
million last month, an increase of $744,559 (4.7 percent) from the previous
August. With just one month remaining in the Southern Baptist Conventions
fiscal year, overall gifts total a little more than $169 million, an increase
of about $1.1 million (0.7 percent) from the same time last year. The total
also stands more than $6.8 million (4.2 percent) ahead of budget. Meanwhile,
designated gifts totaled just less than $5 million last month, an increase of
more than $1 million (25.9 percent) from the previous August. For the year,
designated gifts total $162.8 million, a decrease of about $4.1 million (2.5
percent) from 2002.
Death penalty issue
A federal appeals court has overturned some 111 death-penalty sentences, which
likely will force the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify itself further on the issue.
The federal court recently threw out death-penalty sentences from Arizona, Idaho
and Montana. In those states, single judges can impose the death penalty in capital
trials, whereas in many other states, only juries can impose execution on a convict.
In one of a number of rulings last year, the Supreme Court said judges-only death
sentences are unconstitutional. However, the high court left open the question
of whether their ruling applied retroactively or only to new convictions. While
other federal appeals courts have ruled the decision does not apply to existing
convictions, the recent contrary ruling means the Supreme Court is more likely
to step in on the issue. When two of the nations federal circuits disagree
on an important issue of federal law, the high court often will take a case on
the issue in order to resolve the differences. If so, it could mean one more limit
on the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court decided last year that applying the
death penalty to mentally retarded convicts is unconstitutionally “cruel.”
Five years after pulling away from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has broken ground on a $3 million headquarters
building. Leaders of the group say they hope to move to its 30,000-square-foot
headquarters in April. Since its launch in 1998, the group reportedly has grown
from 120 churches to some 1,300. It has 25 full-time employees, which now occupy
Mission board cuts
Southern Baptist North American Mission Board leaders have announced plans to
cut $11 million from the agencys budget next year, which will eliminate
31 full- and part-time positions. The proposed $118 million budget is 6 percent
less than this year and still must be approved by trustees. Officials blamed the
cuts on sluggish contributions and the economy. Twelve of the 31 affected positions
currently are vacant and will not be filled. Three employees will retire. Nine
others are transferring to other positions. The remaining seven will lose their
jobs. The board employs about 460 persons. Affected employees were not identified.
A spokesperson said 11 of the eliminated positions are for support workers, 14
are professional, non-supervisory positions and six are management positions.
Officials project agency income next year will be $7.2 million less than the 2003
budget – while fixed costs will rise. “The bottom line is we anticipate
having $3.4 million more in expenses we cannot control, but $7.2 million less
income,” a spokesperson said. “That means we must come up with nearly
$11 million in … cuts.” The proposed budget freezes salaries for missionaries
and staff for the second year in a row. Funding of state conventions is not being
reduced but neither are they receiving usual increases.
Paul Hill shot and killed an abortion doctor in 1994. Last week, he became the first person in America to be executed for anti-abortion violence. Hill never denied his actions and claimed in a recent interview that he expected a “great reward in heaven.” However, two Southern Baptist leaders – and the overwhelming majority of pro-life leaders – say Hills tactics hurt that cause. Richard Land said Hills action makes some people think pro-lifers are a radical group that will not abide by the rule of law. Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Christians are not to take the law into their own hands, …” added Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “If Paul Hills murder of an abortion doctor is justifiable homicide, what about the killing of a stem cell researcher who destroys a human embryo? … Once Paul Hills argument is accepted, moral anarchy will inevitably result.”
Times are tough all over for state Baptist conventions seeking to fund their ministries. A mid-year survey of the largest state conventions found none meeting their Cooperative Program budgets. Data for the first half of the year from Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia shows that Cooperative Program giving not only is lagging behind budget but also behind last years giving. Cooperative Program budget deficits at mid-year range from 3.7 percent in South Carolina to 18.6 percent in Georgia. Clear reasons for the across-the-board slump in giving are hard to come by, although the downturn in the national economy often gets cited as a factor. Designated giving, which includes special missions offerings and donor-directed gifts, also has declined this year in most state conventions. Of those reporting data in this category, only Kentucky showed a slight increase.
As Congress gets underway after a month-long summer recess, a host of church-state issues are on the agenda – from gay marriage to school vouchers. The most visible debate may be about gay marriage. A proposed constitutional amendment that would limit marriage and marriage-like benefits to opposite-sex couples appears to be picking up momentum in Congress. The Federal Marriage Amendment likely will receive committee hearings in the early fall. But other church-state issues are further along in the legislative process and may get action earlier this fall. These include religious discrimination in hiring; school vouchers; and churches and political endorsements. The religious discrimination issue concerns whether faith-based organizations will be able to discriminate in their hiring based on religion – and promises to be a contested one. The school voucher issue involves a proposal to offer such a program in Washington, D.C., schools. The effort has failed before – but it has new impetus this year. Finally, some congressional representatives are expected to make another push to amend laws and allow churches to endorse or oppose political candidates without losing their tax-exempt status.