Daily Archives: January 30, 2012

U.S. workers fight loophole switch to uninsured church pension plans

Mary Rich worked for a hospital in northern New Jersey for 25 years, first as a registered nurse and later as an executive. One of the job’s benefits was a traditional pension that she expected to receive at retirement. Now that benefit seems unlikely to be around by the time she retires.

Rich’s financially troubled former employer, the Hospital Center at Orange (HCO), shut down in 2004. The pension plan currently has $5.25 million in assets, which are being distributed at the rate of $2.7 million per year. By the time Rich reaches retirement 12 years from now, the money will be gone.

Under normal conditions, a pension plan such as HCO’s would have been back-stopped by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, the federally sponsored agency that insures most private sector pension plans. When plans go belly up, PBGC takes them over and continues to make payments; most participants receive 100 percent of promised benefits. But HCO’s case wasn’t typical. A year before it closed, HCO had declared itself to be a “church plan” ”“ meaning that it was claiming an exemption to federal pension law and PBGC coverage.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Law & Legal Issues, Pensions, Personal Finance, Religion & Culture

A Summary of TEC Executive Council resolutions from the most recent meeting

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), Executive Council

Bonnie Anderson’s closing remarks to The Episcopal Church's Executive Council

It’s not surprising that it’s hard for us to adapt our decision-making processes to create the change we need and to respond to change in the world around us. This is halting and imperfect work. The inertia that keeps us stuck in the old model””in the ethic of survival that Stringfellow cautions us against””is powerful. I feel its pull, and I imagine you do too.

But I think that when we talk about a “transitional” budget we’re dressing up that ethic of survival instead of mustering the courage we need to free ourselves of it. During the remainder of the budget process, I hope and pray that we can resist the inertia that will lull us into complacency, confront change bravely, and come up with a budget that we can consider at General Convention faithfully and in good conscience.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), Executive Council, House of Deputies President

(NY Times) Ruling on Contraception Draws Battle Lines at Catholic Colleges

Bridgette Dunlap, a Fordham University law student, knew that the school’s health plan had to pay for birth control pills, in keeping with New York state law. What she did not find out until she was in an examining room, “in the paper dress,” was that the student health service ”” in keeping with Roman Catholic tenets ”” would simply refuse to prescribe them.

As a result, students have had to go to Planned Parenthood or private doctors to get prescriptions. Some, unable to afford the doctor visits, gave up birth control pills entirely. In November, Ms. Dunlap, 31, who was raised a Catholic and was educated at parochial schools, organized a one-day, off-campus clinic staffed by volunteer doctors who wrote prescriptions for dozens of women.

Many Catholic colleges decline to prescribe or cover birth control, citing religious reasons. Now they are under pressure to change. This month the Obama administration, citing the medical case for birth control, made a politically charged decision that the new health care law requires insurance plans at Catholic institutions to cover birth control without co-payments for employees, and that may be extended to students. But Catholic organizations are resisting the rule, saying it would force them to violate their beliefs and finance behavior that betrays Catholic teachings.

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Posted in Uncategorized

(ENS) TEC Executive Council adopts draft budget for next triennium

The budget, which will not be final until General Convention acts in July, proposes to set aside money for a “churchwide consultation” on the Episcopal Church’s future shape and work. It also includes money for pilot projects that Chief Operating Officer Stacy Sauls said could show how the church’s purchasing and organizational power could help congregations and dioceses free up more of their resources for mission work.

Sauls characterized such a cooperative arrangement as one way to bring about “long-term significant change” in how the churchwide staff relates to the rest of the church. Council accepted his proposal and his suggestion that the 2013-2015 budget “should open the door to doing long-term reform of how we do business as a church.”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Episcopal Church (TEC), Executive Council, House of Deputies President, Parish Ministry, Presiding Bishop, Stewardship

(Guardian) Andrew Brown–John Sentamu's argument against same-sex marriage is already lost

The archbishop of York, John Sentamu, hopes that people will pay attention to other things in his most recent interview than his attack on gay marriage. Fat chance. When he said that the government will be acting as dictators have done if it introduces gay marriage, he put himself squarely in the wrong on a matter that people care about.

Nor does he give what I think are likely to be his real, animating reasons: that he believes gay marriage is bad because it makes being gay look normal and even admirable, and because gay people should not have sex with each other. Around most of the world, and certainly in most of the Anglican Communion, these would be perfectly respectable and uncontroversial things to say. But in modern Britain they are a minority view, and certainly not a respectable one. They are not going to win a political argument ”“ and that’s what he’s fighting here.

He could defend marriage for heterosexuals only on the grounds that the Bible comes out of a culture where gay marriage would be an abomination. But he doesn’t. What he actually talks about in his interview is history and tradition. The trouble for him is that history and tradition are up against the argument from justice. In that contest the argument from justice will always win, unless it inconveniences too many of the powerful. Gay marriage doesn’t….

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Anglican Provinces, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology

(Christianity Today) Flickers of Hope for Some of the World's Longest Running Persecuted

Recent gestures by Burma’s political leadership offer a glimpse of optimism for future reform. Still, many Burmese remain cautious as fighting continues in ethnic minority regions where most of the country’s Christians are located.

The nation’s military-backed leadership reached a cease-fire agreement in January with a major ethnic Karen army and freed hundreds of political prisoners. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released last year from 15 years of house arrest, plans to run in a parliamentary election in April.

“You can see evidences of people being joyful,” said Vision Beyond Borders founder Patrick Klein, who has seen photos of Suu Kyi on billboards and t-shirts and businesses opening in Burma. “Because so much of the world is watching Burma, it’s going to be a lot harder to have a sham election.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Asia, Globalization, Law & Legal Issues, Myanmar/Burma, Other Churches, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Economist) China's Paradox of Prosperity

[A]..mix of political control and market reform has yielded huge benefits. China’s rise over the past two decades has been more impressive than any burst of economic development ever. Annual economic growth has averaged 10% a year and 440m Chinese have lifted themselves out of poverty””the biggest reduction of poverty in history.

Yet for China’s rise to continue, the model cannot remain the same. That’s because China, and the world, are changing.

China is weathering the global crisis well. But to sustain a high growth rate, the economy needs to shift away from investment and exports towards domestic consumption. That transition depends on a fairer division of the spoils of growth. At present, China’s banks shovel workers’ savings into state-owned enterprises, depriving workers of spending power and private companies of capital. As a result, just when some of the other ingredients of China’s boom, such as cheap land and labour, are becoming scarcer, the government is wasting capital on a vast scale. Freeing up the financial system would give consumers more spending power and improve the allocation of capital.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Asia, China, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Foreign Relations, History, Housing/Real Estate Market, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Politics in General

In South Carolina Amazon tax bills come due

South Carolina residents who bought things last year from Amazon.com are now receiving emails reminding them that they owe the state money, because the online retailer didn’t collect the sales taxes.

While Amazon’s customers might be surprised, South Carolina residents always have been required to pay tax on online purchases — it’s just a question of who collects the money. In practice, when it comes to declaring online purchases and paying the tax, consumers have been lax, costing the state an estimated $110 million annually….

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * South Carolina, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Politics in General, State Government, Taxes

(NPR) Off The Record: A Quest For De-Baptism In France

In France, an elderly man is fighting to make a formal break with the Catholic Church. He’s taken the church to court over its refusal to let him nullify his baptism, in a case that could have far-reaching effects.

Seventy-one-year-old Rene LeBouvier’s parents and his brother are buried in a churchyard in the tiny village of Fleury in northwest France. He himself was baptized in the Romanesque stone church and attended mass here as a boy.

LeBouvier says this rural area is still conservative and very Catholic, but nothing like it used to be. Back then, he says, you couldn’t even get credit at the bakery if you didn’t go to mass every Sunday….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Baptism, Europe, France, Law & Legal Issues, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Sacramental Theology, Secularism, Theology

(NY Times) U.S. Drones Patrolling Its Skies Provoke Outrage in Iraq

A month after the last American troops left Iraq, the State Department is operating a small fleet of surveillance drones here to help protect the United States Embassy and consulates, as well as American personnel. Some senior Iraqi officials expressed outrage at the program, saying the unarmed aircraft are an affront to Iraqi sovereignty.

The program was described by the department’s diplomatic security branch in a little-noticed section of its most recent annual report and outlined in broad terms in a two-page online prospectus for companies that might bid on a contract to manage the program. It foreshadows a possible expansion of unmanned drone operations into the diplomatic arm of the American government; until now they have been mainly the province of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.

American contractors say they have been told that the State Department is considering to field unarmed surveillance drones in the future in a handful of other potentially “high-threat” countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan, and in Afghanistan after the bulk of American troops leave in the next two years. State Department officials say that no decisions have been made beyond the drone operations in Iraq.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Foreign Relations, Iraq, Middle East, Science & Technology

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly–The World’s Biggest Congregation

LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: There are big churches, and then there’s the Yoido Full Gospel Church here in Seoul, South Korea. It’s the mother of megachurches, with the largest congregation in the world. On a typical day 200,000 will attend one of seven services along with another two or three hundred thousand watching them on TV in adjoining buildings or satellite branches. While some other churches may be losing members, this one just keeps growing. The main sanctuary here holds 21,000 worshipers packed to the rafters seven times every Sunday. Each service has its own orchestra, its own choir, its own pastor. There are hundreds of assistants. There need to be. Each service is translated into 16 different languages for visitors. Karen Kim is a pastor with the church’s international division. She says she was shocked when she first moved here from Australia.

KAREN KIM: I think when you’ve got people this size, like you have to have structure, and you have to have organization, because otherwise people would be getting killed. Like you can’t just let it all just take care of itself. Like there has to be like organized rosters of volunteers and things like that to get people in and out of the service, or these people will literally die and get crushed….

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * International News & Commentary, Asia, Parish Ministry, South Korea

A Prayer to Begin the Day

O thou who sendest forth the light, createst the morning, and makest the sun to rise on the good and the evil: Enlighten the blindness of our minds with the knowledge of the truth; lift up the light of thy countenance upon us, that in thy light we may see light, and, at the last, in the light of grace the light of glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

— Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626)

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Scripture Readings

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval. By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteous, God bearing witness by accepting his gifts; he died, but through his faith he is still speaking. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

–Hebrews 11:1-6

Posted in Uncategorized

(New Statesman) Nelson Jones–Is there a religion for atheists?

Alain de Botton, probably the closest thing Britain has to a celebrity philosopher, has a Big Idea. Religion, he asserts, isn’t “true”, but its lack of truth is the least interesting thing about it. Instead of indulging in the dogmatic anti-theism associated with the likes of Richard Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens, why shouldn’t atheists just “enjoy the best bits”, as the publicity for his new book Religion For Atheists has it?

Many of us love Christmas carols, after all. Bach’s cantatas are more profound and moving than anything written in the cause of atheism. Think of all those wonderful cathedrals, mosques and temples. Religion’s power to transport the human spirit, to offer consolation and hope, to create a sense of belonging and inspire ethical conduct is undeniable even if you don’t subscribe to the doctrines of a particular belief system. So let’s work out precisely what gives religions their strength, “steal” it, bottle it and create a kind of transcendent secular humanism that will speak to people as deeply as religion does. Only without all that embarrassing dogma, not to mention the baggage of misogyny, homophobia, parochialism and intolerance with which most bona fide religions tend to come lumbered.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Atheism, England / UK, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture