July 10, 2009

1519 RNS News

The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors

Report: Religious Giving
Tops $100 Billion in 2007

BY ASHLEY MCGLONE                                                                ©2008 Religion News Service

capGiving to religious charities and congregations passed the $100 billion mark for the first time in 2007, according to a recent report by the Giving USA Foundation. Giving to religious groups increased 4.7 percent, bringing the total to $102.32 billion. Overall giving to charitable causes reached $306.39 billion in 2007, a 3.9 percent increase from 2006.

The report, released June 23, shows that donations to religious causes accounted for half of all individual charitable giving. Three-quarters of all giving in the U.S. came from individual donations to charity, the report said.

Del Martin, chair of the Giving USA Foundation, said, "And what you can't forget is that the `little guys,' the families most affected by the economy, kept on giving despite any worries they might have about their personal situations."

Charitable giving consistently represents 2.3 percent of the average American's disposable income year-to-year, a figure that held up in 2007, according to the report.

The report, conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, analyzed eight charity sub-sectors Arts/Culture/Humanities, Education, Environment/Animals, Health, Human Services, Public-Society Benefit, International Affairs, and Religion. Each saw individual increases last year, according to inflation-adjusted estimates.

Though not considered public charities, community and private foundations saw a decrease in giving last year, the report noted.

Researchers asked charities in the Public-Society Benefit category if they were worried that giving to political campaigns during the 2008 election year would hurt charitable donations. Groups reported back they are more concerned about the lagging economy and volatile stock market.

Presidential campaigns in 2007 raised $580 million, according to the Federal Election Commission, a mere one-quarter of 1 percent of the $306 billion raised for charity.

Grassley: Some Investigated Ministries Making Changes

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                          ©2008 Religion News Service

Ministries headed by evangelists Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn are both changing the way they operate even as a Senate probe into alleged lavish spending by six prominent ministries continues, Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said on July 7.

"Both Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn have indicated that they are instituting reforms without waiting for the committee to complete its review," said Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, in an update on the investigation he began last year. "Self-reform can be faster and more effective than government regulation."

Roby Walker, a spokesman for Joyce Meyer Ministries in Fenton, Missouri, confirmed that changes are being made but could not release details.

Don Price, a spokesman for Benny Hinn Ministries in Grapevine, Texas, also declined to comment in detail but said "reforms and improved governance practices" were being shared with Grassley's office.

Grassley's update noted instances of "whistleblower intimidation" where former employees "have received phone calls reminding them of their confidentiality agreements and threatening lawsuits if the agreements are breached."

Jill Gerber, a spokeswoman for the committee, would not disclose which ministries were involved in such calls, and declined to elaborate on the changes planned at Hinn's and Meyer's ministries.

Grassley's update described the responses from Hinn and Meyer as "in good faith and substantively informative," but said the others are "incomplete" or "not responsive."

Broadcaster Kenneth Copeland has reportedly said his Texas-based ministry will not respond even if a subpoena is issued. Grassley's memo said staffers are "consulting with Senate attorneys about next steps."
In other cases, staffers continue to contact ministry lawyers and officials in hopes of further cooperation.
"Senator Grassley still very much wants to avoid subpoenas and hopes that those ministries will agree that subpoenas would be an unnecessary step," Gerber said.
The other ministries under investigation are: Bishop Eddie Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia; Creflo Dollar Ministries in College Park, Georgia, and Randy and Paula White, who co-pastored Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Florida.

Birmingham Named Most Generous City in America

BY GREG GARRISON                                                        ©2008 Religion News Service
Birmingham, Alabama, ranks as the most generous city in America according to a study that measured percentage of household income given to charity in 60 metropolitan areas.

Birmingham-area residents give 3.6 percent of their household income to charity, just ahead of several other Southern cities, the study said. Memphis, Tennessee, was second at 3.4 percent and Columbia, South Carolina, was third with 3.2 percent.

The study was done by the Tijeras Foundation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city that incidentally ranked fourth from the bottom, ahead of just San Antonio, Pittsburgh and Tampa, Florida. The foundation supports church organizations, including help with fund raising and financial management skills. 

The foundation's study attempted to establish a benchmark for generosity and identify factors that make some communities more generous than others.

The initiative, called Generous Communities, aims to increase community generosity. In Albuquerque, the Tijeras Foundation has helped more than 600 people attend a six-week stewardship program.

The study found factors that appear to correlate to higher levels of generosity: Generous communities have a higher percentage of evangelical Christians, married couples, entrepreneurs, and African-Americans. In Birmingham, people who deal with charity already knew about the city's high level of giving.

"It doesn't come as a surprise to us," said Drew Langloh, president of United Way of Central Alabama.