In the turbulent times we are all currently traversing, Seventh-day Adventists everywhere are also pondering what impacts the health and economic crises of the moment are having upon the Church. Is the Church able to do anything to mitigate their effects?
Most nations of the world and vast areas of their economies have been all but shut down, with no clear road map to re-entry, even in places that have cautiously implemented a loosening of social restrictions. What started as a mild inconvenience quickly turned into an almost endless series of ripples affecting everything from big multinational corporations, to small businesses, the non-traditional economy and, most of all, families and individuals. The news is filled with new terminology freshly minted by economists to describe what many fear will be an inevitable global recession.
There’s one aspect of this crisis that may not immediately come to mind when church members think about impacts on this global movement: the volatility in financial markets. One piece of the economic pain the pandemic is inflicting on the Church is the likelihood of a substantial drop in tithes returned by members. Although there are no official statistics available yet, as people lose their jobs, their ability to congregate on Sabbath or both, it’s plausible to project that there will be a noticeable decrease in tithe.
In addition to an overall decline, the extreme weakening of currencies in the world divisions from which these tithes emerge only compounds the pain. As an example, the Brazilian real (the base currency of the South American Division) has lost 49% of its value since the start of the year. In other words, whatever tithes are still coming in are now worth almost half (49 percent less) relative to the U.S. dollar because of the market devaluation of the currency. As a comparison, in the same period, the South African rand dropped 38 percent; the euro, 5 percent; the Australian dollar, 21 percent; and the U.K. pound, 13 percent.
Just here, it’s important to know that several years ago the General Conference implemented a growing and rigorous currency risk management program (hedging program) aimed at protecting against currency volatility. This program is a combination of market analysis and surveillance, tactical implementation and, quite honestly divine providence, as not even the most elite group of academicians can predict the future (Case in point: nobody’s model predicted a world-wide pandemic). This year the program ran its course, and while the General Conference was not able to ‘erase’ all the damage caused by the crisis, it was able to mitigate a portion of it.
We recognize that this crisis is much more than dollars and cents (or pesos, or Rwandan franc). Real human tragedies are being reported every day, and the Adventist Church’s financial condition must always be of secondary importance. We can, however, find reasons to be thankful for the wisdom that God does dispense in caring for the assets and resources of the Church.
Finally, we can join in a global prayer movement for protection, mercy over His creation, and yes, for the faith that He will “give unto them beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61: 3 KJV).
Theo Voilquin is a portfolio manager at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. He has previously served in similar capacities at the United Nations and World Vision International.