Saturday, April 21, 2012

Faith vis-a-vis "Fair Share"

Even as the nation becomes more secularized, following the Olde Europe pattern, there remains an inevitable quadrennial presidential-campaign hullabaloo about the candidates’ religions or religious preferences or church memberships. The current cycle is no different.

Within days of his inauguration in 2009, President Obama resigned his 20-year membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and has asserted that his primary place of worship now is the Evergreen Chapel at Camp David. He might have resigned sooner except he had made an impassioned, wrong-headed speech (advertised as about race) in Philadelphia in March 2008 in an effort to somehow legitimize the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah (God damn America) Wright, his pastor and mentor. However, a resignation then would have represented disloyalty to his church of 20 years, not good behavior for his campaign even though he had thrown the reverend under the bus, which was absolutely necessary.

Vice President Biden, the presumptive vice-presidential candidate, is a member of the Roman Catholic Church, headquartered in Rome. Presumptive republican candidate Romney is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), headquartered in Salt Lake City. Denominationally, Obama is or was a member of the United Church of Christ, headquartered in Cleveland, with the distinction of being perhaps the largest and only denomination (some one million members) that officially endorses marriages between homosexuals. Perhaps this explains Obama’s “evolving” attitude vis-à-vis such marriages since he declared in 2008 that marriage was only heterosexual, as prescribed by law.

Obama and Romney, according to their 2011 and 2010 tax forms, respectively, are prolific contributors to charity, the former at 22% of income and the latter at 16%. The stingiest is Biden at 1.5%. In fact, in the years 1998-2007 (last election cycle) according to tax returns, Biden gave only .14% of his (and his wife’s) income to charity, an average of $369 per year or roughly one-seventh of one percent. It’s hard to imagine that kind of insensitivity. The Bidens’ combined income ranged between $210,432 and $321,379.

So what!…one might say. The reason this is mentioned has to do with just how important religion is to the candidates, especially since it is generally thought to be at least a factor in the making of decisions as well as determining behavior, especially with regard to the word often mentioned by office-seekers – Sacrifice. None of the candidates is a sacrificial giver since after he/they’ve given their contributions they’re still among the most well-off folks in the country, able to secure “things” far beyond anything actually needed.

By remarking their giving to churches or church-related entities, however, one might attempt to form an opinion as to how serious the candidates are about spiritual matters and consequently therefore to what extent their faith (or lack of faith) might impact their performance. One way to quantify this is to “follow the money.” The level of sincerity can most often be determined by how much an individual financially invests in anything, including his church or denomination.

From an income in 2011 of $789,674, the Obamas gave to religious organizations the amount of $2,500, according to their tax return, or .32%, or one-third of one percent. The Bidens, on an income of $379,035, gave $2,100 or .55%, or just over one-half of one percent. Individual giving to churches has been steadily decreasing for a number of years, not just during the recession, but it’s probably not too far off to accept that the average is around two percent. Many members give far more, especially those who tithe (give 10%) and thus make the average as high as it is.

Romney is a tither, according to his pronouncements. On his 2010 tax return, his gift to his denomination was $1,525,167, under the caption of 50%. His income was $21,661,344, so he probably gave well in excess of the tithe, which would have been just over $2.1 million. His estimated income for 2011 is $21 million, about the same as 2010.

Obama has worn the term “fair share” with regard to taxes to the point that it’s virtually irrelevant. The tax code already comprises at least four different levels, each supposedly representing a specific income-group as giving its “fair share.” Transfer the “fair share” thinking to the matter of giving to religious organizations and the comparisons to be drawn among these three men are obvious.

On the basis of their financial investments in religious organizations/endeavors, Obama and Biden might as well be unbelievers, so inordinately miniscule are their contributions to institutions designed to make their offerings worthwhile, particularly concerning what they and their often-as-cheap fellow-liberals constantly caterwaul about – “social justice,” the thing churches try to address. They obviously believe their “fair share” spiritually is zilch, ergo, sending the message that none of their fellow adherents should take seriously any church/denominational endeavor. Hypocrisy on their level of intensity is off the charts, and their examples are ludicrous.

Contrarily, Romney could be said to be “living his faith,” putting his money where his mouth is and signaling that he considers the good works of the church important enough to give liberally. A relative handful of Christians give a tenth of their income but those who give liberally, whether tithers or not, carry on their backs the burden of addressing the problems of the world from the standpoint of “what would Jesus do,” never mind the overworked cliché.

The figures speak for themselves, so let the chips fall where they may. With regard to religious utility, by their exponential neglect of what actually matters and their insensitivity to the needs of others less well-off than they, Obama and Biden give the term “fair share” a hypocritical emptiness virtually unsusceptible to comprehension.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

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