Analysis of the AG Trust: Concluding thoughts

First, it should be made abundantly clear that though my response to the Trust is strong in tone, I do not believe it is a bad idea. Basic lessons in critical thinking show that one can have a right conclusion even if the steps taken to the conclusion are inaccurate or illogical. Though it shows no regard for those who have suffered under loan debt before, it is a step in the right direction.

Second, funding methods remains a serious question. We are in a crappy economy. Endowments from coast-to-coast are suffering, and while there would be great investment promise in index funds right now, the high-reward corners of the market remain toxic. A faith promise system will fail and would be nothing better than bad stewardship of an important capital campaign.

More troubling is the fact that the Assemblies of God’s ministers-only retirement investment system was at least partially funded the same way financial institutions made money behind-the-scenes before the market collapse: quasi-mortgage securities. The Assemblies made loans to its churches in order that they could build facilities, which is sketchy enough, and a key reason why I–while I was then a member of the A/G clergy–never joined MBA: I could not, in good conscience, make money off the repayed interest of congregations. No matter what AGFS says, I remain utterly unconvinced that the risk inherent in church loans is in any way less, um, risky than other parts of the market that have decimated business, communities, families and portfolios.

Of note is the fact that, in 2008, at least one major loan to an A/G ministry that would have gone into deep delinquency elsewhere was forgiven essentially by itself. (When you can essentially bail yourself out, who needs Scrooge McBarack? And how is that ethical, proper or a show of managerial conservatism?)

All that to say that denominations making loans to its member churches is bad business, and approaches an ethically reprovable level. It also shows a potential Morton’s Fork: if the economy continues to tank, and churches somehow default on these loans, it shows poor judgment and threatens the autonomous church model instituted by the Assemblies at its outset; if the economy continues to tank and churches remain unaffected, it shows that thse churches are completely detached from society, reinforces the affluent, white people stereotype and are not reaching out into the surrounding communities.

Third, transforming the economics of Christian higher education is no small matter: it takes time and dedication. That said, a renewed emphasis on educational reform is absolutely needed. The reports came out this week: Evangelicalism is suffering, and according to an op-ed piece in today’s Christian Science Monitor, it’s heading for a major shakedown. (I completely agree with Spencer’s take, for the record.) Things have to change all the way around, if these universities are going to survive in the long-term: ideologically, financially, educationally and in terms of personal development, it all has to be seriosuly reexamined if it is to be worth the significant investment the A/G seems to be willing to make in its future.

Further, such a move unintentionally demands that the Assemblies reconsider its eschatological stance. There is a statute of limitations on terms like “imminent”, “imminent” means inevitable and soon, like “I have to finish my taxes before 15 April,” or “If I have Taco Bell tonight, there will be serious [read: imminent] gastrointenstinal issues in the morning.”

If Jesus is coming soon, why bother? Why Bible college? Why Bible camps calling people into ministry, if there is no ministry in the future because of the impending parousia? Who’ll drive the bus?

These kind of decisions have intractable ramifications on the Assemblies’ statement of faith. A move to establish a long-term financial investment in future generations means that we cannot reasonably believe that Jesus will actually come back for at least six to eight more years; the two lines of thought are mutually exclusive. Belief governs behavior, attitude precedes action.

There is some soul-searching that needs to be done when rolling out such an ambitious enterprise. It turns out that soul-searching needed to be done anyway.

Respectfully submitted for your consideration. Your feedback is welcomed, with the caveat in the “about” section in effect.


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