All posts tagged “values

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Book Review: Mission Drift

Across the street from our house stands a big building, and on that big building is emblazoned a single letter: Y.

I thought about that building and that big solitary letter quite a bit as I read Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches, the new book from Peter Greer and Chris Horst of HOPE International, two leaders I’m grateful to also consider friends. Greer is the co-author of The Poor Will Be Glad, an introduction to microfinance, as well as The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, which I reviewed last fall.

The book addresses a troubling trajectory that faith-based organizations all too often take, slowly but surely drifting away from the mission, vision, and values of their founders. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s rarely the result of a concerted attempt by militant secularists to eradicate any and all religious influences, but its effects are real and sobering nonetheless. “The pressures of Mission Drift are guaranteed,” they write, citing financial, social, and other pressures. “It is the default, the auto-fill. It will happen unless we are focused and actively preventing it.”

The Y—formerly the Young Men’s Christian Association, or YMCA for short—serves a poignant case in point. For all the good that local Ys continue to offer families and communities, it may come as a surprise to some of us that before being known for treadmills and Zumba classes, as local Ys now are, the YMCA offered Bible studies as part of its stated objective to facilitate “Christian discipleship developed through a program of religious, educational, social and physical activities.”

Greer and Horst write with humility and grace, well aware that mission drift can happen to any organization, and that even their own is not exempt. They don’t evaluate current faith-based organizations on their varying degrees of mission drift (or at least not by name), which is to say they are careful not to name and shame other organizations. I really appreciate that. But helpfully, they do name what they consider to be the causes of mission drift, and they examine by way of case study a number of organizations—Harvard, Yale, and ChildFund to name just three—which have drifted over time and whose leaders have publicly acknowledged (without apology, it seems) the departure from their respective institutions’ faith-based roots.

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To an intended audience of Christian leaders, donors, and board members, Greer and Horst write, “We want to help you clarify the missions of the organizations you most love. And we want to equip you with the safeguards to reinforce and protect them.”

Leaders of faith-based organizations will find this book to be a helpful tool as they seek to protect and advance the mission they are entrusted to serve. Those who serve on boards of directors will find in these pages good questions to ask about the overall direction their organizations may be heading, and to safeguard against drift. And those of us who lend our voices and resources to organizations on the basis of their compellingly articulated way of serving the common good will find a reliable set of criteria for evaluating which organizations are truly worthy of our continued support.

As Greer and Horst remind us, the temptation to mission drift is inevitable, but giving into the pressure is not. For a variety of stakeholders who together want to see good organizations stay the course, Mission Drift is an invaluable resource and I commend it highly.

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Miroslav Volf on values and voting

Last week Miroslav Volf posted this on his Facebook page:

In this year of presidential elections, I decided to summarize key values that guide me as I make the decision for whom to cast my vote. It takes knowing three basic things to choose a candidate for public office responsibly:

1. values we hope the candidate will stand for and the order of priority among them;
2. ways in which and means by which these values are best implemented in any given situation;
3. capacity—ability and determination—to contribute to the implementation of these values.

Most important are the values. As I identified each value, I thought it important to (1) name the basic content of the value, (2) give a brief rationale for holding it, (3) suggest some parameters of legitimate debate about it, and (4) identify key questions for the candidate.

I write as a Christian theologian, from the perspective of my own understanding of the Christian faith. Whole books have been written on each of these values, explicating them and adjudicating complex debates about them. In giving rationale for a given value, I only take one or two verses from the Bible to back up my position, more to flag the direction in which giving a rationale would need to go than in fact strictly to offer a rationale. I have identified some 20 such values. In coming days I will post one a day.

He has now posted eight or so of those twenty values, and each is worth serious consideration, regardless of the different conclusions each of us will come to. If you haven’t already, you can see the rest of the values by subscribing to his Facebook page.

In one of his essays in The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes, “He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself.”

It’s imperative, in my view, that Christians think theologically about the political options with which we are presented. If we have surrendered ourselves first and most fully to God, and if we have come to view our other allegiances, commitments, and loves in their proper place under the Lordship of Christ, the way we approach politics will look different than those who find their primary identity in a nation or a party or a class.

The bottom line is this: voting matters, and it matters why we vote as we do.

[Image credit: via aaronfreiwald.com]

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Repaso: Advent & excess, totem pole values, Egyptian Christians, religious lobbying, NGO business/military partnerships

1. Advent and excess
Today being Black Friday, Alissa Wilkinson shares some timely perspective on excess and the season we’re about to celebrate:

[E]xcess is only good if we have something to compare it to. Celebration in this world can only be a taste of what is to come in the resurrection; a grand and sumptuous supper makes us long for the final, unending Supper. But if we only practice excess, we come to deprive others of their needs. This is a tough concept for us Westerners, who can eat what we want, pretty much when we want it, buy something on credit if we need or want it badly enough, and rarely have to spend long periods of time with our desires unfulfilled. Fasting is a way for us to better appreciate the fulfilled desires through restraining ourselves. It’s a lot like when you were a child and asked your parents why it couldn’t be Christmas every day. The answer was not because Christmas is bad for us. It’s because if Christmas were every day, we wouldn’t appreciate it. We would grow weary of it. The magic would be gone.

2. Totem pole values
Steve Haas reflects on the iconic Native American totem poles throughout the Northwest which “make values visible” and asks what our totem poles would look like:

What if I cut down the massive cedar standing sentinel over our home, notching our own values into its fragrant bark? What legacy would I instill for both my family and future generations? Crowded by the competitive values of strength, smarts and speed, would the less dominant traits of love, mercy or reconciliation make it into the wood? What about compassion or grace, would they make the cut?

3. Largest Christian gathering in Egypt in 1,000 years
Andrew Jones, super-blogger from New Zealand, has a couple of interesting posts from time he recently spent in Egypt (where, incidentally, the #Jan25 revolution appears to still be underway). On 11/11/11, Jones joined 71,000 Egyptian Christians in an enormous cave church for what is apparently the largest such gathering in that country in a millennium. Here’s a fascinating video of the gathering that he posted:

4. Religious lobbying in DC
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has a new report saying that “religious groups spend $390 million a year to influence U.S. domestic and foreign policy.” The most common domestic issues these groups are pushing have to do with the relationship between church and state, civil rights for religious minorities, bioethics, and family/marriage. Meanwhile, religious freedom, human rights, debt relief, peace and democracy are the international issues these groups focus on.

5. NGOs and big business
Brendan May writes for Ethical Corporation that NGOs can have more influence when they work closely with large businesses, but that they also run the risk of “selling out.” He offers a blueprint for NGO-business partnerships and concludes:

Collaboration between NGOs and business is critical in the effort to tackle the planetary crisis. Engagement is essential, not least because government is so fundamentally useless on so much of the sustainability agenda.  But increasingly vocal questions about how engagement happens are risking a return to old debates about whether to engage at all. It’s up to the NGOs who choose to work with business to stop that happening.

6. Development and defense
Meanwhile, Bill Easterly warns against the dangers of US foreign aid being too closely tied to the defense department, arguing that public support for foreign aid has waned considerably as the relationship between aid and defense has become more cozy in recent years. He offers two points to help “salvage the future” of aid:

First, protect the aid that has been working against cuts, which should come instead from the areas not working. The current House proposal doesn’t get this elementary principle – aid to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq would be cut by 13%, but everything else would be cut by 23%. Second, recognise what the last decade taught us: there is actually a great divide separating development and defence. Announce that henceforward aid is for poverty relief and only for poverty relief, not for supporting military operations. Build a firewall between USAid and the defence department. Let defence run its programmes or counter-insurgency, but don’t be misled that this has anything to do with aid. American aid should concentrate on areas with a better track record – health, education, infrastructure, and clean water and sanitation – operating in societies where war, repression and corruption do not make it pointless for aid to operate.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!