CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The following information should matter to the 70% of the U.S. population that still self-identifies as "Christian."
A person with an income of $25,000 a year in the U.S. lives on $68.49 a day. That's more than ten times the amount that 46% of the people in the world live on ($5.50 a day or less).
Although Americans are used to thinking of the "super rich" as the "rich," in fact, most Americans are the "regular rich" on a global scale.
Jesus and New Testament writers are not happy with the "rich," as shown in various verses, which is a problem for most people in the U.S. who self-identify as "Christian."
Jesus and New Testament writers state in other verses what the "rich" can do about the problem. Yet, Americans spend more on Easter candy ($2.6 billion in a year) than on a ten-year campaign for Bible translation to tell people about Easter ($1 billion).
Part of the reason most Christians in the U.S. have not addressed the problem of being Christian and being rich is that there's little understanding among church leaders in the U.S. about the potential to solve the problem. One side effect may be boredom with the church.
Christians who are the Super Rich, used to thinking on a larger scale, should be able to provide leadership for Christians who are the Regular Rich.
The deaths of children under five from simple causes is a global tragedy that experts say can be stopped. This ongoing selective genocide is a big enough problem that it would benefit from involvement of all Christians in the U.S., those who are Super Rich and those who are Regular Rich.
Mission Match® of empty tomb, inc., is offered as a tool that Christians who are Super Rich can use to mobilize more giving among the Regular Rich, and thus solve the problem of being Christian and being rich, even while helping, in Jesus' name, the children, their parents, their families, and their communities.
Are Christians in the U.S. in trouble?
And if they are, can Christians who are "super rich" provide leadership to help the "regular rich" solve their problem?
After a lot of research on both past and present giving patterns, and potential giving, empty tomb, inc., thinks the answer to both questions is Yes.
Three points explore the present problem facing Christians in America, and how to fix it.
- First: How American incomes compare to the rest of the world.
- Second: The trouble with what the Bible says about the place Christians in America hold in the world.
- Third: What can be done and who can lead towards a solution to the problem.
First: How American incomes compare to the rest of the world.
Most Americans think of the "super rich" as being the "rich." However, the average per capita Disposable (after-tax) Personal Income in 2017 was $44,110. Compare that to the income of 46% of the world who have an income of $2,007 or less. A person earning $25,000 a year in the U.S. averages $68.49 a day, 12 times the $5.50 or less a day that almost half the people in the world live on.
And that means most Americans are the "regular rich" in the world.
Here's another way to look at it. If 60% of Americans still claim to be "Christian," that group controls, through their incomes, an amount equal to the third largest Gross Domestic Product in the world, after the U.S. as a whole, and China, and before the far distant GDP of Japan.
Second: The trouble with what the Bible says about the place Americans hold in the world.
The Bible uses only one word to talk about the rich: "rich." There's no difference between "super rich" and "regular rich" -it's just "rich." And the Bible's view is likely not to be country-specific, but rather to look at the situation from a global perspective. So if Christians in America are among the "regular rich," then the following verses apply to those Christians, as well as Christians who are "super rich." Of course, if someone does not care about what the Bible says, then the verses don't matter. But Christians are supposed to care about the Bible. So, these verses sound like trouble for the vast majority of Christians in the U.S.
- "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! ... What is impossible with men is possible with God." Jesus quoted in Luke 18:23, 27.
- "Then he said, 'I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." Jesus in Luke 12:19-21.
- "You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter." James 5:5.
- "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction." 1 Timothy 6:9.
These verses describe the problems faced by the rich. However, there are other verses that point toward a positive direction in which the rich can go.
- "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Jesus in Matthew 6:20-21.
- "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." - Jesus in Luke 16:9.
- "By grace you have been saved, through faith ... created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:8, 10.
- "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." 1 Timothy 6:18-19
Third: What can be done and who can lead towards a solution to the problem.
A Positive Agenda for Affluence. The Bible seems to say that riches used selfishly are a problem for the rich person. But using riches to help others is a good thing, and even seems to hold future blessings for the rich person.
So if Christians in the U.S. do not spend generously on others, that's not good from a New Testament viewpoint. The solution is to increase giving to help others. But here is the problem: The trends in giving do not point in the direction of increasing help for others.
A Question: Give or Spend? People who attend church do give to charity. However, the amount they give to their churches has been going down over the years.
The annual State of Church Giving series published by empty tomb tracks church member giving. As a percent of per capita after-tax income, the amount given to churches has declined between 1968 and 2016 (the latest year available), from 3.02% to 2.17%.
What's more, the portion of donations going beyond the congregation for the larger mission of the church has gone down faster, 44% down between 1968 and 2016, than has the amount kept by the congregation to run its internal programs, 24% down between 1968 and 2016.
There are good things that could be done by Christians increasing their giving. For example, in 2008, Wycliffe Bible Translators started a push to raise $1 billion to make sure that people in every language have a Bible translation started by 2025.
Then there are the children under five around the world who are dying from simple causes. World leaders "promised" in 1990 and again in 2000 to decrease the number of little kids dying from various causes, like diarrhea or pneumonia. While progress has been made, goals have not been met. And 3,000 children a day are dying because of those missed goals. Estimates for additional annual spending needed to close the Promise Gap, the difference between the goal and the actual rate, range from a low amount of $5 billion to a high of $14 billion, to help churches reach out in Jesus' name and meet that goal.
Compare the $1 billion Bible translation campaign and $5-$14 billion to help the children, with ongoing spending in the U.S., as a way to help think about the priorities of Christians.
- Home coffee drinks: $9.4 billion.
- Super Bowl game-day parties: $14.1 billion
- Easter candy: $2.6 billion.
- Carbonated drinks in North America: $80.6 billion
The problem is not either/or in terms of spend on self or give to help others. Christians in America have enough for it to be both/and.
Invisible Potential. The giving potential levels among Christians are invisible. Whereas business leaders have had a vision for a $22 billion candy industry, there is no single enterprise-level mission outreach ($5 billion or more).
Consider one measure of giving potential among Christians in the U.S. Money sent to home countries by foreign-born people in the U.S. is called remittances. Native-born church members in the U.S. do not but could support global mission at the level of remittances sent by foreign-born people in 2016. In that case, there would have been an additional $368 billion available through churches in the U.S. for global needs. This calculation is not based on theory, but on the actual level of remittances sent, with the largest recipient countries being Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines.
Harvard economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, writing in 1958 about the failure of world leaders and economists to take into account the growing affluence in some countries, described their thinking as "uncorrected obsolescence." Today, church leaders seem to be defined by that same "uncorrected obsolescence." No large vision among church leaders is challenging the Super Rich or the Regular Rich to act on their potential.
As a result, a description of the church in England by former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey is easily applied to the church in the U.S. as well. People are not, according to Carey, mainly hostile to the church so much as bored by it.
Boredom may account for the increase in the number of people selecting "No Religion" on surveys, even though the majority of respondents still self-identify as "Christian" (from two-thirds to 70%). This view is supported by a comment from the General Social Survey: "Preferring no religion is not atheism which is still very rare; in 2014, just 3 percent of Americans said they did not believe in God" [emphasis in original].
A Role for the Leadership of Christians Who Are the Super Rich. Americans spend more on Easter candy ($2.6 billion in a year) than on a ten-year campaign for Bible translation to tell people about Easter ($1 billion). And while Super Bowl game-day parties attract $14 billion in spending, stopping the deaths each day of 3,000 children caught in the Promise Gap does not.
This situation could change if Christians who are Super Rich were to accept responsibility for leading the Regular Rich to set new priorities.
A Christian who is in the Regular Rich group does not worry about whether his/her Super Bowl game-day party will make a difference. But that same Christian may not donate to a cause because, "What difference will my $50 make in stopping global child deaths?"
As Walter Brueggemann wrote, "Whether we are liberal or conservative Christians, we must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God's abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity - a belief that makes us greedy, mean and unneighborly. We spend our lives trying to sort out that ambiguity."
Although it may seem strange, the Super Rich probably do not escape the tension between this fear of scarcity and an attraction to God's abundance. Yet, given the amount of resources they command, they are more used to the idea of making a bigger impact. So, Christians who are Super Rich could help Christians who are the Regular Rich see more possibilities that can be accomplished through giving. The Super Rich can help the Regular Rich grow in confidence that it is possible to make a difference.
The idea of providing leadership may take a changed mindset among the Christians who are Super Rich. Often, the Super Rich consider their individual behavior and personal responsibilities and preferences in making a donation to a particular cause. The invitation is being extended to Christians who are Super Rich to make a donation that would also generate increased giving among the Regular Rich as well.
It is true that matching gifts have been used in the past as a strategy by the Super Rich to generate gifts among the Regular Rich.
The current proposal from empty tomb, inc., invites the Super Rich to use their imaginations to do something of a magnitude not envisioned before. The resulting action would be on a scale both with the global need and also the larger potential of the Regular Rich.
The Need: Closing, in Jesus' name, the Promise Gap. In 1990 and 2000, world leaders agreed, and even "promised the world's children," to reduce the rate of deaths among children under age five (Under 5 Mortality Rate, U5MR) around the globe. By the goal date of 2015, progress had been made. But 40 countries were still behind the curve in meeting the goals set. As a result, 3,000 children are dying each day because the goals were not met. These 3,000 children are caught in what empty tomb calls the "Promise Gap": The difference between the goal set for the U5MR, and the actual U5MR.
This Promise Gap is evidence of selective genocide tolerated by the rest of the world. The deaths in these children are based on place of birth and income of parents. Unlike many social evils, there is no organized resistance to preventing these deaths. This horrendous situation continues largely through the negligence of those in other countries, including Christians in the U.S., who could prevent these deaths.
The trouble is that Christians in the U.S. have the potential to close, in Jesus' name, this Promise Gap.
The Super Rich can provide the vision casting to mobilize the Regular Rich to succeed in this matter of life and death. The task is one with a specific goal, that has been deemed doable by experts.
Using Mission Match® to Close the Promise Gap. There are various channels to address the Promise Gap. One available tool, Mission Match, has the potential to produce results at the broad global scale that is needed.
Gifts offered through Mission Match by Christians who are Super Rich could mobilize giving among the Regular Rich in two ways.
First, large gifts from the Super Rich could be accompanied by an invitation to the Regular Rich to give $50 a year to Mission Match as well. The Christians who are Super Rich could give confidence to the Regular Rich that both large and small gifts can make a difference.
Second, gifts to Mission Match are then offered as Matching Contributions to historically Christian congregations. These congregations apply to fund a mission project. The successful applications will be for mission projects that address a cause of under-five death in one of the 40 countries. The congregation commits to raise an amount equal to the Matching Contribution from individual giving within the congregation. So, of each gift to Mission Match, 85% is doubled and used directly in a project to help close, in Jesus' name, the Promise Gap.
Who are the Christians who can be called the "Super Rich"? Each year, Forbes magazine publishes a list of the richest people in the United States. In 2018, to make the list, a person needed a net worth of at least $2 billion. An analysis of the list indicates that these Super Rich people live in all four regions of the U.S. Given that a majority of people in the U.S. still self-identify as "Christian," it's reasonable to assume that at least one-third of the people on the list might self-identify as "Christian."
By one model, this third of the Super Rich list could contribute up to $9.6 billion a year themselves, or in combination with gifts from a large number of the Regular Rich at $50 a year. When 85% is matched by churches receiving Matching Contributions, the resulting $16.4 billion would be more than enough to speed up the Closing of the Promise Gap, saving more little kids from dying.
Helping Others in Jesus' Name Solves the Problem for the Rich. The Bible suggests that money without a positive agenda for its use becomes a problem for the rich who have it.
A large-scale effort of the size needed to actually solve a critical world tragedy can provide that positive agenda.
Christians who are Super Rich are in a position to cast the vision for the Christians who are the Regular Rich. The results will challenge and strengthen churches in the U.S. to increase their mission outreach. And the little children who are dying from simple causes, and their parents, families, and communities, will be helped in Jesus' name.
Riches can be a curse or, when used as intended by God, a blessing for all involved.
Christians who are Super Rich are invited to provide the positive agenda for affluence that will do so much good for so many.
To learn about Mission Match, visit missionmatch.org.
References and Resources
Mission Match. Mission Match® is a project of empty tomb, inc. Mission Match provides Matching Contributions to historically Christian congregations for specific mission projects. Since 2018, the focus has been on mission projects in the 40 countries that are behind the curve in lowering the under-5 mortality rate. Projects can focus on one of the 14 causes of death in these children. From 2002 through 2016, congregations could apply for Matching Contributions for any type of mission project. From 2002 through 2016, Mission Match provided 113 Matching Contributions for congregations in 23 states. The Matching Contributions totaled over $200,000, and that money was matched by funds raised within the congregations. Fifteen congregations applied more than once. These 15 congregations provided information that indicated the weighted average of spending on international missions as a portion of total congregational spending increased by 34%.
Estimates for Closing the Promise Gap by Reducing the Under-5 Mortality Rate:
Estimate of $5.1 billion more a year needed to Close the Promise Gap:
The figure of $5.1 billion more a year was cited in a 2006 Lancet article.
Jennifer Bryce, et al.; "Can the World Afford to Save the Lives of 6 Million Children Each Year?"; The Lancet, vol. 365; 6/25/2005; p. 2193; p. 1 of 1/11/2006 printout. Now available at: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673605667773/fulltext
The $5.1 billion figure may be low in 2019, but also may still be useful given one source for direct intervention costs in a paper that reviewed an initiative in Uganda to reduce child deaths. The study found that the "cost per averted death under-five was $4,237." Using that cost estimate, $5 billion a year in direct interventions could prevent the deaths of 1.18 million children under the age of five years, approximately the number of children in the "Promise Gap."
Martina Björkman Nyqvist, et al.; "Reducing Child Mortality in the Last Mile: A Randomized Social Entrepreneurship Intervention in Uganda"; April 2017; https://yanagizawadrott.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/livinggoods_april2017.pdf; 8/18/2018 download.
Estimate of $14 billion more a year needed to meet the 2015 goal for reducing the U5MR in all countries:
An article written in 2010 published by the World Health Organization considered progress as of 2010 in reducing the U5MR, and estimated the cost of needed increased efforts to meet the goal by 2015. The article estimated that by 2015, an additional $14 billion a year would be needed to meet the goal. Since progress was made on reducing the U5MR between 2010 and 2015, the $14 billion estimate might be considered at the higher end of the estimated additional annual amount needed.
Liselore van Ekdom, et al.; "Global Cost of Child Survival: Estimates from Country-Level Validation"; World Health Organization; 2/11/2011; https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/89/4/10-081059/en/; p. 9 of 3/31/2019 6:44 PM printout.
Uncorrected Obsolescence: John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society (New York: Mentor Books, 1976), p. 3.
Lord George Carey on Boredom with the Church:
"The viewpoint could be expressed in a variety of non-verbal ways: the shrug of indifference, the rolled eyes of embarrassment, the yawn of boredom.
"So many people do not see the average church as a place where great things happen ..."
John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor; "Christianity at Risk of Dying Out in a Generation, Warns Lord Carey;" The Telegraph, UK; 11/18/2013; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10458380/Christianity-at-risk-of-dying-out-in-a-generation-warns-Lord-carey.html; pp. 1, 2 of 11/26/2013 4:47 PM printout.
Walter Brueggemann on Scarcity and Abundance: Walter Brueggemann is an Old Testament scholar and professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA.
Walter Brueggemann; "The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity;" www.christiancentury.org; christiancentury.org-The liturgy of abundance the myth of scarcity.pdf; p. 5 of 8/27/2018 9:55 AM download.
Sources for "No Religion" Increasing:
A December 2016 Gallup poll found that although about 70% still identified as Christian, the percent of the population who attended a religious service in the previous week was 36%. Further, although 53% of the respondents thought religion was important in their lives, 72% thought religion was losing influence on American life.
Frank Newport; "Five Key Findings on Religion in the U.S.;" Gallup; 12/23/2016; https://news.gallup.com/poll/200186/five-key-findings-religion.aspx; pp. 1, 4-6 of 8/1/2018 11:26 AM printout.
An August 2018 Pew survey found the most common reason given for not attending religious services either occasionally or not at all, a response chosen by 37% of those surveyed, was "I practice my faith in other ways." In the group that indicated they do not go to church often or at all, and yet still indicated some religious commitment, over half self-identified as "Christian."
"Why Americans Go (and Don't Go) to Religious Services;" Pew Research Center, Religion & Public Life; 8/1/2018; http://www.pewforum.org/2018/08/01/why-americans-go-to-religious-services/; pp. 1, 2, 12 of 8/25/2018 2:54 PM printout.
Results from "174,485 interviews from ABC News and ABC News/Washington Post polls conducted by telephone from 2003 to 2017" found those who identified as "Christian" declined from 83% of the population in 2003 to 72% in 2017, with the major growth in the "No Religion" category, from 12% to 21%.
Allison De Jong; "Protestants Decline, More Have No Religion in a Sharply Shifting Religious Landscape;" ABC News; 5/10/2018; https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/protestants-decline-religion-sharply-shifting-religious-landscape-poll/story?id=54995663; pp. 3, 9 of 7/2/2018 3:54 PM printout.
The General Social Survey (GSS) "... has asked about religious preferences for forty-two years." In 2014, the GSS found that 21 percent of the population expressed a preference for "no religion," up from 8 percent in 1990. The GSS report noted, "Preferring no religion is not atheism which is still very rare; in 2014, just 3 percent of Americans said they did not believe in God" [emphasis in original].
Michael Hout, New York University & NORC, and Tom W. Smith, NORC; "Press Summary: Few Americans Affiliate with Organization Religions, Believe and Practice Unchanged: Key Findings from the 2014 General Social Survey;" NORC, University of Chicago; March 2015; http://www.norc.org/PDFs/GSS%20Reports/Gss_Religion_2014.pdf; p. 1 of 8/10/2018 9:41 AM printout.
A Public Religion Research Institute survey published in 2017 found that about two-thirds of Americans self-identified as Christian, while 24% indicated no affiliation with religion.
Daniel Cox, Robert P. Jones; "America's Changing Religious Identity;" Public Religion Research Institute; 9/6/2017; https://www.prri.org/reserch/American-religious-landscape-christian-religiously-unaffiliated/; p. 2 of 9/6/2017 5:44 PM printout.
A Model for Super Rich Giving to Help Close, in Jesus' name, the Promise Gap:
A model can be developed to show the potential among Christians who are Super Rich to lead out in helping, in Jesus' name, to close the Promise Gap, that is, meeting the goal set to reduce the global Under-5 Mortality Rate (U5MR). The leadership of Christians who are Super Rich could help mobilize the Regular Rich to contribute as well, and inspire churches to carry out related mission projects focused on the 14 causes of death in children under age five in 40 countries behind the curve in meeting the goal to reduce their U5MRs. The model uses the following calculations.
- With 70% of the U.S. population identifying as "Christian," the model uses a low figure of at least one-third of the people on the Forbes 400 list as potential leaders for the effort to close the Promise Gap.
- The total 400 list had a net worth of $2.89 trillion in 2018. One percent of the total group's wealth would be $28.9 billion. For one-third of the people on the list, therefore, 1% of their wealth would be $9.6 billion.
- Assuming income produced on the wealth at 8% a year, the income of the whole group would total $231 billion a year. With a working estimate of one-third of the list being potential leaders for closing the Promise Gap, that third's combined income would be $77.1 billion. This one-third group, giving 12.5% of their income, would generate $9.6 billion in gifts out of their current income, which is equal to 1% of their wealth, to provide leadership to help close the Promise Gap.
If the Christians who are Super Rich were to encourage many Christians who are the Regular Rich to give a gift annually of $50 as well, less money would be needed from the Super Rich set. When 85% of the $9.6 billion raised is offered as Matching Contributions, churches can apply for the money. Each congregation would commit to raising, from individual giving, an amount equal to the Matching Contribution. These churches will contain Regular Rich as well as Super Rich people who contribute to the churches' funds to be matched. When the amount of the Matching Contribution is matched by the congregations, the result would be $16.4 billion available for mission projects that address one of the 14 causes of death in children under age 5 in one of 40 countries. That amount is at the higher end of the estimated annual amount needed to Close the Promise Gap and to reach the U5MR goal set by world leaders.
World Poverty Data:
The World Bank; "Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2018: Piecing Together the Poverty Puzzle;" 2018; https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/30418/9781464813306.pdf?sequence=34&isAllowed=y; pp. 6, 69 of 4/1/2019 printout.
Verses are quoted from the New International Version.
SOURCE empty tomb, inc.