Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Christian Lobbying II

It's sad to say that the abortion rights* group that Doug discusses below is supported by many parts of the mainline Protestant establishment, including my denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA. It's pretty well documented that dissatisfaction with the Washington political activities of agencies of the mainline denominations has been a source of great tension between the members in the pew and the denominational leadership. Currently, the added strains of fights over ordination standards are actually tearing the Episcopal and Presbyterian USA churches apart, with denominational leaders and individual congregations fighting over who controls church property if a congregation attempts to leave.

Believe it or not, there's a lot of economics behind all of this: principal/agent problems in hierarchies, rent seeking in non-profit organizations, optimal size of organizations, public choice issues about voting rules, and (in work I have done with two of my FSU colleagues) issues about the effects of organization rules that attempt to keep members from leaving. Our research has found that these rules are really quite counterproductive, even to the home organization.

As an economist who has studied these issues, I don't understand why Episcopal and Presbyterian leaders think it is a good idea to spend resources to make it harder for congregations to go their own way. Theologically speaking, when the world could only be made a better place by Christians putting more resources into orphanages, shelters, food relief, and so forth, the sight of us burning up such resources suing each other in (church and even secular) courts to determine who gets to keep the silver communion plates must be making Satan laugh out loud. My main hope now is that revolutions in communication and information will make these denominational lobbying groups as extinct as dinosaurs in the era of blogs and Facebook.

* I use this term specifically because it was actually used prior to the adoption of the more faith-friendly sounding term "reproductive choice".

No comments: