Financing Churches in Slovakia: Debate and Dilemma
by Lubomir Martin Ondrasek, special contributor
A fairly large portion of the Slovak public believes that an inordinately important concern of churches — especially the dominant Roman Catholic Church — is to pursue their economic interest and extend political influence. As a result, Slovak churches face a serious challenge: In the process of negotiations with the government concerning economic security, the decline of trust could turn into a full-blown crisis of confidence, with possibly irreversible consequences for churches.
Under the current system, the state pays the wages of the clergy, even though it does not regulate the number of clergy hired each year. Over the last decade, state expenditures for registered churches that have exercised their legal right to receive funding (13 out of 18) have more than doubled. Yet, in order not to be viewed as interfering with the church’s internal affairs and thus compromising religious freedom, the state has not tried to influence policies regarding the church and its clergy.
Changing the system of direct state financing of churches and religious societies is currently the most pertinent and widely discussed issue concerning state-church relations in Slovakia. The present system of financing of churches and religious societies is problematic and untenable in the long run, but the absence of social consensus and political will has precluded its replacement with a more appropriate model. The law that governs the financing — passed shortly after the forced nationalization of church property by the Communist Party — has been in effect since 1949, though the model of direct state support of churches stretches back to the eighteenth century. This long history indicates that any fundamental change in the financing model, which would be derived from the doctrine of strict separation of church and state, is unrealistic and, to many Slovaks, also undesirable.
In February 2011, Daniel Krajcer, the Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic, met with representatives of the registered churches, taking the first step toward fulfilling the government’s commitment, in cooperation with the churches, to “open an all-society dialogue on the problematic issues of funding the churches.” This meeting represents an official attempt to identify and implement a mutually suitable financing model. Although there is no guarantee that this effort will prove more successful than previous attempts, both the state and the churches are better equipped to bring this task to fruition than ever before. Considering the social, religious, and political contexts surrounding the debate, it may be several years before a sufficiently broad consensus is reached and a new model of financing takes effect.
Recent discussions indicate that Slovakia will not indiscriminately copy foreign financing models, even though these models — especially the European ones — are being carefully considered. Most likely, the state will continue to subsidize religious schools, restoration and preservation of church buildings that represent national cultural heritage, wages of clergy serving in the armed forces, and various public benefit activities for the foreseeable future.
The new model will probably affect the two most controversial aspects of the current system of financing: clergy salaries and financial support for the operational costs of denominational headquarters. Undoubtedly, Slovak churches will have to rely more heavily on self-financing, but their revenue will likely continue to be indirectly supplemented by the state through a church tax or tax assignation.
Since the model of financing churches through a church tax (i.e., an additional tax imposed by the state on believers) is unpopular in Slovakia, its establishment would almost certainly lead to an outflow of members from traditional churches, as recently witnessed in Germany and Austria. Thus, the most feasible model appears to be tax assignation. In this case, every citizen would be required to designate a specific percentage of their income tax to one of the recognized churches or other previously approved cultural or charitable organizations.
Though the Slovaks’ trust of the institutional church seems to be gradually declining, they are not withdrawing their church affiliation, as has happened in some Western European countries. However, the Slovak churches must now realize that the challenge is not only economic but also ethical.
About the image: The Catholic church tower in Bratislava, Slovakia. (photo: Riviera Kid/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
American Christians Believe Church Teachings Contribute to Negative Messages of Gay and Lesbian People
by Anne Breckbill, associate web developer
Our recent show on civility with Evangelical leader Richard Mouw elicited many impassioned responses from our listeners, especially on his comments about homosexuality. Some questioned whether Mouw can truly strike a civil tone and see LGBT people as “a work of art by the God whom I worship” while still condemning homosexuality as a sin and opposing laws that would grant the same rights to same-sex couples as heterosexual couples currently receive.
Last Thursday, the Public Religion Research Institute released findings from a poll showing that two-thirds of Americans see a connection between the negative messages that come out of places of worship and the suicide incidence among LGBT youth. The pie chart above illustrates how Americans view the relationship between negative religious messages about homosexuality and the incidence of gay suicides.
This same poll shows that less than one in five Americans believe churches have done a good job dealing with homosexuality. Who feels that they do the best job in handling this issue? I found those results particularly interesting:
“Of all religious groups, white evangelicals are most likely to give their own church high marks for handling the issue of homosexuality. Three-quarters of white evangelicals give their church an “A” (48%) or “B” (27%). Among white mainline Protestants and Catholics, only about 4-in-10 give their church an “A” or “B.” Catholics were most likely to give their churches negative marks, with nearly one-third giving their churches a “D” (15%) or an “F” (16%).
If you’re interested, you can view the topline questionnaire on the PRR website.
The Nashville Flood: “Our Eyes Being Directed Toward God”
Colleen Scheck, senior producer
“Would one of you be willing to blog about the flood in Tennessee/Nashville? I read a poignant tweet last night in which the person was begging the media to cover what has happened (the flood) rather than what might have happened (NY car bomb). And we also received this tweet from a follower, @bigjohnscott: @softweets checkout @pwilson in Nashville & what churches across the country are doing fighting the flood. Sounds like an incredible story.”
I scheduled an interview with Pete Wilson (download mp3 of unedited interview), senior pastor of Nashville’s Cross Point Community Church, for Thursday morning, only to learn that morning that I had been “bigfooted” by CNN’s Anderson Cooper (happens all the time). But Pete and I still had a chance to speak yesterday about his reflections on the devastating floods in Tennessee and the relief efforts he’s organized through his church.
With their permission, we’ve produced this multimedia package pairing our interview with photos from this past week posted on Cross Point Church’s Flickr page. We’d love to get feedback and thoughts.
Kitchen Table Thoughts on a Windy City Event
» download (mp3, 90:47)
Colleen Scheck, Producer
Me again, with another update on the many adventures of Krista Tippett this month. Last week, Krista traveled to Chicago for a live event at Fourth Presbyterian Church. Here, the tables were turned as Interfaith Youth Core’s Eboo Patel asked Krista questions about the program and about
religious religion and ethics in our time. Our events coordinator and her daughter sat at their kitchen table in Minneapolis listening to the online stream provided by our station partner, WBEZ, and wrote the next day:
“Wow…My daughter and I were the listeners at the kitchen table Eboo described, and we loved every minute of it….This broadcast was good radio. Highlights: hearing a city’s sirens in the background during Adam’s intro, really feeling the audience’s attentiveness, Eboo mentioning Wilco, and quoting Tony Campolo, who is quoting Huck Finn about being right in the heart vs. right in the head, Krista’s senstive answer to the Fort Hood question, Krista’s explanation of verse plucking, spiritual technologies and the body, Eboo praising Speaking of Faith as creating a ‘community of discourse.’ Great interview, great Q&A….”
We’re pleased to bring you the audio of that event for your kitchen table (or podcast while you workout) listening. And, for those of you who prefer a Twitter recap, direct from our managing producer, who attended in person:
- Krista and Kate are in Chi-town for event—7PM, Monday, 4th Church, w/Eboo Patel. Come! Windy here. Oh yeah. The Windy City. KM
8:38 PM Nov 15th
- @Lthemick V. Funny. Spell check is dangerous.
9:06 PM Nov 15th in reply to Lthemick
- Krista w/Eboo, speaking with staff at Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago. Tonight’s event is at 7 at 4th Church. Come! http://yfrog.com/edt53j
10:47 AM Nov 16th
- 4th Presbyterian Church, Chicago. http://yfrog.com/4jt5rj
4:16 PM Nov 16th
- We’re told to plan on a potential crowd of 800 tonight in downtown Chicago. Can’t be here? Join us online. 7 PM CST: http:/bit.ly/2kUOAY
4:43 PM Nov 16th
- OK, try that link again. Trent has the B Team on location tonight, poor guy. 7PM Chicago time. Krista & Eboo. http://bit.ly/2kUOAY
4:48 PM Nov 16th
- @katemoos (my lovely boss) is still gettin’ the hang of this Internet thing-a-mabob. Here’s the link to the live audio: http://bit.ly/33oiUy
5:23 PM Nov 16th
- BTW, Krista’s live conversation in Chicago with Eboo Patel starts at 7 pm Central tonight: http://bit.ly/33oiUy
5:28 PM Nov 16th
- John Buchanan welcomes the assembled to 4th Church. http://yfrog.com/7hi6pj
6:04 PM Nov 16th
- For those listening to live stream, send in your questions and I’ll be glad to include some!
6:08 PM Nov 16th
- The church is packed. 700? Maybe 800! http://yfrog.com/bel85j
6:11 PM Nov 16th
- Krista says when she left home for school, there was no space for religion in her new context. She became involved in geopolitics. Berlin.
6:12 PM Nov 16th
- Breaking: Eboo & Krista were both born on the day the Berlin Wall fell. November 9. Wow.
6:14 PM Nov 16th
- KT: If I was going to be religious again I was going to have to be able to bring my mind to it. http://yfrog.com/5al2uej
6:17 PM Nov 16th
- KT cites Bonhoeffer: “Religionless Christianity.” The church had become so corrupted. People are rediscovering virtue and taking it back.
6:19 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo: who made a difference in the 20th century? People of faith. Gandhi. Dorothy Day. Martin Luther King.
6:20 PM Nov 16th
- I felt public radio was smart about everything else but religion was a black hole.—KT
6:23 PM Nov 16th
- Because it was so important and because journalism had gotten religion so wrong we had to work that much harder to get it right.-KT
6:25 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo: Talk about speaking of faith as an act if theology.
6:25 PM Nov 16th
- KT: No one can be a Niebuhr in our age. Speaking of Faith goes beyond religion. It may be scientists. Police. How do we hold the sacred.
6:28 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo cites Wilco: Theologians, they don’t know nothing ‘bout my soul.
6:29 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo: if there is a countercultural media figure it is you. SoF does’t do news stories.
6:34 PM Nov 16th
- Webers to let the initial outrage of the news work itself out. Then we circle back.
6:36 PM Nov 16th
- KT: we covered the issue of torture. But we had to find out how to get at it. Not the question, does it work? We found the voice.
6:38 PM Nov 16th
- KT: when monks in Burma marched, we found Ingrid Jordt. And ineeded to know what that meant. 6:39 PM Nov 16th
- Sorry for the slow down. Listener questions up next.
6:54 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo asked about Fort Hood. Krista says we can only approach that event with deep perspective. Be appalled at violence and grieve.
6:58 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo what is the sow doing for your grandpa’s mind?
7:00 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo: science And religion? Krista I have a book out in March, Einsteins God…
7:04 PM Nov 16th
- From theback of the church. http://yfrog.com/j7ac3ej
7:08 PM Nov 16th
- Does amateur theology water it down? KT says it can. But many great thinkers may be unaffiliated with tradition.
7:10 PM Nov 16th
- There is spiritual but not religious but for many it is fluid.
7:12 PM Nov 16th
- Why do we need a God? We turn to at only certain times? KT: this is true.But. We also rarely choose to stand in the presence of frailty.
7:14 PM Nov 16th
- KT: I look at it both ways. I’mfascinated by the vastly different vocabularies.
7:15 PM Nov 16th
- How do we not demonize the other in our own tradition?
7:15 PM Nov 16th
- KT: That’s hard. It’s harder to be compassionTe to your cousin who disagrees about abortion or gay marriage.
7:17 PM Nov 16th
- People make breakthroughs when they humanize their interaction.
7:18 PM Nov 16th
- Oh boy. That was unexpected.
7:21 PM Nov 16th
- Does this work lead you to hope or despair?
7:28 PM Nov 16th
- Kt: we are bombarded by images and violence. I want to shine a light on widom, voices that are nourishing. Ian looking for hope.
7:29 PM Nov 16th
- But it requires you to look.
7:30 PM Nov 16th
- Even with our resouces I have no idea that something is happening that might bring hope.
7:31 PM Nov 16th
- Eboo: you have created a club of “lookers for hope,” Thanyou!
7:32 PM Nov 16th
- Debrief. Yay! Thanks!
7:53 PM Nov 16th
- @evaottesmith We’d love to come. Someday!
10:26 PM Nov 16th in reply to evaottesmith
- @HeyToepfer Not sure yet. Chicago Public Radio was recording. I’ll (@trentgilliss) get the details + let everyonee when it’s ready.
5:48 AM Nov 17th in reply to HeyToepfer
- @akdennis Our managing producer was live-tweeting from Chicago in which Eboo Patel was interviewing Krista: http://bit.ly/33oiUy. Sorry.
9:51 AM Nov 17th
- Leaving Chicago. Krista reading Agatha Christie. Thank you every body!! http://yfrog.com/0zhf8wj
3:05 PM Nov 17th
Repossessing Virtue: Khalid Kamau on Gaining Time and Community in the Black Church
» download (mp3, 18:11)
Nancy Rosenbaum, Production Assistant
When I started working with Speaking of Faith in January, Trent, our online editor, asked me to read through a thick stack of listener e-mails that had flowed into our inbox after we broadcast “Repossessing Virtue: Parker Palmer on Economic Crisis, Morality, and Meaning”.
SOF producers had already started reaching out to past guests of the show to engage them in conversation about the moral, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of the economic downturn. We wanted to get listeners into the mix of the conversation.
I spent a few quiet winter days in my cubicle with a highlighter pen, reading the 100+ responses we had received. People wrote in with all kinds of insights and reflections — from the deeply personal and specific to more theoretical interpretations of the economic collapse, its causes, and its implications.
When I read this essay by Khalid Kamau in New York City, I knew immediately that I wanted to talk to him. I wrote on the page “I like this one a lot” and gave it a little star.
You see the theme of community keeps coming up in the conversations we’ve been having with past guests of the show and others through our continuing Repossessing Virtue series. And while living more deeply and deliberately in community sounds good at first pass, it can be complicated and fraught. My own recent-ish experiences living with roommates is a reminder of this.
Khalid nails this complexity in a very personal story he wrote about baking a cake for his parents as a kid. I’m not going to give away the guts of the story; you should hear him tell it. But suffice to say that Khalid’s received some confusing messages growing up about what it means to ask a neighbor for help. To this day, he says he won’t knock on a neighbor’s door to borrow eggs or milk.
I’m excited to share Khalid’s story with you as well as the conversation we had about how he’s experiencing the economic downturn. Unlike others we’ve spoken to, Khalid was laid off from his job a few months ago. When he was working, Khalid says he was always busy, a frenetic New Yorker (I used to be one of those too). Now he’s using this new-found expanse of time to volunteer, pray, reflect, and simply do nothing.
This is the one of the first in a series of listener conversations we’ll be featuring online and in an upcoming radio program slated for broadcast in May. We’re approaching this as a creative experiment so please let us know what you think.
Producing “Presence in the Wild”
by Colleen Scheck, producer
I love this week’s program with Kate Braestrup, chaplain to the game warden service in Maine. Simply, her practical theology just makes sense to me — a daily translation of spirituality into caring, useful, deliberate action. And I’m glad we were able to add a Unitarian Universalist voice to the many diverse religious perspectives we delve into, just in the way we like to, exploring that perspective through a person’s “lived theology” (Krista Tippett phrase).
This was one of our programs that came together randomly and quickly. Krista saw a reference to Braestrup’s memoir a few months back, and she was curious about her story and her journey to Unitarian Universalism. We got a copy of the book, and as I read it I was immediately absorbed by its reality and humor, and by Braestrup’s wisdom, searching, compassion, and gutsy movement between grief and hope.
We booked the interview, grateful that our guest was willing to drive almost two hours from her small coastal hometown to Portland, Maine, so we could record her conversation with Krista via ISDN (the best broadcast-quality audio connection possible). Right after the interview, we decided it would be a good balance to the other voices, viewpoints, and topics we’ve done in recent weeks, so we front-burnered it into production. You’ve perhaps read other producers’ accounts of how some shows take time to find the right voice or precise approach, brewing like sun tea to get the best flavor. Others are like good espresso — best when ground fresh and served immediately. To me, Kate Braestrup is like that fine espresso, giving me a jolt of optimism and inspiration. (Full disclosure: I don’t drink coffee, but I was a barista for a short time).
We edited, wrote, listened, edited again, tossed around titles, planned content for the Web site. Mitch took cues from the interview and laid in Cole Porter music, but he wouldn’t give in to the “Sweet Home Alabama” reference near the end. And we laughed questioningly at Kate Braestrup’s description of a t-shirt one cop wore in a D.C. bar crammed with law enforcement officers — words I’m sure have never before been uttered on a Speaking of Faith program. Not suitable for radio, so you’ll have to listen to the unedited interview to hear them.
I exit this program with a new appreciation for the work of law enforcement officers of all kinds who are theologians in their own way, as Braestrup describes:
“Law enforcement officers, like all human beings, are presented with grand questions about life’s meaning and purpose. They consider the problem of evil, the suffering of innocents, the relationships between justice and mercy, power and responsiblity, spirit and flesh. They ponder the impenetrable mystery of death. Cops, in short, think about the same theological issues seminary students research, discuss, argue, and write papers about, but a cop’s work lends immediacy and urgency to such questions. Apart from my familiarity with and affinity for police culture, I was sure working with cops would take me right up to where the theological rubber meets the road.”
How Great Thou Art
Maria Montello, guest author
Editor’s note: Our parent organization, American Public Media (APM), is a large and diverse organization. Maria is the manager of software development for the company. She’s a fan of SOF who travels extensively and is planning an introspective journey to myriad spiritual sites around the world. We invited her to contribute to SOF Observed on occasion and reflect as she listens to Krista’s interviews and works with us on upcoming projects.
As SOF staff pore over hundreds of responses to the audience query about Catholic identity and we IT folks try to envision a way to capture that diversity in an online space, I thought about my own relationship with the Catholic Church. How would I answer that query? Has the archdiocese’s cracking down on my small community (The Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul recently issued letters to area parishes forbidding practices such as communal penance as a sacrament and allowing lay people to preach during Mass. My parish, St. Frances Cabrini Church, was among them.) tainted my relationship with the Church? Why do I still show up?
A few weeks ago I returned from gallivanting around that splendid place of my ancestry — Italy. My Italian companions and I toured through Tuscany and quickly came to understand the three essential components of a Tuscan village: hill, wall, church. Just as my pores exude of garlic after some crostini con pancetta, so too does Italy’s rich art, architecture, and traditions of the Catholic Church.
Despite my friends’ vitriolic commentaries about the Church as an institution, it was in the churches that we spent hours — our necks craned back to witness salvation history played out in frescoes dating from the fifteenth century.
In The Spirituality of Parenting, last week’s SOF guest, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, spoke of religion as a container for spiritual experience. What better place, for me, than a church — the physical manifestation of this container — to hearken back to that original experience in one of the best ways we know how: through art.
As we stood together marveling at the vaulted ceilings, Corinthian pillars and walls of light, I’d like to think we shared a similar sentiment: “I’m glad to have shown up.”