Thursday, October 12, 2017

Navel Gazing

My denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, has a PR wing, for lack of a better term. It's called NCN News and generally they put out some really good stuff. The people there work hard and I appreciate their effort.

Way back in the dark ages, when I was in seminary, I worked for Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, another arm of the denomination that coordinates all kinds of community ministry around the world. It's also the entity that helps directly in times of disaster (and we've had a lot of disasters lately, so if you still have more to give - - is a great place to do it). Anyway, I found myself in a position to exorcise a pet peeve of mine.

When NCN News covered a disaster event, the accompanying story usually just described the Nazarenes and Nazarene congregations affected by the disaster. This makes sense on one level, since its news specifically for Nazarenes about Nazarenes - however, in the burgeoning internet age, Nazarenes were certainly not the only audience. It struck me as a bit short sighted to not include the total number of displaced, dead, or injured people along with our Nazarene numbers. Others agreed. It was a quick fix and I think it helps us keep focus on the larger picture of need and response in a disaster (after all, most of the people NCM helps aren't Nazarene anyway).

In a related case, over the past few years there's been no small amount of controversy over a directive from the President regarding salaried employees and working-hour requirements. I don't want to bog us down in detail, but the basic gist is that some companies were giving people titles and putting them on salary in order to work them more hours with no real responsibility that might traditionally accompany a salaried position - think assistant manager at [insert fast food chain here] working 80 hours a week for $30,000 a year (which is about $7.50 an hour).

The new rule raised the minimum salary for exempt employees (workers not eligible for overtime) to somewhere around $48,000 a year - meaning people making under that amount, even if they are salaried, are still owed overtime pay. Now pastors are always overworked and underpaid, but the federal government has always assumed those ridiculous working conditions come with the job (since it is a divine calling and all) - so clergy haven't been included in any of these rules.

A court recently knocked down the raise in minimum salary and the battle will undoubtedly continue.

My beef was with how the Church of the Nazarene talked about this rule and it's journey through the legal system. It's obviously of import, since congregations are typically cash strapped and do often rely on salaried employees, even beyond clergy. I'm not entirely sure if this was something NCN News covered themselves or relied on the pensions or finance departments to keep tabs on - regardless, whenever the subject came up, it was always as bad news. The raise in minimums will hurt churches! Look out for this new rule! It may not have been so overt, but the negative coverage was always right there under the surface.

When the rule was halted by the courts, we got this piece: - a reflection of relief, if nothing else. It just struck me as a little self-interested, especially for a denomination built upon work with and among the poor, that the end of a rule that would bring much needed financial help to hard-working, but low income people would be met with relief.

As I said, this wouldn't really apply to clergy, so those affected would be office staff or custodians, perhaps daycare staff (I'm not entirely up on the specifics). I can't imagine the population of people who are both salaried employees AND regularly putting in more than 40 hours a week as non-clergy in the employ of a Nazarene congregation is all that big. It's certainly dwarfed by the many people this rule was designed to help. (And it avoids entirely the question of why congregations would be upset paying low-income employees for overtime they earned anyway!)

I feel a little bad using this as an example, but I do think it's a good one. One of the great problems for Christians is just how insulated we tend to be. We get so caught up in the programs and inner-workings of our congregations and our denominations that we're not engaged (or not as engaged as we should be) with the world around us. I know employees of a denominational headquarters are far more involved with the inner workings by necessity, but there's also a responsibility for leadership, for pointing us out of our bubble and towards the needs of the world.

We get too caught up navel-gazing and we miss the world we're called to be deeply invested in. We spend our time trying to be different, but we end up just being separate. We can do better - all of us - and I hope we will.

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