Focus on the Family pulls back
James Dobson's Focus on the Family has announced that it is eliminating 100 positions from its staff of 1,300 (that's about 8 percent). Of those positions, however, 66 are unfilled, so the ministry is only laying off 34 employees. They are the first layoffs in the organization's 26-year history.
The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that the layoffs were "low to midlevel positions across the ministry." Some employees have already left the ministry after being informed of the layoffs this week. Focus spokesman Paul Hetrick says that some of the laid off employees will be considered for open positions the ministry didn't cut.
Focus on the Family is also cutting $5 million from its $130 million budget this year. "Some programs will be eliminated or drastically reduced in scope," Dobson said in a January 30 memo to his staff, but he didn't say which ones.
The organization will also cut merit pay increases and travel, drop the frequency of Focus on the Family magazine to eight issues a year (it's now at 10), and eliminate an office cafeteria and annual employee picnic.
"What we are thankful for at Focus on the Family is so far, we have not had to undergo or take drastic measures," Hetrick told the Gazette. "This has impacted us, and I don't mean to make light of it. But it has impacted us in a lighter way than it has other nonprofit organizations."
That's true to a large extent. The Luis Palau Evangelistic Association also recently announced layoffs, for example. But the Gazette's religion reporter, Eric Gorski, notes that two other major ministries based in Colorado Springs—Compassion International and the Navigators—are seeing growth.
Focus has been hurting over the last several years. Donations have dropped 3 percent since 1999, and in December 2000 the ministry was $2.5 million in the hole (its budget was then $135 million) before year-end checks and responses to Dobson's pleas for cash brought it back into the black.
In today's Focus on the Family broadcast (RealAudio), the ministry rules out one way of making up the difference—asking for donations from lottery winners like Andrew J. Whittaker Jr., who promised to tithe his $314.9 million Powerball lottery winnings.
"I turned to [my wife] Shirley when I heard that and I said, 'What would we do if that man chose Focus on the Family?'" Dobson said. "And we had to agree that no matter how much it was we wouldn't take it. We'd turn it down, because it's based on the exploitation of the poor."
"That's important for our listeners to hear, because as we've said recently a few times, it's been tight financially around here, and I'm sure that there are ministries that would be tempted to take that money and put it to seemingly good use," said cohost John Fuller.
Dobson agreed: "And many ministries are struggling. Ours is one of them, but some even more than we are."
"It is fitting that we have a National Prayer Breakfast. It is the right thing to do, because this is a nation of prayer," Bush said. "I hear all kinds of things on the ropelines, but … the comment I hear the most from our fellow citizens, regardless of their political party or philosophy, is, 'Mr. President, I pray for you and your family, and so does my family.' That's what I hear. I turn to them without hesitation and say, 'It is the greatest gift you can give anybody, is to pray on their behalf.'
"I especially feel that because I believe in prayer. I pray. I pray for strength, I pray for guidance, I pray for forgiveness. And I pray to offer my thanks for a kind and generous Almighty God."
It's unclear whether other addresses from the National Prayer Breakfast, including the main speech by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, will appear online. If they're posted, we'll link to them here later.
Politics and law:
- Utah lawmaker pushes mandatory pledge bill | Measure to require weekly recitations at secondary schools would allow students to opt out of oath only if they have parental permission (Associated Press)
- Experts: Religion affects foreign policy | Part of growth is more activism, part is just more noticing it (UPI)
- City considers taxing nonprofits | More then 25% of Spartanburg city property is owned by nonprofits (WHNS, Greenville, SC)
- Bishop bars priests from partisan politics | Anglican Bishop of Lokoja, the Rt Rev George Bako, warns against financial motivation (This Day, Lagos, Nigeria)
- In God's Name | When leaders say they're pro-family and Christian, look for the devil in the details (David Schimke, City Pages, Minneapolis)
- Ohio Amish in quandary on road repairs | Amish residents in northeast Ohio think it's only fair they chip in to fix roads torn up by their horse-drawn carriages, but Ohio law prevents local governments from accepting donations (Associated Press)
- EU divided over invoking name of God | EU officials said Wednesday the draft charter is not likely to mention God directly. They also said the text could be changed (Associated Press)
- Archbishop of Canterbury sparks asylum row | Rowan Williams said that he supported the detention of asylum seekers (The Scotsman)
- Also: Archbishop steps into asylum debate (BBC | video)
First Amendment and religious discrimination:
- Federal judge, as expected, reverses order on Mormon plaza | Utah court was required to vacate its earlier ruling after 10th Circuit panel decided that church's speech restrictions violated First Amendment (Associated Press)
- Students trying to form clubs have free speech, law on their side | School administrators in Colorado, Texas prove attacks on First Amendment can come from both ends of the ideological spectrum (Charles Haynes, Freedom Forum)
- Firing of Muslim pilot was unfair, agency says | Ruling allows man to sue airline (San Jose [Calif.] Mercury News)
- Jail drops prayer policy aiding Christians only | The Orange County Jail has nixed a policy of rewarding inmates who attended religious services with time off their sentences because the rule did not apply to all prisoners (The Orlando Sentinel)
War with Iraq:
- Anti-war Christians gather in Berlin (BBC)
- Howard ambushed at church with sermons on Iraq | Attending the traditional Christian service to commemorate the opening of Parliament, Howard was forced to sit through a sermon that implicitly reproached him for deploying troops to the Middle East without the Australian public's approval (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)
- 'Pacem in Terris,' and the debate over it, resonate again | The drama now being played out on the world stage necessarily draws attention to John XXIII's plea for the evolution of a universal public authority commensurate to the problem of menacing armaments and the promotion of that "universal common good." (Peter Steinfels, The New York Times)
- Norwegian state church leaders oppose war in Iraq | Leaders of the state Church of Norway released a statement Tuesday calling any war in Iraq "unethical, illegitimate, and unwise." (Associated Press)
- A war unjustly labeled | The Bush administration may have brought upon itself unnecessary difficulties with the faith community when it floated the notion of a "pre-emptive attack" and a "preventative war" against Iraq, prominent U.S. theologians suggested Wednesday (UPI)
- Patience and wisdom sorely needed for this grave decision | Christianity allows war to be just, but demands fairness from the agents of God's righteousness (Peter Jensen, The Sydney Morning Herald)
- Catholic scholar going to Rome to make a case for war | The trip by Michael Novak, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, has generated fierce opposition from American Catholic leaders (The Washington Post)
- Campolo calls evangelicals to 'face facts' about Middle East | "Unless we stand up and speak for justice on behalf of the Palestinians, we are going to lose the missionary struggle in the next hundred years" (Canadian Christianity)
- The White House gets religion on AIDS in Africa | President Bush gave the nation a moral crusade last week when he said he wants to increase American spending on global AIDS to $15 billion over the next five years (The New York Times)
- President promotes famine relief in radio address | Concentrated focus on Africa reflects the influence of evangelical Christians, many of whom have ties to missionary work in Africa and form a key base of political support for Bush (Associated Press)
- Church responds to challenge posed by AIDS orphan crisis | The AIDS Program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia donated school fees and uniforms worth N$15 000 to orphans and other vulnerable children in the Rehoboth area on Monday (The Namibian, Windhoek)
- Faith-based initiatives quietly lunge forward | Proposals on drug-program funding and religious buildings raise civil libertarians' ire (The Christian Science Monitor)
- Bush causes needless rancor with funds for religious charities | The most effective approach is creating tax incentives for private giving (Editorial, The Detroit News)
Interfaith relations and other religions:
- Baptist's sermon denounces Islam | In a sermon Sunday, Baptist minister Dr. Bob Bevington said he did not believe Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and compassion (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
- Evangelist upsets Muslims | Moody Adams told a church congregation here Sunday that the holy book of Islam instructs followers to kill nonbelievers (Sarasota [Fla.] Herald-Tribune)
- Jewish community to counter evangelistic efforts | Here, as in other American cities, Jews are taking steps to thwart Christian missionaries targeting them. In Houston, they also are girding for an upcoming Jews for Jesus campaign aimed at the city's Jewish community (Houston Chronicle)
- Christian charity, but for a Mosque? | The Episcopal Diocese of New York raised money along with New York Muslims to rebuild an Afghan mosque, but criticism shows that it is not always so simple to do a good deed (The New York Times)
- The GOP's man on the Moon | Unification Church leader and self-proclaimed Messiah builds legacy with support from the Bush administration (Bill Berkowitz, WorkingForChange.com)
- Discoveries could rank with biggest biblical finds | Further analysis is needed on two artifacts in Israel (Associated Press)
- Not a shard of truth | Sensational claims have been made about bones found in Qumran, but no, this is not John the Baptist, say the heads of the dig (Ha'aretz, Tel Aviv)
Prayer and spirituality:
- I've sinned, and can't wait to repent | In the 10 years since I became a member of the Orthodox Church, that's been the biggest surprise to me: the unfolding joy of repentance (Frederica Mathewes-Green, The Dallas Morning News)
- Ancient way of praying resonates with today's hurried Christians | Commonly referred to as ''centering prayer,'' this form of contemplation is being revived nationwide by those seeking to dig deeper into their faith (The Miami Herald)
- Sharpton to preach at St. Sabina | First time he'll speak to a Catholic church during Sunday services (Chicago Sun-Times)
- Tariq Aziz to meet Pope John Paul in mid-February | Will travel to Vatican on Valentine's Day (Reuters)
- Vatican gives two thumbs up to 'Potter' | "I don't see any, any problems in the Harry Potter series," says Don Peter Fleetwood (Associated Press)
- Vatican succumbs to Harry Potter's spell (Reuters)
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