Faith: March 2009 Archives

Tulsa Teachers Credit Union, one of the area's largest thrift institutions, has been running radio ads lately about their humble origins -- a cigar box in the desk drawer of a Central High School teacher, as teachers pooled funds to help one another meet their financial goals.

In the US, the cigar box approach to finance is long gone, and it's hard to tell credit unions apart from banks these days, but the idea of mutual finance on a small scale is alive and well in the developing world, and it's being used to lift people out of poverty in a way that's sustainable over the long run. The idea is called microcredit, and it's just one of the economic development tools being researched and taught by an organization called the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, which is affiliated with Covenant College and the Presbyterian Church in America. (The PCA is one of the Presbyterian denominations that still believes that Jesus is the Son of God and rose from the dead and that the Bible is the Word of God.)

The Chalmers Center's director, Brian Fikkert, spoke this morning at Christ Presbyterian Church (CPC) about the work of the center. The organization is not a charity or a missions agency; rather, it researches best practices in the realm of sustainable economic development and then trains missionaries and church leaders in their application, by means of seminars, distance learning, and literature. The aim is to help the church to help the poor to help themselves, without creating dependency.

(For the OK-SAFE folks who are freaking out because I used the word "sustainable," this has nothing to do with the environment. We're talking about an approach to economic development that becomes self-perpetuating, unlike anti-poverty programs that require continued massive infusions of money from the outside.)

For example, about a year ago, CPC funded a Chalmers Center training course for Pentecostal pastors in Uganda, so they could start microcredit and micro-business development courses through their congregations. A Chalmers-trained woman is working for the Anglican Church in Rwanda; the archbishop wants every parish to begin one to three rotating savings and credit associations (RoSCAs) in the next year. So far they're on track to have 80,000 families involved in a RoSCA by the end of 2009. A group of 50 HIV-positive Kenyans, rejected by their families and living in a slum in Nairobi, have been meeting weekly as a RoSCA. After a year or so, not only have they been able to build capital for their own needs, nearly every member has started one or more RoSCAs on their own.

Here in the US, the Chalmers Center is training churches to teach jobs preparedness and financial literacy and to set up Individual Development Accounts, to help the poor build wealth toward lump-sum expenses -- a home, a car, education, equipment for a small business, resources to handle emergencies.

I hope to tell you more about what I learned this morning. It strikes me that these techniques may become more and more useful in the US and the west as our massive banking infrastructure falters. Going back to small groups, with mutual trust and accountability, pooling money to lend to one another, may be the way to escape the credit crunch.

This evening (Sunday, March 8, 2009) from 5 to 8:30 at Christ Presbyterian Church (51st St, between Lewis and Harvard), Fikkert will lead a Christian Economic Institute seminar on these topics. There's no charge to attend or for dinner, which will be served during a break. If you're interested in how to help the poor both here and abroad, please come.

I was trying to find out who came up with the threefold classification of American political cultures as moralistic, individualistic, and traditionalistic. (For moralistic, think English Puritans and Norwegian Lutherans -- think Minnesota and the upper Midwest. For individualistic, think Scotch-Irish, frontiersmen, and the Southwest. For traditionalistic, think big cities in the Northeast with their machine politics and small towns in the South with their good ol' boy networks.)

It seems to have originated with Daniel Judah Elazar, in his 1966 book, American Federalism: A View from the States. Elazar, who passed away in 1999, wrote a number of books on the cultural, religious, and ethnic influences on American political institutions, as well as explorations of federalism in its various manifestations worldwide. It's an interesting mix of topics. Here are a few links, as much for my benefit as yours.

This is collection of Daniel J. Elazar's writings on Federalism, on the website of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. One of the articles describes Minnesota as the epitome of the moralistic political culture.

From Google Books:

And there's this: The first two chapters of his memoir of his father, who was born in Jerusalem during Ottoman rule and lived through the British mandate and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The excerpt includes a description of Elazar's Sephardic heritage and life in turn-of-the-20th century Jerusalem -- fascinating stuff.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Faith category from March 2009.

Faith: February 2009 is the previous archive.

Faith: April 2009 is the next archive.

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