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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Respect for Marriage Act, Bible Translation, and Samaritan’s Purse

Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be.

A Manufactured Conflict?  More than 2,000 churches and Christian ministries have asked the U.S. Senate to oppose the “Respect For Marriage Act.”

On September 13, Tuesday of this week, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal defense group, sent a letter on behalf of 2,000 “pastors, ministers of faith, and leaders of religious nonprofit organizations” asking the U.S. Senate to oppose the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act,” H.R. 8404.

The Respect for Marriage Act, sponsored by liberal Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 19 by a vote of 267 to 157.  That means about 40 Republicans voted for the bill.

The Senate could take up the measure as soon as September 19.  That’s Monday.

According to the ADF letter, the Act puts churches and ministries in danger simply because they hold a biblical definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman.  ADF says the law, if enacted, would authorize the Internal Revenue Service to strip the tax-exempt status from a church or Christian ministry who holds a biblical view of marriage.

But does this bill have a realistic chance of passing, or is it just partisan posturing, a bill that both sides can use to score points with their base?

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I’m fond of quoting Yogi Berra, who said that predictions are dangerous, especially predictions about the future.  I think predictions are a particularly bad look for journalists, who should be reporting, not predicting.  That said, passage will be tough.  Democrats in the Senate are unified behind the bill, but it will take 10 Republican votes to get to the 60 vote super-majority needed for this bill.  It’s possible that 1 or 2 moderate Republicans might go along, but getting to 10 seems unlikely.

But that doesn’t mean the issue is not important, so it should be a subject of activism and – most importantly – prayer.

Too Many Unanswered Questions.  Bible translation organizations in the United States receive more than $500-million in donations per year.  So for the past couple of years we’ve been asking how many Bibles actually get translated?  And how much does a Bible translation cost?

Remarkably, the answer to that question is:  Nobody really knows.

That’s why the Sagamore Institute, an Indiana-based think tank, recently did a study to analyze the cost and use of funds in Bible translation.  The study was funded by the Chattanooga-based Maclellan Foundation on behalf of the illuminNations Resource Partners.  

What did the study reveal?  Not much.

The study said that the average cost of a complete written Bible is $937,446.  That number does not seem plausible when you also consider that, on average, it takes 15.8 years to complete a Bible translation, and that – as I said – more than $500-million gets poured into Bible translation organizations each year.  

Also, there’s a key question that the Sagamore Institute failed to ask, and that is how many Bible translations actually get finished each year.  To my way of thinking, that’s a key number, and it simply wasn’t a part of the Sagamore study, which in my mind causes the study to be seriously compromised.  But other analysis, including some that I’ve done here at MinistryWatch, suggest that only 15 to 20 full Bibles get translated each year.  If that’s true, then the fully loaded coast of translating a Bible is not $1-million, as the Sagamore Institute study would have us believe, but closer to $25-million.  That’s a huge difference.

Samaritan’s Purse Reaches Billion-Dollar Milestone.  We’ve reported on Samaritan’s Purse a great deal over the past three years, so it should be no surprise to MinistryWatch readers that the organization is large and active.  But this year it will reach a milestone:  It will pass the $1-billion mark in annual revenue.  That’s rarefied air in the Christian ministry world.  Only World Vision and Compassion International have hit that level, at least according to our records here at MinistryWatch

So what’s been fueling the growth?

The organization is large and complex, so that means it’s not just one thing, but a combination of a high profile leader, Franklin Graham, an aggressive fundraising team, and an implementation team that is experienced in some of the roughest regions in the world.

But I think the main reason for the success might have been best articulated by Ken Isaacs, who is one of the senior leaders at Samaritan’s Purse (and someone I often call the “Indiana Jones of the Christian relief world”).  He says it this way: “When we say we run to the fire, that’s not idle talk.”

He’s right.  Samaritan’s Purse was on the front lines of the Ebola crisis in Liberia.  It opened up a field hospital in Central Park during the darkest days of the COVID pandemic.  And now it’s making regular flights into Ukraine with its huge DC-8 transport jet.

And I should add here, by way of disclosure, that I have traveled to Liberia as a guest of Samaritan’s Purse in that DC-8 aircraft, to visit their hospital in Monrovia.  It’s an amazing aircraft, and their Liberia operation is very impressive.

But Samaritan’s Purse is impressive in other parts of the world, too.  The organization’s headquarters are in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountain town of Boone. It has warehouses in Coppell, Texas, and Fullerton, California, field offices in 17 countries across the world and a lodge in Alaska where it runs marriage seminars for wounded soldiers and law enforcement officers.

Oh, and this week, Samaritan’s Purse, headed by evangelical leader the Rev. Franklin Graham, made its 30th airlift since Russia began its offensive against Ukraine in February.

The Christian relief organization estimates it has helped 5.5 million Ukrainians with medicine, food and water. Earlier in the conflict, it also operated an emergency field hospital and outpatient clinic in Lviv, treating an estimated 17,758 patients. It now supports 30 medical facilities across the war-ravaged country.

So, congratulations to Samaritan’s Purse.  Carry on.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.