A nun reflects during a solemn moment as Pope Francis leads a Holy Mass for the Martyrs of Uganda at the area of the Catholic Sanctuary in the Namugongo area of Kampala, Uganda, on Nov. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
KAMPALA, Uganda (RNS) — Thousands of Catholics in one of the world’s poorest nations are objecting after the church asked the government to collect a 10 percent tithe from worshippers on its behalf.
A similar “church tax” in Germany has generated record revenue for the Catholic Church there, according to the German Handelsblatt newspaper — but the policy is also blamed for driving millions of people to leave the faith.
“Why should the church keep asking for money all the time?” asked John Mayanja, 46, a teacher at Kitante Primary School in the East African nation. “We are supposed to give tithe willfully and without any threats from our church leaders.”
During an Oct. 28 Mass at Rubaga Cathedral in the capital city of Kampala, Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga urged the Ugandan government to immediately begin deducting a 10 percent tithe from the monthly salaries of all Catholic believers to ensure the church’s work does not stop because of lack of funds.
Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga. Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Kampala
Lwanga said many do not voluntarily give the church 10 percent of their incomes.
“We lie to God that we pay church tithe off our monthly salaries. But during a Mass like this, whenever we ask for tithe, everyone gives only what they have at that time,” Lwanga said.
“The Bible says a tenth of whatever you earn belongs to the church, and you should give me support as I front this proposal because it is good for us.”
Some Ugandan Christians questioned the church’s motives, saying a church tax forces poor people to fund extravagant lifestyles for some priests and bishops.
“They should understand that we are paying fees for our children and servicing government loans. We have no money,” Mayanja said.
More than a third of Uganda’s nearly 43 million people live on less than $1.90 per day, the international marker of extreme poverty, according to World Bank. The Brookings Institution reports 3 in 10 households in Uganda spend more than 65 percent of their income on food.
Lwanga said he wants Catholics in Uganda to emulate their counterparts in Germany, where 8-9 percent of churchgoers’ income is deducted and channeled to the respective faiths.
“The money is used to build and renovate their churches,” said Lwanga, who also serves as chairperson of the ecumenical Uganda Joint Christian Council. “If an employee in Germany gets $10,000, the government deducts $1,000 and gives it to the church, and it is working very well.”
The Catholic Church in Germany collected a record $7.1 billion last year in taxes, Handelsblatt reported, although more than 2.2 million Germans have formally deregistered from the church since 2000. Those who deregister are no longer subject to the church tax but can no longer participate in church life — an outcome Archbishop Georg Gänswein has called a “serious problem.”
Several other European nations also collect religious taxes, which are sometimes voluntary, according to the Pew Research Center.
Catholic faithful pray in front of a cross of Jesus Christ erected by a roadside in Kakoge, north of Uganda’s capital Kampala, on October 18, 2015. Photo by James Akena/Reuters
The idea of deducting tithes from salaries was widely supported by some Ugandan officials who are also Catholic believers. Many dismissed the archbishop’s critics, saying Lwanga’s suggestions were based on Scripture.
“The archbishop was reminding the church and only Catholics that they need the money to run church activities,” said Betty Nambooze, a legislator representing Mukono, a town in central Uganda.
Catholics are Uganda’s largest religious group, but the Catholic share of the population has declined slightly in recent years. Catholics made up 39.3 percent of the population in the 2014 census, down from 41.6 percent in 2002. Around 32 percent of Ugandans are Anglican, and 14 percent are Muslim.
Religious leaders from other denominations questioned Lwanga’s strategy.
“Any believer who is not paying his or her tithe has no space in heaven. They are stealing and cheating God,” said Pastor Moses Mugisa of Redeemed Church of God, a Pentecostal church. “So there’s no need of forcing believers to pay tithe through government.”
Some vowed not to support the idea, saying the Bible does not sanction governments to collect tithes and offerings from worshippers.
“I want to ask the government to revoke credentials of any priest or bishop that petitions it to help them collect tithe,” Cyrus Rod, a bishop at Dominion Temple International, a Pentecostal church, told journalists in Kampala. “The clergy are working purely for material reward and we’ll not allow them to mislead the country. The role of priests is to collect tithes and offerings. It’s a not a political role.”
Mayanja and other Catholics said they will oppose Lwanga’s proposal because they believe it goes against Catholic teaching.
“God does not demand a certain amount of money from his people,” said Mayanja. “We give offering and tithe from our hearts. What our leaders are doing is extortion and is not based on the word of God.”
Uganda, in red, located in eastern Africa. Image courtesy of Creative Commons
Test scores were rising at Fuller Elementary School when Marilyn McCottrell took over in 2016. Yet troubling trends loomed behind the numbers.
“A lot of growth has been made,” said McCottrell, Fuller’s third principal in six years. “But that growth is not equal among students.”
She’s talking about black boys.
Black girls had driven most of Fuller’s academic improvement since the 2012-13 school year, when Chicago Public Schools handed management of the Bronzeville school over to the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership, which replaced the staff and principal in a turnaround effort. Black boys had improved much slower. They got most of the school’s Ds and Fs, and were much less likely than girls to meet or approach expectations for college readiness on state tests.
Last school year, McCottrell and her staff crunched the data and made changes at Fuller to shorten the gaps between boys and girls. The stakes are high. Black boys, especially those from low-income households, are more prone than their sisters to falling behind in school and running into the juvenile criminal justice system. As adults, they are more likely to be arrested, imprisoned, or chronically unemployed. McCottrell believes what Fuller did, starting with painstakingly crunching data at the school, classroom and individual levels, could help other schools do better for black boys.
But she wants to be clear about something: Black boys don’t need to be “saved.”
“They need to be respected and appreciated for the differences and the unique gifts that they bring to the educational experience,” she said.
Fuller Elementary School students (from left)Tyrese Robinson-Guy, Terrell Johnson, and Jasean Waters at a community garden in Bronzeville. Photo by Adeshina Emmanuel
Fuller, a Level 1 school in good standing, occupies the corner of St. Lawrence Avenue and 42nd Street in Bronzeville. Nearly all of its 370 students are black and come from economically disadvantaged households. About half of the teachers are white, and about half are African-American. When CPS turned over management of Fuller, it was seeking to lift up a school that had been on academic probation five consecutive years. Fuller still has far to go. In 2017, only 10 percent of Fuller students were ready for the next level compared to 26 percent across the school district and 34 percent across the state. Growth has been above average, but, as McCottrell said, that growth hasn’t been equal.
Last August, McCottrell arrived at Fuller for a training session for teachers bearing handouts packed with data on black boys’ grades and test scores. Middle school reading teacher Arlicia McClain was shocked to see the stark disparities.
“It made me buck up and say I need to talk to these students,” she said. “I need to know what is going on that is preventing them from improving. Is it me? Is it something going on with them individually? Is it something they are missing?”
Girls’ math scores had increased by 193 percent compared with 90 percent for boys since the turnaround effort began in the 2012-13 school year. The gender performance gap was even more striking in reading, where black girls’ scores jumped 140 percent compared with 31 percent for boys.
As McClain and other teachers reflected on the numbers, they recounted their own experiences in the classroom. For example, they could all name which students were removed from class the most for disciplinary reasons, and nearly all were black boys.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Arlicia McClain Fuller Elementary School teacher Arlicia McClain.
McClain realized she tended to call on black girls more in class.
McClain, African-American herself, wondered if she was favoring girls or failing to challenge boys enough, and how that could affect their learning. She resolved to push black boys more during her second year at Fuller.
She also left the session with another big take-away: A lot of boys who wouldn’t participate in classroom-wide sessions engaged more in small groups. Wedding the data to her realizations has helped the young teacher come up with tailored approaches for struggling students.
“Look at them as individuals who want to learn, but who sometimes need the individualized attention to do that,” McClain said. “If you really are about the progression of black youth, you’re going to need to be individual-focused, and you’re going to need the data to do it.”
In the 2016-17 school year, for the subjects of English language arts and math, about 70 percent of all Ds and Fs at Fuller went to black boys.
In the first quarter of last school year, McCottrell and her staff revised Fuller’s grading policies in hopes of addressing the disparity.
They switched to what McCottrell called “a more equitable grading scale,” where the lowest a student could score is a 50, adopted a “no-opt out policy” for homework, so children who failed to turn in their homework by deadline wouldn’t automatically get a zero and had to make up assignments, and allowed students to redo certain parts of failed tests and quizzes after reteaching.
By the end of the first quarter, the numbers of Ds and Fs had decreased by nearly half.
But black boys were still getting about the same percent of them as before.
So McCottrell decided to go in for a closer look.
“The numbers only tell part of the story,” she said.
McCottrell ate with boys in the lunchroom. She played flag football with them at recess. She sat with them in class, assisted their teachers, and taught her own lessons across grades and subjects.
She talked to the boys — and listened.
Jasean Waters, 13, said he found it hard to focus on his school work.
“It’s a big struggle for us,” he said. “There’s a lot of people dying around here, so we gotta watch our backs, and when we’re walking home we feel like we’re unsafe, so we just focus on us being safe. It’s hard to focus on school.”
Boredom is another issue. Jasean said that he does well in math, but struggles sometimes with reading, and that his interest wanes with the lack of characters and authors he can relate to in school texts. That sounded familiar to McCottrell. When she spoke with boys, she heard that school amounted to a seven-hour suppression of their personalities, interests, and voices — especially in reading and English classes, where black voices and black writers were missing.
“When kids have to pick a book for independent reading, they don’t relate to the characters in those classroom libraries,” she said. “It’s really hard coming to a class everyday when nothing relates to you.”
McCottrell decided to teach an optional African-American literature class every Friday during a weekly “intervention time” for students needing help in reading and math About 17 boys showed up on the first day and read excerpts from Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” whose protagonist proclaims, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
McCottrell said many of the boys could expertly analyze the Harlem Renaissance classic, because they related to the idea of not being heard, seen, or understood for who they really are. The students offered examples like the portrayal of black men in the media.
“Many of them were saying things like, ‘I’m not a gangbanger, but this is what people think I am, because I’m dark or because I’m tall,’” she said. “They talked about it in the context of their teachers not knowing who they are.”
The class soon doubled as word of mouth drew others in. Jasean, a C student at the start of the class, joined them. He said he learned things he hadn’t been introduced to before. He read about segregation, speeches by Martin Luther King, and books like “Bud, Not Buddy,” about a 10-year-old black orphan during the Great Depression.
He said he rededicated himself to doing 100 minutes of reading a night and by the end of last school year earned an A in reading. He said he raises his hand to ask and answer questions in class more.
“It feels good,” he said.
Jasean’s grandmother, local school council member Regina Waters, praised McCottrell’s hands-on approach with students and her efforts to build one-on-one relationships with the boys.
“She’s upfront with the kids, and she knows all the kids by name which is unusual in the short time she’s been there,” Waters said.
Fuller’s boys closed the gap with girls in several ways over last school year.
They went from getting 70 percent of the Ds and Fs in English and math to 60 percent. In 2016-17, 46 percent of boys compared with 55 percent of girls were on track, meaning they earned a C or higher in reading and math and had an attendance rate of at least 95 percent. In 2017-18, the percentage of boys on track increased by 23 percentage points compared to 19 points for girls. But sitting in her office at Fuller one day earlier this summer, McCottrell admitted something about her efforts for black boys.
“Nothing is solved,” she said.
Despite some progress last school year, when the 2018-19 school year starts, black boys at Fuller will still lag behind black girls. Forces outside of education like poverty, mass incarceration, and racial discrimination will continue to disadvantage black youth in ways that manifest in classrooms, where they land heaviest on black boys.
The odds aren’t yet even for black boys at McCottrell’s school, or at most schools across America. However, McCottrell believes that educators learned a lot that they can build on down the line.
Next year, McCottrell said she’s urging teachers to incorporate more of the black experience and black voices into lesson plans and to increase small-group instruction.
Teachers are having more data conferences with McCottrell and with each other to guide instruction and target specific students’ needs. McCottrell is also promoting more social-emotional learning techniques and restorative practices rather than punitive approaches to discipline, and incorporating cultural awareness and bias training into teachers’ professional development.
Marlene Aponte, the Academy for Urban School Leadership’s director of coaching, said that in some ways Fuller’s story resembles other schools’ in the years after turnarounds. After focusing on rigorous instruction and ambitious growth targets,“we’re starting to really hone in on some of the pieces that we may have overlooked, such as gender bias, gender equity, access in equity,” she said.
McCottrell wants her boys to have the tools to succeed. She knows there are some issues that her school won’t be able to solve.
Democrats and Republicans nationwide had their eyes trained on Georgia to see whether the emerging battleground state, would elect the first black woman governor in American history or double down on the Deep South’s GOP tendencies with an acolyte of President Donald Trump.
But they’ll have to wait a little longer.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in the contest, why Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams agree it’s not over and what it means in Georgia and beyond.
KEMP LEADS AND ABSENTEES LOOM
With more than 3.8 million votes counted, Kemp stood at 50.8 percent, enough for an outright victory under a quirky Georgia law requiring a majority to win a general election without a runoff. But Abrams and Kemp agree there are absentee, mail-in and provisional ballots left to be counted.
Not surprisingly, the two rivals differ on how much that will matter.
Says Kemp: “There are votes left to count, but … make no mistake, the math is on our side to win this election.”
Abrams says the number of pending ballots is enough to push Kemp’s total below the 50 percent threshold, since a Libertarian candidate is taking about 1 percent of the vote.
“I promise you tonight we’re going to make sure that every vote is counted,” Abrams added.
The Abrams campaign estimated early Wednesday at least 97,000 early votes and mail-in ballots from key counties had not been tallied, based on its tracking. Separately, it’s not yet clear how many provisional and paper ballots were cast at polling places on Tuesday. Neither the Kemp campaign nor Secretary of State Kemp’s office — he happens to be the state’s chief elections officer — has offered its detailed data.
Abrams’ campaign estimates she’d need a net gain of almost 25,000 votes to trigger a runoff, which would be held Dec. 4.
WHY THIS RACE IS SO IMPORTANT
Abrams’ historic candidacy made this a race to watch from the start. She’s already the first black woman in U.S. history to be a major party’s gubernatorial nominee. In Georgia, one of the original 13 states, she’d be the first woman, and the first non-white governor. (Yes, that means nothing but white men for 242 years.)
Beyond breaking barriers, the matchup exhibits the nation’s bitter partisan, ideological divides and underscores the cultural and racial fissures still lingering in the Deep South.
Abrams is a 44-year-old lawyer, former state legislative leader and moonlighting romance novelist who campaigns as an unabashed liberal. She promises to expand Medicaid insurance coverage and prioritize spending on public education, while endorsing tighter gun regulations and criticizing President Donald Trump’s hard line on immigration.
Kemp is a 55-year-old, two-term secretary of state who’s echoed Trump’s immigration rhetoric. He’s flaunted his guns, chain saw and pickup truck in his campaign ads. He promises to “put Georgians first,” blasts “fake news” and lambastes Abrams as a tool of “socialists” and “liberal billionaires” who “want to turn Georgia into California.”
Both nominees framed the race as a “battle for the soul” of the state — a characterization supported by Georgians voting in numbers nearing their turnout for the 2016 presidential election.
The stakes are high enough that Trump and former President Barack Obama made opposing visits within 48 hours on the final weekend. Oprah Winfrey, the media icon who typically sits out politics, came to campaign for Abrams.
All this plays out in a Georgia on the cusp of becoming a true battleground state ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign. As governor, Kemp would be Trump’s biggest cheerleader in a state the president won by 5 percentage points in 2016. Abrams, as Georgia’s chief executive, would be among the most coveted endorsers in what’s likely to be a crowded Democratic field of aspiring presidents.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
The counting was to continue Wednesday and perhaps beyond. In a race already fraught with racial innuendos surrounding the ballot access and voting system that Kemp runs, that process will likely be neither calm, nor quiet.
Abrams has called Kemp “an architect of voter suppression” for the way he’s managed voter registration rules and elections. In outlining the possibilities of a runoff, the campaign attributed an apparent rise in provisional and paper ballots to a shortage of reliable voting machines, and blamed Kemp for the lack of preparation.
Kemp has insisted he’s done his job, and argued that Abrams wants to help noncitizens vote illegally. He cited a speech in which she listed “undocumented” people as being part of her coalition.
But Kemp also had to admit within days of Tuesday’s voting that the online voter registration system he oversees was vulnerable to hackers. When a whistleblower alerted a voting rights lawyer who alerted the FBI and Kemp’s office of an apparent weakness, Kemp accused the Georgia Democratic Party, without offering evidence, of trying to tamper with the system.
Given that environment, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether Kemp supporters would accept the legitimacy of a runoff or whether Abrams’ supporters would accept an outright Kemp victory.