Thursday, October 31, 2019

Why Your Home-Grown Survey is Unlikely to Get You What You Want

Today I am going to explain why your own year-end survey is unlikely to get you what you want - and why frankly you should pay for one of ours

Over 740 PK-2012 schools have taken one of our surveys, many multiple years. That’s 108,000+ respondents to date

Here’s four sound reasons why your own home-grown survey will likely not give you the wisdom you need to improve your school strategically.

Problem #1: What’s a good score? (AKA, No normed data.)

One of the most important findings of doing Christian school surveys over a decade now is how very good they are – how very satisfying they are. 

PK-12 Christian schools are among the most satisfying organizations in the country, really in the world. 

What that means to you is that survey scores that seem good to you are often not that great in comparison to other Christian PK-12 schools.

It’s the worst of all possible worlds: The world of false positives, the world that believes everything is OK, when really it is not.  

Here’s a concrete example of what I mean:

Ask yourself, with 10 being high, is an overall satisfaction average of 7.75 a good score or a bad score? How about a solid 3.9 average score on Principal leadership, where 5 is high? Is that good or bad?

AnswerBoth of these scores are 16th percentile in our normed data. 84% of our schools scored higher than that for both questions.   

Problem #2: “I don’t care so much … “ (AKA, Effectiveness scores should match relative importance.)

On that same 1-5 effectiveness scale, with 5 being high, is an average score of 4.23 out of 5 a good score for (1) Teachers are Christian role models, or (2) Use of technology in instruction? 

Here’s the answer. 4.23 on use of technology in instruction is a great score for Christian Pk-12 schools – 80th percentile. Only 20% of schools will score better on this item. 

However, an average effectiveness of 4.23 out of 5 for teachers as Christian role models is a terrible score, just at the 20th percentile.  About 80% of Christian schools will score better on this program element.

On the home-grown survey, we interpret these scores exactly the sameWe assume they are equally important to parents, and they clearly are not.

Gene Frost, on his take on Good to Great for Christian Schools, makes a big deal of this, and rightly so. That’s why he recommends our survey in his book, because we ask both importance and effectiveness of program elements.

What I just said is that it is virtually impossible, on a home-grown survey, to know if the scores we receive are good or bad. Worse, we typically interpret our scores to be good, when in fact they are just average or worse.  

I call this the Pollyanna Effect – who wants to change anything when we are doing just fine?

The classic instance of the Pollyanna effect was a school in the Northwest, where the accreditation team thought the teachers were outstanding. And said so, in their final report. 

The Administrator did not believe it, and our survey, with its normed data, confirmed her concerns. Imagine how hard change would have been without GraceWorks’ survey! 

That’s why we do surveys for accreditations – it’s hard to argue with the comparison data of 106,000+ Christian school constituents. 

Problem #3: “It Matters to Me - or Not.” (AKA Some issues impact satisfaction more than others.)

Let’s pretend we’re on Jeopardy, and I’ll give you the answers first: Much worse, Somewhat worse, About the same, Somewhat better, and Much better.

Ok, I’ll even give you the questions: 

(1) How do compare the Christian character of students at our school to students in public schools in our area? 

(2) How do you compare the academic quality of our school to public schools in our area?

So I’ve given you the questions with the same answers for both.

Now comes the crucial question. Which of the answers are good and which are bad for each question?

We can all agree that the first three answers - Much worse, Somewhat worse, and About the same - will hurt us in overall satisfaction, and by the numbers, they do.

Certainly “Much better” must help us with overall satisfaction, and by the numbers, it does.

So that leaves “Somewhat better.”  Are respondents who feel Christian character and Academic quality are somewhat better than public schools less satisfied with, and thus less willing to refer to, your school?

From over 700 Christian Schools, the answer is usually yes and no. 

Yes - parents are much less satisfied if Christian character is somewhat better than public schools. 

No - parents are typically no less satisfied if academic quality is somewhat better than Christian schools.  

If you think that’s a big deal, you are right.

TranslationWhen it comes to Christian character at Pk-12 schools, “Somewhat better” is just not good enough. 

Christian character is job #1. In fact, when we go to the trouble of regressing the whole thing, the Christian character question is more predictive of overall satisfaction than any other single question on our survey.

And if you don’t believe that for your school, you can find out for as little as $995 and 7.5 hours of staff time.

You can certainly ask importance and effectiveness on your own surveys, and you should, but you will never be able to determine – outside of factor analysis and regression - how much any particular program aspect impacts overall satisfaction and willingness to refer. 

(It took me three days to figure out a way to do that automatically, and that was after a year in the most research-intensive Ph.D. program in education in the state of Colorado.)

Which brings us to the final problem.

Problem #4: Now what do we do? (AKA How do we prioritize what to “fix” based on the survey?)

Here’s the real beauty of your own home-grown survey. Because of all the problems above, you can interpret it any way you want! 

You can dedicate time and money to various pet projects and someone's gut feeling about what parents want. An ambiguous survey can back you up!

These interpretation dynamics are particularly interesting when we do it as a group, especially with boards. (Just thinking about that process makes my head hurt).

There's only three limits to this do-it-yourself approach: TimeMoney, and Reality.

For my money, I’d rather put my time and energy into projects and problem fixes that for sure, hands-down, no question, will result in your overall program getting better. 

GraceWorks Survey – the Parent Satisfaction and Referral Survey – solves all these problems (and many more.)

We norm everything – everything! We do ask how effective and how important for each of your program elements. 

We do tell you which strengths and weaknesses are helping you and hurting you the most. We do make it clear what you need to work on, in priority order

Plus - a two-page summary report for your board. Splits by divisions if you need it. Custom questions.  Satisfaction / Willingness to refer by demographic.

And, we help you present the results to teachers / parents / boards. By me personally, and I’ve been to this rodeo over 700 times in the last 12 years!

In addition to that, our survey provides all of the following:

(1) Actual leads of potential families, with a contact.

(2) Volunteers willing to help with marketing and fundraising tasks.

(3) Enrollment status of non-returning or not all enrolled families – where else they are going and why.

(4) A research-based answer to “Will they pay” & ”Can they pay” - by income level - for tuition increases.

(5) Barna-like alumni outcomes data.

(6) Promoters - dozens willing to spread the word about your school (with a month by month calendar of how to work with them.)

(7) Detailed comments of why your constituents love your school or not so much, broken out by demographics. 

(Such as, what your 3rd grade parents think, what people making over $150,000 a year think, what your Millennial parents think.)

(8) Parent testimonials - often ready to go with minimal editing. All you need to do is ask permission to use them.

The survey will pay for itself many times over by the students you save – because you know what the real problems are – and new students you gain – through actual leads and later leads working with your newly found Promoters.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Towards a Lutheran Theology of Tuition and Financial Aid for Christian Schools

A Biblical Model for
Supporting Association-Model Lutheran Schools
By Dan Krause
President, GraceWorks Ministries
© 2019

No matter what happens, you should say: There is God’s Word. This is my rock and anchor. On it I rely, and it remains. Where it remains, I, too, remain; where it goes, I, too, go.                        Martin Luther
For decades, the traditional Lutheran view of the relationship of member churches to sponsoring Pk-12 schools has been to subsidize, often deeply, the tuition costs of congregational members who attend the school.  In many parts of America, it is not uncommon for so-called “member tuition” rates to be a third of what non-members pay.  These discounts irrespective to what these families can afford to pay.

But in fact someone must the pay what it actually costs to educate these precious children.  As we would ask these children to approach all of life according to God’s word, educational leaders of their schools must also evaluate their modus operandi for Christian school funding according to that very same standard, God’s eternal word.   

A Deeper Standard than Appeals to Reason

A truly Biblical standard goes beyond reasonable arguments.  It is certainly instructive to see if subsidized families give a commiserate amount of tax deductible contributions to their local church in lieu of not paying the non-member rate. 

However, whether they do or do not is simply not an adequate basis for a Biblical model of Lutheran school funding, which by definition is grounded on God’s word.  If the standard deduction is high enough that most people will not itemize their church contributions, is that a Biblical reason, grounded in the Word of God, to eliminate member discounts?  (Or for that matter, would it be a Biblically justified argument to eliminate member discounts if the deduction for charitable gifts was eliminated altogether?)

Likewise, we must go beyond business reasoning.  From a business point of view, it seems non-sensical to charge less than it costs to provide a service.  What other services can you think of that do this?  Most would be related to the US government!  So even though it doesn’t make sense (in the long run at least) to charge less than it costs to provide a service, that in itself is not a Biblically justified argument to eliminate member discounts, even in situations where the majority of families are making in excess of $100,000/year in household income.

The same is true of reasonable tuition changes because of demographic changes.  It could be argued that multi-child discounts penalize smaller families, which is most parts of the country, is increasingly the norm.  (This is painfully obvious in Canada, with their family tuition plans, a version of multi-child discounts on steroids.)  Demographics alone is not enough to make a biblically justified decision to eliminate member discounts.

What are the Biblical Standards That Guide Us?

To me, there are four biblical pillars for changing the member discount program of a Lutheran Association School.  We will consider each in turn.

Biblical Pillar #1:  Each According to Their Need

A significant problem with the common association school model of a “membership has its privileges” philosophy is that it is nowhere to be found in the Bible.  Instead, we read Old and New Testament passages such as these:
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need (Acts 4:25)
The priest will then prepare the second bird as a burnt offering, following all the procedures that have been prescribed.  Through this process the priest will purify you from you since, making you right with the LORD, and you will be forgiven.  If you cannot afford to bring two turtledoves or two pigeons, then he shall bring as his offering for the sin that he has committed a tenth of an ephah of fine four for a sin offering.  (Leviticus 5:11)
Then one poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amounted to a small fraction of a denarius.  Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more than all the others into the treasury. For they all contributed out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”  Mark 12:42-44a
Throughout Acts the Apostles emphasized that that everyone – rich and poor alike - was to receive the full benefits of the Christian church.  In Acts 6:1ff, deacons were appointed to ensure that widows would not be neglected in the daily distribution of food.  James, the half-brother of Jesus, is very direct that there is to be no partiality shown based on economic circumstance:

My brothers, as you hold out your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, do not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you lavish attention on the man in fine clothes and say, “Here is a seat of honor,” but say to the poor man “You must stand,” or, “Sit at my feet” (James 2:1-3).
In the Old Testament, the sin offering was required of every Jewish believer, but the poor could satisfy this requirement with a little fine flour, not even requiring oil.  In Jesus’ eyes, even the destitute widow was at least worthy – if not more worthy – to receive all that the church had to offer.  Throughout the Old and New Testament, it is clear that no one is to be denied the benefits of the Kingdom of God (the Church) due to limited finance. 

We like to think that a low member discount would encourage the poor to participate in our Lutheran schools.  But in reality, even the member rate is too high for some of our members, and under charging those who can afford to pay the cost to educate their child(ren) leaves us with limited wherewithal to help those most needy.

To be clear, a Biblical tuition plan would say:  If you qualify – objectively and fairly – we will provide up to 100% of the cost to educate your child.  As a member of our Lutheran Church and Lutheran School Association, we take care of our own.   And that is what the church’s association fees cover:  The cost to educate our own children – as needed up to 100% - and the cost to educate non-member children, generally up to no more than 50% of the cost. 

And to those non-members, it is certainly more within the character of the church in Acts (e.g. 4:32) to say:  “The financial aid that allows your child to attend our Lutheran school comes from the generous giving of members at ______ Lutheran Church.” What we typically say instead is: “You must attend one of association churches at least twice a month – and sign in – to receive the member discount.” 

Dear reader, which do you think is the stronger evangelistic strategy?  

Biblical Pillar #2:  Providing Service Regardless of Income

It’s a fair Biblical question:  Whether on purpose or not, is it morally right to target people by income level?  Note that this is not just a question of whether it is morally right to target the rich, what about targeting the poor?  Or is it Biblical to target at all?   And finally, what are the practical implications of the answer to these important questions?

Here we do not have to hypothetically ask what would Jesus do (WWJD), we can ask what Jesus did do in his own ministry.  First, our Savior clearly did have a target.  Consider passages such as these:
But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.  (Matthew 15:24-26)
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, half of my possessions I give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will repay it fourfold.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19:8,9)
Clearly Jesus had a target:  The lost sheep of Israel.  Zacchaeus was a rich lost sheep of the house of Israel, but Jesus also helped destitute lepers (Matt 11:5) and the Jewish man at the pool of Bethsaida (John 5).  And in feeding the multitude (Matt. 14) he ministered to everyone in-between economically.  In short, if we were to follow the example of Jesus, we would have a ministry target, but we would not target economically.  As a Christian school, it is proper to have a ministry target, but that target would not be defined by income level. 

That is to say, to the best of our ability, following the example of our Lord, our tuition and financial aid model would allow for the widest diversity of families by income level.  Practically speaking, there are four basic ways tuition and financial aid can be handled, represented by the table below.  

In GraceWorks’ experience with hundreds of Christian schools, along with over 650 school surveys, is that the greatest diversity of income comes in schools that charge a reasonable (full cost or more) tuition with ample financial aid (Quadrant A).  This attracts both high income households (who bring a higher initial appreciation of the value of the school) and lower income families (who realize that a great deal of financial aid is available) and everyone in between. 

In contrast, the typical Lutheran Association School model is represented by Quadrant D – lower tuition (member rates) and limited financial aid (can’t afford to provide it.)  This discourages lower income families, who find that member rates are still too high, as well as higher income parents, who rightly wonder if the value of the program is high – and increasingly, whether the school itself has long-term financial viability.
(Clockwise, the 4 Quadrants)

Quadrant A:  High Tuition / Significant Financial Aid - Attracts widest economic diversity
Quadrant B:  High Tuition / Little Financial Aid - Attracts largely higher income
Quadrant C:  Low Tuition / Significant Financial Aid - Inner City model, few higher income
Quadrant D:  Low Tuition / Little Financial Aid - Attracts largely middle class, fewer high or low

An association model that charges adequate (full cost or more) tuition with ample financial aid (typically six figures) has the best chance of attracting economic diversity.  This idea hearkens back to the school model that was prevalent from about 1890 to 1960, when rich and poor alike attended the same schools.  Social historians agree that this was very good for our country.   And it certainly can be now, in your school, for your children.

Biblical Pillar #3: Not Allowing the Poorer to Subsidize the Richer

When we offer a service for less than it costs to provide that service, someone else must pay for it.  A significant problem, both practically and Biblically, is who, exactly, makes up this difference.  In reality, the answer often is – congregational members and teachers.  Let’s take each in turn.     

In contrast to the families that are subsized, Congregational members are often older, lower in household income, and not infrequently, on fixed incomes.  The socio-economic characteristics of givers to a Lutheran association congregation is a knowable question – as are the socio-economic characteristics of the members subsidized at the association school.  

With a little research, it is a knowable question whether the poorer are subsidizing the richer.  If that is the case – and frequently it is - it begs the question:  How can God bless us in this?
Teachers represent another blessing problem. Often teachers struggle to make a livable wage – in contrast to parents who are making incomes that are 3-4 times higher.  (Again, the statistics are knowable.)  A practical consequence of subsidizing richer parents through poorer teachers is that many male teachers – potential healthy male role models for our students – have no choice but to leave teaching in order to adequately provide for their families.

Besides the fact that most of think it is morally wrong for those poorer to subsidize those richer, what is the Biblical case against it?

One of the clearer examples in the old Testament is God’s specific warnings to the people of Israel, who against God’s will, wanted a king to rule over them:
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots.  And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants.  He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.  He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work.  He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.  And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. (1 Samuel 8:10-18). 
A notable example of exactly what Samuel predicted was Jeroboam II of the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 14). Amos conveyed God’s harsh judgement on Jeroboam II throughout the book of Amos:

You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.  (Amos 5:11-12)

About three decades after this prophecy, Assyria utterly wiped out the Northern Kingdom in 722BC – the so-called “ten lost tribes.”

We have Jesus’s admonitions as well:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back, and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)
Perhaps Solomon sums up this important issue the best:
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty (Proverbs 22:16). 
Is it possible that our Lutheran schools have come to poverty over this very issue?

Biblical Pillar #4: Joyful Giving

It is clear throughout scripture that our giving is to be done cheerfully and joyfully.  For example:
They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. 2 Cor 8:4
Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God. With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God—gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron and wood for the wood, as well as onyx for the settings, turquoise, stones of various colors, and all kinds of fine stone and marble—all of these in large quantities. Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple:  three thousand talents of gold (gold of Ophir) and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for the overlaying of the walls of the buildings, for the gold work and the silver work, and for all the work to be done by the craftsmen. Now, who is willing to consecrate themselves to the Lord today?”  Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly.  1 Chronicles 29:1-6
If we were to biblically critique the issue of automatic church subsidies and automatic member discounts, we have to ask if the current system facilitates joyful giving.  Too often we hear that that we are compelled to give to our association school, which simply won’t make it without our congregational support.  Yet Paul explicitly tells us NOT to do this:
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Cor. 9:7.
In fact, thinking through the previous problem of the poorer subsidizing the richer, it is hard to see why anyone should joyfully support this unbiblical situation.  Yet we ask congregational members to do this all the time – as if they are poor Christians if they do not step up and do their duty.

The remedy here is simple – congregational support of association schools goes towards needs-based financial aid for families who truly, objectively, verifiably need it.  We ask families who can afford to pay the cost to educate their child to pay it.   In a full-cost world, it is obvious that we will need six figure amounts of financial aid to help lower income families - who students will be much more likely to graduate college, stay in church, and live as pillars of society.  The case for supporting needs-based financial aid is a very strong cause concept


Considering the four truly Biblical standards of (1) Each according to their need, (2) Service regardless of income, (3) Not Allowing the Poorer to Subsidize the Richer, and (4) Joyful Giving, practical guidelines tuition/ financial aid guidelines for association model schools are as follows:

(1) Automatic discounts are discontinued; needs-based financial aid takes their place
(2) Tuition rates move to the full cost to educate a child
(3) The greatest needs-based financial aid (up to 100% if qualified) goes to association church members
(4) Congregational support of association schools moves to needs-based financial aid
(5) This more Biblical approach is thoroughly presented throughout the congregations and with financial aid recipients, to improve both the evangelistic impact of the school, and the stewardship results of the church.

It is my conclusion that spiritual dynamics are at play however we do financial aid. Some bless us, others curse us. In deciding what is best, I cannot escape Paul’s exhortation:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:2)
And to understand God’s will, we must end where we started – with God’s unchanging Word. The Bible is our foundation, whether in teaching students or conducting our financial affairs. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Attn: Young People. We Want to Help

Dear Young Person,

Hello from your parents and grandparents. Hello from the older people at your church, and your school.  Hello from the folks that remember when it took 3 days to get a letter to Grandma, the folks who remember only four channels on TV.  Hello from the folks that remember when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon the very first time.

We have a message for you.  We want to help you.  We want to help you be all you can be.  We want to prepare you for the road.

We've learned some things along the way.  We genuinely wish you could learn the things we learned without all the pain.

So we really want to help you - personally, individually.  Yes, YOU.

We want to help you to avoid the unnecessary pain, because the necessary pain will be so hard.  We want to help you with the things we know, because there are so many unknowns that are unimaginable.

We know some things about people and God that are timeless.  We have professional knowledge and wisdom that will be invaluable to you as you start your career.  We can guide you in using the most precious resource you have, which is your time.

We invite you to let us help you with these things.  Actually the word invite is too weak - we implore you. We're pleading with you. Please let us help you. Because we really care about you.

Most of us abhor the bumper sticker that says "We are spending our children's inheritance." We hate it in fact.  Most of us are deeply, deeply concerned about the future we are leaving you.

Some of us are fighting like hell to leave this world a better place for you.  Most of us realize the problems you will face at our age will not be solved at the ballot box.

The best we know is to help YOU.  Please let us.  Recognize that we have wisdom your peers do not have, because neither did we at your age.  Some lessons can only be learned over time, in seeing how things turn out over years.  Let us teach you those lessons.

Please don't be shy in approaching us.  And please don't say no when we approach you.

We care.  We can help.  Please let us into your life.

Twenty years from now, you will be so glad you did.


Your older parents, grand parents, church members, family friends, teachers, and school leaders.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Love Conquers All - An Easter Poem

Love Conquers All
(An Easter Poem)
by Dan Krause

The earth, silent and shuddering
Revelers, exhausted and empty
Soldiers forlorn
Leaders numb

Demons cower,
Hell releases Him,
The tortured believing escape,
Satan’s minions, relieved and reprieved,
A far worse fate awaiting

A glimmer
Pure light, holy
Ever increasing, ever bright
Indescribable wonder,  the air electric
Babblers, doves, larks shouting for joy

Guards faint
The stone rolls
Heaven’s glory breaking forth
A broken body, beautiful
Carrying forever the scars of my sin
The torment of my selfishness
No guilt
No shame

All creation cries out for joy
The faithful unbelieving yet awed
The skeptics cynical and afraid
Love conquered all
Love endured all
Love never failed

No stone could stop it
No grave could contain it
Greater than man’s schemes
Higher than man’s thoughts
Love would not,
Could not,
be stopped.
No power on earth
Nor Satan himself
Separating us
From God’s love

All history changed
A pebble, now a mountain
No power greater
Our vessels like flowers
Praising God with bloom
Yielding fruit eternal
Blessed assurance

My Savior Lord surely did die
and so too, one day, must I
Separation’s pain - staggering and stinging
Family, friends, dreams still clinging
What might have been, forever lost;
All redeemed at unfathomable cost:
The very blood of the Lamb of God

Love conquered all
No grave to contain it
Love answers all
No man to constrain it
Love solves all
And soothes my soul
Love lives, He lives,
No more to die

Love conquers all
Because He lives
I too, may fully live
I too, may fully love
Through Christ who loves and lives in me.
Surely I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Relationships Matter

How the Breakdown of One Relationship Changed the Course of World History

Just 3,800 votes in California – one vote per precinct – separated the winner and the loser of the closest and most important Presidential election of the 20th century.  The outcome can be traced right back to the breakdown of a single relationship between two great men on one fateful day in August, 1916.  It can be reasonably argued that the consequences of the 1916 election played a large role in Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in Nazi Germany.

In 1916, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, one of America’s most educated Presidents, was up for re-election after a fruitful first term.  Among his many accomplishments, Wilson had reformed the United States' chaotic banking system, creating the Federal Reserve System.  He had removed international taxes and tariffs that had crippled our economy, and spear-headed the Clayton Anti-Trust Act and badly-needed child labor reform legislation.

The Republicans of 1916 drafted an intellectual equal to Wilson in the person of Charles Evans Hughes.  The son of a Baptist minister, Hughes was a child prodigy and brilliant lawyer.  By his early 40s he had established a solid reputation as an honest reformer through cleaning up rampant corruption in the utilities and insurance industries of his day.

In 1907, at age 45, Hughes was elected Governor of New York, defeating the father of “yellow journalism,” the venerable William Randolph Hearst.  Three years later, President Taft appointed Hughes to the U.S. Supreme Court.   In stark contrast to Wilson’s overt presidential ambitions, Hughes had not sought out ANY of these positions – Governor, Supreme Court Justice, or President

With great reluctance, Hughes resigned from the Supreme Court to become the Republican standard-bearer in the 1916 Presidential election.

Meanwhile, World War I raged in Europe.  President Wilson pledged neutrality, with the goal of keeping the United States uninvolved as long as possible.  In fact, the theme of the 1916 Democratic convention was “He kept us out of war.”  Hughes, on the other hand, advocated a more proactive stance with an earlier entry into the war. 

History records that Wilson narrowly defeated Hughes by 23 Electoral College votes in the national Presidential election. With its 13 Electoral College votes, California turned out to be the pivotal state.

Early in the campaign, Hughes had what was considered an insurmountable lead over Wilson in the state of California.  However, one fateful day in August, 1916, Charles Evans Hughes chose not to meet with Hiriam Johnson, the Republican Governor, while both of them were staying at the very same hotel. 

Why did Hughes snub Johnson?  Perhaps it was hot. Perhaps Hughes was tired.  Perhaps Hughes was irritated by Johnson’s more liberal version of Republicanism. Perhaps it was an attack of Satan himself.  For whatever reason, Hughes chose not to meet with Johnson that day, and Johnson took great offense.  The slight was widely reported by newspapers in California.  And as a consequence of this solitary event, Johnson refused to help Hughes in California, and Hughes lost substantial voter support in the state.

Most historians believe that if Hughes had not slighted Johnson, Hughes would have carried California as originally predicted.   California’s 13 Electoral College votes would have made Charles Evans Hughes the 29th President of the United States (13 more for Hughes, 13 less for Wilson, results in a victory of +3 for Hughes.)

One event, one relationship breakdown, one vote per precinct in California, monumentally changed the course of history – for the ENTIRE World.   


In his second term, as part of the conclusion of World War I, Wilson championed his pet idea, the League of Nations, the precursor to today’s United Nations.  Unfortunately, because the United States was such a late entrant to World War I, Wilson was in very weak negotiating position.  In addition, the key Allied leaders felt no personal warmth towards Wilson.  He was viewed as arrogant and inflexible, personality changes undoubtedly caused, in part, by “mini-strokes” he periodically suffered, starting at least as early as 1912.

In spite of his lack of influence with the victorious allied countries, Wilson was utterly determined to win international support for his beloved League of Nations.  Unable to influence world leaders towards the value of the League on its own merits, Wilson decided to make a deal with the devil.

Against his better judgment and his own principles, Wilson agreed to support the French position for massive reparations on the German people - a crushing tax to punish the Germans for the destruction of World War I.  In return for Wilson’s support for these unworkable reparations, France and the other key Allied leaders agreed to include the League of Nation as an integral part of the Treaty of Versailles.

Historians unanimously agree that this massive tax on the German people ruined the German economy of the 1920s.  The human suffering this caused was the single greatest factor that fueled Adolph Hitler’s meteoric rise to power in Germany.

Sadly, perhaps in part due to diminished judgment from the mini-strokes, Wilson refused to include a single Republican senator in the process of negotiating the Versailles treaty.  As a consequence, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to approve both the Treaty as well as Wilson’s League of Nations.

This enraged Wilson.  He decided to conduct a national tour designed to garner public support for the League of Nations.  During that arduous trip, Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke in September, 1919. 

For 17 months he lay paralyzed, near death, unable to see even his own cabinet members, much less the Vice President. In one of the most closely guarded secrets of modern times, virtually all of the United States government had no idea how gravely ill their President was.  The nation simply drifted under the stewardship of Wilson’s wife, Edith, who many historians consider to be American’s first female President.   Edith Wilson’s only formal training was in music.

In December, 1920, Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work on the League of Nations.  He was too ill to personally accept the award.   Less than five years later, he died, a recluse, embittered by the knowledge that his greatest dream, the League of Nations, remained unapproved by the United States Senate.

Had Charles Evan Hughes won the 1916 Presidential Election, how might have history been different?

As one of the few honest Cabinet members of the corrupt Harding administration that succeeded Wilson, Secretary of State Hughes worked to reduce the onerous reparations required of Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. This effort turned out to be “too little, too late,” but it does show that Hughes would have been unlikely to support the French in punishing the German people so ruinously in the first place.

Plus, with Charles Evans Hughes as President, the United States would have become involved in World War I much sooner.  Doing so would have greatly increased the United States’ stature at the conclusion of the war, because the United States would have been viewed as more of an equal partner in the struggle.   And as his subsequent service would show, in contrast to Wilson, Hughes clearly had all his mental faculties and was quite winsome.  In fact, about two years after the Treaty of Versailles, Hughes negotiated a worldwide naval disarmament treaty that made the United States the dominant naval power in the world for over a decade.

Later, Hughes served with distinction as a World Court Judge.  In 1930, President Hoover reappointed Hughes to the Supreme Court, this time as Chief Justice.  Legal historians consider Hughes to be one of the nation’s finest Chief Justices. Hughes served during pivotal years of the Supreme Court’s history, when the high court moved from being merely a defender of property rights, to defending the civil liberties Americans enjoy today.

In the depths of the Great Depression, Hughes cast the deciding votes in favor of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, an agenda actively resisted by four of the Supreme Court’s nine justices.  Had Hughes not supported FDR, today the Supreme Court would have 15 members. Expecting another Supreme Court defeat, Roosevelt had planned to add six more progressive justices to deal with an obstinate Supreme Court that had blocked most of his key depression-fighting job creation programs.

A more reasonable Treaty of Versailles, negotiated by a more powerful and flexible President, would have likely prevented much postwar suffering in Germany, suffering which ultimately swept Hitler to power. (A lesson heeded by the Marshall Plan after World War II.)  

These facts of history are a powerful example of the so-called “butterfly effect.”  The breakdown of a relationship, which occurred in one fateful evening in August, 1916, arguably set in motion a chain of events that, in the end, brought Adolph Hitler to power. 

Food for thought for all of us, as we consider relationship-making (or relationship-breaking) events that occur almost daily in each of our lives.