The All Ighty Ollar

There was some radio call-in show that I flipped past recently where people were talking about giving money to the church, and whether or not it was a scam. The way I see it, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a church asking for money, any more than there is with any organization doing so. If you believe in it and patronize it, it makes sense that you might want to contribute so it can keep operating. What I see as an actual problem is that they can be really demanding about it. Take tithing, a practice originally from Judaism that apparently wasn’t part of early Christianity. The Catholic Church instituted it in the Middle Ages, however, and it’s still around in Christian circles today.

And if you want to tithe to the church, that’s your business, but for the church to try to shake people down for money is going rather too far. On some other radio show, which I believe might have been on a Catholic radio station, some woman asked if she should still tithe when she couldn’t afford her rent, and the host told her she should. Now wait a minute! Doesn’t the Bible say over and over to give to the poor, and what else is someone who can’t pay her rent? Sure, it’s possible she’s poor because she spends her money frivolously, but is that a distinction Jesus made? Besides, while some churches rely on donations to keep running, can you really say that about the Vatican? The thing with churches is that they’re very good at producing guilt, because they can not only shame you in your current life, but in any possible future lives as well. And it’s a tired subject at this point, but how does anyone fall for televangelism? Televangelists are basically snake oil salesmen who don’t even give you the snake oil. How much more transparent could you possibly be? One of them is even named “Creflo Dollar.”

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8 Responses to The All Ighty Ollar

  1. halinabq says:

    As I understand it, tithing comes from the practice of leaving the edges of your fields unharvested, so that the poor could come by and get some grain. Jesus’ standard for giving was much higher: He told the rich man who asked how much he should give to the poor, to give all he had! In fact, in some early Christian communities, you were supposed to give everything you had to the community; private ownership of anything was prohibited. (That’s right, Christians were the first Communists!-) But eventually the 100% standard gave way to the more palatable 10% of the Old Testament.

    The problem I have with giving to the church, is that the church itself is not very generous. Most of the typical church’s budget goes to salaries for the ministers, buildings, and so on. The church I go to thinks it should give 10% of its budget to charities. Well that means that, if I give 10% to the church, I’m only giving 1% to the poor. How many people would contribute to a charity that only passed on 10% of its income? While I recognize that salaries and buildings may be necessary for some things, it seems wasteful to spend extravagant amounts on a building that gets used for only a few hours on Sunday. After all, Jesus didn’t draw a salary or need a sanctuary to do his ministry.

    • Nathan says:

      Yeah, I think it might be a more Christian thing to do to contribute to charities directly, rather than to the church. Not sure that many pastors would agree, though.

      As for tithing, I think it was traditionally more of an agrarian thing than a financial one, but it’s changed to reflect our less agricultural society.

  2. Courtney says:

    We give about 1% of our income to our church, which is a fairly sizeable amount. I am sure they would like more, but that is what feels fair to us. We are probably spending about 5X that on preschool next year, and I would say we get at least 1/5 the benefit fromt he church ;-) We mostly give because we appreciate the community, and want it to continue to exist. We want our children to have a liberal religious education, I get great joy out of my weekly choir rehersals, and the church is an important resource for us socially and as a support for our young family, living far away from our extended family. I see it sort of like communism. Give what you can, take what you need. I don’t get the impression that anyone is pressured to give beyond their means. I am sure that varies from Church to Church. Our 300 year old Unitarian congregation is definitely still dependant upon the community to stay open, and I think the Catholic Church is not quite as solvent as you think. I know that many congregations in our area have been closed or merged, because of financial reasons. And the Catholic School system, is crumbling in a lot of places as well. I am not exactly a cheerleader for the Catholic Church, but I do think they “need” the tithes.

    • Nathan says:

      Yeah, I think it varies from one church to another. As for the Catholic Church, it’s true that some (perhaps many) parishes are suffering financially. If they’d go through with Sarah Silverman’s plan to sell the Vatican, though, it would solve a lot of their problems. {g}

  3. Courtney says:

    Also, in response to the other commentator, I agree that many churches do not do enough charitable work. Our church makes social justice efforts a priority, but we still spend a lot on day to day facilities and payroll costs. Part of the problem is that if you don’t have the funds to keep the doors open, you can’t do *any* charitable work. But we also give to other charities that are entirely focusedon causes we care about.

  4. Our (CAtholic) church is pretty open about the budget, publishing a detailed breakdown annually and a simpler one of expenses maybe weekly in the bulletin. What I think a lot of people misunderstand is that there are different collections for different things. The weekly collection goes for the running of the church– it’s a big building, you know. It’s got to pay for the lights and HVAC and plumbing and regular maintenance and cleaning and the parking lot, and there are lay workers– secretaries and choir directors and such– that need to be paid, and even priests who’ve taken vows of poverty DO still need to eat occasionally. You pay for other things you go see– movies and theater and speakers and whatnot– why wouldn’t you pay for going to church? And the thing is, unlike those other cultural events, you don’t HAVE to pay it. You’re ENCOURAGED to pay, but it’s still voluntary, unlike buying a ticket to a show. (To be honest, I probably haven’t given more than 20 dollars to my church in the past five years. I just either don’t have the cash on me, or forget, or, well, we live paycheck to paycheck as it is…. I’m not bragging, I’m confessing).

    Now, other places the Catholic church asks for money and has said to give money, places I don’t necessarily agree with (like supporting misinformation about gay marriage legislation) or just plain don’t need (like the riches of the Vatican), these funds come from SPECIAL collections, which are all labelled generally by what they’re for (the “Holy See” collection goes to the Pope, for example. I just always thought that was a funny name). So you have even MORE of a choice which of those other things you want to support, as well. I hear people– people, ironically, who DON’T BELONG TO THE CHURCH– complain about what a racket it is, the church always asking for money, but they always overlook the fact that it really is all voluntary.

  5. Courtney says:

    Our minister told a topical joke today, prior to the collection. Thought you might be amused:

    A church minister received a call from the IRS about one of his parishioners. The IRS agent said “So and So claimed on their taxes that they donated $10,000 to your Church, is this true?”. The minister knew the man in question and was surprised to hear from the IRS agent. He thought carefully and then replied “If he hasn’t, I can promise you he will now!”

    Ba dum dum.

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