Chances are, if you feel some type of way about tithing, this post will get under your skin. But please read on.
Okay, sure. There have been and are groups of people who are unscrupulous. They are, without a doubt, out to separate you from your hard-earned cash monies.
I used a photo (and click it to visit the homepage for the show) of the Righteous Gemstones because much of what it’s about speaks to that unscrupulous crowd. Yes, it is a show that might cause some of our more innocent visitors to blush a bit (because HBO, after all), but it captures the essence of the ‘God said I need a [fill in the blank with the ridiculously expensive item of your choice]’ crowd.
But that’s not what this post is about. I just want you to know that I get it. I understand why, when someone invites you to visit their church, parish, mosque, or congregation, you cringe and begin back-peddling faster than Michael Phelps.
I’m talking about relationship-builders.
Participating with a group — faith-based or otherwise — that is about building relationships in the community means YOU have to do some work as well.
Yeah, that’s right. Relationship-building means you have to become Sherlock Holmes, CSI, and Law & Order, all rolled into one.
Think of it like this.
If you were going to put yourself out there and into the world of online dating, would you give money to the first person who said ‘hi’?
Well, you might and if so, send me a private message. I need to talk to you.
The rest of you are likely laughing and yelling ‘Heck no!’ at the screen right now. And that, my friends, is the right answer.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t give money to someone you care for — friend, lover, family, or otherwise. You should if that’s what you feel called to do. But it is likely that if one of those folks came to you with a request, you’d want to know some things, like how much, how often, why, and what for.
You likely also have no problem asking for those details.
When it comes to giving to a faith body, the rules are the same.
It’s important to know that your hard-earned cash monies are going for what the people say they are going for.
Now, let’s be clear: some of those needs are plain common sense and you don’t need to get wigged out about them.
Just like you have to pay rent or mortgage, utilities, and so forth, so do faith organizations.
I don’t know where you are in the world, but it’s still hot where I am. If I had to sit in a building with no air conditioning or fans, no lights, and so on at my place of worship, I’d have some issues. Without the people contributing, there is no building, there is no air conditioning. Yeah. Just like home.
Leaders of faith organizations should be paid if they desire. Some volunteer, and that’s okay, but here’s my point …
I’m not saying a pastor, priest, rabbi, or imam should make a gazillion dollars an hour. However, would you want to take a job that is basically 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and not receive compensation?
Faith leaders don’t just work 8-5, Monday through Friday, excluding holidays:
They are at hospitals in the middle of the night.
They are sitting with people who’ve lost loved ones on weekends.
They go to funeral homes and other places to help congregants take care of arrangements.
They do counseling and teach in the evenings.
If they don’t, they aren’t building relationships with the people and community.
Yeah, I said that.
And just like the rest of us, they are allowed to go on vacation. Don’t get mad if your local faith leader and their family take off for two weeks before school starts: for the other 351 days of the year, they’ve been working.
However, let me be clear: if the leader is living in a Gemstones-sized compound while the congregants are in squalor, there’s a problem.
I’ve always been a fan of the saying ‘follow the money’.
Look: I don’t have an issue when faith leaders have planes, trains, automobiles, a mansion, and a yacht (had to throw a bit of Elmer Fudd in there) or whatever they decide to buy with their salary. Well, I do, because of a little thing called good financial management, but here’s the other thing.
Do you begrudge the people in your neighborhood who save up and buy a full-sized recreational vehicle? Likely not, because you believe they worked for it, received an inheritance, or something not illegal, right?
I don’t take exception if the community and congregation are also doing well AND those items aren’t the result of a lot of requests, camp meetings, and ‘fundraisers’.
It’s when the neighborhood around the church is one that looks like a nightmare and the people who go there are living in conditions unfit for man or beast that I have problems.
When you see those pleas by leaders to send in so much cash to receive a blessed cloth but nothing is going to the community or there are no services within the body of faith to help those who are part of it? You might want to ask some questions — put on your CSI cap, as it were.
People often hear ‘tithing’ and think ‘Oh, that person is giving all their money and stuff to the [church, parish, mosque …]. That’s not so. The word ‘tithe’ translates to ‘tenth’, so I give 10 cents on a dollar of what I have to support the work going on as well as to contribute to — like I mentioned above — keeping the air and lights on. If I make $10, I drop $1 in the plate. Simple.
And before you poo-poo that thought and say something like, ‘I could never give that much to a [church, parish, mosque …], think about any pastime you have that costs money. Here’s an easy one: Do you buy coffee from one of those specialty shops?
The average price of a big coffee at one of those chains is nearly $4. Some people buy one every day on their way to work and one for each day of the weekend. For seven days, that’s $28. For a year, that’s $1,460, which is 10% of $14,600.
Many who choose this indulgence might say, ‘Oh, spending on a coffee doesn’t add up to much, really.’
A site from 2017 indicates that in 2011, the maximum gross annual income identified to qualify for food stamps in the U.S. was $14,088. That means the monthly gross was $1,174.
So, the cost of a year’s worth of foo-foo coffee is more than one person earns in a whole month BEFORE taxes.
Pittance to one is much to another.
The interesting thing about giving a tenth is that it is standard. If I make a a decillion dollars a year (that’s 1, followed by 33 zeros — a girl can dream, right? RIGHT???), I believe I’d give a nonillion [a nonillion is 1, followed by 30 zeros (listen, math isn’t my strong suit, but you get the point, right?)].
If I make 100 dollars a year, I’d give 10.
A tenth for me as a decillionaire, a tenth for me as a hundredaire, it matters not.
As the saying goes, it’s not the amount, it’s the sacrifice.
Giving a tenth for that person living below the poverty line is hard as all get out, when compared to someone who can afford to spend the first person’s monthly income on coffee.
But what does buying coffee have to do with this?
The point is, if we can toss our cash monies at things like coffee without a forethought, why is it such an issue to give to organizations of faith that are doing the right thing?
If the coffee shop next to the grocer is nasty, people stop going there. However, they will likely find a different coffee shop and spend money where it’s good.
However, many aren’t as forgiving with communities of faith.
One bad experience means they’re all bad.
No finding a different one and spending money where it’s good.
I am part of a large community of faith. My leaders are the straight, no chaser type. Every week, we see where the cash goes. For example, the funds we give have allowed the church to give away tons of food each year. There are several men’s, women’s, and women’s and children’s homes where people can come to get clean and sober, reconcile their own issues, and reunite with family. They can come after being in prison. They can get off the streets and out of prostitution. We have Adopt-A-Block programs all over the city and the volunteers have helped clean up streets that for a while, even the police didn’t want to fool with. There is a clothing bank where all the items — tops, pants, undergarments, handbags, shoes, and more for men, women, and children — are free.
There is an office that helps people who need bus passes or emergency help. There are folks who’ve gotten replacement refrigerators or other appliances.
When I was without a car, several people gave me names because there were other members who either worked at or owned dealerships.
I could go on, but hopefully you get the message. When I put on my CSI hat to follow the money, I see the development of the employment arm of the church; I volunteered this summer at the record expungement and job fair, where we helped people get items off their public records that prevented them from working as well as helped them create resumes. It was all on-site. We had the clothes closet there, folks could get haircuts, and employers were there as well so some people walked out as new hires.
I see the prison ministry, where we have teams that go to various jails, juvenile halls, and prisons, offering hope and information.
None of that happens in a vacuum.
It takes money to help communities.
Because of the bad apples, shifty characters, and crooks, faith organizations that are on the good foot have a tougher time developing relationships.
It’s not enough to say ‘I will pray for you’ and the person is hungry; you gotta do something to help. No, I am not being poetic there — it’s in The Book. Yeah. But you can’t give the person a bag of groceries if you don’t have the money to buy the groceries in the first place.
So, how do we find balance?
Didn’t I say to be Sherlock Holmes, CSI, and Law & Order?
Do your research: if you go on every search site you can find, ask your friends and family, check social media, and read product reviews on the manufacturer’s website before you buy a bottle of shampoo, you can do the same thing for a faith community.
Find out what they do.
Don’t rely on social media necessarily; the people who write the most on the interwebz are those who are deliriously happy or outrageously discontent. Get it from someone who is active with the community. Ask someone who goes there and volunteers, or at least knows people who volunteer (or ideally, both). Someone who remains connected AND gives of their time, talents, and cash monies has a reason for doing so.
Think about it: personally, I have no qualms about attending service, going to meetings on the same day AND during the week, as well as giving up an extra weekend day for an event like the job fair. Why would I do that when I could stay in the house in my jam-jams if it didn’t mean something to me, if I didn’t see outcomes?
So here’s the thing.
If you can commit to putting cash monies toward saving your local animal shelter, supporting a sports team or musical group by attending (and paying!) for events, or even by dropping a few coins in that little box at the grocery check-out line for the Shriner’s or Children’s Hospital — because you know those organizations and what they are about — you could do the same thing for a local faith organization that truly serves its community.
Because that’s really what faith is all about Charlie Brown (cue music from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’).
If you open your face to say that you are about social justice, don’t just talk about it. Be about it. That doesn’t mean you have to hit the streets yourself; you can commit your funds to organizations already doing that, like a reputable faith community.
I’ve done that. I’ve committed to automatic giving because I can see and touch where those pennies are going. I know that I want to help but truthfully am not called to walk the streets to do so. I can, by my giving, support the teams that do it. I can give my time and talents to the employment fair and to supporting educational efforts and mentoring. I can stand at the door and hand out flyers after service. I can write letters to those dealing with incarceration and never have to step a toe behind a locked door.
And I do.
I teach about it, I talk about it, so I want to be about it.
What about you?