here’s a very strange movement in some Christian circles called “The Prosperity Gospel” that posits some kind of supernatural investment scheme where the more money you give to god (read: churches and/or pastors) the more material wealth god will give to you. While most Christian denominations denounce this theology as false or even blasphemous most of them also have their own, more subtle versions of the prosperity gospel whether they know it or not.
The churches in which I grew up always passed the offering plate/basket around during services expecting members to give at least 10% of whatever they had. This is standard practice for Protestant churches under a doctrine of tithing. Some churches go as far as asking (“asking” is a funny word since the whole thing is done with an air of, “if you don’t, god will know”) the congregation to make pledges as to how much they’ll give for the year. This helps the church make a budget but it also very clearly shows the churches are just businesses.
I can remember my dad writing out a check every Sunday morning like clockwork before we’d leave the house for church. He used to say that whenever he forgot to tithe he’d eventually run into some financial troubles but as long as he kept tithing everything worked out. As a child I was amazed at how god could affect a person’s money because he knew everything and could tell if you were holding out on him or not (like a mafia boss). At the time I felt like it displayed love and patience on god’s part that he would take care of you as long as you followed the rules. It wasn’t until later in life that I started to reflect on the absurdity of the whole concept.
Here’s what I was taught:
- Everything you have is a blessing from god. No matter how much you had to work for it, save for it, bleed for it, it’s all because of god and not your own works.
- God owns everything because he created everything. Therefore anything you have belongs to god and he’s just letting you use it for now.
- Since god gave you everything that he owns, you owe it to him to give some of it back. He’ll be satisfied with 10% as a bare minimum but he’d be happier if you gave a little more.
- Since you can’t give material things to god you must give them to church (or a televangelist). Your gift to the church must be money. Some churches even take plastic now.
I’d like to stress this last point: your tithe must always be money. If god has only “blessed” you with children it doesn’t matter, you still owe him money. If he’s only “blessed” you with health, you still owe him money. If you’re only rich in love then you’d better find a way to pony up some cash because god IS love and he doesn’t need 10% of yours.
The problem with this is that it turns the church into a business. You have treasurers, board members, committees, accountants and those super, incredibly boring business meetings on Wednesday nights. If you attend a church business meeting you’ll see some very un-Christian behavior and quarrels that you thought only happened in Parliament. That aside, church business meetings are about the business of running a church, keeping it alive/maintained, and expanding it. Because of this, business meetings come down to one thing: money. To illustrate my point perfectly, I defer to the Web site Christian Index on the relationship between tithing and the validity of your voice in the church:
First, non-tithers should not be allowed to speak or vote at church business meetings. If that rule seems unfair then the time allotted for members to speak should be in direct proportion to how much they give. For example, a person who gives 2 percent of their income to the church should be given the opportunity to speak for 20 seconds, the person who gives 4 percent should be allotted 40 seconds, the person who gives 10 percent for 1 minute and 40 seconds and the person who gives 20 percent should be allowed to speak for 3 minutes and 20 seconds, etc.
This is a ridiculous notion, of course, and a lot of Christians would not adopt this rule…but a lot of them would. I’ve seen the underbelly of Christianity and I can tell you it’s vindictive and petty. I’m positive this isn’t what Jesus (if he existed) didn’t have in mind for his “bride.” Regardless, offering plates will still be passed, business meetings will still be conducted, pastors will still beg their congregation for money, and televangelists will still con people out of their life savings so they can afford their Mercedes-Benz. This is just another reason I distanced myself from the church and want nothing to do with it.