It’s a simple, mutual beneficial transaction, that takes place between an individual struggling to pay the bills and an organization struggling to build a bigger building. The one receives the ‘gift’ from the other, promises blessings as long as there is obedience, and then puts a call out in next week’s bulletin on how behind budget they are or how much more they need to get to the next phase of their building campaign. Both parties are struggling in their own right, in their own way, trying to get ahead, to feel like they are making progress, to improve one’s financial standing. Yet, oddly enough, the organization cannot exist without the individual, because it is a machine, that because of its design, must be fed, must continue to grow, must continue to churn out new and better and bigger. Ironically this machine is fed by the individual who created it in the first place. A slave to the organization, never free from one’s own crushing financial concerns because of some ritualistic obligation to feed the machine.
This, of course, is not how church is supposed to look like at all. Yet…
In all fairness this could possibly only be an Evangelical thing as I have looked at other faiths from the outside and nothing seems out of the ordinary there. People seem to give large amounts of money to those other organizations – quite willingly it would seem and yet they all seem relatively happy. But if I were to judge happiness based on what I see in the church parking lot then why the hell am I even offering any critique of the Evangelical church in the first place? According to the parking lot test, every denomination seems to be doing just fine.
So, sticking with my own experience I am torn with this idea of tithing in the traditional sense of it. First, the holy grail of all churches here in Canada is their CRA number. This magical number allows the organization to issue a tax receipt to anyone who donates financially to it. You take away the ability to issue a tax receipt and the transaction between the individual and the organization is no longer mutually beneficial. It would be curious to see just how many organizations would fold as a result of no longer having the ability to issue tax receipts. Not that I am opposed to such a radical idea! After all, my own paycheck comes in part through the donations of individuals to the organization I work for. Though there are many who donate to the organization who do not want or need a tax receipt, I wouldn’t be able to provide for my family if my paycheck was limited to just those individuals.
Therefore, it would seem that this mutually beneficial arrangement needs to continue. Absolutely. Much social work in Canada is done through local non-profit organizations, some religious and some not, but all having in common that registered number with the CRA – allowing the financial transaction to become a tax receipt. Take that away and we undermine a large social fabric of our society. No, I have no desire whatsoever to go after this aspect of the structure. Instead, my concern is over the embedded necessitation of tithing – the push from the pulpit on the ‘sinfulness’ of not tithing – the guilt trip of holding back any portion of the 100% of finances that the Lord gave you in the first place. Yes, most definitely this is where my concern lies.
When someone sends a letter to our organization or calls us asking to be removed from our mailing list (our primary way of soliciting funds) we do it. When someone contacts us to let us know that for years they have supported us financially but now things are really tight and they have to scale back or stop all together – that individual is given empathy, a big thanks for supporting us, and they are removed from any solicitation mail that we would send out. It wasn’t always this way. After all we rely on public donations to operate so the old mentality was to preach poverty and personify guilt so the donor would ultimately end up giving to us in spite of their personal situation. Oddly enough it has taken a few years to stop this from happening, in part because our mailings are planned six months in advance, and in part because that was the system, and it takes a lot of effort to make a change to the system. Fortunately, the Executive Director sees tremendous value in the idea of caring for our donors and regularly asks for updates on such situations to make sure that our people are doing what we have directed them to do – and that is to respect what the donor has asked for in the first place. No strings attached.
But I cringe in pain when I think of how a similar situation may unfold in one of our Evangelical churches. The pressure is on to grow grow grow and somehow in the midst of it all ‘donor’ care, or in this case, congregant care, doesn’t seem to carry the same amount of attention. Orphans and Widows be damned.