Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Tithings of comfort and joy

I was really tired last night, so I found myself channel surfing after supper. I came across one of the channels I don't usually visit. I was pretty sure it was one of the three or four religious channels on our digital cable.

The graphic in the bottom right said, "Power Finances". At first I thought it was some sort of stock tip program, but then I remembered that "power" is a code word used to identify evangelical Christians. A quick check of the yellow pages identified half a dozen companies that have "power" in the name, presumably to show that they are Christian businesses.

Before I could change channels, the guy speaking (middle aged white man with a Southern accent) caught my attention. He was talking about tithing. He said he was astounded at the number of church goers who do not tithe 10% of their wages (he didn't specify gross or net, but apparently it's supposed to be gross) to the church. He went on to chastise these people, not because they were possibly forgetting that such a payment was tax deductible, but because he thought it was near blasphemy.

Most churches down here, from what Alana's told me, tithe. It's not required that you give 10% of your wages to your church, but it is very, very much encouraged. They can't force you, for that goes against a whole bunch of stuff in the bible. The amount you give is supposed to be up to you. If you are poor it's not expected (though still encouraged) that you tithe 10%. When I grew up, I remember that we put money in the collection plate (usually in little cream-coloured envelopes supplied by the church). I don't know how much we put in each week (and it's none of your business, either!) but I'm pretty sure it was nowhere near 10% of my Dad's wages! Maybe that's why the old Albert Street United Church in Oshawa had to shut its doors. Anyway, tithing wasn't a United Church of Canada thing, probably due to that church's Presbyterian roots. (Don't even think of posting a comment about cheap Scots!)

The guy on tv continued, in stern, disappointed tones, by saying that he knew that people weren't tithing enough. He did taxes for people and saw exactly who didn't contribute their voluntary but heavily encouraged 10%. Gee, that's what I want in a guy who I pay to fill out my taxes: contempt for not living up to his ideals. I'm sure his church pastor probably says something like, "Remember, Brother Dipstick is available to help you with your taxes," each year around tax time. I wonder how they'd feel if they knew he was keeping a Santa-esque "naughty and nice" list.

This is when things got really interesting. He said that every single one of these people who don't tithe, or don't tithe enough (which was just as bad) had problems in their lives. Each of them had marital problems, or problems at work, or — and this is a key one — financial problems.

The solution to this? Tithing! Yes, if they only gave money to their church, their lives would be much better. I guess in spite of everything said about God helping you if you pray or if you believe in him (or in Jesus; a lot of churches down here seem to worship Jesus more than God), it turns out that God really only goes that extra mile for those who tithe. I guess if you tithe and pray, that ovarian tumor will mysteriously vanish, but if you don't tithe (enough) and still pray the tumor will turn out to be benign, but you'll still have that ugly scar, you cheap bitch!

This is all according to the Power Finances guy, and he must be right, he had a bible and everything. He even quoted the bible to prove it. Well, he quoted Leviticus and a couple of other chapters from the bastardized Torah known as the "Old Testament". Whenever a preacher is about to chew your arse out for something, he quotes the Old Testament or Revelations. The Old Testament is the "bad cop" to the New Testament's "good cop".

I started laughing, of course. I mean, the solution to finding happiness for someone who has financial problems is to... give away 10% of their income? Oh, but to the church, though, not to, say, Wal-Mart or Citicorp. For only by tithing will you find true happiness and peace.

I did a quick Google and found that tithing isn't exactly universal among evangelicals. There is a whole sect (or several sects) following the New Covenant who find tithing to be the next best thing to actual sinning. I get the impression reading some of the New Covenant folk that you'd have a better chance of going to heaven by spending 10% of your wages in a Las Vegas casino (especially if you give some of the proceeds to charity) than you would if you tithed to a church. Tithing is borderline heretical to these folk. Here's a web site talking about it (it quotes the "good cop" part of the bible, so it must be right):

Finally, here is a story from This is to The Christian Science Monitor what The Onion is to The New York Times. I came across it this weekend after Alana and I bought A Field Guide to Evangelicals and Their Habitat by Joel Kilpatrick. The book quotes extensively from, which is run by the author.

Here's one of the stories, which is also found in the book (which is very, very funny!):
HOBOKEN — Martha Givens, a faithful member of Walnut Methodist Church, won the $89 million New Jersey state lottery Tuesday, then left town, surprising her longtime pastor, Duane Marshall.

"I guess the right words would be 'deeply disappointed,'" Marshall said. Immediately after the news of Givens' winning broke, he and the board had hired an architectural firm to build a new, multi-million dollar youth center. As a church of 124, the youth center couldn't be built without Givens' tithe from the lottery winnings.

"They were rubbing their hands together with glee in that room," said a dissenting board member. "Martha's been so consistent through the years, they felt this was money in the bank. I warned them she might turn tail. Eighty-nine million is a lot of money."

Family members were keeping mum about Givens' whereabouts, though one self-described "black sheep" cousin said the grandmother of two was "somewhere in the Caribbean, dancing, hitting the senior singles bars and doing all sorts of things Methodists don't normally do." She was uncertain if and when Givens would return. A sign in Givens' lawn indicated the house is for sale, and her front door was covered with "please call me" notes from old friends and acquaintances.

But Marshall hasn't given up hope.

"Martha, if you read this, we'll take five percent, one percent, whatever you'll give," he said. "The Martha Givens Youth Center won't be a reality without you."

No comments: