I grew up in a fairly conservative evangelical church. Every year, there was “Stewardship Sunday.” Now, while it was about far more than just giving to the church, that was a major reason for it.
And I have to admit, that the stewardship sermons are actually a part of why I try to be ecologically responsible. I may not be Christian anymore, but that early programming – of being responsible with what you’ve been given – for me means that we, as the human race MUST be responsible with the Earth.
But, as much as the sermons were about being responsible with the “blessings that God has given to you,” they were also a reminder that the church had a budget, and to plan what could be done during that fiscal year, there had to be some idea of what kind of income the church could expect. For many churches, that comes down to giving each member a “commitment card” to say what kind of giving they could afford over the coming year.
Sounds reasonable, yes?Only if the church doesn’t turn around and hound the members for the money if they can’t give the amount that they thought they could at the time the cards went out. Only if the church doesn’t try to FORCE the money out of the members.
Look, I understand, churches have financial needs. If you own a building for your congregation, there are fiscal responsibilities. If you have regular clergy, the time and energy they spend in caring for their congregation leaves little time for the clergy to actually have a full time job outside of that care.
It’s an argument that has raged continuously in the Pagan community, and there are good arguments on both sides. The different types of Paganism out there have clergy (I’m a minister myself), but they don’t pay them. So, yes, we don’t have organizations that can pay for a person to do member to member calls for those who are hospitalized, who are shut-ins, who are in prison. We have individuals who do it on their own time, and with their own cash.
But, giving is supposed to be a sign of gratitude to God for the blessings He has given. And EVERY family has struggles, sometimes very heavy ones that can cause them to tighten their belts and unfortunately end some expenditures. It’s not about not being grateful when they can’t give, but struggling to simply live.
I Timothy 5:8 says: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (NIV)
The Bible specifically says that the family MUST come first. It also states that the churches should be HELPING their poor members. Not just the church itself, but the OTHER members of the church who are better off should also be helping.
Some churches do this well. Not only does the church make sure that the poorer members are taken care of by things like food shelves, clothing drives, and other charitable offerings, but the other members dig down and help out personally.
Other churches? If someone’s having trouble, they get avoided – as if being poor is something that is contagious. They get told that they are sinful, and that God must be punishing them for something horrible that no one but God knows about. They get told their faith is weak, because if it were strong, that family would be rich. At best, they are pitied (an emotion MUCH different than sympathy), and at worse, are abused by people who are supposedly part of their “family of faith.”
Perhaps my standards for Christian living are too high. Perhaps my family, and the pastors I knew growing up taught me to expect far too much of the average Christian.
Naw, this shit happened back then too. My father lost a parish for simply doing a sermon on I Timothy 6:10 (Love of money is the root of all evil). The family that essentially owned the town took offense at that, because they felt he was specifically preaching “against them.” They hounded my family out of that town by lies, by fear, by slander. All because one family felt guilty – and blamed him for it.
There are many reasons I left Christianity. But I would be lying if I said that these kinds of experiences (there were others) did not have an impact. They are a far SMALLER part of my reasons than some want to believe – maybe 5% in all – but they are there. And yes, there is still some part of me that still feels some bitterness. But, my current faith gives me that same deep support of faith that my entire family has found in Christianity – and that’s why I have been of my faith since my early 20s – not any pain from bad Christians. I don’t blame the whole of Christianity for the actions of some so-called “Christians.”
To get back on track, I think some churches need to take a good, hard look at themselves. If they are claiming to live by the strictures of the Bible, they had better reassess their actions.