Sunday, March 02, 2008

Russell Kelly and others on Tithing

Viewer advisory: If you are a tithing Christian this video may make you angry, so get past your righteous indignation and come to terms with the content. Even if you don't like the thrust of the piece, be aware that CBS Sunday Morning is not some obscure corner of journalism. This is mainstream media stuff.


Ecce Quam Bonam said...

Interesting piece, and, as always with this kind of thing, it can be hard to separate the sheep from the goats. Forced giving causes me problems, but I know firsthand, from a life spent tithing (actually 17% is our current target) that if you give to God first, off the top, there always seems to be enough for whatever our family needs and for many of the wants as well. And sometimes it makes absolutely no sense how the amount of money coming in covered all that it did. This is something I learned from my parents, who managed to make a very nice life for us on the modest salary paid my father by smallish to middle-sized Episcopal parishes.

I also know from experience that God pays for what he wants, usually very well indeed, and churches that are doing what he wants them to do don't have to hold ridiculous events or pound on their parishioners to get it. (Read 'Miracle In Darien' by Bob Slosser for a nice account of how that happens.)

From my perspective, again based on my experience, whatever you give to the Lord (regardless of who actually receives it) comes back greatly magnified, geometrically increased. This harkens back to a different scripture than the one from Malachi. One thing that is clear is that you can't tip God and he's not interested in guilt money.

The most cogent argument for "giving" is something I heard sung almost every Sunday growing up:

All things are thine; no gift have we,
Lord of all gifts, to offer thee:
and hence with grateful hearts today
thine own before thy feet we lay.
(John Greenleaf Whittier, 1872)

That kind of sums the whole matter up rather neatly, don't you think? None of it really is ours anyway, even the "other 90%". The point is to acknowlege the Almighty and, out of gratitude (and obedience to his own command) make a sacrifice of our best for his use rather than our own. It is simple gratitude with a little humility, neither of which are found in great supply among modern westerners.

BTW, the Stevens Creek Church mentioned in the clip is about two miles from my house. They don't have a rule about tithing so much as teachings about what it actually is, and they welcome everybody, whether they tithe or not, which isn't something the CBS producers appeared very interested in making clear.

Though not surprising since most of them don't claim any faith, it's still a pity that the members of the MSM don't seem able to discriminate among the predatory televangelists and powerful--even if non-traditional-- communities of faith. I would have expected better of old Harry, who I believe is a member of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. On second thought, perhaps not.

Jim said...

Hoots, the Rev. Marty Baker, the pastor mainly profiled in this piece, is a good friend of mine, and a very transparent, upright man. I have also met Kenneth Copeland several times, and from mutual friends understand that he is prosperous, yet incredibly generous. The jet makes him more productive than commercial flying, and he gives away his previous jet every time he buys a new one.

The sad thing is that reporters like this one cannot understand Baker's motivation, so they measure churches by their own motivation, thereby betraying their own love of money. What a hack job.

Hoots said...

I can relate to both these comments. I would not have known about this program except that I am also a personal friend of Russ Kelly and his wife for the last five years and they gave me the heads-up.

You can appreciate that I'm reluctant to comment about what can be a touchy topic. My wife and I have been tithing for years and feel blessed to be able to do so. But I know that Russ is receiving a lot of support, especially from people who have been victimized by manipulative preachers, some with the best of intentions.

I'm familiar with the Darien reference mentioned from knowing Lee and Audrey Buck, and once heard Terry Fulham speak at our church. (The Time Magazine archived story is available online. It's thirty years old and reads like a Who's Who of contemporary evangelists.)

I visited the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in October, 2001, three weeks after 9/11. They had strung a trapeze or tightwire in the sanctuary which had been set for some kind of banquet. Odd use of a worship space to say the least. A visit to St. Patrick's was much more reqarding... service in progress in mid-afternoon.

As you said, Jim, this can be called a hack job, but some of the big mainlike protestant ministries have vast economic resources. Nothing like the Catholics, but they haven't been around as many centuries. I didn't realize that collections during the service is a modern practice from only the last two hundred years.

I showed the clip to one woman who gasped when she saw "ATM's for God" installed in the church. "Money changing in the temple!" she said. I'm still thinking about that one. Maybe I should have skipped Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry years ago. It may have poisoned my mind.

Jim said...

Hoots, Baker's ATM project was profiled on Fox News Channel last year. He sincerely wants to make it convenient and efficient to give, and for one thing, the use of these machines takes out the possibility of corruption in the accounting. Your friend is probably sweet and gentle, but her moneychanger comment is knee-jerk and completely inappropriate. The men Jesus excoriated were hawking doves, lambs, etc., i.e., selling forgiveness. Maybe Robert Tilton fits that profile, but not Baker with the ATMS.

The underlying assumption of the TV piece is that money is not spiritual, and is somehow dirty. Jesus' use of financial parables, and the principles He promotes in them, shows that money is quite useful in His kingdom, and simply takes on the character of the persons handling it. Dirty people equals dirty money. Godly people equals godly money.

As an aside, isn't it interesting that your commenters each have had personal contact with the folks involved?

Hoots said...

I agree. ATM machines in a modern church strike me as no more problematical than food courts in malls (which, by the way, have been a nail in the coffin for old-fashioned cafeterias like the one in which I made a career.) Times change, and so does the Kingdom.

If I recall correctly, Paul's letters to Timothy make reference to some well-heeled early Christians as well, so money and it's fruits are clearly part of the program.

As for the few degrees of separation here among the commments, I have come to expect them. Two days ago I learned that the grandson of one of the residents where I work, forty miles away, is engaged to the neice of a neighbor across the street! The father of the groom and I went to the same high school in Columbus, Ga. and graduated one year apart...and we never met until his mother came to live where I work. For me, these intersections are almost a way of life.

Ecce Quam Bonam said...

I meant that Charles Osgood (rather than 'Old Harry') goes to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Given your experience with that particular place of worship, you probably understand my "second thought" about his "knowing better". For several decades now, just who is being worshipped there isn't all that clear. In fact, at one point many years ago they hosted some sort of pagan-- possibly fertility-- play, ritual or dance that was so outrageous and disgusting, such a clear desecration, that many people were seriously worried the place was no longer consecrated.

I too have heard of Kenneth Copeland's generosity. I believe the biggest problem some televangelists have is simply with their accounting practices. They don't keep track of what comes in and goes out as exactly as they should (and they haven't really needed to as far as the IRS goes), so it easily can appear that it is going into the star's pockets, especially if his lifestyle is a lot more luxurious than that of the vast majority of his contributors. It does build the resentment.

My parents had a good way of dealing with the lifestyle issue. Some parishes paid him better than most of the parishioners made, mainly because of his advanced degree and the number of kids he had. There were times when we could have lived in a nicer house or a better neighborhood than we did, but my parents made the choice in every parish to live at the level of the median among the parishioners. The rich weren't appalled and the poor weren't embarrassed.

Televangelists probably wouldn't have an audience if local churches did a better job of reaching out and building faith commuities, ie, if there were more places like Mr. Baker's church. It's the people who can't go to church or who can't stand the rest of the people in the pews who pay for these preachers, by and large, although I know several people who have benefitted greatly from teachings given by Kenneth Copeland and Joyce Meyers. The Robert Tiltons of the air waves bug me a lot.

But even they have their uses, believe it or not.