Archive for June 1st, 2008


Cough it up

Today, we’re going to talk cold, hard cash, in the form of tithes and offerings (which, by the way, you can feel free to send me anytime you want, preferably in multiples of $50—damn! I forgot to set up a PayPal account for that). But before we do, consider this bit of wisdom from a stand-up routine of the almost-always-brilliant comedian George Carlin:

Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it, religion has actually convinced people that there’s an INVISIBLE MAN…LIVING IN THE SKY…who watches every thing you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten special things that he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry for ever and ever ’til the end of time…but he loves you…And he needs money! He’s all powerful, but he can’t handle money!

Now, I can’t tackle all of Carlin’s points in this post. You’d all fall asleep before I got to the end. Any it’s funny shit anyway, so I’ll let him alone for the time being. But I will address the last couple sentences, which clearly take a humorous jab at the idea of the collection plate being passed around in the church (or religious folks on TV trying to convince you to send a check or call in to give a credit card donation).

OK, just for the record, given that it would be kind of weird for churches to impose cover charges at the door and the fact they don’t have any product to sell you in brightly bedecked retail aisles, I think we can all agree that collection plates are necessary. It is incumbent on the members of a congregation to help support that congregation, just as we support worthy charitable causes and advocacy groups and whatever else.

But the question then comes down to: How much? What are you supposed to give? And if you don’t give, is God going to smite you with erectile dysfunction or a suspicious lump (depending on gender)?

Churches don’t always endear themselves to their members or their critics, either. Many churches have a suspicious-sounding “building fund” that they always send a second round of plates around for after the regular collection of tithes and offerings. People cough up money for it anyway, even though in many churches, it seems that the building never does improve. And despite the fact that there are some very honest and wholesome televised preachers, there are also some very whorish ones who try to sell you napkins or olive oil that have been blessed with miraculous healing powers and other complete bullcrap like that. People don’t remember the good guys on TV; they just see the greedy ones, assume they are all greedy, and throw around the word televangelist with the same tone of voice they use for child molester or crack cocaine dealer.

All that rambling aside, the standard rule seems to be to give 10% of your earnings to the church as tithes. This is in keeping with any number of Old Testament references to tithing. Of course, back in those days, you didn’t always give cash but might instead give the temple a portion of your harvest or fishing catch or something.

This brings up any number of other questions, like:

  • Is that 10% of my gross or my net?
  • Is that 10% of what I have left after I pay my bills?
  • Is that 10% of what I have after I pay my bills and buy a cool four-wheeler or big-screen TV this month?
  • Does that include 10% of my undeclared income from cash-under-the-table work I do?
  • If I give to really cool charities, can I deduct that from my total tithe requirement?
  • Can I give you an IOU for that, God?

For a long time after becoming born again and getting baptized of my own free will (as opposed to the splash of water on the baby’s head kind I got from being born Catholic), I believed wholeheartedly in the 10% tithing rule, and based on  the advice of my father-in-law (who was my pastor at the time), I gave 10% of what my paycheck said after the government had yanked my taxes out.

Of course, I started to run into some financial difficulties. Hell, I still have a bunch of them (worse ones in fact) than I did when my father-in-law was still my pastor. And when you have rent, bills, food and clothing needs, and car repairs—just for starters—it’s kind of hard to hand over 10% of your money to a church on the faith that God will make everything work out. The Old Testament tells folks that they need to trust God and that he will open the storehouses of heaven for them if they give. That’s faith, and I do believe we need to have more faith.

But at the same time, many things in the Old Testament don’t apply in the same way post-Jesus as they did before his death and resurrection. We all know that God doesn’t answer every prayer. Is it really logical to think that everyone who gives 10% of their income in the form of tithes is going to still see their bills get paid even if they have a constipated income flow or massive medical expenses or something else?

Not really.

Let’s consider this: Many of the rules of the Old Testament were around trying to illustrate to humans that they were incapable of obeying God and thus setting the stage for why they needed the Messiah to come along and repair their damaged relationship with God. Many of the rules were designed with the full awareness that people wouldn’t be able to follow them. Others were rules that were meant to maintain the health, cohesiveness and power of the Hebrews (dietary laws, mandates about procreation, making Jewish men put away their strange [that is, foreign] wives, etc.). And it must be stated that those rules were, at the time, directed at the Jews. Sure, God considered Gentiles to be sinful too, but he was focused on the Jews because they were His “Chosen People.” They were His representatives to the world and they were the group from which His son would be born. And so they were always held to higher (and even pettier, some might say) standards than anyone who ever had or ever will live under the grace of Jesus’ atoning death.

I’ve done a lot of reading on the theory of tithing lately, and it has been pointed out by many Bible scholars that despite a great many of the core rules of the Old Testament (the 10 commandments, mandates against sexual immorality and others) being reinforced by Jesus and by the apostles and by others in the New Testament—well, tithing isn’t really addressed. Jesus does mention tithing, but he does so as a way to illustrate how Hebrew priests and others would hold to the letter of the law while ignoring weightier aspects such as mercy and justice. No one in the New Testament really talks about people needing to tithe under the New Covenant nor mention any amounts that one should give.

Yes, there are many examples of people giving money to the church and being exhorted to give, but those are examples of how we are supposed to be generous in giving what we can (and sometimes more than we think we can) and not holding onto money that could better be used to help the widows, orphans, cripples and others the early church was aiding. And Jesus in the story about the widow’s mite shows an example of how someone with almost nothing who gives a tiny amount is more righteous than a rich man who gives only the minimum that he is expected to. But none of those things tells us that we must tithe, or that we must tithe a certain amount.

In talking to my father-in-law (or rather, Mrs. Blue talking to him and filtering knowledge back to me), in reading the theological discussions about tithing (like this one, and that one, and this other one here…and, oh yeah, here too), in reading the Bible myself and in praying to God, I am left with the following beliefs:

On tithing: If you have a church that you regularly attend, you should give a decent amount. You might want to give until it hurts a little. That’s called sacrifice, and it can be very character-building. Does that mean 5%? 10%? 20%? A blank check? The number and password into your Swiss bank account? I can’t tell you that. We need to give out our abundance (at the very least) and we need to give cheerfully, not out of habit or ritual or guilt. How much that means is between you and God. And if you’re not attending a church regularly, but you watch Charles Stanley or some other pastor on television or listen to them on the radio, you should probably give to that church. Basically, wherever you are being fed spiritually, that should be the primary recipient of your tithes. By all means, make sure your bills get paid, but don’t treat yourself at the expense of the church. Christianity exists in a world where money matters, and things like charitable work, missionary work, helping ailing church members, and the like all require money.

On offerings: If you visit a church but are not a member, you need to put something in that collection plate when it comes around, unless they locked you in the place and preached something totally offensive to you. I don’t care if it’s a dollar or a gold coin from a sunken Spanish pirate ship. Put…something…in…the…damn…plate. You took up space, you listened, and God is watching, so don’t be a douchebag.

And so, that’s how I feel about tithes and offerings. And the links in my post above that I already highlighted can give you some idea of what others think as well (oh, and for the only coherent item I found that insists we stick to the 10% rule, go here). It’s not doctrine what I’ve said here. It’s just some general good advice. It’s not that God needs your money, folks. Fact is, God owns everything already. But we have accountability and responsibility, and it is up to us to support the work of godly people here on Earth. We cannot simply sit back and put the burden on God to support them. We have to stand up and be counted. There are many ways we can do that, through volunteering, for example. But we also need to give from our wallets.

So, like the title of this blog says, cough it up. Don’t bitch. Don’t fret about the amount. But do please make sure you’re part of the solution and not some cheapskate who insists on making everyone else pick up the slack.

(Hey, got a last-minute addition here…there’s an interesting [and very long] post at this blog that makes an interesting point that tithing only refers to food. You could theoretically skip to the end of the post and read the last few paragraphs if you’re short on time. I think that might be too narrow of a view and thus maybe too much of a way of getting people off the hook, but it is very interesting, and also points to the fact that statistically, it is evident that tithing doesn’t lift poor people from their poverty through God’s blessings.)


Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley


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June 2008

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