Can Tithing Hurt You During a Financial Crisis?

Last week, USA Today ran an article about how some Christians continue to tithe (give 10% of their income to church) despite not being able to pay their mortgage:

“I’ve had home owners who face foreclosure sitting in front of me saying, ‘I’ll do anything, anything to keep my home,” said Ozell Brooklin, director of Acorn Housing in Atlanta, a nonprofit which offers foreclosure counseling.

“But after we’ve gone through their monthly expenses and the only thing left to cut is their tithe, they say ‘I guess this home is not for me’ and they walk away,” he said.

I can understand religious people putting God before their own comforts. To them, tithing is not a minor expense; it’s the most important thing they can do with their income.

But if you were their pastor, wouldn’t it be prudent of you to refuse their money? Why not tell them to take care of themselves and their family before the church?

Or if you do give money to church but face financial difficulties, why not give less money but volunteer more of your time?

Even suggesting this may backfire:

“You can suggest that maybe they can pay their tithe in kind, through volunteer work,” said Bathsheba Wyatt-Draper, a counselor at nonprofit lender NHS Chicago. “But if they react badly, you have to let it go. Period.”

Giving the money when you don’t have it seems counterproductive to me.

If you take care of yourself and your family, you’ll probably be able to give much more to the church in the future.

By putting God first — regardless of the situation — the religious people are thinking short-term only. That’s not going to help them or their church.

Church leaders who know parishioners in these dire situations, but continue to take their tithed income, are just taking advantage of these people.

(via Get Rich Slowly. Thanks to Lexi for the link!)

  • Polly

    But after we’ve gone through their monthly expenses and the only thing left to cut is their tithe, they say ‘I guess this home is not for me’ and they walk away,”

    As a former tither myself, who actually went beyond the 10% “minimum” I am truly sickened by this. I don’t know if I would have made the same decision, but it would have come close and I know that if I decided to keep the home, I would’ve had some guilt to deal with.

    Religion CAN and DOES lead to self-destructive decisions, sometimes.

    Here’s another story I read today about irrational religiosity and how it might hurt:
    Israeli backpackers trapped by snowstorm in remote Indian village treated to rescue mission by consulate, local air force, but two girls refuse to desecrate Shabbat by boarding helicopter
    Note that “Their friends pleaded with them, citing the life-saving extenuation of the law, but they were adamant.”

    • Oliver John

      Thanks folks, my new book, Tithing – the financial disater of Christians? answers this confusion. Available from this week.

  • Jason R

    The thing is that religious people who tithe think that they will get rewarded 10 fold or (some other amount) for what they tithe. Its really one of the greatest scams ever invented.

    The way to heaven is through Jesus Christ, and an additional 10%.

  • mikespeir

    But if you’re “sowing the seed,” you’re gonna “reap the harvest,” don’t you know? That is, unless you’re not holding your mouth right or something.

    I find it humorous to watch preachers tying themselves in knots trying to show from the Bible that tithing is a present-day expectation while, say, not eating pork isn’t. The latter went away with the New Covenant but, mysteriously, the former didn’t.

  • Richard Wade

    Maybe people could do what the Bush Administration does. Deficit tithing. Just keep writing I.O.U.’s to God, and let their grandchildren foot the bill.

  • SarahH

    That’s really sad, and I hope this isn’t happening very often. It’s hard to argue – the NT has Jesus praising the poor woman who gave the only three coins she had to the church and condemning the rich over and over.

    I wish people would practice moderation more often in religious activities. I was reading about Ramadan again this morning and it struck me how common sense has permeated the ritual. You aren’t expected to fast if you’re a child or elderly or if you have health problems, and you’re never expected to go without food completely (like the Jain girl in the CT article from a few weeks ago), just abstain during the day.

    Tithing just shouldn’t be expected of people in below a certain income level, especially if these people have children who don’t have a choice regarding where their parents spend their money.

  • Joseph R.

    I go to a UU church and put one dollar in the offering plate each week because I drink a large portion of their coffee every Sunday and I would feel like a bum if I didn’t compensate them for that coffee. Otherwise, I see no reason to tithe, and I like run-on sentences. Maybe I should cut back on the coffee.

  • http://laffingboi.blogspot.com Laughing Boy

    The proper motivation to tithe is one’s love of God and the desire to provide resources for the work of the church…which includes helping others who are in financial crisis. It is also a way of acknowledging that all we have comes from God, including all our money and the ability we have to earn and save it. Those who tithe because they are guilt-tripped into it by their leaders should reconsider their motivation regardless of their financial resources. Putting oneself first is, of course, perfectly sensible for the atheist and it is the the easiest option for the Christian as well. But if the Christian trusts God to provide their necessities, why should they worry about themselves above all else? Why shouldn’t they help others and the Kingdom of God by tithing?

  • David D.G.

    Can Tithing Hurt You During a Financial Crisis?

    Hemant, I really hope you meant that question rhetorically, as in: “Can bleeding hurt you when you’ve already lost a lot of blood?” or “Can breathing water hurt you when you’re already half drowned?” Otherwise, even asking the question is extremely absurd, let alone even remotely considering any answer other than YES.

    ~David D.G.

  • Indriel

    Well, the whole purpose of the tithe is to help those in need and if you’re one of those people and the preacher knows this, he should make an effort to use that tithe to help you, especially if you’ve been faithfully tithing for a long period. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate refusing to allow people to tithe. When my money’s refused I feel hurt and insulted. But I do greatly appreciate it when people recognize what I’ve done and make an effort to help me if I need it too.

  • Vincent

    haven’t you seen the tv preachers who say “give more than you can afford” or “look at how much money you have in the bank and send all of it” don’t worry, God will pay you back double!

    it’s despicable.

    As a Catholic, there was no tithing, though I think my family put way too much money into the collection basket every week.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    When I was a pastor I had several people whom I knew were in extreme financial difficulty offer to give money to the church. I refused them every time and encouraged them to contribute to the church in other ways (e.g. volunteering time, contributing to the worship gathering, serving in the community etc.) if they wanted to “give back”.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    I’m sure it only seems silly because we see tithing as a form of moral extortion. Donate money to the church or you don’t love God. To we atheists it is obvious: there is no God to love so why pay up.

    To a Christian they have this conviction that they are loved by a perfect being who understands and forgives them for every passing negative thought and action, a perfect and personal love. Why wouldn’t they want to pay for the glorification of this being who loves them so completely? Why would they hold back even a penny?

    That is a different issue to the treatment of the pastor to accept this money or not to redistribute it to those who need it most. The pastor is a flawed human in need of redemption, they cannot be expected to act perfectly. That has no real bearing on the need to give though.

  • BZ

    Not all churches keep track of how much people tithe, and not all people would decide to tell the church they are in a financial crisis. It isn’t always the pastor’s fault.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    This is another one of those “reality vs. fictional” issues. Paying tithing, while I’m sure helps some feel they will get some blessings or positive from it, eschew the logic of the real world, foreclose on the house and wait for something good to happen because they paid their tithing to a church.

    Now, if that tithing goes to help people, then that’s even more illogical. If you are losing your house vs. someone else needing money to pay their cable bill, I think logic should beat out God in this sense.

  • http://www.sophisticatedrelationships.com/blog Lexi

    I think there is something to “giving to others less fortunate than you” and when you are one of the less fortunate, the ability to give may help you feel more fortunate than you actually are. I think you make some good points though- – it is short sighted to give when it hurts you, and potentially your ability to give more in the future.

    If the church then gives them money to help them in the tight spot, and they continue to tithe, then it’s like paying back a loan– I wonder why churches don’t help those who tithe when they are in tight spots like that?

    One thing that I think the Mormon church got right, was the keeping a supply of food that can last a long time. Granted it is for “the rapture”, however, in times of financial crisis it can be used to reduce expenses by consuming that food.

  • http://notreallyalice.wordpress.com Alice

    “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”

    A lot of people rely on this promise. But I think many Christians quit tithing if they can’t pay the bills; I know my mom had to talk my dad out of tithing when we had a ton of credit card debt.

    An old church of mine even said that the most irresponsible thing you could do when you’re in debt is to tithe! The reasoning being, don’t you dare make God your excuse to go back on your promises (paying your bills).

  • http://bornagainblog.wordpress.com Justin

    Church leaders who know parishioners in these dire situations, but continue to take their tithed income, are just taking advantage of these people.

    One of the stepping stones on my way from Christianity to Humanism was the question, Jesus says to sell all you have and give it to the poor, but what if you are the poor?

    I’ve always been hard up and tithing just isn’t something a smart person does when there’s a chance you might lose the roof over your head.

    And yes, any pastor who takes the money is a thief.

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Some people make pledges or commitments to their church to give a certain amount per month for an agreed period of time. I would consider that a contract and hope they would try to follow through with it if at all possible.

    I would have to venture to guess that it is only a small minority who would continue to “tithe” to their church if they, themselves, fell into financial hardship.

    But let me make it clear that giving money to support a church is not the same thing as giving to God. A church is an organization of people. We contribute to organizations that we believe in and support. Isn’t that true with everyone, theists and atheists alike? The church is not God.

    If a Christian believes that God will reward them for tithing, they are in for a big surprise. Every time I hear those claims, I start to have an allergic reaction.

    I give what I can because I care about the success of my fellowship. I am passionate about my pastor’s ministry and believe in his vision for the future of the fellowship. But let it be said that it’s not God that I give to. God doesn’t need my money.

    That’s my perspective.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    Why the heck aren’t the churches helping out people struggling to keep their homes.

    Not only should they be refusing the tithe from people who are struggling, they should be returning some of the fortune they’ve already received from their poor victims.

    Of course, con-artists are not exactly known for caring one jot about their victims, so its no surprise.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    By putting God first — regardless of the situation — the religious people are thinking short-term only. That’s not going to help them or their church.

    Actually, they’re thinking long-term: like eternity. God will take care of them like sparrows and so on, as long as they tithe.

    Even if they lose their house, they’re being “faithful”.

    And if they think they’re living in the End Times, even less do they need to keep that house…

    I agree that their church should refuse the tithe, but what are the odds?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Why the heck aren’t the churches helping out people struggling to keep their homes.

    Many are.

  • Awesomesauce

    Many are.

    That’s good to hear. I know my old church does, though I’m not sure how many of its congregation would ask for financial assistance from the church.

  • crf

    People in dire straights may develop a hatred of money. They think “this money won’t help me much, why shouldn’t I give it away, it’s mine to do with as I please, and I love God, he can put it to better use than I”.

    Poor financial situations may cause poor self esteem, which leads to self-destructive behaviour. It’s akin to behaviours like some drug abuse, physical abuse and anorexia: where people destructively manage things within their control, their mind, body or spouse, to somehow compensate for things they cannot control, or have let out of their control, like their financial situation, their relationships, or their self-motivation or self-esteem.

    Giving a little money is not likely to hurt. Giving excessively while your personal or family’s situation deteriorates is a problem a priest ought to recognize and more forcefully investigate and act to stop. It is a self-destructive behaviour.

  • cipher

    Putting oneself first is, of course, perfectly sensible for the atheist

    Yeah, that isn’t too condescending.

  • cipher

    Polly, regarding that story on Ynet – this absolutely drives me crazy. Since WW II, under the influence of the ultra-Orthodox, all of Jewish Orthodoxy has moved significantly to the right, and has assimilated all of their psychoses. Included among them is a one-upsmanship, a more-pious-than-thou attitude. Not only would it have been perfectly acceptable for them to violate the Sabbath in order to save their lives, or even to protect their health, it’s actually mandated by Jewish law – but some black hat rabbi has them so intimidated they don’t know which end is up. And, the thing is – these kids are what we call “Modern Orthodox”; if they were ultra-Orthodox, they wouldn’t be backpacking in India in the first place. There was a time when these kids would have gotten onto the helicopter without a moment of hesitation. This is a small demonstration of the many, many ways in which fundamentalism has screwed up Orthodoxy even more than it already was. Go back to the story over the next week; you’ll start to see comments from ultra-Orthodox people defending the girls’ decision, and condemning furiously anyone who disagrees with them.

    Today is Rosh Hoshanah, and this sort of thing is very much on my mind.

  • Polly

    @cipher,

    Go back to the story over the next week; you’ll start to see comments from ultra-Orthodox people defending the girls’ decision,

    I did notice a few defenders. But, they mainly posited that the situation probably wasn’t dire enough. But, what the other 11 friends said about “life-saving extenuation” makes me doubt that rationale.

    if they were ultra-Orthodox, they wouldn’t be backpacking in India in the first place.

    In a way, that’s even worse. That amounts to shackling yourself to a post your entire life, settling for a diminished existence.

    Happy New Year to you!

  • cipher

    Happy New Year to you!

    Thanks! I didn’t even see the comments; they didn’t show up in my browser. I thought the story was too new. Even now, you can see the divide – the secular Jews are disgusted, the ultra-Orthodox say they were absolutely right and we should all be ashamed, and the Modern Orthodox, in the middle, whining, “Well, maybe the conditions weren’t all that serious…”. Please. I hear this all the time.

  • http://humanistmama.blogspot.com Humanist Mama

    I don’t have a lot of confidence in pastors doing the right thing. I listen to a local church’s sermons every once in awhile. There was one series of sermons on tithing and giving money to the church (they’re building an 8 million dollar building).

    In the second sermon, the pastor spoke about a woman who had called the previous week. She had told him that she couldn’t afford to put food on the table for her kids and thought it was arrogant of him to assume that everybody can give 10%. His response was to tell her that she should still give because that is when god will bless her. Don’t worry…god will take care of you.

    Now if it were me, I think I might offer to help her pay for food for her kids. Silly me. Of course, I understand this is not the way it is at every church. This is a church where the pastor lives in a house that is worth at least double what his average parishioner’s house is worth. Unfortunately, there are many pastors like this who care more about their paycheck than the well being of the church members.

  • Spurs Fan

    This tithing thread struck a chord with me today as I was driving to work while listening to NPR (typical liberal, eh?). They were doing their regular fundraising drive and I realized that the comments they were making (“Call us and help us out with a donation, listener-supported radio is important”, etc.) were very similar to the ones that I hear on Christian radio stations in my area. The only difference is that the Christian stations ask people to pray about it and then praise god when they reach their goal, while the NPR folk use the “use it, you should support it” logic and then heavily thank all of the supporters when they reach their goal.

    Hmmm…very interesting.

    Oh and Mike C, are you not a pastor anymore? Did I mis something during my hiatus awat from the blog?

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    As if that’s not bad enough, people who are already so far in debt they’ve gone bankrupt are still tithing, thanks to S.4044, which legally allows them to do so while leaving creditors unpaid. I don’t understand the people who claim moral superiority then leave their personal debts unpaid while making unnecessary tithes to the church thanks to a legal maneuver like that.

  • Hoot

    If you don’t trust your Pastor, you might be at the wrong church – you can move. One of our parishoners got $2,000 from the church to stem a foreclosure – it can work. I tithe bacause the church family can use help – like the things people used to do in small town America.


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