Church Takes Man’s Money Even Though He’s Broke

Want a happy way to start to your morning?

You’re not getting it.

Whetu Abraham is 54-years-old and a “partial tetraplegic with head injuries.” He sits in a wheelchair. He can’t afford dental care. He no longer has his life savings.

Meanwhile, he has been giving the Napier, New Zealand Oasis Elim Church the little money he does have, year after year, and they have accepted it… seemingly without any guilt whatsoever:

[Said Rest home manager Lucy Dever] “He’s got no family or next-of-kin on our list, and they’ve taken everything from him. It is unethical, immoral and I believe un-Christian.

“He used to have a nest egg but now he has no life savings. He believes if he doesn’t give it to them, he won’t go to heaven.”

About a year ago, when she discovered the rate at which Mr Abraham was handing over his life savings –- he gave about $10,000 in 2008 –- she spoke to church pastor Bruce Collingwood.

“I explained that he is not a wealthy man. He is nearly on the poverty line and the money he had, he needed. Sure, some could go to the church, but not all of it.

“The pastor said it was Whetu’s choice and said it was tithing [taking a tenth of a person’s income for the church],” Ms Dever said.

She questioned how it could be tithing as Mr Abraham was “certainly not” on an income of at least $100,000 for the church to take 10 per cent.

Mr. Abraham then gave nearly $12,000 in 2009. The church knew his condition but they took his money anyway.

Ms Dever said she spoke again to Mr Collingwood in April this year when she discovered Mr Abraham had exhausted his life savings.

“He [Mr Collingwood] said there was nothing wrong with what they were doing and he has a different outlook on money.

Mr Collingwood declined to comment yesterday.

“I don’t like the spin of the media. No comment at all thank you.”

Ugh… makes you sick, doesn’t it?

I would think most pastors would suggest that people give (tithe), but not to the point where it gets in the way of their own well-being.

One reader had another big question: Where is that money going?

She wrote in an email:

… This really makes me angry and I wish more people would publicly stand up and condemn this sort of appalling behavior. I grew up in a Pentecostal church and now that I’m an adult (and an atheist) I remember how my pastors were driving the newest cars and had designer clothes, when my family was about as poor as it’s possible to be while still having a roof over our heads. We were living on rice and milk powder, and yet still giving money to the church. These pastors have no qualms about fleecing poor people, and I’m sick of them being protected because of their “beliefs.”

I’m not sure where the money is going, and I certainly hope it’s not for personal gain. This story is disturbing enough as it is. In either case, it’s about money that the church (and it’s leadership) should not be accepting.

I emailed Pastor Collingwood last night to see if the story portrayed his church accurately, if his church plans to give anything back to Mr. Abraham, and if the congregation plans to do anything to help him out.

He wrote me back saying he didn’t feel the article was accurate. He said he may be issuing a response of some sort — but it was suggested to him (and, honestly, I agree) that he should wait a day or two because it’ll allow for a less reactionary, more accurate/factual response.

If and when he makes a statement, I’ll post an update.

***Update***: The pastor sent me this statement:

This article most certainly did not portray our church accurately.

Anyone who knows our church knows we do a lot to help our community and would only ever try to help people not hurt them

We have cared for Whetu for over 11 years and have helped him in many ways and will continue to


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • http://edward.murrell.co.nz Edward

    *sigh*

    Great. Now everyone’s going to think we’re a country of thieves and charlatans. Not all Kiwis are like that, I swear.

  • http://criticallyskeptic.blogspot.com Kevin

    A person like Mr. Abraham is precisely who the money from church donations should be going to help. They should not only not take his money, but additionally they should use whatever they can in order to help the guy.

    Eesh, Christian charity my ass.

  • http://www.redheadedskeptic.com Laura

    Sickening and totally not surprising. Our first church (which consisted of very well-to-do members) paid us under the poverty line and still expected us to tithe 10% of our income BACK to them. Our second church paid us over the poverty line, but just barely; we still lived paycheck to paycheck, and received flak every time we chose food over tithing.

  • brent

    what…… EXACTLY do priests actually…. do?

    other than give/refuse permission for people to do things in their private life… what are they…….. for?

  • brent

    Laura – I love how it’s 10% of your pre-tax money too…

  • Bill

    In South Africa I worked with people on low salaries and they would give to local ‘preachers’, one of whom drove a Mercedes. When I tried, in a roundabout way, to suggest that this seemed ‘odd’ one of my coworkers said ‘oh, God wants him to be one of the amaBenzi’ – meaning people who have Mercedes Benz cars. Nice.

  • Silent Service

    @ Bill,

    It amazes me that people believe religious leaders deserve the finer things in life when they are supposed to be following the example of Jesus. Stunning.

  • Roxane

    @Edward: Every country has its embarrassments, and no, these do not taint the majority. At least, as an American, I hope not.

  • JimG

    I notice that Pastor Collingwood cites no specifics whatsoever. What, exactly, have they done for their community? What have they even done for Whetu? No pictures of a public community center they’ve built? No stories of feeding the homeless? No church group coming to fix up Whetu’s house?

    Anybody can claim to do good works. American televangelists do, and offer token examples while rolling in gold. Collingwood doesn’t even do that. He needs to put his mouth where Whetu’s money is.

  • OneNobleKinsman

    “We have cared for Whetu for over 11 years and have helped him in many ways and will continue to”

    Praying doesn’t count.

    @ Silent Service – they ARE doing what Jesus would…recall passage Matthew 26:6-12 about the woman and the perfume.

    Yup…Jesus says it so it must be the way!

  • Angie

    Sickening. There’s no excuse for financially exploiting this man through fear of hellfire. Collingwood should be ashamed of himself.

  • Moxiequz

    Is that the complete statement by the pastor? It almost looks as if it were cut off. If it is complete then it addresses and answers absolutely nothing. There’s no mention of why the church would continue to take money from someone that they now knew was impovrished or any specific details on how exactly the initial story was incorrect. It looks like the pastor has been caught out and he’s now trying desperately to shift the focus elsewhere by playing the “we’re helping the community” card.

  • Azzere

    As a New Zealander (and a human!) I felt compelled to let Mr Collingwood know how I felt about this. The email I could find is theoasis@xtra.co.nz if anyone else wants to.

    An NZ newspaper quoted Whetu as saying: “Hopefully, my understanding is simple, you help them, they help you. They used to come and visit me [in the rest home] but it’s not often now.” http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/3832919/Church-takes-mans-life-savings

    Yeah, because he has no more money for them the take. Vultures.

  • http://findingmyfeminism.blogspot.com/ Not Guilty

    So much for thinking indulgences were a thing of the past. Un-freaking-believable. I am glad my grandparents still have their faculties about them so their church doesn’t rob them blind.

  • Richard P.

    Says he as the vultures fly off to find another victim.

  • Josh

    This will probably be unpopular, but I think I agree with the pastor here. It is Whetu’s money and if he wants to throw it away thats his right. Do I think either of them are doing the right thing? Of course not, but its not my place to dictate proper behavior to grown men.(Or women.)If he earned his money he can give it to a church, burn it, or wipe his ass with it.

  • Ed

    Do Mr Whetu’s head injuries prevent him from making sound decisions? Because if not, it seems a little strange to blame the church for his donation.

    Is Mr Whetu unhappy about his donation? Does he want his money back?

    Would any other charitable organization decline the gift? I imagine they might refund it if they started to get bad press, but I suspect most would initially accept it.

    It is an unfortunate situation, but assuming Whetu is of sound mind, shouldn’t he have the right to spend his money on whatever he likes?

  • Philbert

    I agree with Josh and Ed. If Mr Whetu mentally competent, then it’s his decision and his being in a wheelchair should not make him any more interesting than the millions of other people who choose to donate significant fractions of their income to churches.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    This reminds me of a story in the Bible where a poor woman gives her last two coins to the temple. Jesus points her out and says that she has given more than anyone else. Others only gave their surplus wealth, while she gave all she had.

    That’s New Testament morality for you.

  • Big Jim

    Sure, he should have the right to spend his money however he chooses. But, shouldn’t the church respectfully refuse to take money from those that cannot afford to offer it?

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Organized religion taught companies like Goldman Sachs and BP everything they know about screwing over the average person. And the average average people are just stupid enough to love being screwed over by both religions and large corporations.

  • tara

    I feel very, very sorry for this man.
    Obviously, his judgment is poor, whether due to head injury or gullibility.
    That church knows him personally–it’s not some anonymous charity that woudn’t know one donor from another.
    The key issue now is: is he receiving the help he needs from the church? what are they doing for him? are there church members who sincerely care about him and look after his well-being?

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I’m not surprised. Churches have been robbing people blind since they began. At least when a government robs you (taxation) you have an opportunity to replace them with different crooks every four years. With a church you don’t even get that.

    I’m not impressed with Pastor Collingwood “I am not a crook” message. Rather uncharitably I imagine him looming over the wheelchair bound and brain damaged man and extorting money from him. All the while threatening him with eternal hell and coddling him with an imaginary reward of a blissful heaven. I can see him rubbing his hands in glee as he counts the cash.

    That’s just my imagination though. I expect he was a bit subtler than that. Good con artists usually are.

    That applies to all you religious folks who tithe as well. They’re fleecing you. That’s why they call you a flock.

  • Alt+3

    What a filthy rat this Collingwood is. The only question here is if he took money from an impovrished old man. Which he admits to doing. He robbed an old man looking for comfort in his last years. Shame on him. It almost makes me wish there was a hell for him to burn in.

  • Erp

    His decision to give the money assuming

    (a) no promises made by the church to visit him or otherwise help him in this world

    (b) of sound mind

    (c) no other obligations (though with no kin that is unlikely).

    The church’s decision to take the money and give what they choose

    Our decision to draw conclusions about the ethics. Personally I found little about materially feeding the poor, healing the ill, etc on the national web site http://www.elim.org.nz/ (though a lot about converting people).

  • JulietEcho

    miller has already pointed out the passage I was going to mention here. Unfortunately, the Bible promotes this exact sort of thing – no matter how poor you are, you should be giving, and in fact, the poorer you are, the more *meaningful* and *righteous* it is that you’re giving. Of course, lots of promises can also be found in the Bible regarding all the rewards the faithful will receive for their piety, but aside from psychological comfort, we don’t usually see those promises fulfilled.

    Whether the man is competent enough to make his own decisions about his money is irrelevant, IMO. The church is acting unethically and callously by allowing (and possibly encouraging, through their teachings) this kind of situation. They should at least be using all that money to directly help this man, and really, they shouldn’t be accepting most of it in the first place.

  • Parse

    Though it is Mr. Abraham’s right to give his money to whoever he wants, it’s also the responsibility of the organization to accept or decline the donation.
    In my opinion, the right thing for the Oasis Elim church to do is to suggest that Mr. Abraham donate the gift of his time – but from reading the linked article, it’s clear that he did that as well.

    Collingwood and his church deserve every drip of scorn this whole fiasco will bring down on their heads.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    “partial tetraplegic with head injuries”

    Makes me wonder if criminal charges shouldn’t be pending.

    @ Alt+3…54 years is “old”? :-)

  • zombiefishstix

    I think the people of New Zealand should put together a class action lawsuit against this Bruce Collingswood guy.

    I emailed him as well, and he gave me the line of shit. the woe is me…the media has twisted the truth. bullshit I say. bullshit.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Well, lets see.

    1. Jesus decides if we go to heaven or hell.
    2. Jesus likes it when you tithe.
    3. Jesus REALLY likes it when poor people tithe.

    Therefore, by tithing till it hurts, you may increase your chances of Jesus letting you go to heaven. How do we know it is true? Because it is “written”.

    At least that is what the churches tell us. Its interesting, though, that the money goes to the institutions that made up those rules. Nice little system they have going.

  • Tony

    This reminds me of a story in the Bible where a poor woman gives her last two coins to the temple. Jesus points her out and says that she has given more than anyone else. Others only gave their surplus wealth, while she gave all she had.

    That’s New Testament morality for you.

    As a child I always wondered about the iniquity of this story.

  • http://wildmonky.deviantart.com James

    The imperative to give even when you can’t afford to, has been something I’ve never understood.

    Have you ever listened to Dave Ramsey? He’s a financial advisor with a Christian bent and he def advocates tithing even when trying to get out of debt. His system includes the 10% in his plans.

    Ridiculous.

  • Parse

    From the pastor’s response to Hemant’s inquiry:

    We have cared for Whetu for over 11 years and have helped him in many ways and will continue to

    Will this include providing Whetu with adequate dental care? Or helping him with any unexpected medical expenses he may need to pay for?

  • http://hryun.com Vinícius O. E.

    Very sad and outrageous story but I hate to say that I’m used to see stories like this here in Brazil.

    There is a church here in Brazil called “Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus” that is well known for taking a plenty of money from the believers. Some years ago a reporter managed to record a meeting with the pastors of this church (he used a hidden camera) in a luxurious and expensive hotel (the pastors drank the finest champagnes and tasted the most exotic and expensive dishes available in the hotel).

    During this meeting the church leader, Edir Macedo, advised the pastors:

    “In order to get more money from the believers you need to say that they are going to hell if they don’t give all their money to Jesus. Don’t ask only for money. Ask them to donate their houses, their cars…”

    Do you know what happened on the next day? NOTHING! The believers of this church didn’t trust the reporter’s video (even with a clear evidence recorded on camera!) because the church leader said that the reporter was a “servant of Satan” trying to spoof them all O.o

    This happened almost ten years ago and we still hear quite often new cases of people that lost everything they had to this church.

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    @Tony & miller

    That parable came to mind for me, too. When I was an evangelical, our pastor liked to emphasize that it wasn’t enough to give, you had to give “sacrificially” in order to please jebus. If it didn’t hurt, it didn’t count, apparently. This in a poor, rural town. From a guy known to iron his hunting clothes before going out to shoot deer.

  • disposable

    Also note ‘Mr Abraham said he also catered for weddings at the church, buying from a local bakery’

    and ‘the church now had the last of Mr Abraham’s life savings and he could not afford dental care for rotting teeth’.

  • disposable

    the pastor has tried some further inethical actions

  • Epistaxis

    He just wanted to be absolutely sure that his next life will be better than this one.

  • Jen

    This is a tough one. On the one hand, adults are going to do what they are going to do. There are no laws against being poor, and we certainly would not attack, say, Visa, or electronics, if the money was all going to stores. It is also possible the church will or does offer support- for instance, a friend of mine used to work for a dentist who provided free care to people from his church who were poor, as well as to the local center for adults with disabilities. Also, some churches do offer classes on how to manage money, and tithing small amounts (or donating to non-religious causes) could make a person feel like they are poor, but at least not THAT poor.

    However, the church is holding itself up as an exemplar, which should mean stepping in to make sure their members can afford to support the church at such high levels- even if other non-profits or even for-profits don’t have to do so. Elder abuse (and we have no idea what issues his injuries present, so he may qualify) is a real thing
    .

    I really need some more information here.

  • JB Tait

    Around here, being poor is considered a moral failing. Obviously the gentleman has even more need to buy redemption to offset the taint of poverty.

  • http://edward.murrell.co.nz Edward

    @ Roxane – June 21st, 2010 at 8:36 am: I think most Kiwis like Americans as individuals. As a collective, you’re somewhat scary. I suspect, like a lot of things, most of what we see about the USA is from TV and the vocal minority.

    @ Parse – June 21st, 2010 at 3:18 pm: Assuming he’s a New Zealand citizen (and with a name like Whetu Abraham, he probably is), the public health system* will take care of him, and ACC (Accident Claims Corporation) will pay him 80% of his pre-accident earnings.

    (Dental is not covered as part of public health system in NZ past the age of 18.)

  • http://www.redheadedskeptic.com Laura

    The bottom line, regardless of whether he is of sound mind or not, is that the right thing for the *church* to do is:

    1. Use the money to help him out with dental care, as a gift “from the church.”

    2. Tell him that spending money on his own necessities will not send him to hell.

    Sure, he is allowed to spend his money as he wishes, but that does not mean the church is innocent of any ethical violation.

    So is the opinion of this evil, immoral, baby eating atheist, anyways.

  • phred
  • prospera

    @miller,

    This reminds me of a story in the Bible where a poor woman gives her last two coins to the temple. Jesus points her out and says that she has given more than anyone else. Others only gave their surplus wealth, while she gave all she had.

    That’s New Testament morality for you.

    I agree that in Mr. Abraham’s case, the church may be taking advantage of him, but I don’t know if I agree with your interpretation of this story.

    Even when I was a believer, I did not take this to mean that I should give more to the church.

    Theism/atheism aside, I personally like the message in this story, in that a comparison is made between people who are reluctantly giving a set percentage for recognition or to feel good about themselves versus the poor old woman who wants to give all she has because she genuinely wants to make a difference. The importance is in the giving heart and not in the amount that is given. And Jesus never stressed giving to the temple as much as giving to each other.

    Too bad that so many churches insist on the literal meaning and defraud their people.

  • Michael

    As an atheist none of this surprises me since all churches are pushing a huge lie about god and a heavenly reward for belief being reality and expecting people to pay them to do so.

    One day I hope our society can move past all this religious nonsense and file the Christian God away in the history books along with the others such as Zeus and Thor.