Over at Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta encourages Christians to stop giving money to their churches if they don’t have enough for their own needs. He’s absolutely right about avoiding predatory schemes, prosperity gospel preachers, and institutions that keep you in the dark about the uses of your gifts. Depart those places and don’t look back!
Additionally, I can envision circumstances in which a person’s tithing would be irresponsible. For example, if a parent faces the choice between feeding her children or putting money in the collection plate, she should feed the children. The responsibility parents have to provide and care for their children outweighs their responsibility to contribute financially to the well-being of the general public or their church community.
I would not, however, outright condemn sacrificing one’s own needs for the needs of others. Parents do this all the time, and we expect it of them. They sacrifice their sleep, their health, and their dreams for their children. It’s not always wrong to suffer harm to help others. Sometimes it’s right. Sometimes it’s heroic.
When it comes to tithing, some Christians will give till it hurts and then keep on giving. This could be irresponsible, but it isn’t necessarily so. If they’re not reneging on their obligations and are freely making the decision, then they’re probably just living out the Christian life.
For Christians, Christ’s ministry and passion form an image of total, unconditional gift of self for the good of creation. To follow Christ means to follow the logic of this kenotic love in everything one does. Tithing included.