by Billy Braun
I was a TrueChristian™ for about eight years starting back in 1981. I attended a Pentecostal non-denominational church (Glad Tidings-Boise) back in the first five years of my time as a believer. It was there that I learned to accept the idea that my first duty to God was to tithe to the church. I was absolutely faithful in my giving of tithes and offerings. I was a “happy giver.”
After five years at Glad Tidings I became drawn towards Calvary Chapel of Boise. The vibe at C.C. was way more up my ally. I’m a professional musician and C.C. was just then forming in Boise and I fit perfectly into the youth-oriented fellowship.
Calvary’s Pastor (Bob Caldwell) and I became really good friends. We not only built the C.C. fellowship together, we also did a lot of prison ministry and even had some “leadership retreats” together.
After three years as C.C.’s music minister, I met some other musicians in the church and we decided to start doing some secular gigs just for fun (I even had Pastor Bob’s blessing on it). It wasn’t long before I wanted to get back full time into the professional music club circuit.
Pastor Bob and I parted company at that time … but we parted on the very best of terms. There was no condemnation from him towards me, and, I had no negative feelings for leaving the church. This would turn out to be the key to why he would eventually grant my “request” for a refund of my tithing contributions to Calvary Chapel.
Of course, I soon backslid into partying and wound up getting a divorce. After several years of living the old musician lifestyle, I met my current wife (of twenty years), stopped drinking, settled down and had two daughters. Once I quit drinking (without A.A. or any other “spiritual” assistance) I began to read Thomas Paine and Robert Ingersoll. Once I discovered the internet (Infidel Guy Show) there was no turning back. I found complete freedom from religion.
After some time, I started to remember an incident that had happened to me way back in my days at Glad Tidings Church. I had been watching the P.T.L. Club on TV and got suckered into believing that the Lord wanted me to send P.T.L. a thousand bucks! I sent the money. When my Pastor’s wife (sister Barnett) found out that I’d sent P.T.L. $1000, she took me aside and scolded me that the Lord wanted his people to give their money to “where they are fed” i.e., Glad Tidings. She suggested that I call P.T.L. and ask for my money back.
So I did. When I asked P.T.L. to return the money they agreed and I allowed them to keep $100.00 for being so understanding. I then gave the remaining $900.00 to Glad Tidings. After all; had I not already given the money to “The Lord”?
Fast forward to 2006. One faith-free day I happened to recall my P.T.L. experience and began to ask myself: “Why not simply ask, not demand or insist, but politely ask for my money back from Calvary Chapel?” All they could say was “no,” right? I had left the church on excellent terms, and Pastor Bob was a very cool, very laid back guy.
By that time Calvary Chapel was huge. I knew Bob would remember me, so I wrote him a short email asking if he could help me with some questions that I had involving donations to the fellowship. Bob wrote back almost immediately with a nice letter saying that he had thought about me many times over the years and had meant to contact me and that he was sorry that he had never actually done it. He was very sweet and kind as always.
He then referred me to his Assistant Pastor (Mike Sasso) for help with my questions. I send a courteous response thanking Bob for his kind words and attention. I then connected with Pastor Mike and began writing questions back and forth. I wrote to Mike that my understanding was that when I gave money to the fellowship, I was essentially giving the money to God and that the church was merely “the conduit” between me and Jesus.
At first Mike was very friendly and eager… on his best pastoral behavior. Once my questions began to turn towards a “could the church ever refund money that had been given” type of query, Mike’s language became stiff and defensive. He then referred me to deal directly with Pastor Bob.
In my next email to Pastor Bob I selected my words very carefully.
I know that what I am asking is probably a first and highly strange request; even for someone like you who has spent so many years in the ministry. Please always keep in mind that what I am proposing is a request, not a demand. You can deny my request and I give you my promise that there will be absolutely no hard feelings on my part.
Here is my request:
Would you be willing to return to me all or any part of the money that I gave to the ministry at Calvary Chapel during my years in the fellowship?
If you say “no”, I will fully understand. Your choice is final and that will absolutely be the end of my inquiry. I await an answer at your convenience.
I did not hear back from Pastor Caldwell. I waited for a couple of weeks, sent another similar letter and included an apology stating that I understood that he (Pastor Bob) must be very busy, but I would really appreciate a response.
Again, there was no response.
I sent a third letter stating (paraphrasing here:) “Thank you for the time and attention that you have already given to this matter. I will assume your silence means ‘no’ to my request.”
Eventually his decision came.
Pastor Bob wrote me back telling me that he was handing the situation over to the church accountant and that he would be authorized to work with me towards a settlement!
I want you to imagine the reaction that Bob’s “concession letter” caused from me and my wife! My jaw dropped and my eyes almost popped out of my head. We were hysterically laughing, jumping and shouting, “It’s a MIRACLE!” We never in a million years seriously expected to see a dime of that money, and now here I was reading a letter from Pastor Bob granting my request for a refund.
After a phone conversation with the accountant at Calvary Chapel, Jim agreed to send me monthly installments of $500 until the agreed amount of $3200 was paid off. The checks came every month and were quickly deposited into my storehouse.
That was the end of my contact with Bob and Calvary Chapel.
Ye Have Not…
I can only speculate what Pastor Bob’s motive was for granting my request for a refund. My circumstances were probably not typical for the way that many people wind up leaving the fold.
Deconversion can be a very difficult and challenging process. I found the action of facing (if only through email contact) my fear of my old authoritative figure (Pastor Bob) very liberating and empowering. Even if things would have turned out differently, I’m proud of myself for standing up to the fear that use to control me.
The moral: “Ye have not, because ye ask not”!
Update 3/28/10: This comment is worth highlighting:
I too wondered what would have motivated him to refund the money (though I didn’t think it would likely be a guilt complex :p). I read this article the day it was published and was so impressed with the pastor’s behavior that I wrote the church telling them so. I used their website contact form, so I don’t have my exact message, but it was basically telling them how I heard the story (a link to this page), that I have no idea why he would do such a thing, but that I was very impressed that he did. And it takes quite a bit for me to put any praise on a pastor ;)
Today I received a response from Pastor Bob. Aside from oozing praise for his god, I liked the reply to. Basically he did it out of thankfulness to Billy (and all that god unworthiness bit). Here’s the reply in its entirety (hopefully he won’t mind me posting it):
* * *
Thanks for your comments on Billy Braun’s refund check. I sincerely appreciated him and his willingness to serve by leading our church in worship that year. He is a great guy, and who he is, is much more important than the money he gave.
I actually believe what I believe. I have no doubt God can cover the loss of that money. I felt to not return his money, would only strengthen his doubts about the reality of God, and the sincerity of our appreciation for him. Billy is worth more that money.
Anyway- I’ve always felt when something is done for God, or given to God unwillingly, it is unworthy of the God I love.
In His Grace,